Tag: human capital

Undercover Boss – would you try it?

undercover bossMany readers will have seen either Undercover Boss or Undercover Boss USA where the boss goes undercover, working with frontline staff to see how the business is really performing. I’m sure that these companies are selected for their entertainment value but they do throw up some real issues.

In many cases the businesses are not performing but the bosses seem not to be playing the blame game and realise that in many cases head office is a little out of touch. What they do seem to get though is that if they support their staff then they will get the best out of them and stand a fighting chance of beating the recession.

So, you’re the boss. Do you dare to go undercover and find out what is really happening? How will you react when employees do not worship your photograph or have less than ideal things to say about you, their pay or working conditions? What will you do when you find that front line staff are abused, spat at or are targeted by armed robbers?

You’re not the boss. Is your the sort of business where the boss would come and find out how you are doing? If so then great, if not then how can you attract his attention? If the boss (or bosses) is not interested then I recommend you look for a new and better job right away!

Finally, no bosses should be going undercover anyway. Employees should know who the boss is and how to contact them (about important issues) and be able to equate those at the top with company vision and values. Bosses should also have their finger on the pulse and have a much better idea of the workings of their business and the opinions of frontline staff. Sounds like a call for a cull of middle management – make up your own mind about that!

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Innovation – A Human Race (Christmas remix 2011)

This article is perhaps more relevant now than when it was originally written. The balance seems to be shifting rapidly and those who once led the world in terms of Innovation are struggling a little and those who considered themselves to be lagging behind are feeling the wind in their sails.

I often get asked about the pace of innovation in different countries or their ability to innovate. Many such questions come from people whose awareness of global issues is sadly lacking and who represent so called developed countries. The answer I give to them is the same as the one I give to those in less developed countries who are seeking inspiration and motivation for their efforts.

My own personal definition of Innovation is purely based on Human Capital so I choose a metaphor that involves people. Think of Innovation as a race, but with a difference. Some runners have an advantage in that they start further ahead, perhaps because of a time or resource advantage and some start with varying degrees of disadvantage.

Those initially at the front may be well trained and have the latest sparkly gear but they are running almost as fast as they can – improvements being measured only in small amounts. Our runners at the rear will acquire the trappings of leading athletes such as running gear, coaches etc in due course.

There are still two very important factors to consider. How long is the race and how fast can those at the back run? The race we are in is, I believe, a long one with sustainability and resilience to crises being key. So, the longer race will provide greater opportunity for less developed countries to narrow the gap. If their natural talent is greater than developed countries, the race could be close.

My word of warning to those in the lead currently is never underestimate the opposition and look over your shoulder once in a while. My words of encouragement to those at the rear is to believe in your talent.

2012 will be an exciting year!

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Innovation – wrestling with Jelly

It has been said that Innovation is like wrestling with jelly. For those people who have yet to get to grips with using Creativity and Innovation to gain greater success in business here are a few things worth thinking about. For those of you that have, then you should look at these issues and feel proud that you have overcome them!

“Few great men would have got past personnel.”  Paul Goodman

How true! Whether you think about one off characters such as Richard Branson and James Dyson or gangs of people that work for Google or Apple it is highly unlikely that your recruitment procedures would result in you recruiting these people. HR departments can get so fixated on employment law that they do not act to recruit and retain the best human capital for your business.

“Since we live in age of innovation, a practical education must prepare a man for work that does not yet exist and cannot yet be clearly defined.”  Peter Drucker

Yet another issue to grapple with. We can have a stab at what the future holds (futures is a brilliant use for alternative thinking) but even without this, we do know the sorts of skills that our workers must have and the types of behaviours that they should exhibit. Our workforces should be matched to these criteria and be able to learn readily and tolerate a degree of ambiguity. But if things cannot be cast in stone, where does this leave unions and other representative bodies that might be resistant to change?

“The leaders say: “Let’s be more innovative.” The staff says: “Bravo. When do we start?” The mid-level managers say: “Wait a minute, let’s think about that. What about… and …? Have you REALLY thought it through? Does this mean I have to change?””  Claude Legrand

This is where you will find either the greatest resistance or the greatest assistance. Sometimes layers of middle management are inserted for no good reason. They are dead wood and must be removed, but they can occupy a very important position. Whether your information tends to flow bottom up, top down or side to side this is where data, information and knowledge smash into each other and connections are made.

