First Friday Book Synopsis

"…like CliffNotes on steroids…"

Ten specific ways companies can take action and respond to low morale during this recession

Barry ShoreHere is an article written by Barry Shore. I came upon it in a folder of articles that I began to collect years ago and do not recall where the article first appeared. It certainly addresses issues that are even more more relevant today.

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As the economy weakened over the last year, and as it became clear that the recession would be both long-lived and deep, organizations took quick and deliberate action.  Orders from suppliers have been reduced or cut, projects have been delayed or canceled, and jobs have been eliminated. But an unintentional consequence has been the severe impact these actions have on employee morale.

While every organization is different, here are ten steps worth considering.

1. Resist the temptation to blindly follow a Command-and Control approach. In Good to Great, Jim Collins concludes that those companies that rose to greatness had leaders who did not impose a charismatic top-down approach.  Instead they led with humility and professional will.  Command-and-Control can work in the short run, and it can suppress resistance and conflict, but in the long run it stifles individual initiative, commitment, and contribution.

2. Acknowledge the insecurities and fears of the workforce. Few people like to dwell on problems, and prefer to take action.  Yet organizational psychologists tell us that the first step in solving a problem is to acknowledge its existence.  As a result, it may be useful to bring current concerns into the open, talk about them with employees and acknowledge their concerns.  This doesn’t mean that the company will appear weak to the workforce. Indeed the opposite is true.  Above all, it sends a message that you care.

3. Communicate often. This is no time to keep employees guessing.  Hold meetings to discuss the problems faced by the company.  Ask employees what is on their mind. Start a blog. Create a new page in your newsletter devoted to the issues the company faces during the recession.

4. Share the complexities of management decisions. Help employees understand the tradeoff between survival and job cuts. Consider asking for their suggestions. Would they prefer that the company retain its current workforce level and absorb the drop in business through fewer hours or shorter work weeks, or would they prefer job cuts? By sharing these complexities it may be surprising how useful some of the responses may be.

5. Develop a questionnaire to study employee morale. Before taking steps to improve morale, it is important to understand current attitudes toward the company, management and the job.  Developing a questionnaire to collect data can prove to be very useful. Using simple software such as Qualtrix, it takes but a few moments to make a questionnaire accessible to a wide range of employees.  Many companies, however, balk at a suggestion like this during such hard times. They fear that the processes of collecting data will unleash an endless stream of criticisms and complaints. Or worse, it will implicate them as a contributor to low morale.  But it doesn’t mean that you have to take action on every issue that is raised, nor does it mean that the company has to defend itself on every issue.

6. Encourage collaboration. It is more important now than in the last many years to encourage teamwork and collaboration.  Schedule team building workshops and invite groups to plan their own workplace strategies that may include setting their own budgets and timetables.  Ask employees how to do the job better.  Try to resist the temptation to increase responsibility while stifling authority and control.

7. Improve trust. Trust is perhaps one of the most important human resource assets. Unfortunately, there is no quicker way to undermine it than to cut jobs and impose a command-and-control culture.  Accordingly, management must do what it can to manage this asset.  First, trust starts with honesty, even when it means that you have to warn employees that bad news may be coming. Trust also requires fairness, even when it means that you have to explain what criterion was used to furlough workers, and even when this explanation leads to significant criticism from employees. Finally, trust is doing one’s best to keep promises, even when these promises are tough to keep.

8. Recognize  contributions. Celebrate accomplishments. It is amazing what a personal letter written to team members can do to improve morale. Everyone likes to be appreciated, but few take the time to show appreciation.  Kudos, however, should be reserved for truly deserving performance.

9. Start new projects. Understandably, some projects were killed as the economic crisis forced the organization to circle-the-wagons.  But that doesn’t mean there should be a moratorium on new projects.  Initiate studies of the competitive market environment. What opportunities now exist because competitors have left the market?  How have customer needs changed in response to the expectation that this slowdown will be prolonged?  The answers to these and other questions may suggest new products, services and projects.  It’s important to keep in mind that people are energized by new ideas and fresh starts.

10. Involve the workforce in developing new ways to improve old products and processes. John Kotter in his Harvard Business Review article, “Leading Change: Why Transformation Efforts Fail,” maintains that crises facilitate change. They make it more difficult to justify old ways of doing business. Clearly, this economic crisis provides an opportunity to change those processes that have resisted change for many years. But to make the change effective and to help build morale, involve the workforce.

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Barry Shore has had an unusual career that spans the corporate world and academia. He earned an undergraduate degree in electrical engineering from Tufts University, went to work for Boeing, then for General Electric. Taking a leave from GE, he returned to school and earned an MBA, then joined Hewlett Packard Company. Returning to graduate school, he earned a PhD in operations management from the University of Wisconsin and is currently professor of decision sciences at the University of New Hampshire. He is the author of more than 100 scholarly articles and four books.

