“Get Stuffed” Funds

Under yesterday’s post about moral cowardice in the workplace, dearieme makes the following comment:

People should build up a “get stuffed” fund so that they can afford to tell a boss to go to hell.

To which bobby b responded:

It’s been my experience that the Eff You Money myth is just that – a myth.

If you ask ten people how much money it takes, the answer is almost always something like ([what I have right now] X 2.5.) It’s like the “Free Beer Tomorrow” signs in bars – tomorrow never comes.

Those who can truly say Eff You to a boss or a job can say it no matter how much they have put away.

The rest can salt away a million or two and still be waiting to hit that magic number. They’ll never actually catch up to it. Most people just aren’t the Eff You type.

Both deariem and bobby b make good points.

One of the most depressing things I heard during my career was a remark made by a friend and former colleague who I love dearly. I was complaining, as I often do, about the lack of moral courage in modern organisations, particularly how almost nobody will speak up against bad management decisions, poor practice, or a lack of clarity, consistency, or professionalism. I described how I’d sat through a meeting where a visiting boss failed to address any of the employees’ long-standing complaints, and instead delivered an upbeat monologue that bore no resemblance to reality. I questioned why nobody, even those quite senior, had the balls to speak up, and she replied:

Because it would be pretty irresponsible for a guy to come home to his kids and say “Sorry, I’ve lost my job because I told my boss to fuck off.”

I found it depressing because it confirmed what I have long suspected: the slightest push-back against management these days is interpreted as “telling the boss to fuck off”. The fact that there is a yawning chasm between raising valid objections and telling the boss to fuck off seems to be absent in the minds of modern corporate employees.

If anyone at work calls you a brown-noser or a suck-up, ask them how many times they’ve been fired. I’ve found this normally shuts them up. Me, I’ve been booted from one job for repeatedly and vociferously denouncing the utter incompetence of my boss and his boss above him, and hoofed off another for being overly outspoken in a quite different sense. But there have been times when I’ve held my tongue because I couldn’t afford to lose my job.

I learned the lesson early in my career that you need to make yourself as financially independent from your employer as possible. Honestly speaking, this is one of the main reasons why I didn’t want kids: once you have kids, your boss has you by the balls, and he or she knows it. They then treat you accordingly. Most people are happy to nod their heads and stay silent but I’m incapable of doing that indefinitely (family trait) and I knew if I had children there would be a good chance I’d either let them down, die of stress, or die of shame and misery. I think it’s a sad reflection on modern corporate life that a good portion of employees are thoroughly miserable and humiliated, but are trapped because of their decision to have children. Among all the talk of why Europeans are no longer breeding, this factor never comes up. Perhaps it should?

Anyway, it took me a few years but eventually I got to a point where it wouldn’t be a disaster if I lost my job. Of course it wouldn’t be ideal either, but I’d not be totally screwed. Now that didn’t mean I immediately started telling managers to fuck off, because that would be stupid. But what it did mean is I could sail closer to the wind and stand up for myself a bit more, and speak out if I’m not happy with something. This has made me a pariah in some circles as absolute, unwavering obedience to management is a requirement in modern industry, but it’s probably made me happier than most people around me. For a start, the stress relief that comes from not having to grovel on a daily basis just to pay the bills is unmeasurable. Secondly, not much actually happens. For all the times I’ve been pulled aside after a meeting by someone whispering “But you need to be careful!”, and the number of dark warnings I’ve received about how this “will impact you career”, I’m still not noticeably worse off than anyone else. Firing people isn’t that easy, and 90% of employees won’t have high-flying careers no matter how much they believe it and how late they work trying to achieve it. Contrary to the universal belief in major corporations, a less-than-perfect annual appraisal is not the end of the world. By contrast, it barely matters a jot. So if you’re middle-aged and not rubbing shoulders with the top bananas on a daily basis, you might as well stop sucking up, relax, and enjoy life a little.

So bobby b is right, most people just aren’t the “fuck you” type. The problem is, with today’s financial pressures most people aren’t anything other than the “yes, sir” type. Rather than building up a “get stuffed” fund, employees should first start working towards a “well, hang on a minute” fund. I’m convinced both employees and shareholders will be better off if they did.

