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Month: March 2009

Avatar as a role description

First day at Xoozya

Today is my first day in a new job and I headed off to HR to sign on the dotted line, get an ID card, and so on and so on and so on.

I had a pleasant surprise.

Induction at Xoozya

Good morning. Welcome, to Xoozya.  So glad you’ve chosen to join us [genuine smile].

To provide autonomy

What we want to do today is introduce you to the communication system so you can navigate and find your way around.

Avatars

To start you off, we’ve got 10 avatars for you to choose from.

Capture your role and aspirations visually

After you’ve been here a month, and had a chance to settle down, our avatar designer will pop in to see you for half-an-hour every day for a month to help you describe your role in the company.

Annual review

Every year, a year from now in other words, we will ask you to refresh your avatar, and to think through how it has worked for you and how it should change to fit your expanding role in the company.

Internal budgets

You can change your avatar during the year if you wish.  But we will charge you for your use of an avatar designer with Xoozya tokens.  You will also earn Xoozya tokens when you help people out in other ways.

Pay & taxes

Around the 15th of each month, you’ll need to make up your mind how much to pay yourself.

After you have chosen your avatar, we will show you how to log on to the accounting system to direct payment to your bank account.

Internal payments

Around about the 15th of each month, you should also allocate payments to your team leaders and anyone else you think should be hat-tipped.

Visualizing your budget

We have a very nice screen which shows you your budget.

It will show you clearly the budget allocated to you for the financial year,  the pro rata amount for this month, how much tax, insurance and pension you must pay for each dollar you pay yourself when you take money out of Xoozya, how much other people in the organization have hat-tipped you this month and cumulatively for the year, and how much you’ve hat-tipped them.

You can also look at their accounts to see what is the norm.  We visit all the noobes around the 13th of each month till you get the hang of it.

Day 1 Agenda

Agenda for today: let’s choose an avatar.  After that we’ll grab a a coffee and brunch.  Then we’ll have a  look at the accounts.

Avatars as a new world job description

What temporary avatars would you like to choose from on your first day at work?

If you were to capture your role in an avatar, what would it be?

What would you choose to describe yourself in that first month before you know anyone and before you are clear about the details of your role?

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Hat-tip

To the ever creative Ned Lawence at Church of Ned who set this train of thought in motion!

To Wang Jian Shuo whose direct requests for links I am copying!

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Springing happily into games design

Spring and new projects

Today is the first working day of British Summer Time 2009. The daffodils are out along the paths and the highways of England. It is light by 6am and it is time to spring clean my apartment.

I am also going to revamp my blog.

This is the third revamp or fourth incarnation.  I will still write about work and opportunity and I will still write about positive psychology – that is, the psychology of what goes well rather than the psychology of what goes badly.

Happiness engineering

What I will focus on for the foreseeable future is “happiness engineering” or “fungineering” or “happiness hacks”. These are all terms used by preeminent games designer, Jane McDonigal who has pointed out that games designers use basic work psychology to make engaging games far more effectively than managers, HRM and psychologists use the very same body of knowledge to make engaging work.

Learning games design from the beginning

I have no experience in game design. Zip. I don’t even play games – much. So this is the blog of a rank amateur exploring what games designers have to teach us about making work and play engaging in the 21st century, in our built up urban areas, with the threat of climate change and financial ruin hanging over our heads!

A community of amateur games designers

I suspect there are a heap of people out there who want to do this too. Please drop me the name of your blog if you also blog. Or join in the comments and suggest puzzles and conundrum for us to solve. And we will do our best.

Here’s to a winning 2009!
Jo

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Group action wins out!

Groups in action

Today, 35 000 people took to the streets of London to mark the G20 meeting of next week.  I’ve always been fascinated by group action.

Does your community act effectively as a group?

Do you prefer to play as a individual, or a team, or an organization or community?

Do you feel slightly despondent that groups around you don’t play well together, or play well, like the G20 demonstrators, but without achieving results?

