Evaluating Evaluations.

The article about the performance reviews raised some interesting points.  The author believes that performance evaluations are pointless for a number of reasons.  He says that bosses and employees go into those meetings with different objectives.  He says that the boss wants to talk about how the employee  needs to improve.  Meanwhile, the employee is more concerned with proving what a good worker they are so that they can get a raise or a promotion.  The author believes that this leads to unproductive meetings where neither one is really benefited as much as they should be.  this to me seems like an easy fix.  It seems as though the boss and subordinate could decide going in that they were going to talk about both of these things in separate parts of the meeting.  If they knew this going in they could first concentrate on what the employee thinks they have done well to deserve a good review, and then move on to the part where the boss says what they would like to see the employee do better.  After this they could have a third conversation where they set new goals for the employee, based around the strengths that they talked about earlier in the meeting.  This would also eliminate another problem the author points out later.  this problem would be the issue of employees not going to their bosses for help because they don’t feel like they are on the same page as them.  In many ways, this article seemed like an over reaction to a few problems that may haunt performance evaluations.  It seems like were someone to think about the system and make a few adjustments, most of the problems here could be eliminated.

I would also like to say that I think in general the idea of a performance review is a good idea.  I personally do my best work when I know that I am going to be held accountable fo rit later on with a superior.  It makes me work harder and more efficiently.  It may be true that this causes you to work more towards the company’s goals and less towards your own, but one would hope that management sets goals in a way that inspire the employees to meet them.  there by making the company’s goals and the employees goals one and the same.

However I did like the part about the two way liability.  Ideally a boss and a subordinate would have an open relationship where they could talk to each other openly about reasons for missing things or being late on assignments.  But beyond that I feel that it would improve the working relationship in general if the employee felt like they were the boss’ friend and they had each other in their confidence.  At the same time,  I prefer a little bit of space between myself and a boss.  I don’t think it is a bad idea for a boss to be able to strike a little bit of the fear of God in their employees.  While I agree it is good to be friends with the boss, it is important to not let the personal relationship get in the way of the professional one.

Performance evaluations may be inefficient and slightly antiquated, but I feel that there is definitely still some value to them.  If they are simply changed to make both parties feel comfortable to improve ideas and their relationship to help the company move forward, then it seems to me that they are definitely worth having.

The first article in this week’s readings addressed yelling in the work place and how CEO’s might take a piece of advice from NFL head coaches.  The article spotlights Chicago Bear’s coach Lovie Smith and former Indianapolis Colts’ Coach Tony Dungy.  Both of these coaches are NFL success stories under under Dungy the Colts became the first team to win the Superbowl under the guidance of an African America head coach.  The Bears under Smith have been a perennial contender and would have been the first team to win the Superbowl with an African American head coach had the beaten the Colts in Superbowl XLI.  Their method of motivating never includes yelling or belittling a player, something that is rare in football coaches (this by the way, I can attest to. I played football all four years in high school and got yelled at all the time, though to be fair I did fumble a few times).  The article asks if CEOs can emulate this tactic to similar success.  The writer of the article certainly thinks that yelling at employees is not a a good strategy, relating multiple horror stories of abusive bosses and workers quitting as results of low morale.  I think that it is very possible that this can happen.  The blog I posted earlier today, about Southwest Airlines’ continued success and the familial corporate culture behind it, stands as living proof of the success possibilities of this type of system.  It is possible that manager’s continue to yell at employees because that is what worked on managers before they were managers.  It is likely that someone who is in a position of authority now got yelled at all the time by their bosses.  The ones who advanced to become managers were those that could take it and compartmentalize it, or possibly who could use it for motivation.  However, they must be aware that not everyone responds the same to every type of feedback.  They need to consider all of their former colleagues who did not advance to the management level and why, I believe that the they will see why yelling may not be the best motivational tool.  And if it takes the Superbowl to show that than so be it.