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The Modern CEO

This interview with YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki is illuminating:

YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki was on vacation when Silicon Valley suddenly plunged into a bitter debate over sexism.

The now-infamous “Google memo,” written by engineer James Damore, argued against diversity initiatives at Google and said that female engineers were less capable of leading others.

That’s not what he said, but go on.

Wojcicki, who was part of the team at Google that decided to fire Damore, recalled talking about it over dinner with her children, to whom she had always tried to promote diversity and equality.

I grew up eating dinners in absolute silence while my mother listened to Gardeners’ Question Time. Compared to family mealtimes in the Wojcicki household, I think I got off lightly.

“The first question they had about it [was], ‘Is that true?’”

Were they asking about what Damore actually wrote, or the version you told them?

That really, really surprised me, because here I am — I’ve spent so much time, so much of my career, to try to overcome stereotypes, and then here was this letter that was somehow convincing my kids and many other women in the industry, and men in the industry, convincing them that they were less capable.

Either your kids can’t read, or you lied to them. Which is it?

That really upset me.

You’re a CEO, yet you get upset by someone writing an internal memo that gets leaked because it confuses your kids?

In response to the backlash to Damore’s firing by self-styled “free speech” advocates, Wojcicki said there’s an important difference between free speech on platforms like Google and YouTube, and free speech inside the companies’ offices.

That’s a handy confirmation that absolute obedience and conformity is a requirement of working in Google. I mean it’s pretty obvious, but rarely do you hear it stated so boldly.

In fact, James Damore did his first interview with a YouTube creator,” she said. “That’s fine to have on the platform. We have lots of rules, but we tolerate — we enable a broad, broad range of topics to be discussed, from all different points of view.”

But…

What did Ned Stark say? “Everything before the word “but” is horse shit.” A wise man, that Sean Bean:

“But it’s different if you’re within a company trying to promote more women,” she added.

Of course it’s different. It always is.

“Think about if you were a woman and James Damore was on your promotion committee, or to just see that the company was enabling this type of harmful stereotype to persist and perpetuate within the company.”

Alternatively, think about if you were a male programmer – or indeed an investor – and you were reading this interview. Wojcicki sounds less like a blue-chip CEO than a whining schoolgirl who can’t work the projector. It’s hard to believe she’s been at Google from the start, but she seems determined she’ll be there at the end.

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The Ubiquity of Moral Cowardice

Via Twitter, Damian Counsell links to this piece on Harvey Weinstein by screenwriter Scott Rosenburg:

Not to mention, most of the victims chose not to speak out.
Aside from sharing the grimy details with a close girlfriend or confidante.
And if they discussed it with their representatives?
Agents and managers, who themselves feared The Wrath Of The Big Man?
The agents and managers would tell them to keep it to themselves.
Because who knew the repercussions?
That old saw “You’ll Never Work In This Town Again” came crawling back to putrid life like a re-animated cadaver in a late-night zombie flick.
But, yes, everyone knew someone who had been on the receiving end of lewd advances by him.
Or knew someone who knew someone.

And here’s where the slither meets the slime:
Harvey was showing us the best of times.
He was making our movies.
Throwing the biggest parties.
Taking us to The Golden Globes!
Introducing us to the most amazing people (Meetings with Vice President Gore! Clubbing with Quentin and Uma! Drinks with Salman Rushdie and Ralph Fiennes! Dinners with Mick Jagger and Warren-freaking-Beatty!).

In short, nobody spoke out about the mistreatment of their colleagues because they were doing fine. A certain Edmund Burke had something to say about this:

The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.

To borrow a phrase from the feminists, this is not a problem restricted to Hollywood. Only I’m not talking about sexual assaults on women workers, I’m talking about moral cowardice.

I defy anyone who has worked the last ten years in the modern workplace to tell me they haven’t seen a time when a decent, conscientious, competent worker was treated like dirt or hounded out of their position by a self-serving, cowardly management who should never have been put in charge of guarding a pile of wet dog shit, let alone the lives of human beings.

Similarly, I defy anyone who has worked the last ten years in the modern workplace to cite more than three occasions when a colleague of somebody who’s been fucked over has stuck his neck out and openly criticised the management responsible for the mistreatment. I don’t mean expressing sympathy with the guy, nor do I mean making generic remarks about how terrible it all is. I mean marching into the manager’s office and saying:

“Just to let you know, I am seriously unhappy with what you are doing to Fred over there. It is unethical, immoral, and probably illegal, and ought to have no place in a modern business.”