Community action and the financial crisis

On Friday, I drafted a long article about the importance of group action to overcome the current financial crisis.

Today, I found this video from Kruger National Park.  The animals make the point so much more effectively.  Watch it to the end!

Are you the crocodile?  Are you the ‘pride of lions’?  Are you the leader of the buffaloes?

And wouldn’t it have been nicer if they buffaloes had find their stride a little earlier?

Here is the video to illustrate my point.  Group action is very important.

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Little known secrets about what a work and organizational psychologist will do for you in a recession

My job is to help you find forward momentum

I’m a psychologist. What this means, in short, is that you come to see me when you feel frustrated and it is my job to help you find a way forward.

Clinical psychology, social workers, lawyers & doctors

For some people getting out of a bad situation is complicated.  Quite often they are in extremely difficult circumstances and they need social workers, doctors, lawyers, etc. to help them solve practical problems.

They may also have lived in difficult circumstances for so long that they no longer recognize easy circumstances.  Helping them unravel their view of life and live an easier life is the work of clinical psychologists.

Work & organizational psychologists

Most people who come to see me are not in a bad situation.  They are at one of the normal turning points in life where they have to make a decision and they do not have sufficient information.  These turning points are often frustrating and scary, but they are essentially about questions like which organization should I join?  Or, how do I improve my status and my income?  Psychologists like me work less like clinical psychologists, who work with what is in your head, more like social workers, doctors and lawyers.  We help you understand and manage the external world, and in particular the world of organizations and work.

Indeed, we are quite often work for organizations rather than individuals and when we do, we are architects of systems.  We design selection systems.  We design disciplinary codes.  We design bonus systems.  HR systems are just formalized ways of making a lot of personal decisions about what we are doing and where we are going.  When we design the systems well, we give people an easy framework to make their own decisions well.  And we also strengthen the organization, by providing a place where we live and work comfortably and easily.

Work & organizational psychologists ask a lot of questions about work & business

To design good systems, we need to know a lot about jobs and business.  Of course, we don’t know as much as the people who run the business and who have worked in it all their lives.  Businesses and technologies change fast too.  So we are less in the business of knowing, and more in the business of asking questions.

Learning about the financial crisis

I started writing this post this morning after I read a post from the redoubtable Alice Cook, who provides a graph showing that financial debt has grown disproportionately to consumer and corporate debt in the UK.  I knew that generally but didn’t have a graph at my finger tips.  So thank you.  I like to have data stored away neatly.

Personal action during the financial crisis

I am amazed, though, that anyone is amazed by these figures.  Like many people, I feel that the managerial classes in the UK have a lot to answer for.  They should have known these figures intimately and acted accordingly.

The trouble is that blaming others is pretty useless as a psychological technique.  Professionals & business leaders may be to blame.  We might be right to hold them in contempt.  And personally, I wouldn’t feel unhappy if they were prosecuted.  But blaming others doesn’t help us feel better, and more importantly, it doesn’t help use get things right.  So I’ll leave that to others.

As a psychologist, what I have to say is this.

Until we are all a lot better informed, we will simply lurch from one crisis to another

Listed below are the bare bones of an information system that I am used to having at my disposal.

  • Trends in our industry
  • Current economic figures supplied monthly by our bank
  • People around me who read the figures
  • Key figures pertaining to our industry
  • Data on databases so that computer savvy people (including youngsters) can play with data and ask questions
  • Key figures that show the strength and resilience of our business
  • Key figures readily available so computer savvy people can play with them and ask questions

It is true I have not seen this information being made freely available to employees since I have arrived in the UK but I’ve lived elsewhere where a key player in the provision of information to people in business has been, ironically, British-listed banks.

If we want to get out of the biggest mess since the great Depression, we are going to have to do something. And to do something, we have to begin.  The first steps I will tell you, being a psychologist, is to ask questions.