“People buy more weight loss books/diets (tools) than all other books, yet people are fatter than ever. Why? Most diets do not address the psychological reasons (mindset) for eating. The same holds true for innovation.”  Stephen Shapiro

True again. Why do you or your business actually wish to innovate? Is it because it is the latest craze down at the Chamber of Commerce or are there good reasons for it such as flexibility sustainability, improved motivation etc. Are your aspirations as a management team aligned with those of your employees (and perhaps middle managers)?

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Innovation – a human race

I often get asked about the pace of innovation in different countries or their ability to innovate. Many such questions come from people whose awareness of global issues is sadly lacking and who represent so called developed countries. The answer I give to them is the same as the one I give to those in less developed countries who are seeking inspiration and motivation for their efforts. Innovation is simply a human race. Let me explain further.

My own personal definition of Innovation is purely based on Human Capital so I choose a metaphor that involves people. Think of Innovation as a race, but with a difference. Some runners have an advantage in that they start further ahead, perhaps because of a time or resource advantage and some start with varying degrees of disadvantage.

Those initially at the front may be well trained and have the latest sparkly gear but they are running almost as fast as they can – improvements being measured only in small amounts. Our runners at the rear will acquire the trappings of leading athletes such as running gear, coaches etc in due course.

There are still two very important factors to consider. How long is the race and how fast can those at the back run? The race we are in is, I believe, a long one with sustainability and resilience to crises being key. So, the longer race will provide greater opportunity for less developed countries to narrow the gap. If their natural talent is greater than developed countries, the race could be close.

My word of warning to those in the lead currently is never underestimate the opposition and look over your shoulder once in a while. My words of encouragement to those at the rear is to believe in your talent.

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Soft Infrastructure – essential for Innovation

Governments and most businesses will readily understand the term infrastructure but possibly not  soft infrastructure. Infrastructure is a collective term for roads, railways, airports, ports, telecommunications networks, supply pipelines etc. It is all to do with movement and these networks are all ‘hard’ i.e. they are made out of steel, concrete and copper and they can all be touched.

These networks all have one other common characteristic, whatever flows through them is rigidly controlled. Sometimes in straight lines and some times curves but always controlled by a boundary of concrete, steel, copper or some other tangible resource.

So what has this got to do with my organisation you may ask? One of the keys to the success of modern businesses, and the way to beat the current recession is Innovation. Innovation depends greatly on assets that are intangible, we cannot touch them. These include creativity, know how, intuition and cultural issues to name but a few. Many would identify these as ‘social’ or ‘human’ capital. The exact terminology is irrelevant, it is the ideas and knowledge of individuals that is important which can be enhanced by interaction. It is also independent of work so the term ‘social’ means inclusive rather than outside of the workplace.

To innovate successfully, these things too must move around both our businesses and our societies. Attempts have often been made in the past to codify these ideas, transmit them to another place and then try and extract both the message and the meaning of what has been received. Try having an email exchange with an angry colleague and you will understand the problems.

When we innovate, we also want things to travel in ways that are not constrained by boundaries and which certainly do not travel in straight lines. Just like the ripples on a pond we might wish some things to be broadcast, such as company culture. And like a networked computer system we will need some sort of storage and perhaps some form of maintenance function to ensure that everything runs smoothly.

When thinking of communicating within a corporate environment we often think of sending things out (pushing) or receiving from others (pulling). What about when things just sort of slosh about, and proceed at their own pace or when disruptive events occur and we need a system that repairs itself? We need a new type of network, one that is invisible and which connects everybody to everyone else. It must allow meaning, intuition, creativity and emotion to flow with no bottlenecks and no burst pipes. What we need therefore is the right sort of ‘network’ – a Soft Infrastructure.

Based on concepts such as coaching, action learning and knowledge agents this might be somewhat strange, but it is all possible. Can we afford not to install such networks in our organisations or in society in general?

Many Innovators or sponsors of Innovation will be keen to extol the virtues of traditional ‘hard’ networks such as broadband, telephone etc. It is clear that ‘soft’ networks will work on their own and that their working can be enhanced by technology but it is clear that technology on its own cannot do the job so why spend millions on copper and fibre when the components of the soft networks, people, are already in place? In the current economic crisis surely now is the right time to make the right connections?

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