You are urged to check out the resources at these websites:

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Diane Lane (Penny Chenery), Secretariat, Kipling’s “If”, and Ebert — Perfect

In speech class, I have my students read poems – to work on diction, vocal variery, verbal punch.

Many/most of my students don’t know the poetry.  Did you know that practically none of today’s students have ever even heard Casey at the Bat?  Astonishing!

One of the poems I have them read is If by Rudyard Kipling; you know, the one that begins with:

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you…

Here’s a paragraph from Wikipedia about the poem:

It is often voted Britain’s favourite poem.  The poem’s line, “If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster and treat those two imposters just the same” is written on the wall of the centre court players’ entrance at the British tennis tournament, Wimbledon, and the entire poem was read in a promotional video for the Wimbledon 2008 gentleman’s final by Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal. (link below).

So, today I’m reading Ebert’s reviews of the new movies for the week (as I do nearly every Friday).  He loved Secretariat – four stars, “This is one of the year’s best films” – his most coveted line!

And in his review, Secretariat, this line about Penny Chenery (Diane Lane) jumped out at me:

She looked at the greatest racehorse in the world and knew she was right, when all about her were losing their heads and blaming it on her.



The reading by Federer and Nadal is a protected video, so I can’t imbed it.  Watch it here.

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Business Book of the Year

Here is one list of top books:  the finalists for the “Business Book of the Year.” The Financial Times and Goldman Sachs oversee this particular award.  Read about it here.  This is from the Financial Times article:

Books that investigate and explain the financial crisis dominate the shortlist for the 2010 Financial Times and Goldman Sachs Business Book of the Year Award.

The finalists are:

The Art of Choosing by Sheena Iyengar
The Facebook Effect by David Kirkpatrick
The Big Short by Michael Lewis
More Money than God by Sebastian Mallaby
Fault Lines by Raghuram Rajan
Too Big to Fail by Andrew Ross Sorkin

All but the first two tackle, directly or indirectly, some aspect of the crisis that hit the financial world in 2007-08 and whose impact is still being absorbed by global businesses and economies.

The Business Book of the Year will be announced on October 27 in New York.

Here are prior winners:

2009 –  Liaquat Ahamed for The Lords of Finance
2008 Mohamed El-Erian for When Markets Collide
2007 –  William D. Cohan for The Last Tycoons
2006 –  James Kynge for China Shakes the World
2005 –  Thomas Friedman for The World is Flat

Read more about each of this year’s finalists here.


Note:  I have presented synopsis of two of the book listed:  The World is Flat and The Big Short.  It looks like I have more reading to do!

Thanks to First Friday Book Synopsis participant Leslie Garner for alerting me to this.

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Who Is Your Audience? – It’s Always Bigger Than You Count On; It’s Practically Universal

Way, way back in my graduate school days, we studied the work of Chaïm Perelman (and Lucie Olbrechts-Tyteca).  They wrote the book The New Rhetoric (my copy is buried in storage).  Perelman developed this idea of a “universal audience.”  To oversimplify, he argued that every communication moment, every attempt at persuasion, had two audiences – the particular, immediate audience, and then a larger, more “universal” audience.  The size, the make-up of this universal audience was tough to define, but the idea leads to this simple underlying concept:  what you say in one place, to one specific, particular audience, will be heard, and interpreted, (and misinterpreted) in many more places.  And when that happens, people will evaluate you, and your message, in ways that you never quite intended or expected.

I think back to this idea frequently as I read about difficulties in this “information spreads far and wide” society that we now live in.  This morning, there is an article on by the always helpful Farhad Manjoo, Didn’t Mean for You To See That, Grandma: Things you post on Facebook have a way of reaching more people than you want. Now the site has a solution. The article addresses Facebook’s new attempt at a solution for the new world problem:  someone puts a photo up for his or her “friends,” and then a parent, or a future boss, finds it.

And, there are more than a few stories about political figures saying something to one person/group, and the audio or video is picked up, and the world hears it.

In other words, there are basically no “closed audiences” any more.  You cannot guarantee control of your audience.  Or, consider it this way.  “What you say in Vegas doesn’t stay in Vegas.”

Here are a couple of observations:

#1 – Always assume that what you say to one audience, even an audience of one, will be heard by a much, much larger audience. So, be intentional, be thoughtful, be a grown-up…be careful.

#2 – This can be good news. Sure, you can say something that will hurt you  But you can also say things, do things, that when spread far and wide, the larger audience thinks more highly of you.

It’s the new world.  What you say to one audience will most likely be heard by a much larger audience.  Remember that every audience can be bigger than you ever imagined – remember your universal audience.