The next article addressed bosses mandating employees to live healthier lives.  Managers are doing this because healthcare costs have rocketed out of control; also one hopes that they are doing this at least partially because they care about their employees.  I think that managers forcing employees to quit smoking and to eat healthier is totally justified.  While it is true that every US citizen has a right to the pursuit of happiness and the liberty to do whatever they want, that is most certainly not written into the bylaws of most companies (Wal-Mart for instance).  It is a privilege to work at a firm, and one should be expected to follow their rules.  To look again into the sports world for similarities, George Steinbrenner of the New York Yankees will not allow players to have any facial hair beyond a mustache, and will not let them have hair that goes to their shoulders.  Players could choose to go to other teams where this is not the case, but they choose to go to the Yankees because it is a proven winner and they pay well.  If the Yankees are allowed to make employees follow these types of life style rules than I don’t see why a lawn care conglomerate couldn’t do the same.  All they are doing is protecting their investment, I for one think that the investments should be okay with that.

Southwest Airlines Case

The case about Southwest Airlines was a very interesting look into corporate culture and the affect that it can have on all aspects of business.  They believe strongly in having a strong, defined, and family like corporate culture.  Southwest believes that for a culture to work it must be a top down effort.  This is evidenced in the behavior of their CEO, Herb Kelleher.

Mr. Kelleher clearly wants everyone in his company to feel welcome, valued, and at ease.  An example of this can be seen in the anecdote of him dressing up like Elvis at the party.  It is nice to see that your boss does not take himself super seriously.  It is good for worker morale if the big boss is seen to not think himself better than the “little people” (though in truth it seems very unlikely that Mr. Kelleher would consider any of his employees to be “little people”.  For this and other reasons, Southwest has long been the most profitable, and most well respected, airline.  The Vice President of People (or the people division) Ann Rhodes, is worried that other companies will copy Southwest’s strategies and Southwest will lose its advantage.

Fourteen years down the line it is clear that Rhodes did not have mush to worry about.  Southwest’s “intra-attitude” became their “inter-attitude”.  Southwest’s idea of going out and doing something for the employee and then the customer has paid off in spades.  They are still the leader in the aviation field for just those reasons.  Anyone who has traveled a lot will tell you that no one takes care of the passenger like Southwest.  They have low and consistent fares, are dependable, and seem willing to go the extra mile to take care of their customers.  Southwest was not overtaken by its competitors and both the company and its CEO have received man awards in recognition of their innovative, successful approach.  Southwest is the only airline company to be mentioned in as one of Fortune’s top 10 most admired companies (they were number seven in 2009).  And Mr. Kelleher has been honored as the CEO of the year, decade, and even century by Chief Executive Magazine, Financial World, and Texas Monthly respectively.

Their familial approach to worker relations has made Southwest Airlines one of the most emulated and successful companies in the world for decades.  Why do you think it is that other airlines have not been able to copy this formula to the same degree of success?  I believe it is because Southwest did not start treating employes right just because they thought it would be a good way to make money; I believe they started doing it because they thought that it was the right thing to do.  Perhaps because they believe in it they try harder?  Could this be the reason that Southwest has lapped the field for so long and in so many ways?  What do you think?

Fun, Free, and Profitable

Both articles this week focus on the ways that a company can improve productivity by caring more about the person, and not just the bottom line.  The articles differed in that one looked at improving customer relations through the exploits of a single employee.  This concentrated on changing business culture on more of a micro level.  The second article was much more macro in scope.  It talked about companies that began treating employees more leniently and allowing them to establish a work-life balance.  In both cases these changes led to financial success.

The first article focused on UA Captain Denny Flanagan.  It details Captain Flanagan’s sustained effort to go the extra mile for his passengers.  He did things like calling a flying alone child’s parents on a safe landing and buying McDonald’s for the all of the passengers when a flight was delayed.  The story then related anecdotes of customers who gained a new found respect for United Airlines and it was all because of the pilot.  It is no secret that excellent customer service can go along way in ensuring future patronage.  The problem is that many corporations think that providing excellent service will be prohibitively expensive.  What they fail to realize is that providing exemplary service may actually not be expensive, in fact, it may be profitable.  The three main things that distinguish companies from each other is price, quality, and deliverability.  Companies tend to focus too much on that first part and just skip over the others.