Hands up who has done that? Hands up who has seen anyone do that? Anyone? Nobody? Bueller? Bueller?!

There are reasons for this, of course. People are individuals, and usually have kids to feed and a mortgage to pay. Achieving these two things are usually their top priorities in life, and anything else is secondary – including being happy at work. So colleagues of a mistreated employee may sympathise and want to say something, but will judge it to be in their personal interests just to keep quiet. Why antagonise the management and put yourself on a hit-list when it probably isn’t going to help your colleague anyway? Better  to remain silent.

Only as Mr Burke realised, speaking out against injustice matters for two reasons:

1. Many managers, especially weak ones who want their subordinates cowed and compliant, interpret silence as contentment. Believing their actions are being met with approval, they are emboldened to continue in the same manner. Keeping silent allows bad managers to justify shitty behaviour to themselves and keep their consciences clear. It allows them to go home at night and look their wives and kids in the eyes instead of hanging their heads in shame. I would prefer a manager who has mistreated somebody to be the subject of a short, sharp, and unpleasant confrontation with an unrelated third party which has him unable to sleep that night through realisation that he is, in this instance, a complete c*nt. Speak out and you make them uncomfortable, far more than they let on. Subordinates are under no obligation to give their superiors a comfy ride at their expense.

2. There is an appalling habit of managers, when confronted with an unfavorable situation over which they have presided, to claim “we didn’t know” followed by “if we had known, we would have done something” and followed further by “you should have communicated this to us through the proper channels”. Speaking out at the time robs them of the opportunity to pull this excuse in the future, and forces them to attempt to justify the situation or commit to a demonstrable lie. Again, it will make them uncomfortable. Good.

Of course, if you try to intervene the manager in question is likely to say that it is none of your business, at which point you can fire back that your colleague being subject to shitty treatment is everyone’s business, and it is. Sooner or later, it will be you wishing others had spoken out.

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High-Flyers in Modern Organisations

This is an interesting article:

Senior cop Maggie Blyth is set to take command of all officers in Portsmouth – despite having only put on a uniform a year ago.

As the city’s district commander, she will be leading scores of officers who have climbed their way up the ranks and garnered years of experience on the beat.

Uh-huh.

Yet Supt Blyth only made her first arrest in the last few months after being handpicked for what’s known as the direct-entry scheme.

Ah.

Since putting on the uniform, she has been getting ‘full exposure’ to the streets of Portsmouth, making arrests at alcohol-fuelled violence and tackling anti-social behaviour.

A veritable baptism of fire.

Supt Blyth became a warranted officer in November last year, after a tough six-month process to get on the course between February and September last year.

Tough, eh? We’ll revisit that in a minute.

Transformed from a civilian to warranted officer in about a year, Supt Blyth knew she would be facing questions over her credibility, even though she has decades of experience in the criminal justice system.

‘During that time I had a lot of questions, I think first and foremost was credibility,’ she told The News.

Indeed. So how did she respond to these questions over her credibility?

‘Policing is very much based on working your way up through the ranks. I knew I would be managing a workforce that had never had a senior manager who had not come through the ranks.

Right, but how did you convince them you were the right person for the job?

‘A lot of the six months was taking to the police officers and other professionals about what the concerns would be.

That took six months? Finding out what might concern rank and file police officers when their chief is a complete greenhorn? A few paragraphs before we were told this was a tough course. It sounds more like a talking shop.

‘I came on quite prepared for the good and the bad for what I might find.

And what did you find?

‘I went in with my eyes open – and I must say I was really, really welcomed in Hampshire.’

You found you were very popular. Sorry, but couldn’t we hear about some of the concerns over your credibility? Or was everyone told to shut up and get with the programme?

Putting on her uniform for the first time was ‘life-changing’, she says, transforming her into a warranted officer of the crown.

Alas, we’re drifting further away from the topic of your credibility.

She says: ‘It was a really big significant life change for me, it’s still very much a way of life. It’s wearing uniform but becoming a warranted officer and the responsibility that you get with that is different from being a civilian.