Some easy no-cost first steps that individuals and small business owners should take

You have a computer and internet?  So let’s go.  If you haven’t already done it, it’s time to set up your own economic intelligence system.

FIVE steps will do it.  Set up folders on your email, feeds reader, bookmarkers and hard drive,  and a page on your blog.

1. Google Alerts.  Set up Google Alerts for your industry.

I have alerts for UK jobs and UK GDP and use a ‘rule’ to send them straight to my “intelligence” folder in email.  I read them once a week or when I need a break from other tasks.

2.  As you find useful blogs, subscribe in your feeds reader.

I scan these at my leisure and make a point of reading The Economist on Thursday evenings.

3. Bookmark articles you might want to come back to.

One big folder works better than many little ones.  Bookmarks saves you Google-time when you want to re-call something.

4.  Save useful graphs, data and pictures on your hard drive for the presentation you will make later!

5. Blog from time to time to organize your thoughts.

Then make an index of useful posts on a separate page where your readers can find all your writings on the future of your industry and local economy.

So will being economically-savvy help?

Keeping an eye on the economy does not stop other people from being foolish, of course.  And it can also make you feel panicky when you see a trend that no one else seems to care about.

I find that understanding the economy is like knowing the motorway ahead is congested.  I have created choice for myself.  I can keep driving and join the throngs inching along and losing their tempers.  Or I can pull off, and take a longer route through the back roads.

Neither may be a great outcome and it is also possible to put far too much effort into deciding the best alternative.  But I prefer a leisurely drive down the back roads enjoying the country view than boiling with frustration on an ugly motorway.

And I quite happy to leave behind badly run organizations for a business venture that is smaller and more likely to be here tomorrow.

Follow the good money

If you haven’t already done so, begin.  Spend a few hours a week following the economic data.  It gets easier.

And if we all do it, we won’t be routed by unscrupulous managers, at least for a while.

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Recession opportunities: green our offices

The seriousness of the recession is exaggerated and underplayed!

All around us, we hear the doom and gloom of the recession and I think this talk is both exaggerated and underplayed  Indeed, it is exaggerated because it is underplayed.

The economy needs structural change

The economy has not been strained like the plant on my desk that will bounce back with a little water.  The economy has been strained like the continous salad on the window sill that needs to be replaced.

Britain has a long tradition of science

Such stress in the economy would be a disaster if there was no way of replacing it.  But we only have to watch TED talks to know we are on the cusp of major technological changes and though Britain does not contribute as much to the R&D efforts of the world as the US, we are up there and have a long tradition of serious science.

How will technological change open up jobs for you and me?

I am making it my business to look out for the job opportunities of the future and TED once again obliges with a future opportunity that does not require a PhD in science, though it is certainly based on science.

Green offices!

We are going to green our offices to jungle proportions.  Yep, you will work in a thicket and the last thing you will do every night before you go home is wipe the leaves of 10 bushes very carefully!   Once a quarter, you will pop your plants outside and bring in another set!

And for greening your office, you will

  • Save 15% of power and this is pretty important because 40% of the world’s energy is put into airconditioning.
  • You will feel heaps better and be ill less often
  • You will have 42% chance of an increase of 1% oxygen in your blood.
  • You will be 20% more productive.  That’s a lot.

So where is the opportunity?

In plant growing and tending of course!

I wonder how many people who run nurseries have been scribbling figures on the backs of envelopes.

  • How many airconditioned buildings are there in UK?
  • What is the capital cost of equipping the buildings with a new set of plants?
  • What will be the knock-on effect on air-conditioning businesses and power companies?
  • What would be the projected power decrease and how would it be offset by increased fumes as we ship plants across UK on our inefficent road networks?
  • Who else is effected?  Well, HR and productivity specialists are put squarely in their place at a 20% productivity increase!

What other side effects can you think of that I haven’t thought of?