The first article looked at improving relations between the firm and others; the second focused on improving the relations inside the company.  One of the companies the article focused on was a property-casualty ensurer called Acuity.  Acuity added fitness facilities so that employees could more easily find time to exercise.  they also provided them with flexible scheduling that allowed them to work on their time.  The company immediately saw a spike in production and a decreased rate of voluntary turnover among employees.  By making Acuity a better place to work, they also made it a place where better work got done.  It is nice to see employers becoming more interested in their employees’ well-being a company can only be a strong as it workers.  And what kind of workforce can be stronger than a healthy, invested one?

These stories remind me of something that happened a few years ago.  My brother was going to Guatemala for a mission trip and his passport had not arrived at our house.  It was supposed to take 6 weeks to be delivered after it had been ordered and it had already been 8.  My dad called the office in San Francisco and they did not have it ready.   So, my father called Representative Dean Heller’s office and asked him about it.  Representative Heller took time out of his day to get the passport place to fast track my brother’s passport and get it sent to our house overnight with complementary express mail.  Now, my father is a registered Democrat and generally leans a little left in many of his policy preferences.  However, because of what Representative Heller (a conservative Republican by the way) did, he has made a voter for life out of my father.  Has anything like this ever happened to you?  Has there ever been a time when exceptional customer service has made you a life long patron to one brand or another?

Is smart smart?

Sutton’s blog post on Dweck’s article concerning nature vs behavior raised a number of interesting questions.  Dweck’s research looks at natural aptitudes and their development due to an encouraging environment.  Her research attempts to show that intelligence is more malleable when the subjects believe it is malleable.  She suggests that this can be a problem for both “smart” and “not smart” people.

The reason it is a problem for those who believe that they are somehow intellectually inferior is obvious.  Some people are discouraged early on and do not think it is possible for them to improve.  Because of this they do not do what is necessary to become star students and their grades suffer.  One of the more unfortunate sides of this is that some African-American students subconsciously believe they are not as naturally bright as other students.  Because of this many do not achieve the same things as students of other ethnicities.  If this phenomena is true, I believe it may create a negative feedback loop in which one generation of African-Americans fail because of low self expectations.  This failure may cause the stereotype that they are worse students to be reinforced, and therefore cause the next generation to expect little of itself and then achieve little.  This has the potential to be a continuous, and vicious, cycle.

The other way Dweck believes that the assumption that intelligence is a set quantity that cannot be grown, is with those who believe themselves to be very smart already.  She says that they believe they cannot learn anymore so they see no need to push themselves.  This can hurt them in activities that are not intuitive to anyone.  They believe that if something is hard and they don’t get it it will show they are not “smart” so they avoid it and stick to the subjects where they have the most confidence.

I can personally relate very much to the latter point she makes.  Often times in high school or my undergraduate career I just assumed that I could get by in classes without reading the book regularly and cramming everything in before the tests.  The problem was that most of the time this worked for me.  This only reinforced these bad habits and stunted my growth as a student (especially the studying aspect of it).  Luckily, I eventually ran into college calculus and I discovered that I would have to start studying or I wouldn’t make it through school.

I believe that this was a very well written study with some good points.  The thing about the African-Americans not believing in themselves subconsciously was very interesting.  I’m not totally sure if it is true or not but she supports it well so it could have something to it.  Do you think there is something there?  Or are poor grades across differing ethnicities merely the product of different physical environments?  Also, do you think you have trapped yourself in a box of thinking you were only so smart?  I know I was once guilty of this.  What do you think is the best way to tell kids that intelligence is malleable?