And further still. She seems more interested in talking about her feelings than addressing concerns over her lack of experience.

Now Supt Blyth is looking forward to taking over in January, having completed stints on response and patrol – answering 999 calls – along with placements on neighbourhood patrols – which Supt Blyth calls the ‘bedrock of policing’, and investigations.

Stints. I’ll come back to that later.

She says: ‘I’m really looking forward to working with partner agencies across Portsmouth and working together, and working with the team I have in place within policing in Portsmouth.’

She is hoping to take on board the experience gained from the frontline during the training scheme – and go back out with officers while in post as district commander.

She says: ‘I was working with officers at a frontline level and that was really interesting. I was able to go back to my colleagues and those managers above me.’

Partner agencies…working together…take on board…frontline level. Somebody took home a copy of the Powerpoint presentation and memorised it, didn’t they?

Her first arrest also brought home her new powers as an officer. She says: ‘That was a new duty for me, arresting somebody and realising the impact of taking someone’s liberty.

Felt good, I bet.

Supt Blyth, a mother-of-three who is expecting her fourth grandchild soon, was assessed while on placements.

Who says motherhood is an impediment to a full-blown career! Take that, glass ceiling!

Okay, what we’re seeing above is absolutely typical of how most large, modern organisations are run these days. First you need to decide what your high-flyer looks like, and for many organisations being female is highly desirable if not essential. In the case of Portsmouth police, her being a mother and grandmother was probably a bonus in their eyes, too (as it was, no doubt, for the local criminals: if the bobby making their first arrest is a grandmother of three, then we can probably assume they have the run of the place). Next, you need to fast-track them into a senior position without delay, putting them through the absolute bare minimum of training necessary to deflect the inevitable criticism from the 95% of the organisation who are not deemed high-flyers. This is where “stints” come in.

There was a time when those seeking the higher echelons of an organisation would have to demonstrate both competence and time served. The former requirement was dropped some time ago in favour of blind obedience to one’s superiors, but at least they would be expected to do the necessary time. But the modern organisation has an image to project and diversity quotas to fill, and can’t hang around for years waiting for its golden boys and girls to obtain knowledge through experience. Instead they’re sent on a whirlwind tour of the organisation, spending barely a few weeks in one department before moving onto the next, so that at the end of the period the individual knows just enough about each part to be able to interfere and fuck things up once they’re in charge. Humility is in short supply among a modern high-flyer.

Anyone objecting to what is happening is told in no uncertain terms to shut up and stay on-message. Those who fail to heed the warnings are subject to enormous pressure from the surrounding management along with dark threats over their future career and continued employment, such that everyone falls into a silence, the sort which would make a high-flyer assume they are “really welcomed” by whichever department they’re foisted on that week.

All of this ties into what I said in this post, that pretty soon the smartest people, particularly ambitious young men, will not even bother joining large organisations and instead set up on their own to feed off the bloated carcasses of those who railroad grandmothers with one year’s service into the top job. In fact, I have a friend doing pretty much that. He is a rather large man with a bushy beard and tattoos and has a colourful history of mercenary work in Iraq before joining the security team of a prominent Russian billionaire. He has since set up his own security company and, from what I can tell, does rather well doing jobs the police used to do, plugging the gaps when they withdrew from law enforcement and became a branch of the social services. It’s not hard to see how doing this sort of work is more attractive than joining the police. His idea of diversity is ensuring you have several means of maiming people at your disposal at any given time.

I’d advise any smart young man about to graduate to get a firm understanding of what sort of chap he is and take a good look at the organisations trying to recruit him. Just have a look at their website and graduate brochure, that’ll be enough. Certainly the police Twitter feeds tell me everything I need to know about the state of the various forces in the UK, and this latest story from Portsmouth didn’t surprise me one bit. This is the new normal.

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Acceptable Premiums

When I was in New York last September I had occasion to go diamond-shopping with a friend. He reckoned the best deals in the city could be found in a particular street (it might have been 47th, I don’t remember). Anyway, we went to this street with dozens and dozens of diamond shops each selling thousands of the things. Where to begin?

