From the category archives:

Organizational Behavior & Leadership

Who could have thought that an internal change of policy at Yahoo! would have such a ripple effect on the nation’s workforce. Message boards and comments section on the articles covering the issue are swelling with very heated debates.  Opinions from both proponents and opponents of the telecommute practices are full of reasonable, and not so much, arguments.

Employees in high tech and other industries that have business and technological case for telecommute became very jittery. Especially after Best Buy announced a similar revision of their own telecommuting policies. Telecommuting masses see it as a trend-setting that can reverse their hard-fought for perks of not showing up at the office, working in their pajamas, doing household chores, working on their pet projects, etc., etc. Many of them see it as their inalienable right and are extremely protective of it. Read this article from Businessweek What People Really Do When They’re ‘Working From Home’ if you think I am making it up.

I personally think that there is a strong business case for telecommuting in many industries and for many job functions. At the same time I side with Yahoo! CEO on the issue that face time is very important for collaborative innovation, as well as team building, and maintaining organizational culture and spirit. I am all for it for giving the employees the flexibility at work provided by telecommuting,  and I also believe that being in close proximity of the office setting may contribute to development of ideas that are not as easily conveyed via instant messaging, voice-, and even video-conferencing.

Once the business case for telecommuting is established, there should be a balance. At the same time, I can imagine many cases when even a  100% remote work could be necessary and even desired. Bottom line, it should be decided on a case by case basis, taking into account the project, the function, technical capabilities, and even personalities. Telecommute is not an inalienable right for employees, it is a business tool for organizations to achieve their goals in most efficient and effective manner.

Interestingly enough, about a year ago I prepared a speech and presentation on benefits of telework in my Business Communication class. This was under persuasive speech assignment, so my goal was to persuade the stakeholders to adopt telecommute practices for their organization, therefore I only focused on benefits of teleworking.

The organization I worked for at the time had some allowance for telecommute and technically I could have asked for it. I never did, because my actual commute was negligent at the time (under 6 miles round trip). At the time I prepared this speech the telework program in our department had been suspended for a few months due to organizational re-structuring.  I never mentioned this presentation to anyone in the office, but within a few weeks after I prepared it the telework program was re-established and my supervisor granted me one telework day a week, though I had never have this arrangement prior to the suspension of the program. I do not think that they got the vibe ;-). The real reason was that within a month we lost two employees (about 10% of the team)  who were discontent with the suspension of the telecommuting program.

As I said before, telecommute should have a business case in the first place. If you have such a case in your organization and need to build strong argument for it, here is another document from GSA on The Benefits of Telework. And there are even more resources at telework.gov Just hope that the the decision-makers would not find the aforementioned article on what people really do while working from home, just yet  :-)

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At the beginning of the Conflict Management and Negotiations classes last Fall MBA term at GWSB professor often had a short musical intermission with some comments, or a humorous YouTube video to set the positive tone for the lecture. At one point there was a brief comment about the humor and its effect on increasing workplace productivity. This lead me to think more about the role of humor in the workplace and its effect on improving the overall work atmosphere and increasing productivity.

I did some quick search on the topic and it appears that there is a body of scholarly research on the subject. There is empirical evidence on correlation between humor and creativity, work performance, and even employee retention. It is a well-established notion that humor creates positive emotions, but most of the time humor is relegated to personal entertainment domain.

I have long intuitively suspected that there is value in humor not only for personal entertainment, but also for educational purposes, see my posts: Macroeconomics Fun – Notes from the Classroom, My Favorite MBA Jokes, Macroeconomics – Funny Joke of the Day, as well as for work environment: MBA Joke – FedEx Commercial. These studies that I found during the search have mostly confirmed my intuitive guesses.

I think the organizational leaders need to systematically incorporate humor into their organizational culture, not just let happen it haphazardly. Some of the most envied companies in the USA have this culture engrained into their organizations. Immediate examples that come to mind would be Google and Facebook. They are some of the most creative companies and they are also known for their loose and somewhat goofy atmosphere. They drive their employees hard, but they also let them play hard. To me it appears that there is no coincidence there, and humor (positive emotions in general) goes hand in hand with work creativity and productivity.

There are also other examples of companies that drive their workers hard, but do not create the environment where the stress can be naturally diffused trough positive emotions, including the ones induced by humor. One such company that comes to mind is Zynga – online games developer. There has been a series of publications lately on the work environment where many employees are extremely unhappy with the company and are ready to leave it as soon as they get their stock options at the IPO. Not a very good recipe for continuous growth and work force retention in the world where creative technical talent is quite scarce and the competition is waiting to snatch them at any opportunity.

In my company in the future I will establish a 10-minute humor recess before the boring business meetings. Or maybe, I will replace those meetings with stand-up comedian competitions altogether. Just kidding ;-)

By the way, here is one of the videos we watched in the Conflict Management and Negotiations class. You can find more of them on youtube by searching for Terry Tate Office Linebacker. Get a good cheer, cancel the meeting :-)

 

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One of the assignments in my Conflict Management and Negotiations class was to prepare for discussion of the documentary Final Offer.  You can watch it online, if interested.

