Archive for May, 2012

Is every day a casual friday?

As I have seen a lot of my friends starting to work in different professions, it has always been interesting for me to see them navigate through their new environments. The variance of perceptions of appropriate business attire in their diverse fields were especially fascinating, as I found.

Whilst some of them had to commit to a given dress code others were only ‘restricted’ by the term “anything goes”. Formal dress codes are mostly connected to positions in which someone has to deal with customers and therefore is asked to even visually embody the company. I even know a company that prescribes their employees to wear a suit to the office every day, just in case a customer shows up spontaneously or unannounced.

But there is the other extreme as well. To me it seems like professional dress codes have loosened up over the last decades. Started by the “casual-Friday-movement” in the late 1990s that rooted in a relaxed California-based business culture. I think in its original version that meant a business casual or smart casual Friday-wardrobe in contrast to the business suited wardrobe during the rest of the working week.

However, nowadays most people are free to choose what to wear to work every day. The guideline basically is to wear, whatever you feel comfortable in. This can be everything, starting from a simple T-shirts, over button-down shirts up to button-up shirts. Still in a silent precept management trusts its staff to dress appropriately when dealing with customers. While someone should still feel comfortable in his/her garments in such situations, the formal expectations of the clients need to be met.

Whilst I agree on the freedom to wear whatever makes you feel comfortable on a daily basis in the office. On the other side I ask myself what space this dress code leaves for a casual Friday. The opportunity to dress casually (different) on a Friday, provides us with a pleasant anticipation of the weekend. Doesn’t that give us the motivation to accelerate our working speed, finish up our To Do’s and joyfully leave the workplace for two well-deserved days off?

I like the idea of the distinction between a Friday and the rest of the working week, and I also like to be prepared and feel comfortable in case a customer shows up unannounced (what doesn’t necessarily require a suit). Nevertheless, I’m happy to skip the casual out of my Friday, if I have an important meeting lined up…

In this context I would be interested, how your company handles the dress code issue and if you have a casual Friday, respectively how this philosophy is executed in your environment.

I’m curious for your comments


Questions to ask a person whose job you are taking

May 21, 2012 2 comments

If you are not joining an organisation through a graduate program or getting placed in a newly created position, then it means that you are taking over someone else’s job. Circumstances of the transition vary, perhaps the previous employee may have moved on to another position, another company, misbehaved or been demoted. But in a best case scenario, you have several face to face hours with this person and he/she is willing to answer any questions you may have about the position and the company. What questions would you ask?

In my opinion, it would be best to ask questions which will help you to settle into the new job quickly. If you have no previous experience in a similar position, it would probably be in your interest to read up on what the job entails and how it is conceptually performed. During the actual interview, this knowledge will allow you to identify and absorb more important information.  What is “more important information”? I personally think it falls into three categories: human connections, information sources, and status of current projects. As such, some of the questions you would ask could be: Who does the person interact with on the daily basis? What is his/her relationship with those people? Are there any people who proved to be very helpful  in the past? What databases did the person use? Does the incumbent have a corporate email address? Can you get an access to it or will emails get forwarded to you? What projects are currently in progress? What activities need follow up?

I would be delighted to hear some of your experiences of settling into new jobs. Please leave your comments below.


Measuring progress

The business and economic world is obsessed with measuring things. The most widely recognised global measure is GDP, or Gross Domestic Product. The majority of us will not know exactly what this is, but we do know is that a postive GDP is good and a negative is bad. That is what the politicians tell us. That is what the media tells us. And that is what most of us take for granted.

So what is GDP? Essentially, GDP measures a nations growth by calculating its output. It does this through three calculations:

  • measuring production through market value of goods and services over 1 year
  • measuring income across all individuals over 1 year
  • measuring total expenditure by individuals across nation over 1 year

Theoretically, they should all reach the same figure. However, there are many limitations that skew the results, for example, GDP does not typically take technological advances which improve productivity into account. And only recently has the black market been factored into some GDP forecasts. It is clear that when you are measuring an entire nations output, there will be some degree of inaccuracy.

How relevant is GDP today?  A recognised litmus test of a nation’s health is to look at GDP. But does this measure paint a comprehensive picture of how a nation is performing. There are many important factors that GDP does not consider: social factors, such as healthcare, egalitarianism, the distribution of income, environmental damage, food wastage, and even happiness!