Flirting in the workplace: an unfair advantage or valuable asset?

Both articles from this chapter addressed the concept of women using their sexuality as a tool in the workplace.  The first article, by Ellen Pollack, addressed the fairness of women using their femininity as a tool in the workplace.  Some people thought it was fine while others viewed it as unfair.  I personally would fall on the side of thinking it is okay; at least to a point.

People use different aspects of their personality or skill set to get ahead all of the time.  If no one used their natural gifts, along with their technical ones, it would be difficult for anyone to set themselves apart.  As long as women are only using their sexuality to get a “foot in the door”, and then use their business skills to actually advance in the business, it seems totally okay.  Another example of someone using an inherent advantage that other may not naturally have would be a worker who’s first language is the same as that of a client.  If a firm is trying to create a relationship with a potential supplier in South America, an employee who speaks Spanish as a first language may be able to use their inherent skills to get a key negotiating position over another, possibly more qualified, employee.  However, that employee would then have to use their actual negotiation skills to make the deal.  If femininity is used like that, to get a talented, if under qualified employee into a position where they can perform well, then it seems okay to me.

The next article was based on a study a group of management professors from Tulane University that found that flirting in the workplace could lead to a lower amount of success.  This was based on findings that women who said they used flirtatious activities in the workplace had lower salaries and had been promoted less than women who did not use such measures.  At first glance, this seems to contradict the logic put forth in the Pollack piece.  However, looking at an anecdote from the first article may shed some light on the conclusions in the second article.  In Pollack’s article, she mentions that older women are less likely to use flirting to get ahead in the office.  She points to the conservative female dress of the 1980’s as an example of this.  It stands to reason that the more tenured employees would have been promoted more and would have higher salaries.  Is it possible that generational differences in women’s approach to office flirting skewed the results of the study.  If it was primarily younger women that admitted to any of the ten “sexual activities”, than the correlation made by the Tulane study may be meaningless.

There are two questions I found myself pondering after reading these articles.  The first: is flirting as a means to get ahead ethical?  I believe that it may be acceptable to some point, but relying on it over skill is not only dishonest but will probably not lead to any long term success.  the second question: Are women who are seen as more “flirty” not respected as much as their more conservative counterparts?  Does allowing themselves to be objectified by men lead to them being viewed more as office party favors than as productive members of the organization who just happen to be attractive and personable?  I’m less sure about this one than I am the other. It seems like it may depend on the person with which they are flirting and the culture of the company they are doing it in.  But, like so many things it is unclear.  What are your opinions on the matter? On either of the questions?

Teaching Smart People How To Learn

The points made in “Teaching Smart People How To Learn” are not only interesting, but also very intuitive.  It makes perfect sense that the smartest people in a company would have the hardest time learning something new.  All through school problem solving is what is encouraged.  Naturally the smartest people were the best at this.  Their proficiency in this was rewarded all through their academic careers.  They were trained to think critically to break down the problems that were presented to them.  However, they were not trained to think critically about why they were breaking down those problems.  This was the difference presented in the single and double loop models.  In the single loop model problems kept occurring over and over because the workers were not thinking about why the problems were happening, they were  just reacting to the fact that there were problems.  In the double loop process the workers try and figure out why the problem is happening.  When the double loop is employed as a strategy the chances of a repeat problem decrease significantly.

The ost interesting part of the article for me was the bit about the consultants putting too much pressure on themselves. They felt that they had to be the best and the sentiment often led to problems.  It is counterintuitive that the fear of failure would lead to failure.  However, it almost certainly does.  The fear of failure may lead to a fear of taking chances, chances that might be necessary in order to not fail.  Of all the things discussed in this article, this is the one I can most relate to in my own life.

