Archive for April, 2012

Rough Conflict or Gentle Manipulation

April 26, 2012 Leave a comment

Forcing, making, convincing, or encouraging people to do what you want is one of the core business skills. If you think about it, managerial jobs almost entirely consist of arguing a point of view or convincing others that your solution is best under the circumstances.

Examples of this are too numerous to list, but here are a few: explaining to your boss why the sales forecast that you made is what it is, why investment in new equipment is needed, or why certain policy changes are necessary.

In most academic environments, at least on a Bachelor level, the problem of communicating your point of view rarely exists, since most of the time answers can be found in the textbook and solutions usually have a clear logical path.

The aim of education at this level is to provide the necessary breadth of knowledge, while subsequent professional experience will teach young graduates how to convey their point of view in more complex circumstances.

Sadly enough, logical argumentation is not always sufficient in the professional world. Professionals that want their point of view to be heard, need to take into consideration the logical capability of their audience, political environment of the company, personal ambitions and fears of individual listeners, level of their own reputation with the target group, and multiple other factors, such as mood of the listeners, time of day, etc, etc.

Most of the time we do not take the factors listed above into consideration. While each person is distinct in his/her approach, most of us will first try to argue our point of view logically. Then, if it is not accepted we tend to get angry and repeat what we said previously. Perhaps we also double check our calculations and if they turn out to be correct we may start forcing our point of view. We may go through this cycle several times, all the while not realising that the measures that we propose may endanger personal interests of our listeners, thus resulting in their refusal to accept them.

So what is a perfect way to make sure that your point of view is heard? Can we actually create an algorithm to help managers in getting their point of view across?

If we google “how to sell” or “how to negotiate” we come across so much information that it is almost impossible to turn it into something meaningful. As such I decided to create my own model of how to get your point of view across. However, if anyone of you came across any articles or books on matter, please leave a note in the comments and you will have my eternal thanks.

The model:

Argumentation framework

This model puts sound logical argument and correct facts at the core of the framework. Without proper facts or accurate information you are less likely to succeed in convincing others of your point of view. It is not to say that you cannot convince people without correct information, but it seems that any success achieved in this way is less stable.

After having your facts strait and established a logical structure, you must consider the point of view of your intended audience. The framework highlights the fact that knowing your audience is just as important as knowing your facts. Essentially we must tailor our argument and highlight different benefits (even the benefits that are not very important to ourself) of the solution we want, based upon our understanding of fears and desires of our audience. For example, you might think that it is very important to highlight that you went to a highly ranked school in your country, but your interviewer really wants an employee who is able to solve practical problems… Hence, you note that your school has a very strong relationships with the business community and that the practical curriculum played a very important role in the school’s ability to achieve a high ranking. As the example illustrates and to put it bluntly, it does not matter what you think is important, what matters is your understanding of what your audience thinks is important.

So, have your facts strait, highlight certain features according to your audience, and reach a personalised conclusion.

Support factors to the right help you to capture the attention of your audience. If your audience trusts you, if you have a high level of actual or implied authority, if your audience is not deprived or stressed, and (etc.), then you will be able to convey your point more effectively.


Categories: Alex, Core Business Skills

Innovate your workplace

April 19, 2012 Leave a comment

I guess everybody knows the feeling you get one day before the due date of an assignment at uni. It is often combined with an increased level of stress from the need to pull an all-nighter to finish the task and meet the timeline. I admit that I have been one of those last-minute crunchers, even though I managed to finish a couple of days early every once in a while.

However, I think everyone agrees that most study lounges with artificial lighting don’t create an atmosphere that fosters creative working. In this post, I don’t want to talk about the issue of time-management, but rather about creating a working-environment that stimulates creativity and innovation.

Winston Churchil said:

“We shape our buildings; thereafter, they shape us.”

Following this quote, it is important to pursue a creative workspace-design to pursue those requirements. From my own experience I can tell you that it is sometimes useful to change locations if possible, even though your workplace might be innovation-itself, to stimulate creativity.

Since change of location is not always an option, because there is a limited amount of available spots around and your dependence on local infrastructure (like IT and stationary inventory), it is crucial to create a working environment that supports your creative needs.

Scott Witthoft and Scott Doorley targeted this specific topic in their post “Five ways to make corporate space more creative”. The most important areas to include are posture, orientation (of people relative to each other), and ambience (the tangibles of a room). Disagreeing with Witthoft and Doorley I say that ambience probably is the most important and obvious of those areas, and therefore gets a lot of credit in the first run of workplace-innovation-improvements. It is not always about the major and cost-intense changes like refurnishing the room with whiteboards and adapting a Google-like environment. Even fairly simple changes like the lighting in your office might have a huge impact on the working-atmosphere. From my own experience, I can tell you that it is much more pleasant to work at a warm-lighted desk, rather than at a cold-lighted, even though cold-light is known to reduce tiredness.