Politicians and business people are constantly talking about growth and what we have to do to stimulate an economy. But if a nations obsession with improving GDP leads to increasing the working age, reducing pensions, raising living costs, are we really making progress?

GDP from space - This cartoon is by Kipper Williams from The Guardian

GDP from space – This cartoon is by Kipper Williams from The Guardian

There have been many alternatives to GDP suggested in the past. The Human Development Index is one of the most widely recognised and measures literacy and life expectancy among others. The Index of Sustainable Economic Welfare,  incorporates pollution and income distribution. Or how about the Happy Planet Index, which combines human well-being and environmental impact. This issue is debated by academics, but we have yet to see much take up from business and the political elite.

How long can we rely on growth to measure progress? Surely we cannot grow forever. In fact, does progress even require growth? These are difficult questions indeed.


Apple’s supply chain

China is Apple’s second biggest market overall after the United States. The expansion of the company’s presence in China isn’t able to keep up with the rapid increase in demand from the burgeoning middle class across the region. Yet, the company’s exceptional growth in the far east has been overshadowed by labour rights issues, a number of suicides at its main supplier, Foxconn, and growing criticism from human rights lobby groups. Many people have been asking, what is the human cost of Apple products?

Suicide nets at Foxconn Longhua Shenzen

Tim Cook, Apple’s CEO, recently took to the assembly lines of Foxconn, its main supplier in China, in an effort to allay the increasing torrent of criticism the company is facing over poor working conditions in its supply chain’s operations. Apple recently called in the independent Fair Labor Association (FLA) to observe their Chinese manufacturer’s adherence to their own code of conduct, which aims to stamp out excessive working hours, remove discriminatory policies and prevent child labour.

Will this make any difference? Any improvement in Foxconn’s working conditions is going to increase the cost to its customers. These customers include Apple, IBM, Nintendo, Microsoft, and the list goes on… Foxconn have already asserted they will cap the working week of its employees at 49h, but this means capacity will have to be built somewhere else to cover the fall from the present 60+h per week. Someone will have to absorb this cost.

Once the storm passes, back to BAU. When this criticism passes and the publicity maelstrom calms, it is unlikely that we will see any real change in business practices at Foxconn. The issue is an economic one, and changes will not take place over night. Cheap and hard working labour is one of the reasons we are seeing such growth in China. The only way we will see real change on this issue is if the press continues to publish stories, and senior execs at the large multinationals continue to feel pressure from all sides.

The phrase goes, “what is out of sight, is out of mind”, and as long as the end customers of these multinational companies keep buying the product and don’t engage with these issues, we are unlikely to see any real headway made.

Corporate responsibility is being taught more and more in business schools across the world. Combine this with how much more connected we are with others across the world through the internet, we are becoming increasingly more socially aware. As we’ve recently seen from the effects of the Kony video, we are quick to feel the plight of individuals we may have never even thought about before. Does this means that our generation is more globally sensitive and therefore, likely to be more socially responsible when we sit in positions of responsibility?

Analytics and creativity divide

Some professional fields are changing. Let me rephrase that… all professional fields are constantly changing! But today I would like to draw your attention to a specific kind of change that I call an analytics/creativity divide. My favorite example of this phenomenon is the marketing industry. 30 years ago, to be great in marketing you needed a bag full of catchy slogans and marketing experience to know which ones would work.

During the 80’s and 90’s the marketing environment changed. More emphasis was placed on data driven campaign management, strategic brand positioning, and a scientific rather than creative approach. Don’t get me wrong! Catchy slogans are still needed, but this type of work is getting outsourced to creative agencies and internal marketing departments looking for more operational, rather than creative personalities. The history of marketing is wonderfully illustrated in the story The evolution of Marketing (absolute must read!).  Perhaps due to technology emergence and international competition marketing is becoming less creative and more data driven.

Can this trend of creativity and subsequent data analysis be observed in other industries? Is it a sign of the industry growing up or perhaps an indication for a need to focus on specialisation? After all, there are numerous examples where industries were created by innovators and subsequently managed by more analytical people (car industry, electronics). Is the same happening in the social media industry?


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