And here are the details for the greening of your office from Kamal Meattle speaking at TED

Areca Palm

  • Co2 to Oxygen
  • 4 Shoulder high plants per person
  • Hydroponics
  • Wipe the leaves daily in Delhi or weekly in less congested place like Milton Keynes
  • Outdoors every 3 to 4 months

Mother-in-law’s Tongue

  • Co2 to Oxygen at night
  • 6-8 waist high plants per person

Money Plant

  • Hydroponics
  • Removes volatile chemicals like formaldehydes

Evidence of the benefits of green offices

  • Tried this green formula in Delhi office
    • 50 000 square feet
    • 20 year old
    • 1200 plants for 300 occupants
  • 42% probability that your blood oxygen goes up 1% when you spend 10 hours in the building
  • Reduced incidence of
    • eye irritation by 52%
    • headaches by 24%
    • respiratory illnesses by 34%
    • lung impairment by 12%
    • asthma by 9%
  • Human productivity increased by 20%
  • Reduction of energy requirements in the building by 15% because of reduced air conditioning
  • Replicating with 1.75 million square feet building with 60 000 plants

Importance of greening offices

  • Demand for energy will grow by 30% in the next 10 years
  • 40% of energy is used by buildings
  • 60% will live in cities with population of more than 1 million people

I must get this together before next winter!

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0 steps to redress scandalous bonuses?

In the UK, talk about reclaiming bonuses’ and pensions was quickly swatted away without serious debate.

There may be legal grounds to recover scandalous bonuses

I was interested to see this article about the general legal position of excessive bonuses in the Harvard Business School blog from a former GE internal counsel and now Senior Fellow at Harvard Law School.

“Moreover, countless legal experts have already suggested numerous reasons why it is likely that there is no ironclad legal obligation to pay the bonuses to the people who caused the problem. These range from legal theories about non-performance to equitable theories of recission or reformation due to fraud or unconscionable terms to the doctrine that governmental take-over excuses bonus payment because the point of the contract has been destroyed. “

HR needs to become more incisive

Why are we in the UK quite so fuzzy about what is going on?  Did CIPD discuss these matters during its recent conference on Managing through a Downturn?

Who is taking seriously the reformation of HR that must happen as we work out way out of the recession?

About 30 people a day come to this blog looking for information on HR and the recession. What are the best links you have found?

Please drop a comment telling me of the best work you have found!

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Job Maps for UK at Sky News

Brilliant! Sky News has set up a map showing where jobs are being made and lost in the UK. This is an excellent aggregator to keep an eye on snippets of news that might otherwise get lost.

Next we need a way of generating summaries. After that, we need to be able to track fundamental processes that are leading to ‘spring’ and ‘autumn’ in various parts of the economy.

PS Though the link seems not to be active, this is a good idea.  We need to slurp our data, rearrange it and share it.  Watch this space for more slurping and visualization arranged positively to help you take action! Send me an email if your are interested.

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The ONE big reason why I am not worried about the banking crisis

The banking crisis is bad and a lot worse than most people think.  But I am not worried.  And this is why.  On front after front, scientists and science-based professions are making enormous technological advances.

As I am a British resident, I am interested in this:

Who and where are the top scientists and technologists in UK?

Juan Enriquez talking on science at TED (via YouTube).

UPDATE July 2010:  The science appears to be out there but business seems to be sitting on its hands  . . . or on its cash rather.

Business isn’t moving spare cash from old industries to new.  The failure to allocate capital to new productive industries would be catastrophic at any time.

In the midst of a financial crisis, not funding growth will bury us.  Couple the removal of cash from the economy by business with the austerity measures in Europe and by state governmnents in the US, we have a recipe for  a depression – not a double dip recession – a depression.

It’s time to find businesses that are going somewhere and going somewhere despite impending chaos.  Get behind them.  Put all your skill and connections into making them work.

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Learning about leadership from bankers :)

How do you greet a banker?

I did the two-step shuffle down the aisle of the aircraft, muttering apologies here and there, bobbed and weaved like Muhammed Ali  determined to get to my seat quickly, without being run over by bags-on-wheels, or clouted over the head with duty free wine as someone swings it into an overhead locker.