Also the posture is important to your creative outcomes. Witthoft and Doorley stated “[they]’ve noticed time and time again that an upright posture encourages people to stay alert and engaged in problem solving, while a comfortable, ‘lean-back’ posture often turns people into passive critics.” Therefore they suggest to use stools in a seminar-configuration rather than chairs to keep participants stay involved in the discussion. Again, I’ve experienced this myself, when I recently had the opportunity to work at a desk that was high-adjustable. Stand-up working for an hour or so every once in a while was a welcome variation that I used quiet frequently and noticeably increased productivity and courtesy.

In terms of people’s orientation I think offices already implemented a standard. The majority of the ones I’ve visited so far with multiple people working in them, had two desks facing each other with a computer-screen right in the middle of them avoiding direct eye-contact of the colleagues. Personally, I like this configuration; maybe just because I’m used to it. Even though, I would argue that a configuration of desks opposing one another, might enforce the creative-process since it is much easier to quickly look at your colleagues screen to double-check something or to request input.

Returning to my uni-classmates I have to say that I’ve always been amazed to see how different people worked creatively in the most diverse working environments. I support the idea to work in a coffee-shop or on a bench in a park, every once in a while, I’d even recommend it. Since this is not always possible I encourage you to think about what enforces your creative-edge.

What would make you more productive and innovative at your workplace? Don’t just think about the big changes. Also think about minor details that might stimulate you. Sometimes even a photo of your beloved ones might be enough.

Think about it and take small steps to implement your ideas. And tell us…


We are paid to find answers not to have them…

April 13, 2012 Leave a comment

Is that true? Or let me phrase it another way… as employees we are frequently (or not) asked to solve problems. Be that what it may: creating a sales forecast, making a bank reconciliation or  creating an innovative slogan, we often do, on occasion, use a very helpful tool called Google to “refresh our memory” or to “find some inspiration”. So here is the question… what employee is more valuable: one who knows something or one who knows nothing, but is able to find an answer if a problem arises? It’s quite a broad question and, as with most things in life ,the answer is “It depends”.

You would probably prefer a surgeon who knows something, rather than the one who can find an answer when a problem arises :). But at the same time you would like your entrepreneurs to be quite different, able to learn and find answers quickly. As you can see, it differs from one profession to another, but a clear continuum emerges. On one side we have people who are walking encyclopedias, on the other – the agile, but inexperienced.

Once we have established the continuum several interesting issues emerge.

How effective is the education system in training individuals for professions where agility is useful? I personally remember very few details from my marketing courses I did at a bachelor level, but I remember enough to understand where to look for answers in this field when I need them. Is this how it should be?

How should you position yourself in the recruitment process? Should you demonstrate that you learned the latest techniques academia can offer or that you are able to adapt? Are preconceptions in any given field a burden you would rather avoid? Does the way you position yourself change with age? Should you be an experienced and knowledgeable executive when you are 40-50 or should you remain (or can you remain) open to suggestions?

And the last and most important issue… How far should you go to find the answers to the business problems you are facing? Should you try to figure the problem out by yourself? Should you ask almighty Google for help? Talk to your coworkers? Phone your professional association?  Ask your friends who work in different professional fields? Talk to your competitors?

Just kidding… “It depends”.


“Relativity” by Escher

Democracy? Nah… we don’t need it here

We live in a very strange world where democracy is considered by many to be the best of the worst systems to elect country’s leadership. As pointed out by Winston Churchill: “No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of government, except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.” But at the same time benevolent dictatorship is the governance model of choice in most companies. Of course we are not living in a black and white world and examples of successful countries with authoritative regimes exist (think Singapore). But so do struggling democracies (Greece), failed company dictatorships (Enron), and successful democratic companies (examples are few but check out this WSJ article). But apart for the few exceptions we (Westerners) like our countries democratic and our companies efficient, even if they are dictatorial. Why? What factors made it best to run countries as democracies and businesses as dictatorships? Can a company be managed as a democracy?

I propose several mechanisms that are at play, producing the observed effect:

1. Under a dictatorial regime poor leadership in a country tends to linger, while in a company  such inefficiency is quickly capitalised on by competitors. To put it simple, if you run a bad company competitors will take away all your customers and your company will fail for the lack of financing, which may take several years. On the other hand, dictatorship in a country does not have such competition, aims to preserve itself for decades and tends to fix economic problems at the expense of the population.

2. Democratic systems are inherently slow. For a government this is not a problem, since there is no competition. There is no need to be quick about making decisions. In a corporate world only quick and efficient systems of governance are viable.

3. In a country benefits of having an effective government flow to the population, while in a company such benefits flow to the owners/management.

Overall, the best governance system has to have mechanisms to replace poor leadership. For companies such a mechanism is bankruptcy and for countries such mechanisms are elections. Secondly, the best governance systems have to be efficient, and since in a country benefits of governance flow outside of the government body, voters decide what an efficient government means to them. In a company most of the benefits are confined to the owners/managers and as such authoritative approach is appropriate. Perhaps dictatorship and democracy are all a matter of definition. After all, is democracy not a dictatorship of the voters?

Source: /article.php?id=169

Categories: Alex, Strategy