We went into one shop that didn’t look too dodgy and a chap with a kippah and a white shirt introduced himself as Ruben and pointed to his brother Saul behind the counter. He waved his hand over the displays containing a few hundred diamonds and brought some out for us to look at. He assured us these were the very best diamonds at the very best price, but they could have been fragments of a Corona bottle for all I knew. We thanked him and moved to another place where an almost identical chap with an identical brother greeted us and showed us yet more diamonds. After the third or fourth time it was clear that we knew nothing whatsoever about diamonds, the blokes in the shop could tell this as soon as we walked in the door, and we stood a good chance of being fleeced. I have no doubt this street was the best place in New York city to buy diamonds, but you had to know what you were doing and we didn’t.

The solution was to go to Tiffany’s on 5th Avenue and buy the diamonds there. Sure, they’d be a lot more expensive and the same money could probably get you bigger diamonds and better elsewhere, but at least at Tiffany’s you could absolutely guarantee that the diamonds you were buying were legitimate.

I was reminded of this the other day when I met with a financial adviser. Years ago I set up a pension scheme with Friends Provident and it’s still running. The financial adviser took a look and told me it was expensive, the fees were high, and the savings vehicle was not the most flexible and efficient of all those out there. He showed me one that was cheaper, run by an outfit neither you or I have ever heard of.

There was a reason why I’d picked Friends Provident all those years ago: they were a household name. If a pension company has been around 100+ years you can be fairly sure they’re not some fly-by-night outfit. More importantly, a company of that size ought to have enough liquidity behind them to rescue themselves should they screw up somewhere. But most importantly of all, if they are about to go bankrupt they are big enough that the story will be splashed across all the newspapers and enough people will be affected that the government will come under considerable pressure to intervene, either with a bailout or by arranging a takeover. We saw this with the banks: they were well known and too big to fail, so the ones we’d all heard of got rescued. Had a startup internet bank been clobbered by the global financial crisis, it would have gone to the wall and nobody would have noticed – except the handful of unfortunate depositors. Similarly, if a pension vehicle set up by three city whizz kids in 2012 goes tits-up, nobody will care. If Friend’s Provident starts wobbling, people will.

Like buying diamonds from Tiffany’s instead of Ruben, you might not be getting the best deal with a Friend’s Provident pension, but there’s often a good reason why you pay a premium.

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Facebook Feminism

Until somebody decided to shoot up a nightclub in Germany, this was running as front-page news on the BBC’s website:

Fairer pay for women must be backed up by stronger policies at work, according to Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg.

But the firm’s chief operating officer, in an interview for BBC Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs, said the first step is to “start paying women well”.

She chose Beyonce’s empowering Run The World (Girls) as her first song.

This Beyoncé:

It’s one way to become empowered, I suppose.

She said: “We start telling little girls not to lead at a really young age and we start to tell boys [to] lead at a very young age. That is a mistake.”

We do? Okay, I can probably believe that in some countries with cultures we’re encouraged to embrace that little girls are told not to lead, but in the West? Really? Who is saying this, and where? This is bullshit.

“I believe everyone has inside them the ability to lead…”

Then you’re an idiot. Not everyone is a leader, just as not everyone is a loyal lieutenant, and not everyone is an essential specialist, and not everyone is an equally important plodder. If you’ve not understood this, you’ve not understood leadership at all.

“…and we should let people choose that not based on their gender but on who they are and who they want to be.”

Oh please. We’ve had women leaders since at least Cleopatra. Who, and where, are girls being told they cannot lead because of their gender? All I see on the webpages of major corporations is how important women are and how proud they are to have a load of them in senior positions. The fact we have a female COO carping at us in the national press ought to tell us that this isn’t really a problem. Whereas it is boys that are being failed by schools, more girls than boys are graduating from college and now lead in such fields as law and medicine, and young men are still committing suicide at a far higher rate than women.

Ms Sandberg made headlines in 2013 with her book “Lean in” about female empowerment in the workplace.

It became a worldwide bestseller, but was criticised by some for being elitist and unrealistic for many women not in her privileged position.

You mean not all women agreed, and cat-fighting ensued? I don’t believe it.

In the interview, she also called for more to be done around the gender pay gap between men and women.

The gender pay gap that Christina Hoff Sommers has debunked numerous times as being a complete myth?

Ms Sandberg admitted she had struggled with self-doubt at Harvard

The BBC’s poster-child for female empowerment and leadership wrung her hands in self-doubt while at America’s top university? Did Katherine the Great doubt herself?

