Career/skills

Ravi Mattu

My very smart and funny colleague Lucy Kellaway has just released a novel about love in the office, called In Office Hours, published by Penguin. If you like reading Lucy’s columns (on work, on office problems and as ‘Martin Lukes’) – and I haven’t met a single reader who has anything but enthusiastic things to say about her – then you really should buy this book. It’s a roaring read.

It will not be published in the US until next year but you can buy it at Amazon’s UK site.

Ravi Mattu

Ok, I like lists and Time’s 100 most influential people is a great one. But for all its strengths (Steve Jobs, Dominique Strauss-Kahn) and weaknesses (Glenn Beck as a leader? Simon Cowell as an artist?), I especially found a comment at the bottom of Bob Geldof’s paean to Tidjane Thiam, chief executive of Prudential, revealing about the power of business (and possibly the cynicism with which the west views African politicians):

Tidjane was once a minister in his home nation, Côte d’Ivoire, and he told me that when he was a high-ranking African politician, those with power and influence in the West didn’t want to hear what he had to say — but that once he joined the private sector, his opinion became sought out. Now bigwigs can’t get enough of him, and rightly so.

I wrote about the remarkable rise of Thiam last year.

Ravi Mattu

Tim Armstrong, CEO of Aol, has got himself into a bit of bother with his staff. Last Tuesday, at a breakfast meeting with Wolf Olins, he criticised his company’s efforts covering the SxSW festival in Austin and, in particular, the quality of work of his staff.

Apparently, he quickly backtracked – not by renouncing what he said but by declaring in an open meeting with staff that he should have made the point directly to them instead of to an external company. He stood by his assertion that the company’s work was not up to snuff.

Was this the right move?

Ravi Mattu

Want to figure out how pirates think? Well, apparently the UN has gone some way to figuring it out by deciphering their business model.

Hat tip: The Browser

Luke Johnson

A clever entrepreneur I know, called “Peter”, has a favourite parlour game; it works best if the participants are decidedly ambitious. He asks them to choose their personal ranking for three primal motivations: money, power and recognition. Their answer tells them which career steps to take. It is a more practical – and visceral – version of “Maslow’s hierarchy of human needs”, which includes such vague concepts as self-actualisation. Possibly, we should call it “Peter’s hierarchy of human motivations”.

The quiz encapsulates the vital drivers in a blunt but brilliant way. It cuts out the fluff. The ingenuity of the selection is the simplicity: it boils down lots of complicated psychometric testing to three factors. And I like the honesty of the words. Unlike so many questionnaires, it does not pretend that our desires are all worthy. It asks us if we are, in the darkest parts of our souls, avaricious, megalomaniac or conceited.

Some respondents attempt to cheat, and insist their overriding motive is an urge to do good, or a similar affectation. This contest is too ruthless for such stuff. It acknowledges that gentle souls, who really believe in noble causes above all else, are unlikely to rise to the top in business, politics, the media and so forth. They spend their lives working with the underprivileged or the equivalent. And I suspect that they do not meet my entrepreneur friend or read this newspaper.

The remainder of the article can be read here. Please post comments below.

Lucy Kellaway

Last Sunday at the American Music Awards, the singer J-Lo slipped and fell on to her bottom. Spookily, three days earlier, I had also fallen over while performing.

There were, however, a couple of differences between the tumbles. J-Lo had been climbing a human staircase of nearly nude male dancers and was wearing hot pants and singing lustily. I, on the other hand, was decently clad and quietly getting out of my chair to give a speech at a formal dinner for investors in Japanese equities. I tripped over my handbag and landed spread-eagled on the floor, my chin hitting the carpet. Crash, bang, wallop. The microphone I was wearing ensured that anyone who did not see the fall heard it.

Like most people, I find public speaking more frightening than spiders or the prospect of being mugged in a dark alley. What is terrifying is the risk of humiliation, of metaphorically falling flat on one’s face. It never occurred to me that I needed to fear it literally, too.

The remainder of this article can be read here. Please post comments below.

Lucy Kellaway

Last week, Westminster MPs were told to engage in wife swapping. The committee looking into their inflated expenses ruled that they could no longer employ their spouses, but said it would be fine if they employed each other’s wives instead.