Blessed relief.  My seat!  Unfold the seat belt.  Move the blanket and pillow.  Plop myself down.  Greet my neighor.  Start chatting civilly.

It turn’s out my neighbor is an ex-banker.  I catch my breath for a moment, feel my pupils dilate slightly, and I burst out laughing.  A test of social skills, perhaps?

How do you greet a banker who helped design the Titanic of the UK economy – the ship that would never sink?

He’s a idiot, he’s a fool, he’s knave  .  .  . do I greet him with contempt, anger or curiosity?  Sell him something perhaps. He’s gullible after all.

Behind my impulse to laugh is a mix of embarrassment (for him) and traces of British irony – can’t fix it so you may as well live with it.

The natural born salesman, on the other hand, approaches life differently.  He understands that everyone should take initiative – all the time, every day, where ever we find ourselves.

These three attitudes correspond to three prominent ways of we talk about leadership.

Heroic

In the heroic idea of leadership, which we often associate with American movies, an individual leader rises to the fore, points to the horizon, and carries us off to our salvation.  It’s deemed hard to do.  That, of course, is just a belief to justify rewarding some people a lot more than others.

We have this idea in British culture too.  In the biography of Winston Churchill, Gathering Storm, it is clear that Winston had strong ideas about saving his country, long before there was any call to do so.

The trouble with heroism is that outside the moment of heroism, we look more than a little batty.

Ironic

The ironic story line of leadership runs a little differently.  It goes like this.  I tried.  It didn’t work out.  What a plonker I turned out to be.  So I will go back to the status quo.  It is not so bad after all.

We come together at the end of the story in a ‘group hug’, where no one wins or loses, and there is no challenge at all to distribution of rewards.  We celebrate the status quo.  Very British, of course.

Irony is funny when it is done well, and often awesome in its execution.   But it is a form of narcissism.  We do so love preening ourselves in the mirror.  It is such a good excuse to do nothing!

Personal

Personal leadership is a new label for understanding leadership in the networked world.  The salesman who promptly sells something to the ex-banker (a new job or a new Caribbean island, perhaps), sees the world as a network where everyone is influencing everyone else in their small way.  Tacky when I talk about a salesman, but very important as the world becomes more networked.

The Hero’s Journey

This genre, with its understated label, is a version of the heroic – where we are each our own hero traveling our own hero’s journey. It’s inspired by author Joseph Campbell, who believed that all good stories have a heroic structure.  We set off on a quest, meet a number of challenges on the way, overcome them, and return home in triumph to a new challenge – how to integrate our new life with the old.

In the cloud

Though this genre is a simple heroic form, and individualistic to boot, it fits neatly into our every increasingly networked world, where each person really does influence the world, and can influence the world.

I imagine Earth from outer space with a blanket of mist around it, cocooned in a mohair mesh of internet messages.  Anyone with an internet has free access to the cloud.  They need skills, but little is stopping them entering, and influencing, that space.

Swirling with others

But, of course, others are doing that too.  At the same time.  So, it is an ever evolving space and requires a new way of thinking.

Life becomes less a matter of right and wrong.  To predict an outcome requires the world to change slowly.  At the minute you believe you are doing the right thing, someone, maybe a ten year old in a rural village in India, does his own thing, and changes conditions and renderes your calculations incorrect.

To play in the new connected world, we have to play.  We have to be ever present. This bothers people who are not used to taking into account what a ten year old is doing in rural India.  It scares the pants off the old guard.

Learning about personal leadership in the cloud

Well, I might be squirming on behalf of the banker sitting next to me.  And maybe he is a fool or knave. But just maybe, he also understands banking sufficiently to see where banking is going.

Maybe, he will straighten out the mess and be our new hero of tomorrow?

Let me ask.

So where is banking going?  Where do you see banks in the future?