…and recognised that women more than men underestimated their own worth, preventing them from putting themselves forward or asking for a pay rise.

A minute ago everyone was capable of leadership, and we need more women in such positions. Now we find they underestimate themselves. Sorry, but I prefer anyone presuming to be my leader to be a little less wet. Attila the Hun is my benchmark.

“We need to start paying women well and we need the public and the corporate policy to get there,” she said.

Says the woman who made over $18m in 2016.

“Certainly, women applying for jobs at the same rate as men, women running for office at the same rate as men, that has got to be part of the answer.”

As Christina Hoff Sommers repeatedly says, there is nothing stopping women going into higher-paid professions such as engineering and computer programming, they simply choose not to. The women who chose to become engineers are absolutely coining it. I can think of two now, one owns half of Melbourne (*waves*) and another spends much of her life flying around on holiday in business-class (*waves again*).

Following the sudden death of her husband Dave Goldberg, Ms Sandberg described herself a “different” person now.

She found him on the floor of a gym with a head injury after he had suffered a heart attack whilst they were on a weekend away.

Okay, I’ll dial it down a notch here. Losing your husband is catastrophic, and I am all too familiar with its effects. That she’s managed to carry on so well afterwards is genuinely worthy of admiration, and she deserves a lot of respect and sympathy over this.

I still hate the BBC, though.

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People in the Wrong Job

In my wanderings through the land I hear a lot of complaints about somebody’s unreasonable behaviour, normally from a person at their work. It can take the form of angry outbursts, inconsistency, micromanagement, pettiness and a host of others, but the complaints are always the same: why the hell is this person behaving like this? It’s making my life a misery!

Why indeed? I decided to start asking some questions each time I heard this, and most of the time the person in question was in a job they were wholly unsuited for. Their knowledge, experience, or – more often – their character, personality, and temperament was completely inadequate for the position they were in. That’s not to say they were stupid or useless, simply that they were in the wrong job.

Let’s suppose you are suddenly plonked into the captain’s seat of a Boeing 777 stood on the tarmac at Heathrow and ordered to take off and fly safely to New York. Unless you’re a trained pilot, we’re going to observe some pretty wild behaviour from you over the next few minutes, most unbecoming of a captain. Being put in a strange environment and asked to perform unfamiliar tasks is highly stressful, and will induce behaviour in people which can seem very odd.

The plane example is absurd, but millions of people find themselves in a similar situation in their day-to-day jobs. The stakes might not be so great, but the expectation levels are higher: nobody will ask an untrained person to fly a plane, but people routinely find themselves in a position they are manifestly unsuited to, yet are expected to perform. Most of the time they’re in a culture – either corporate or national – which frowns upon failure, but with an endless tolerance for muddling through.

If ever I find myself faced with strange or unreasonable behaviour, I step back and try to work out what’s causing it. It’s tempting to say that a person is simply insane or an arse, but that’s a lazy approach. Instead, I look at the situation they’re in and what they’re being asked to do, and see if that matches their competence and character. You know what? It never does. If it did, you’d see different behaviours. People who are in a comfortable position act like they are. Look at the confident swagger of a champion boxer on his way to the ring. It’s because he knows he’s good.

Maybe I’m getting soft in my middle-age, but nowadays I’m less inclined to think people are complete idiots, nasty, or they have something wrong with them. Most of the time they’re simply in the wrong job, and hence under too much stress. Feeling a little sorry for people is easier than getting mad at them.

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A warning from Air France-KLM

Sometimes blog posts just write themselves:

A clash of national cultures and an inability to understand each other’s languages threatens to make the merged Air France-KLM group of airlines unmanageable, according to a leaked internal company report.

Surely not!

“The French have the impression that the Dutch think only of money and are always ready to fight for profit. They are not afraid of anything,” the researchers reported.

“The Dutch think that the French are attached to a hierarchy and political interests which are not necessarily the same as the interests of the company … The extent to which employees are disillusioned is shocking. People are pessimistic, frustrated and burnt out because they feel that this is not listened to.”

But this is consistent with crude national stereotypes! How can it be true?

Okay, a little more serious now:

Air France managers are also said to feel that they look more at what is best for the whole company, while KLM managers only worry about what is good for KLM.

