STUPID WORK FADS

I am amazed by how many business fads and strange ideas originate in places like California and then spread around the world, despite the fact that they have as much benefit to businesses and to employees as did the yo-yo and the hula hoop.

Woman playing with an early form of the yo-yo; via Wikimedia Commons


Here are some where I have never really understood the attraction:

1. DRESS DOWN FRIDAYS

I first struck this peculiarity in 1989 when I joined and visited Sun Microsystems HQ in California. I arrived on a Monday and on hearing about “dress-down Friday” was fascinated by the concept. As most employees spent the week in Jeans and T-shirts anyway, it was hard for me to comprehend how anyone could (or would want to) dress down from there. They however managed to do it. VPs in cut-off jeans and T’s where the sleeves had been ripped off by a rampant pit-bull were fairly common, and there appeared to be a competition as to who could most look like a homeless beach-bum. It just made no sense to me at all, as I have always believed that one should wear whatever is appropriate to the job and that matches customer expectations.

Author: Francis Ortiz; via Wikimedia Commons


A surgeon dressed as Bobo the clown would not instill a lot of confidence in a patient, and a salesman turning up in a dark blue suit to sell pickaxes to Cooper Pedy opal miners would not be taken seriously, so when I was asked by some SAP Singapore staff in 1997 whether I would institute a dress-down Friday, it was easy for me to say no. I felt that those who were customer facing should dress appropriately, and in Singapore that did not necessarily mean suits and ties, but did mean well cut, clean and smart casual clothing, and I felt that we could all dress along those lines. Software developers in SAP in Germany can wear what they want (and generally do) as no one expects them to do otherwise, and luckily they are rarely seen by the outside world. The idea that people get to look either like undertakers or hobos for some of their work time doesn’t actually do anything for anyone, so why bother.

2. RESERVED MANAGEMENT PARKING SPACES

I joined International Harvester in Christchurch New Zealand in 1967 and on my first day arrived at work at about 8.00am and parked my car in the employee car park which, at that time of morning, meant a walk of about 200 metres to the office. I noticed that there were about a dozen numbered car parking spaces by the front door and learned that these were reserved for the executive team, and immediately decided that one day I would be worthy of one. It took another 4 years to get there, but in 1971 I was promoted to IT Manager and was rewarded with one of the coveted spaces. I had arrived at one of the pinnacles for which I had strived. The problem was that it didn’t feel right, and I came to realise that if I was important enough to have a reserved car space by the front door, I was important enough to come to work early, which would get me a park close to the front door anyway but in the normal employee car park. I started coming to the office at 7.30am and parking in the general staff car park, and made my executive car park part of an award that I had initiated for my IT staff that had performed “over and above the call”. It had significantly more meaning for them to use it for a month or so, as it was a reward for effort and achievement rather than just for title. Some of the other executives thought that I was crazy to give up this “perk”, but a number of younger ones agreed that it was a great idea and started doing the same thing. After about 12 months, at an executive meeting, it was decided to do away with the reserved parking spots for all but the MD. It made me realise that not only are some so-called perks a waste of time, but that it is not hard to drive behavioural change in an organisation if one is prepared to question things that don’t make a lot of sense. It was a good lesson to learn early in my career.

Author: heartbeaz; via Wikimedia Commons, originally posted to Flickr as Cars


3. EXTERNALLY IMPOSED DIVERSITY QUOTAS

I understand fully that there are serious prejudices against many parts of the workforce in the business community, and that it is important that these are eradicated to ensure that capable people have access to all the opportunities that exist, irrespective of their sex, nationality, religion or physical state.

However, I do not believe that arbitrary diversity quotas imposed on the business community by governments are the solution.
Norway passed a controversial law in 2003 requiring all publicly listed companies to have at least 40% female board members and achieved this by 2008. The problem is that this created a crazed rush to meet the quotas rather than ensuring that the boards were filled with the best candidates, running the risk of some non-competent women being appointed to boards where they have little real chance of adding value, and where they are seen as “token” only.
Compare this with Sweden which doesn’t have a quota system but implemented measures to make it easier for women to combine work and family life. The result has been that women now account for about 50% of board seats in state owned companies and 20% of private companies (and growing), and no one questions them having earned their positions. (see “Do women make better managers?” posted November 22, 2010).
I believe that it is more effective ultimately to ensure that there is a level playing field for everyone, rather than trying to force a “one size fits all” solution. I do however support self-imposed targets that have been set by companies like SAP and Deutsche Telekom for increasing the percentage of women in their own senior executive ranks, as at least these can be properly targetted as an integral part of their recruitment and performance measurement.

As Colin Powell (Chairman US Joint Chiefs of Staff 1989-93) said:

“Fit no stereotypes. Don’t chase the latest management fads. The situation dictates which approach best accomplishes the team’s mission.”

Official Portrait of Colin L. Powell; via Wikimedia Commons


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6 Responses to STUPID WORK FADS

  1. Tim Collins says:

    God article Les, well selected examples all…

  2. Frank says:

    Agree and disagree.. Muffti day (not sure where the word dervived from) is alive and well downunder, and guess it means Friday night partying is better in casual gear and not suits. At Pinpoint & other places, we were dressed appropriately (casual everyday), but had “Tiara” days, when we dressedup because clients visited the facilities…it works well, but as you said, it is about “appropriateness”. Re Reserved car spaces, I agree, and I have implemented the same, on a “first come first parked” basis, but gee I got frustrated at times when I had many in/omeetings and couldn’t get a park on my returns, truly a waste of time..never solved it. Total agreement on diversity quotas. Again, entertaining, and thought provoking.. Les, you back in Sydney for Max’s golden oldies lunch in November? rgds, Frank

  3. Vicky says:

    great blog, as usual, Les. Particularly interesting around the diversity figures, looks like we could all learn from the Swedish model. I totally agree that we should choose the best people for the job, regardless of age, gender, nationality, etc. Companies should strive for balance, as you say, rather than trying to meet often unrealistic legislative restraints.

    Dress codes vary so much, at Toshiba we were always very smart, so I did enjoy mufti days (although I didn’t totally ‘slob out’ in front of colleagues), but I can see that its pretty pointless in companies like Cisco, where business casual is the norm

    cheers
    Vicky

  4. leshayman says:

    Vicky,
    We can learn a lot from the Swedes as long as we forgive them for Volvo, IKEA and ABBA. 🙂
    Les

  5. Adriana says:

    Mr. Hayman,

    I trust so much your judgement that I rely on your opinions to refine or even grow my own ones. After watching the BBC documentary “Make me a German” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9bTKSin4JN4 I’ve started searching for some numbers. How would you explain the following quote:

    “Germany is a place where gender stereotypes remain engrained in the mind, and in key institutions across society. Only about 14 percent of German mothers with one child resume full-time work, and only 6 percent of those with two.”(Source: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/06/29/world/europe/29iht-FFgermany29.html?pagewanted=all )

    Thank you! Adriana

    • leshayman says:

      Adriana, I am a great supporter of equality of the sexes in every aspect of life, not just in business, but I still dislike quotas as it makes companies commit to un-natural acts just to meet the targets set externally. It takes time for men in power to give up their prejudices, but ultimately quality, skill and capability will win through over prejudice. Les

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