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Bob Pozen on “How to Be a Speed Reader”

Bob Pozen

Here is an excerpt from an interview of Bob Pozen by Justin Fox for the Harvard Business Review blog. To read the complete interview, check out other articles and resources, and/or sign up for a free subscription to Harvard Business Review’s Daily Alerts, please click here.

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Fox: Describe your approach to reading.

Pozen: To begin with, you have to ask: “Why am I reading this book or newspaper?” Reading for pleasure — that’s a separate topic. But if you ask most people why they are reading the newspaper, they will give you vague answers. 

I know what I’m reading the newspaper for. At breakfast, I read the Boston Globe and the New York Times; at work, I read the Wall Street Journal and the Financial Times. In reading the Globe, I’m trying to follow the major political events in Massachusetts. I also want to see what’s happening with the Celtics, Red Sox, or Patriots. 

With the New York Times, I’m reading the front page to see what the paper considers important and then deciding whether to read any other stories in my areas of interest. I’m mainly interested in finance, health care, retirement, and taxes — broadly speaking. I read the editorial page of the Times to see the liberal perspective on current events.

With the Wall Street Journal, I read the summaries on the left of the front page and then leaf through the Journal page by page. I’ll read the introductory paragraph of an article and think, “Is there something here that relates to one of my four topics — finance, health care, retirement, or taxes?” If so, I’ll read the tops of the paragraphs until I come to new facts or a new analysis of the subject. Then I will read the full paragraph. I will also look at the editorial page of the Journal to understand the conservative perspective on current events. 

With the FT, I’m looking for coverage of topics outside the U.S. I read the front page of both sections and skim the rest to find articles with material not covered by the Wall Street Journal or New York Times. I also read the editorial page of the FT, which I find to be relatively objective.

Fox: What’s the key to reading fast?

Pozen: Here’s what I did to teach my kids and nephews to become speed readers. I would see them doing some dense reading such as chapters in a history or science textbook, and I would say: “When you get to the exam in a month or two, what do you want to remember from this chapter? After reading this chapter, please write no more than the one or two paragraphs you want to remember for the exam. Then go back and see how you could read more efficiently to obtain that paragraph or two.”

One of the reasons why some people are slow readers is that they’re reading every word. Instead, they should read the introduction, the conclusions and the tops of the paragraphs to determine if that part of the chapter is really important for them. 

But you’ve got to know what you’re reading for. Are you reading for certain facts? Are you reading for new analysis? Are you reading for the author’s general themes or the specific support for these themes?

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Bob Pozen, chairman emeritus of MFS Investment Management, senior lecturer at Harvard Business School and sometime writer for Harvard Business Review and, gets an awful lot accomplished with a minimum of visible effort and stress. Justin Fox, editorial director of HBR Group, was curious how Pozen did that. The result is a seven-part series on productivity, of which this is the second installment. The first, on Pozen’s daily routine, is here. He is also the suthor of Too Big to Save? How to Fix the U.S. Financial System published by Wiley (2009).

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Greg Long and Butler Newman on “Speed to Market: Increasing knowledge velocity”


Greg Long


In the October 2010 issue of Chief Learning Officer, Greg Long and Butler Newman explain how to increase knowledge velocity (i.e. moving content through an organization much faster to impact front-line performance). In the excerpt that follows, they suggest how to begin what they characterize as a “journey” to increase the velocity of whatever proprietary information needs to be distributed efficiently.

To read the complete article, check out all of the resources and sign up for a free print and/or online subscription to Chief Learning Officer, please click here.

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Butler Newman


So how do you begin the journey to increase the velocity of the proprietary knowledge flowing through your organization? Like many things, the answer is to start small. Start with a pilot that follows three key principles:

1. Keep it simple. For SMEs [i.e. subject matter experts] to embrace a process of creating knowledge for direct dissemination, the method they use has to be simple and straightforward. The demand on their time is already overwhelming. If this looks like “just one more thing” then most SMEs will resist the notion of direct contribution. Avoid this by spending the time upfront to design a simple yet robust process to guide them in their content creation efforts.

2. Keep it creative. For user-generated content, the key to success is to keep it creative. Many in the workplace will show no interest in contributing to the greater body of proprietary knowledge within your company. For those who do, however, the secret to success for them and for the organization is to foster their strong desire to be creative, to experiment on new approaches and to put their personal stamp on the company knowledge base. In a way, the process for fostering the creation of end-user content is the opposite of the simple and standardized system required for SMEs. These dissimilar processes must co-exist.

3. Keep it focused. Context is king. And, in most companies, the work process defines context, whether it is a formal process or an informal one. So, regardless of whether you are pushing out SME-generated content or encouraging the pull of user-generated content, keep them focused on the work process, for it is in the details of specific processes that the true power of proprietary knowledge is created.