A very suspenseful documentary about the labor negotiations between the Canadian section of the United Auto Workers (UAW) and GM in 1984. Even though the immediate objectives of negotiations were achieved by the Union, still with significant concessions, the overall outcome was a dubious victory. Suffice it to say, the nature of the conflict was so complex and multi-faceted that it eventually resulted into the break off of the Canadian section from the UAW.

The film vividly illustrates the division lines between the workers and the administration, the level of opposition, which sometimes outbursts into downright hostility and even violence. It was interesting to watch actual frictions between the workers and foremen, who represent the administration. The level of distrust and lack of mutual respect were truly remarkable. But these rifts on the assembly line were just a colorful background for the big fight that took place between the Union and GM.

For me it was quite important to realize that the dynamics of the negotiations that include multiple parties and represented by groups of individuals are often affected not only by the conflicting interests between the two negotiating parties, but also by the conflict of interests within the presumably monolithic groups. In this case the head of the Canadian section of UAW, Bob White, had to deal not only with the GM negotiators, but also with different factions in his own union, as well as with Owen Bieber, the head of the UAW.

These conflicting interests within the group have a potential of weakening the group’s ability to effectively negotiate with the actual opponents at the negotiation table. In this particular case White was able to mostly keep his ground, but as mentioned earlier, it lead to the break up with the UAW. Here comes in play the importance of a strong leader who can define, articulate and convey the vision and the values. White generally lived up to the challenges of the situation and was able to defend his position in face of the contradictory forces, each with their own agenda and perception of the situation.

This also brought me to think about broader context of intra-organizational politics. Any organization presumably has the same mission and objectives outlined for the whole organization. But there are always various groups or individuals within an organization that can have quite different vision for approaches, techniques and paths to the organizational objectives. It is very crucial to be able to bring everyone on the same page. And if it is impossible, which is probably going to be the case in most situations, then the leader needs to be able to forge an acceptable compromise and then enforce it within the organization, even before going out to negotiate with the external party.

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On Wednesday I got done with the first module of the Fall term at GWSB part-time MBA program . In the last week I was scraping up to finalize two group project papers, two final in-class group presentations and a final exam  administered online. It was very taxing period, to say the least. I spent more nights writing well after midnight than I am willing to admit ;-) . Now it’s over and I am getting a little breather before the start of the second module.

I will have to do some semi-leisurely reading for my Macroeconomics class that I start next Thursday for the second module. I also have some negotiation simulation to prepare and conduct for my ongoing Conflict Management and Negotiations  class that is due in two weeks, but I will consider it as a mini semi-vacation after the pressures of the last week.

Even though the past week was quite exhausting, I could not help but remember my emotions at the end of the first module of my first year in the part-time MBA program at GW School of Business. At that time I was seriously concerned about the grade I was going to receive for my Financial Accounting I class. And even an opportunity to watch a movie on TV after almost two months of “abstinence” seemed like a luxurious treat. I am more confident in my grades now than then, and I am not as hungry for movies, as I actually has watched a few of them during the half-term. I will probably still go to the movies with the family over the weekend.

As for “relaxing” activity tonight, I chose to watch “Final Offer recommended by our professor in Conflict Management and Negotiations class. If you are interested in the subject of business negotiations, and specifically union negotiations, I also recommend this documentary on negotiations between Canadian chapter of UAW and GM in 1984. It is actually quite appropriate time for watching the film since in the past couple of months there have been negotiations going on between the UAW and the “big three” for the next three years contract. Some of those negotiations are closed already, but some are still going on. Anyways, to get a behind the scenes scoop on how those negotiations done, you can watch Final Offer online. Quite and interesting account of real negotiations.

 

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Taking Care of Business – MBA Russian Way

October 11, 2011

Just stumbled upon an interesting article in Economist – School of the dark arts. It is about, if not the best, at least the most touted, Russian business school – Moscow School of Management SKOLKOVO. The school has been known since its founding in 2006 as a pet project of the Russian government and the […]

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Why George Washington University School of Business?

September 27, 2011

The Businessweek online has recently placed a video interview with the dean of the George Washington University School of Business – Doug Guthrie,  who answers this question. The highlights of the GWU Business School approach to business education, as per dean’s interview, are the corporate social responsibility, sustainability, ethics and global perspective. These core elements […]

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Management, Leadership and My Shepherd Dog Experience

June 3, 2010

This style of management -herding the flock- is actually not as uncommon as it might seem in our “enlightened” era and all the advances in management theory. Quite many managers in business and leaders in public arena are still treating their subordinates and constituents as a flock of sheep which needs to be herded and manipulated into going through the “desired” gates. Even if it is done in more subtle inconspicuous or sophisticated ways, this still is the underlying philosophy of those “shepherd dog managers”.

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