First BADM 720 Posting

The article by Alsop about MBA programs beginning to put more value on “soft skills” was very interesting.  One of the reasons MBA programs may have been reluctant to take the teaching of skills such as leadership and listening more seriously is because MBA programs are so competitive with each other.  All of the MBA recruitment packages I read as I picked which program to attend were full of facts and statistics regarding graduates of their program.  It is a great recruiting advantage for a program to be able to claim that their graduates are taught advanced skills that are not part of the curriculum at other programs.  In this type of head-to-head comparison it is much easier to quantify the “hard” skills than it is the “soft” ones.  This is because mastery of the hard skills can be more easily demonstrated.  For example, if a student gets an “A” in econometrics, it is likely that they will be able to leave college and run many different types of regressions.  However, a student could get an “A” in a communications course and still leave school too nervous to speak up in a department meeting.    This difference likely persuades programs to lean more towards the hard skills in an attempt to make the benefits of attending their program and hiring their graduates seem more quantifiable.

The reason for the shifting focus towards the softer skills is likely a result of the same competition.  As studies like the Wall Street Journal/Harris study cited in this article have become more prevalent, programs now realize that, quantifiable or not, the soft skills are important parts of any graduate’s professional repertoire.  It is fascinating to see these programs move slowly forward as they try to figure out what will work and what won’t.  One of the courses that particularly interested me was the listening course being offered by the MBA program at Notre Dame (hopefully they aren’t this innovative during this Saturday’s football game).  It may be hard to claim in a brochure that your graduates are the best listeners, but hopefully the skills those students acquire will lead to greater success in their careers.  MBA programs can make their brochures just as competitive by listing how many of their graduates are high ranking executives as opposed to how many of them are finance wizards. It is encouraging to see more and more programs adopting this more business friendly, and more holistic style of curriculum.

The second article touched on other skills that employers believes recent MBA students are lacking upon graduation.  One of the major complaints of the article was that graduates could not write well enough to be taken seriously in a business setting.  MBA programs may assume that their students come in knowing how to write already.  It may seem redundant to try and fit basic business writing into their already crowded curriculum.  This curriculum real estate in even more precious when considering some of the statements made later in the article.  Programs are offering more specialized courses to give their program and edge against those that offer a broader, more generalized curriculum.  Adding a basic writing class to the curriculum is much less appealing than adding an advanced course in Chinese Economics.

In a perfect world an MBA program would offer both the hyper-specialized classes and basic skills courses.  However it is possible that some programs, especially during the current period of education cutbacks, may not be able to expand to include both (or either).  This leaves business schools with a dilemma.  Writing and leadership may seem more important than more specialized classes; however it is also more likely that they will be offered at other programs.  Specialization courses may not be as essential as the ability to write and relate to employees, but it may be more useful in helping separate a program from others.  It is unclear which of these should take precedence.  One possible solution would be to make the application to the program more writing intensive.  This would allow the school to only take those who already showed a command over basic business writing.  This would allow them to add more specialization classes to the program; countering the two primary problems employers discussed in the article.  The only possible problem arises in that tight screenings may limit the pool of qualified applicants, especially those who speak english as a second language.

The final article was an overview of the Kenneth W. Monfort College of Business at the University of North Colorado.  In order to stand out from other business schools they cut their MBA program and instead offer only a B.S. in business administration.  This has led to exceptional results.  The Monfort School is consistently ranked in the to 2.5 percent of undergraduate programs and 98.3 percent of their 2002-03 graduates were employed or in graduate school soon after commencement.  It is interesting to see a school that has taken an unconventional path to success and recognition.  It is possible that by limiting themselves to one program they have been able to hyper-focus and put more time, thought, and money into their undergraduate program than they would have been able to if they offered multiple degrees.

However, while this method has worked for them, I am unsure as to whether this model would find the same success were it more widely adopted.  The fact that some of their graduates go on to graduate school shows that the single undergraduate BS may not include everything that employees are looking for.  The Monfort School offers an interesting alternative to the traditional undergraduate and master’s business administration programs.  It will be interesting to see if other institutions are able to duplicate their success model or if their program is a phenomenon limited only to them.