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Blindsided during the crisis

December 29, 2011 Leave a comment

I recently listened to an interesting podcast by the BBC titled Survival Strategy. One of the interviewees during the show was a lady called Margaret Heffernan, a consultant, CEO, and author. Her contribution got me thinking about strategy, and how the current economic environment could challenge the fundamental direction of a previously successful business.

Heffernan stated that we are all experiencing difficult trading conditions, with no sign of let up in the foreseeable future. We cannot blame the recession for everything. Truth is, we are all on par with one another, and must look to the future for inspiration rather than backwards. Those successful business people would have absorbed this fact some time ago, and will already be planning and even executing long-term strategies to weather out this storm.

Now, the challenge for us all is to think creatively. What is going on inside our business, and what opportunities can we look to exploit outside. This is when “wilful blindness” prevents these organisations from identifying potential opportunities. Heffernan believes that this blindness is caused by the key orthodoxies that are ingrained within individual company’s. She recently applied the term to describe how Rupert Murdoch and his family dealt with the phone hacking scandal as it was taking place, which gives a rich introduction into the significant issues this neglect of fact can lead to.

Using other examples, Dell’s orthodoxy was ‘boxed computers’, and at the time, this stopped them from taking advantage of the internet. Google concreted its focus on ‘really cool technology’, and this led them to fall well behind other companies who embraced social media.

These orthodoxies (or company missions) could blindside businesses during these turbulent economic conditions.

Now, what Heffernan didn’t go into was how to instigate this creative thinking within the organisation, and at what level it should be adopted. In a large organisation, would you want only the senior members to focus on steering the direction of the ship, or would you empower lower level employees to pass on ideas.

How would you structure this complete headshift? What are your thoughts on the company mission effectively blindsiding the business?

Categories: Andi, Strategy

Happy Holidays

December 22, 2011 1 comment

Whenever I talk to friends who are coming to the end of their studies, or who have just started working, I have never heard them say that they expect to only work 9-5 and not do any overtime!

In a highly competitive working environment, young professionals are expected to do more than the customary, especially in the early stages of their careers. Which, in most cases, seems to be the unwritten deal of the employment contract.

On the other hand, I recently attended a presentation by an occupational physician that was addressed to senior executives. He talked about the need of physical and emotional compensation for employees to prevent work-related psychological and physical breakdowns.

As I looked around the room I saw many senior executives agreeing with this theory! The speaker then presented some research and used case examples of companies that have increased employee satisfaction and motivation by offering sports-programs at the cost of working-hours.

I felt somewhat confused by this seemingly contradictory trade-off. There appeared to be an expectation on employees to work overtime, yet during this presentation, an apparent agreement at C-level that employees required work hour dispensation to favour their long-term wellbeing.

Does that mean it would be appropriate for an employee to reschedule an important meeting because it clashed with their spin class, which was one key dimension to their healthy work-life balance? I admit that this is an extreme example heavily favouring the life side of the work-life balance, but is this what we have to look forward to in the future?

At the other extreme, I was also asking myself if my boss would really notice, and more importantly value emails and updates at 11pm, on weekends or during well-deserved holidays.

The point that I am trying to make is: Have you ever analysed if your boss’s expectations of you, and what you think is expected from you is the same? Maybe you think that working late every day is something expected of you, but maybe your boss thinks that all this overtime could contribute to your stress levels and productivity.

There’s no doubt that the work-life balance issue is a challenging one. But it is essential to gain an understanding on the best approach to take at your firm, maybe through observation and common sense.

When I asked myself about how I want to handle the work-life balance, I concluded that I really have to be adaptable upon the situation I am faced with at a particular point in time. I am going to change the balance as my priorities change.

I am pretty sure that I’ll spend plenty of hours at the office working overtime finishing important projects, but I hope to always find the right balance to keep myself healthy, prevent burnout and stay productive.

What is your approach to handle the work-life-balance?

I don’t know if it was possible to follow my mercurial thoughts today, but the message I wanted to deliver is:
It’s Christmas!!! Use the holidays to take some time off. Enjoy spending time with your family and friends, reflect on this last year, and treat yourself well. Don’t think about work too much, and when you do go back to work in the New Year, do so with a refreshed mind, motivated and enthusiastic.

eMusketeers wishes you very happy christmas and a prosperous new year.

Categories: Sebastian

Be your best

December 15, 2011 3 comments

After graduation, most graduates find themselves in a similar situation – they have a more or less clear idea of what they want to do, but there are still a variety of different positions to choose from, and in many different companies. So what position to apply for?