Make the first pilot a success by following these three principles. Then duplicate the pilot in multiple areas of the business. With each successful pilot, you will increase the velocity by which knowledge is turned over within your organization and improve a critical parameter to make your business stand out.

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Greg Long is director of strategic consulting at RWD Technologies.

Butler Newman is division director and principal consultant at RWD Technologies. Both can be reached at

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Kasper Rorsted (Henkel) in “The Corner Office”

Kasper Rorsted

Adam Bryant conducts interviews of senior-level executives that appear in his “Corner Office” column each week in the SundayBusiness section of The New York Times. Here are a few insights provided during an interview of Kasper Rorsted, the chief executive of Henkel, the consumer and industrial products company based in Düsseldorf, Germany. To read the complete interview and Bryant’s interviews of other executives, please click here.

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Bryant: Do you remember the first time you were somebody’s boss?

Rorsted: That was in 1989, right when I got promoted from being a sales rep in the Digital Equipment Corporation to being a sales manager at the age of 27. I had about 20 people at that point in time. All but two of them were older than I was.

Bryant: Was that a good experience?

Rorsted: When you’re 27, you’re inexperienced, so you don’t know what to fear. I didn’t know what I probably should have known. The first time I realized it was serious was when, after about six months, I had to lay somebody off. And then suddenly you move from the sunny side of the deal to the real deal. I remember I was sleeping very poorly for almost for a week. He had a family.

So one of the lessons I learned from that, which I’ve been very aware of since, is to be friendly, but not a friend. I had grown up in the company and I knew everybody, so I was more a friend. But then I had to start having honest conversations with people about how they performed, and that taught me a lesson. I’ve always been friendly but never been friends anymore. When we have parties, I’m the one who will leave early.

Bryant: What were some other lessons?

Rorsted: Later on in my career, I realized that there is nothing personal in business because most decisions are made for business reasons.

Bryant: How did you learn that?

Rorsted: In 2004, I was dismissed by Hewlett-Packard. My immediate reaction was to take it very personally and say, “What are they doing to me?” I was running a division with 40,000 people and $30 billion in revenue. I learned a lot from that.

Within a month, I had 11 job offers, all in high tech, and I had one that came from a completely different industry. It was from Henkel, a consumer goods and adhesives company. And I decided I would take the job offer from Henkel because there was a clear path I could see to get the C.E.O. job.

But I realized when I came in that I had no clue. I didn’t know the industry. I didn’t know the employees. I didn’t know the customers. I didn’t know the competitors. And when you grow up in an industry, you tend to know more and more, and a lot of people, me included, become a bit complacent or arrogant because you know it all. You’ve seen all the problems before.

Here, I had to start from scratch again. It was like going back to first grade in school and I had three years of questions. It was a reminder of just how important it is to ask questions and listen and listen and listen and just be humble again. It was a great lesson for me, and I think I’ve changed my leadership style, to be much more humble and listen much more and ask questions.

Bryant: It was your first C.E.O. job. Were you surprised by anything?

Rorsted: I was surprised about a couple of things. One was how much conflict actually ends up at the C.E.O.’s desk.

All of the problems that nobody else wants or can’t sort out, they end up on your desk. And there’s the immense amount of time you deal with people, and how important it is for you to be there and be visible, not sitting in the office, so people can see you and feel you and ask you things instead of just sending an e-mail.

Bryant: How would you say your leadership style has evolved over time?

Rorsted: I do less e-mail and a lot more of being present. Last year, I just moved my office to the U.S. and traveled around for six weeks without going home. This year, I’ll go to Asia for six weeks and will visit as many sites, employees and customers as I can. So that’s one — just understanding how important it is to be where the business is and understand how it works. The second part is being very clear on what is urgent and what is important and being very selective about the battles I pick.

Bryant: You mentioned you’re doing less e-mail.

Rorsted: I think e-mail is very often disruptive in corporate cultures. You sit next to people and send e-mail to each other instead of walking over or making a call or just trying to look for the personal interaction. I use e-mail more and more as text messaging — just very, very short messages. It’s very efficient, but I am convinced that e-mail does not replace presence. Also, I never read cc e-mails.

Bryant: What do you mean by that?

Rorsted: When I see on an e-mail “cc Kasper,” I delete it. I don’t read it.

Bryant: Why?

Rorsted: Because it’s a waste of time. If they want to write to me, they can write to me. People often copy me to cover their back.

They need to deal with their business and I need to deal with my business. If it’s important, they need to write it to me, but I’m not going to read a cc e-mail. I’m not advocating against e-mail, but you can get into a great argument in e-mail because people can read whatever they want into the words. It takes two minutes to pick up the phone, so I try to encourage that as much as I can. It’s not either/or. I’m just saying you’ve got to get the balance right.

Friday, October 8, 2010 Posted by | Bob's blog entries | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment



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