Sunday, May 25, 2008
Independent but loopy
Are we supposed to take the Independent's
columnist Joan Smith seriously, or is she playing a comic Grumpy Old Green? Her piece today on cars and car owners was badly-argued, emotive and delightfully self-serving. By her selective logic it appears that only “top-of-the range saloons and SUVs” bring about the bulk of road accidents; I have yet to see the evidence that says that is wholly or even largely true. She conveniently excludes from any criticism “little runabouts like my Ford Ka", as if somehow they do not also contribute to accidents, respiratory disease, or any of the other ills she lists. Medical evidence might not be so kind towards her desire to have her cake and eat it. No, to Joan Smith, the privileged owners of large expensive cars have to be the problem, and by definition their “political clout” enables them to hold Gordon Brown to ransom. She appears blind to the fact that the steep rise in fuel costs is bearing hardest on the less well-off, and it is in fact their voices to which Gordon Brown is now having to pay overdue attention. The Freudenschade central to Smith’s article is entirely misdirected. She concludes with her own dogmatic analysis that the underlying cause of the current crisis is that there isn't enough oil to go round. There are many contributing causes to the current situation, but the absolute quantity of oil in the ground is nowhere near the top of the list.
There is certainly a serious debate to be had on the future of energy, transport and car ownership. It should be based on intelligent and factual argument, not Joan Smith’s approach of partial and ill-informed sneering. The Independent really should do better.
Saturday, May 17, 2008
We had around twenty journalists in the office today to brief them about April's Harvard Business School case study. All went well, lots of interested questions, and a good opportunity to set out a fresh picture of the project.
Friday, May 16, 2008
Corporate Social Responsibility
I've been intrigued by some answers to a recent question on LinkedIn about CSR which state that companies exist to make money, apparently without much in the way of other considerations. Just now, this (mainly American as far as I can see) perspective seems downright bizarre, short-sighted and antiquated. The current sub-prime disaster that has adversely affected millions of ordinary people, seen the share price of companies plunge, and looks likely to impact the world economy for some time, is a result of some companies chasing profits at the expense of basic prudence. In other words acting irresponsibly. The impact of international outsourcing has been another hot topic recently, and some of the voices arguing against outsourcing are very similar to those arguing that companies should focus solely on shareholder value. The fact is, companies and their actions inescapably affect people as individuals, communities and as society, and increasingly those people expect them to acknowledge the two-way nature of that social contract. Sometimes it is seen in taxes or legislation; would we really be happier if companies could evade health and safety, FDA, equal employment and other regulations on the basis that they compromise shareholder value? Sometimes public pressure comes into play - Nike's use of child labour is another recent example: it's cheap, but that doesn't make it right or acceptable. There are hundreds of examples which demonstrate that companies are not somehow removed from the society in which they operate and can ignore any obligation other than profit. In this now global picture, companies can see benefit in being good citizens. This is often perfectly complementary to being profitable, and is usually closely tied to being sustainable as a business and employer. It's likely to attract bright people who want more from their career than simply generating a better bottom line. Most intelligent companies are now working on the basis of a multiple bottom line anyway. I believe Responsbility is knowing the right thing to do (for all stakeholders), doing it in the right way, without having to be forced to. Tricky balance? Yes, but that should be where CEOs earn their multi-million salaries.
Sunday, May 11, 2008
"There is now no point of view, however crazy, for which a supportive and spuriously authoritative quote cannot be found" - Robin Cole-Hamilton 2008
Saturday, May 10, 2008
What a new NFP needs most
For a new non-profit people are of fundamental importance - staff, volunteers, advocates, media contacts, opinion formers will all be vital to its success. Investing up-front in selection and relationship-building will pay dividends later on. Sourcing the necessary funding is obviously a priority as well. However, in my view the single most important resource for a young non-profit is a clear, compelling, self-critical high-level strategy statement. This should set out in writing the organisation's vision and values (business philosophy), establish its distinct proposition, and frame its modus operandi including financials. Without it as a reference point, it is hard to consistently articulate the case for support, protect integrity and focus the work rigorously on what you can do uniquely well. And in turn that means that all other sorts of resources may well be squandered or frittered away. At start-up it's not easy to make the time or find the energy for this when there is so much "real" work to get done (and when the case for the non-profit seems so glaringly self-evident), but when the firefighting begins two years downstream, it will be far too late.
Sunday, May 04, 2008
Appraisal process - need for a rethink?
While we have been running the Trust performance appraisal system for only a year, I believe that the issues to which it is already giving rise are reasons to re-consider it. The problems are a mix of cause and effect and range from inconsistent application of the appraisal process, a sense among staff of inequity of ranking and reward, through to the financial impact of the final outcome on the organisation.
Our current situation is one in which we seek to: motivate and reward staff appropriately for their individual contribution, recognising and celebrating exceptional performers; encourage a strong team culture; achieve among staff a sense of cross-Trust equity in terms of their assessment; and live within our means. Underlying these are: staff retention, morale, results-focus and organisational sustainability. Arguably these are mutually incompatible aims, or at the very least it is unreasonable to expect an appraisal process to deliver them all. As well as this, the Trust is far from being in steady-state, either in terms of size or as an embedded cohesive working culture. Systems, however well- developed, have not had time to achieve consistency in practice. We are in a competitive labour market, so there is constant pressure to attract and retain quality people. We are also facing a rising cost of living which affects staff’s sense of their general financial health, and which puts additional psychological pressure on any system that might improve their financial position. So the appraisal process, both systemically and contextually, is attempting to do a very difficult job in very difficult circumstances.
It is common and apprently logical to link appraisal to reward, but it is anything but consequence-free, as we are finding. It seems likely that tactical responses to our current situation will focus on two main areas:
- Refining and improving the current appraisal/reward process, which would probably include greater specificity to rating criteria, more training for managers, more detailed review of ratings awarded;
- Limiting the extent and unpredictability of our financial exposure, perhaps through a vehicle such as a fixed pay pot, which would be split between cost-of-living and bonus. The function of any such device would be to set the limit of any pay award within known and affordable limits, which can form part of the organisation’s longer-term financial planning.
I have just suggested to HR that we also implement a more radical re-think. In other words, rather than seeking to fix what we now have, we should re-examine its fundamental fitness for purpose, while it still remains practical to do so. But I very much doubt if anyone will agree.
Thursday, May 01, 2008
So the Harvard Business School case has happened, and I'm suffering a severe case of post-event triste. The event itself was extraordinary, and seems to be creating ripples of attention towards Syria, opening some eyes to what is happening here, and in particular the social vision of The First Lady, of which Massar is of course a part.
And to a degree I think that's what the triste is all about. The case ended up being more about The First Lady than Massar, and while I'm glad that Syria gets positive attention, I left Boston wondering just what my expensive attendance had contributed.
So, a very enjoyable trip - a visit to the MIT Media Lab was a particular highlight - but one that raised a few questions in my mind. The point about Massar is the young people in Syria; it's not about buildings, or landscape, or me or The First Lady, but what goes on in the hearts and minds of young people now and in the future. And often that's at a more small-scale, prosaic and hands-dirty level than the wheeler-dealer agenda-setters may care about.
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