Faced with this decision, and with the knowledge that numerous other graduates are also entering a precarious job market,  many job-seeking graduates are doing what I like to call ‘lighting the application-bomb’. They shoot out applications like a machine gun, hoping that one will hit the target. Their application letters will usually highlight all of their positive aspects, and purport that they are the best candidate applying for the job – a general mass-marketing approach.

My view is that this approach is wrong. I argue that an application form that illustrates great flexibility, adaptability, and a general qualification for a job, has a fairly low probability of success. However, some of you might say that numerous applications with a small likelihood of success will add up to a high likelihood to receive an offer. I see the logic there, but if one of your general applications gets rejected, isn’t it unlikely the application will be successful for any other position? You have to evolve to improve.

Thus, in my mind, being more selective and adaptive in your applications, will increase the probability you’ll get the job.

The key doesn’t lie in saying why you are a genius and ‘the best’ in general, but rather in emphasizing why you are ‘the best’ for this certain position. The expectations for high quality in job applicants already exist, but you need to explain why you are better qualified than your competitors.

It isn’t always easy to stick out from the crowd, especially when everybody has had some sort of studying abroad experience, they’ve studied a high-calibre degree at a high-calibre institution, and they all have interesting internship experiences. So don’t concentrate on all of that. I wouldn’t get how your semester in Tijuana improved your Swedish language skills or how your internship at HSBC gave you the necessary skills to design a skyscraper… Basically, don’t focus on an experience if you can’t explain how and why that particular part of your life helped you develop a certain skill that you could utilise in this role you are applying for. It’s not just about what you did, but what you actually took away from it and why this enhances your value to your prospective employer.

I admit that this style of application takes a lot more effort, but it’s definitely worth the payoff.

What are your experiences with different styles of applications?
What worked best for you?
What didn’t?

Sebastian

Clarity Elusive

December 8, 2011 Leave a comment

No business blog would be complete without a discussion on presentation skills. Almost every professor, recruiter, and business student alike knows that the ability to present well is highly prized in the professional environment. Yet, I would argue, the majority of improvements that business students makes during their academic lifes comes from the advancement of their Power Point skills, not from structural improvement of the contents of the presentations. In other words, students learn how to use Power Point, not how to create better presentations. Today I would like to share a structural format I learned during a CEMS skill seminar, and to start a discussion regarding presentation techniques so that our readers can share their experiences.

In a nutshell, a good presentation slide has four main features: Action Title, Data Section, Analysis and Conclusions. Here is an example:

The audience will be presented with the title of the slide (Section 1), see our findings on the matter (section 2), and be guided to our conclusion (section 3). Structuring a presentation in this way creates a strong internal logic. If questions regarding findings arise, the presenter can refer to the data section and guide the audience through the interpretation process. In the example above, the next slide in the presentation would pick up where this slide left off and discuss the possible “employee motivation programs” in a similar manner.

While the example above clearly serves the purpose of explaining technical information to the audience, and is widely used in the consulting industry, is it the only way to present?

Categories: Alex, Core Business Skills

Move to success

December 1, 2011 Leave a comment

In today’s globalized economy, everything seems to be drawn together much closer than ever before.

Online check-in and teleconferencing-systems offer extended opportunities for international business and trade. This “new horizon“ entails as many prerequisites for graduates as prospects for companies.

Job applicants for postgraduate positions with large global companies see themselves faced with the necessity for flexibility and mobility in order to be successful in their pursued career. Having to move places for the job appears to be the standard rather than the exception nowadays.

However, the consulting company Kienbaum only ranked flexibility seventh in their survey “High Potentials 2010/2011”, right behind the Top Five, including motivation, target orientation, analytics, willingness to learn, and tolerance to stress.

In order to find out about the real significance of mobility and the willingness to move, I looked at the CEOs of Germany’s 30 major publicly listed companies, with regards to the distance between their hometown and their current domain. According to Germany’s size and density of population, they can be ranked in four different groups: Distance of 0-100 km, 101-200 km, 201-450 km and more than 450 km.

The results are interesting and calming for those who do not have geographical flexibility. No significant difference between the distances has been found. 20% of all CEOs still live within 100 km of their hometown and thus with the possibility of daily transit. 23% are still living within a range of 101-200 km. The weak majority in this survey is represented by managers living 201-450 km away from the town where they grew up. A distance that can be seen as semi-far in german dimensions and a reasonable track to handle on a weekly base. Interestingly, the 27% part of the far-movers of more than 450 km also includes the vast majority of foreign executives, leading german companies.

According to this data, no correlation between the willingness to move for a job-position and career-success (if you measure success by seniority) could be found on ceo level in germany. So the question remains: Willingness to move as an optional character trait or the denial of mobility as a career ender?

How far would you move to take on the next big opportunity in your career?

Sebastian

Categories: Sebastian, Survey