While I can’t see how the taxpayer will gain from these wife swaps, it is nevertheless a great improvement on the current arrangement. To allow husbands and wives to co-work as well as co-habit has always struck me as a bad idea financially, socially, practically and emotionally. It is not only MPs who should be banned from doing it – everyone else should be, too.

But despite this, the workplace is stuffed with married couples who work side-by-side. I used to be half of one myself. There are high-profile examples in every type of occupation. In politics, there is Hillary Clinton and Bill; in philanthropy, there is Bill Gates and his wife Melinda. And in the specialised field of management gurudom, there is Jack Welch and Suzy – who share a bed as well as a syndicated advice column.

The remainder of this article can be read here. Please post comments below.

Luke Johnson

What motivates high achievers? Is it money, status or power? Perhaps it is none of these. Perhaps the strongest urge is simply the overwhelming desire to escape boredom.

Unquestionably, the executive suite embraces melodrama with more enthusiasm than any other activity. Making sales, hiring new staff, generating a profit are all very well – but what really excites the boardroom is corporate intrigue. After all, even in business, the key players are not robots but humans, impelled by emotions and irrational dreams of glory or revenge. Life in many ways is but a brief play, or possibly a tragedy, and most of us are acting some imagined role or another half the time anyway.

The actual stuff that makes most companies function is mundane: producing and delivering the goods every day, efficiently and at a decent margin, can be deadly dull. So the favourite form of escapism in most organisations is to conspire and manipulate with and against colleagues like the cast in some low-budget thriller. It is a tendency that is especially pronounced among the leadership class; after all, lots of them are exhibitionists with outsized egos and a thirst for the limelight.

The remainder of this article can be read here. Please post comments below.

Luke Johnson

F Scott Fitzgerald said: “There are no second acts in American lives.” An awful lot of entrepreneurs, investors and executives must hope he was talking nonsense.

The past 18 months have seen many reputations ravaged, plenty of high-profile sackings and a lot of business failures. I am afraid that in this digital world, such blemishes are recorded for all time.

Not many of us will emerge entirely unscathed from the battering of this downturn – a great deal of mistakes of different sorts have been exposed. So we should all maintain an optimistic belief that the world is more forgiving than is commonly supposed.

The remainder of this article can be read here. Please post comments below.

Ravi Mattu

Dame Anne Owers, the Chief Inspector of Prisons for England and Wales, said today that a number of prison managers had moved out “difficult” inmates because they were worried that their presence would negatively impact their inspection.

It seemed especially farcical because, apparently, it would have had no impact if the prisoners had stayed.

“The presence of those prisoners wouldn’t have affected our inspectors assessment at all,” said Dame Anne.

“Sadly for the many staff and managers who had worked hard to improve the two prisons, their efforts will inevitably be overshadowed by these events,” she said.

“This is deplorable, not only because of the effects on individuals, but because of the underlying mind-set that prisoners are merely pieces to be moved around the board to meet performance targets or burnish the reputation of the prison.”

What really struck me about Dame Anne’s comments was her concern that this would have a damaging impact on moral for the staff and lower level managers, and provide a negative example to them.



About the authors

Stefan Stern writes a column on Tuesdays on management. He is winner of the 2010 Towers Watson award for excellence in HR journalism, and has previously won awards from the Work Foundation and the Management Consultancies Association.

Ravi Mattu is the editor of Business Life, the FT's management features section, and a former editor of the Mastering Management series. He joined the FT in 2000 from Prospect magazine

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Elsewhere on FT.com: Lucy Kellaway

Lucy Kellaway writes a column on Mondays on work , poking fun at management fads and jargon and celebrating the ups and downs of office life. She is also the FT's Agony Aunt.

Elsewhere on FT.com: Luke Johnson

Luke Johnson writes an FT column on Wednesdays on entrepreneurship. He runs Risk Capital Partners, a private equity firm, and is chairman of the Royal Society of Arts.

Elsewhere on FT.com: Dear Lucy

Lucy Kellaway, FT columnist and associate editor, offers her solution to your workplace problems in a column in the Financial Times. In the online edition of her Dear Lucy 'agony aunt' column, readers are invited to have a say too.

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