[And if he is heading towards his Caribbean island, maybe I can cadge a invitation for a holiday.  Have I lived in England too long?  Well, this will be an interesting flight, anyway.  I always talk to people on planes.]

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Recruitment agents and Opportunity UK

Andy at SironaConsulting reported earlier today that the former CEO of Woolworths has started a new recruitment agency.  For non-British readers, Woolworths was a High Street chain which, at its peak, was a precursor of $1 shops.  This year, it finally went under and put a lot of people out of work.

Andy wondered how the CEO of a failed company could front a start up and his question led me to a question of my own.

Which recruitment agencies in the UK (or elsewhere) specialise in the 4 BCG segments?

Cash cows

Cash cows dominate their own market but are growing slowly if at all.  They typically offer stable careers, plenty of training and good benefits, such as final salary pension schemes.  They are a great place to raise a family.  And  importantly, cash cows tend to recruit from other cash cows.  There is an inside track of cash cows, so to speak.

Downside:  If you have been working in a cash cow, you’ve been living a soft life.  You are ill-prepared to enter the hurly-burly of a small business and the other 3 segments.  Once in cash cows, it is better to stay.

Question-marks

Question-marks are typically start-ups.  They don’t have much cash and pay low wages with stock options.  If the company makes it, like founding employees of Google, employees get very rich indeed.

Downside:  If the company does not make it, you have little to show for the years you spent with them.  This is not a good place for someone with a family to support or someone who wants to return to a cash-cow.

Stars

Stars are in a high-growth phase.  Basic pay is still modest and benefits are not luxurious.  Indeed, bonuses are linked to performance and may be lavish to compensate for the low pay and the very real possibility of not receiving a bonus at all.

Downside:  The official downside is that if growth does not happen, you will not get a bonus.  The real downside is two fold.  You only know how to do business in growth conditions.  Anyone can do business in an up-turn.  Can you also succeed in a down turn?   And as we have all learned, some growth is fictious.  If you don’t really understand the business, you might be involved in a Ponzi scheme.

Dogs

Dogs have had their day.  They no longer dominate their segment and they are no longer growing.  Oddly, though, employees are paid very well in a dog and in cash, not benefits or stock-options or performance bonuses.  Why?  Well obviously, no one with any sense will work there unless they are paid almost in advance!

Downside:  You make a lot of money helping to squeeze the last pennies out of a dog but you become a dog specialist.  You would be disruptive in the lazy life of a cash cow.  Startups and their delayed payments will scare you. And you don’t know anything about growth.  Once in a dog, you move from dog to dog.

Recruitment Agencies

The credit crunch has changed the trading conditions for companies in the UK quite and it is likely that many companies have switched segments.  The star of yesterday may well be the dog of today.

An intuitive understanding of the four segments and the HR policies that go with them seem to play beneath current public discussion about the credit crunch.

  • Should cash cows have been managed like stars and hasn’t this confusion led to their collapse?
  • Can the banks be reformed back into the slow, passive cash-cows they once were?
  • Now that derivatives hang around the bank’s necks like albatrosses, are they not indeed dogs?

For my part, I suspect the banks are simply stars that were managed with insufficient understanding of the business.  But if they had been managed as startups (which is consistent with a level of ignorance about a business and its trajectory), they should have had delayed stock options.   And given their strategic importance to UK, the powers-that-be should have insisted on some careful modularization and ring-fencing of risk.

It might be possible to mould the banks back into the slow and cautious form of the cash cows that we once knew banks to be, but I wonder if cash cows are made so readily.   I suspect that banks need to be unbundled into the four segments: safe operations of cash cows,  unknowable outcomes typical of start-ups, growth related work of stars,  and cashing-up operations of dogs.  But I’m not on the inside.  This is only armchair analysis.

What I am curious about, given Sirona Say’s post of today, is which recruitment agencies specialise in cash-cows, which in startups, which in stars and which in dogs?

And how has the credit crunch changed the mix of companies you deal with and hence your own focus and service?



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