Hmmm.

KLM managers, on the other hand, think that their French colleagues only worry about keeping jobs at Air France.

So each party thinks the other is looking out for themselves? It being a near-certainty that this is the case, my only questions are how many top managers are surprised by this and when are they being fired?

Among the petty grievances, there is irritation that a KLM employee working in Paris is charged €10 for lunch in the canteen, while an Air France colleague pays only €4.

The reason for this is French companies are obliged to provide their employees with a subsidised canteen (or lunch vouchers), but secondees and visitors don’t get the subsidy and have to pay full price. We have the same issue in my office when people are seconded from outside, and it’s actually more serious than it sounds.

Some years ago I had an Australian boss who was a very smart chap, particularly so considering he was a Queenslander (I think he might read this blog occasionally). He was also a very good boss, partly because having come up through the ranks himself, he knew that small niggles can have a detrimental effect on an employee’s happiness way out of proportion to the actual problem. If left unchecked, seemingly minor issues cause all sorts of discontent in a department which results in a bad atmosphere and reduced productivity. If your staff are spending half the day bitching about free coffee being stopped, you’re better off just reinstating it.

A decent manager like this Aussie would have spotted immediately that the unequal canteen charges would create a rift in the organisation which would cost the company a lot more than €30 per person per week. He would have been on the phone sharpish to get approval to reimburse the Dutch, and if that were refused he’d run a little wheeze to do so anyway. Managers like this are like hen’s teeth in a modern corporation, and seemingly absent altogether from Air France-KLM.

The Dutch managers don’t trust the French economy, and see Air France as a “time bomb”.

“One questions whether the alliance can survive given the long-standing mutual incomprehension between the Dutch and French camps within the group,” one researcher was quoted as writing.

If two airlines cannot merge without divisions opening up along national lines amid a clash of cultures and widespread mistrust, one wonders how much truth there is in the EU’s claim that all 27 members unanimously agreed on the Brexit negotiation strategy in under 15 minutes. I think the whole Brexit negotiation process will put the unity between the member states under considerable strain, and I’m expecting to see plenty of leaked memos full of similar sentiments to those in the Air France-KLM report.

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Diversity and the Modern Corporation

Via JuliaM on Twitter, this story:

Britain’s biggest businesses must take action to improve the diversity of their workforces and publish a breakdown of their black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) employees, a new report has urged.

The report by the professional management body the CMI and the British Academy of Management focuses on ethnic diversity at management levels below the boardroom and highlights the importance of the issue following the vote for Brexit.

The latest report sets out a seven-point plan for business leaders to adopt, including “breaking the silence” on diversity, including training on the subject as a requirement for career progression and setting targets for progression of BAME individuals.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, I am not in the slightest bit bothered by this. When reports talk about “Britain’s biggest businesses” what they mean is companies run by Establishment types who lurch from one cushy position to another, and enjoy cosy relations with people in government which they use to engage in rent-seeking, erecting barriers to entry, and writing laws which benefit them at the expense of everyone else. They are certainly not talking about companies operating in a free market whose focus is on delivering a quality product or service at the cheapest price such that shareholder value is maximised.

The heads of major corporations wedded themselves to the whims of government years ago, perhaps believing they’d increase share prices and dividends by being seen to cooperate. And maybe they were right: perhaps in this day and age it is not possible for a company to get on the wrong side of the state and survive? But cosying up is what they’ve done, with the results looking suspiciously like a stitch-up of the general public.

Via the silent adoption of ever-increasing regulations, corporations have effectively offloaded swathes of what ought to be business decisions onto the government. I can see why individuals running firms would do this: if I was paid a few million a year to make bold decisions and carry the can and somebody offered to shoulder half the responsibility with no reduction in privilege or pay, I’d bite their hand off. Nothing pleases a modern corporate manager more than citing a regulation to explain why something stupid was done or something sensible not.

Modern corporations have, without a single exception I can think of, signed up to the notion that more women and BAME people in cushy positions is intrinsically better for the company and shareholder value. If this is so self-evidently true, it is somewhat surprising that companies haven’t been putting this idea into practice for years, and instead need to be bullied into it. It isn’t true of course, but they have to pretend it is and they think any resistance will make the public think them mean and quit buying their products and services. But by going along with it at the behest of governments, they are effectively turning their companies into partial welfare programmes. Anyone who strides along the corridors of a modern corporation on a daily basis ought to have reached this conclusion anyway.

I’ve written previously that I believe the smartest in society will begin to shun corporations and, like small, nimble fish which swim between whales, make their living on the fringes, doing what everyone wants but no big company can or dares to in groups of between one and five. These areas of the economy will boom and corporations will be the preserve of those who tick the government-approved diversity boxes and listen to people like this:

Business executive Pavita Cooper, who has worked in senior roles in the banking industry, will chair a new body, CMI Race. She said it was time to “reboot the conversation about race and ethnicity”.

This would be the same Pavita Cooper who spent her entire life in HR, racking up 8 companies in 20 years, rarely staying for more than 2-3 years at any one place. Business executive, indeed!

I welcome corporations going down this route: the more dead wood, dimwits, arse-lickers, and time-wasters that can be gathered in a handful of large, easily-identifiable places, the easier it will be for smart folk to avoid them – or to take advantage. Reports like the one just issued can only help with this process.

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Recruitment and Marital Status

Yesterday I came across this Tweet:

To which I replied:

Marital status is important: some roles will seriously strain a marriage.

This appeared to cause some confusion. The original poster – who appears to work in recruitment – couldn’t work out if I was serious or not, and some other pompous twit from Brooklyn (where else?) jumped in to say that what I was doing was illegal, the laws exist for a reason, and I am “not helping” by not understanding this.

For the record: I am not a manager and I am not involved in recruitment or hiring in any capacity. But I used to be, a long time ago.

It’s interesting that anyone should consider what I said as contentious. Perhaps I’m wrong, though. Maybe the partner working long hours in the office, being too involved with work, or spending weeks away from home is something that rarely gets mentioned in divorce proceedings? Somehow I doubt it.

But I looked at it from another angle. You probably don’t want to be sending a middle-aged family man on a lengthy overseas assignment to places like Russia, Venezuela, or Vietnam on single status. This is often a recipe for disaster as he gets bored and ends up having an affair with one of the many young local beauties who hunt expat men for sport. Yes, the responsibility for the affair lies squarely on the shoulders of the man, but I have heard enough wives complain bitterly that his employer should not have sent him there in the first place: had he not gone, the family would still be intact. I am not convinced the employer, knowing full well what is likely to happen, doesn’t have some duty of care here. But the law says that they must not attempt to exercise it.

I understand why the laws came in: enough people were convinced that married or unmarried men or women were being discriminated against when it came to recruitment, and they believed marital status should not make any difference. Which is odd, because I am forever hearing about the importance of a work-life balance, but for that balance to occur one must surely consider what sort of life we’re talking about. Apparently that is illegal.

For the sake of this post, let’s say I might agree that companies should not be allowed to reject a candidate based on their marital status, but I think it imperative that an employer explains the nature of the job to candidates and attempts to fully inform them as to any possible impact on their personal life. How else is the candidate supposed to make an informed decision? Supposing the job involves working nights, or spending weeks away from home? Should the company not ask the candidate to consider the effect this may have on his personal life? The candidate might not even be aware the job would have such an effect, as I’ve heard a lot of men lament as they lie amid the ruins of their lives, shacked up with a Chinese hooker and the divorce papers on the way. As things stand, the employee is on his own to figure out how a job might affect his family, and the employer is compelled by law to pretend it is irrelevant.

It’s not even clear to me which direction the discrimination is supposed to run in. I can think of several roles that would suit single people, but I often hear that very small, dull, or restrictive places are “good for families”; single people will go crazy with boredom. At the very least, I think a company should try to ensure that each person’s personal goals, expectations, and family situation are as compatible with the location and demands of the position as possible. An unhappy employee with domestic troubles is the last thing a company needs.

National governments have attempted to legislate away the effects a demanding job has on family life, as if by passing a law they simply disappear. They don’t: all they’re doing is creating more work for divorce lawyers, brewers, and the manufacturers of anti-depressants. The idea that an employer – who has such a massive impact on your life, controlling around a third of your waking hours – should take no account of your personal and family situation seems insane to me. But here we are: obviously most people like it this way.

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