Archive for the ‘Management’ Category

Middle managers are like monkeys

April 3, 2013

Middle managers are the ones with the fewest “degrees of freedom”. They have the least space to escape from pressure from their superiors because of the demands from their subordinates. Conflict situations in the work place  can generally be avoided by those at the lowest hierarchical levels and can be unilaterally resolved by those at the highest. But those in the middle have no place to run. It seems to be an inherent characteristic of all human organisations. Which is why conventional wisdom tells us that it is middle managers who are subjected to the highest levels of stress and run the highest risk of stress-related disabilities.

Now a new paper shows that it is an organisational characteristic which can also be observed in the hierarchical structure of troops of monkeys. Monkeys in the middle experience the greatest stress. Perhaps it is in our genes? How we (or monkeys) organise  is a natural consequence of the need to cooperate. And it is probably our genes which have given us the propensity to cooperate.

Katie L. Edwards, Susan L. Walker, Rebecca F. Bodenham, Harald Ritchie, Susanne Shultz. Associations between social behaviour and adrenal activity in female Barbary macaques: Consequences of study designGeneral and Comparative Endocrinology, 2013; 186: 72 DOI: 10.1016/j.ygcen.2013.02.023

From the Manchester University press release:

A study by the universities of Manchester and Liverpool observing monkeys has found that those in the middle hierarchy suffer the most social stress. Their work suggests that the source of this stress is social conflict and may help explain studies in humans that have found that middle managers suffer the most stress at work.

Female Barbary macaques at Trentham Monkey Forest

Female Barbary macaques at Trentham Monkey Forest

Katie Edwards from Liverpool’s Institute of Integrative Biology spent nearly 600 hours watching female Barbary macaques at Trentham Monkey Forest in Staffordshire. Her research involved monitoring a single female over one day, recording all incidences of social behaviour. These included agonistic behaviour like threats, chases and slaps, submissive behaviour like displacing, screaming, grimacing and hind-quarter presentation and affiliative behaviour such as teeth chatter, embracing and grooming. 

The following day faecal samples from the same female were collected and analysed for levels of stress hormones at Chester Zoo’s wildlife endocrinology laboratory.  

Katie explains what she found: “Not unsurprisingly we recorded the highest level of stress hormones on the days following agonistic behaviour. However, we didn’t find a link between  lower stress hormone levels and affiliative behaviour such as grooming.”  

She continues: “Unlike previous studies that follow a group over a period of time and look at average behaviours and hormone levels, this study allowed us to link the observed behaviour of specific monkeys with their individual hormone samples from the period when they were displaying that behaviour.”  

Another key aspect of the research was noting where the observed monkey ranked in the social hierarchy of the group. The researchers found that monkeys from the middle order had the highest recorded levels of stress hormones.  

Dr Susanne Shultz, a Royal Society University Research Fellow in the Faculty of Life Sciences at The University of Manchester oversaw the study: “What we found was that monkeys in the middle of the hierarchy are involved with conflict from those below them as well as from above, whereas those in the bottom of the hierarchy distance themselves from conflict. The middle ranking macaques are more likely to challenge, and be challenged by, those higher on the social ladder.”  

Katie says the results could also be applied to human behaviour: “It’s possible to apply these findings to other social species too, including human hierarchies. People working in middle management might have higher levels of stress hormones compared to their boss at the top or the workers they manage. These ambitious mid-ranking people may want to access the higher-ranking lifestyle which could mean facing more challenges, whilst also having to maintain their authority over lower-ranking workers.”   

The research findings have been published in the journal General and Comparative Endocrinology.   

When it comes to radical innovation, the customer is not always right

March 22, 2013

We are all customers and and we are all essentially conservative at heart. We tend to prefer to stick to what we know and like.  So while listening to your customers is paramount when it comes to incremental improvements of products or services, the existing customer may not be the best when it comes to radical innovation and the introduction of something completely new.

Customer co-creation in service innovation: a matter of  communication? by Anders Gustafsson, Per Kristensson and Lars Witell, Journal of Service Management, 23(2012)3: 311-327. 

The paper (available as an Open Access manuscript) reports on the results of a survey among 334 managers who all had experience with innovation in the creation of new products or services. The researchers selected 284 real development projects  divided into two main groups:

  • Incremental innovation: 207 of the projects dealt with minor improvements of products or services.
  • Radical innovation: The remaining 77 projects dealt with development of radically new products or services not previously known to the market.

… The implication for the dysfunctional model is that the communication process – and therefore co-creation – is different for radical innovations than for incremental innovations. The model for radical innovations produced two significant paths (using adjusted t-tests), frequency (0.336, p< 0.05), and content (-0.246, p< 0.05). The results indicate that companies should interact frequently with their customers; this is similar to the findings in the case of incremental innovations. The path coefficient for content is negative, which indicates that customers should not be too highly involved in developing the actual content of radical innovations. …..

…. The results of the present study contribute to a deeper understanding of why new offerings developed through market research techniques based on co-creation with customers are more profitable than those developed with traditional market research techniques. ……

However, the communication process of co-creation for radical innovations seems to behave quite differently in that the four suggested dimensions are not entirely applicable in the same way for radical innovation as they are for incremental innovation. The different dimensions in the communication process behave differently in the two conditions, which suggests that companies must apply different communication strategies in co-creation depending on the degree of innovativeness of a development project. The two dimensions that are significant in radical innovation are frequency (positive) and content (negative). Direction and modality did not have a significant impact on product success. This implies that companies should learn from customers through frequent contact, which is the same as in the case of incremental innovations. However, companies should not be overly concerned with suggestions of the content of a potential new offering. Radical solutions can often be considered unthinkable in advance, which can make radical solutions hard to imagine, but customers know a good idea when they see and use it. Customers create solutions based on their previous experiences of usage of different products or services, which makes it difficult to suggest solutions that are truly radical.

Archive of posts on management behaviour

March 10, 2013

A reader has suggested I collect my posts on management behaviour on a separate site, but I am not sure I would be able to do justice to yet another blog even though it would have the advantage of being a much more focused site. However to address – at least partially – the reader’s difficulty in finding some of my past posts on the subject, they are re- linked below. (These and all other posts tagged “management” can be found here).

  1. Ethics and Business  April 19, 2010

  2. Why Forecasts need to be wrong October 7,2010

  3. “Essence of a Manager” released March 29, 2011

  4. The Art of Motivation April 21, 2011

  5. Power and empowerment April 30, 2011

  6. Strength in a Manager: The materials analogy May 8, 2011

  7. Japan Colloquium: Lessons for crises management July 24, 2011

  8. What makes a “good” manager? April 12, 2012

  9. Manager Selection: Using hypothetical scenarios in interviews June 10, 2012

  10. How to use your CV to “control” the subsequent interview November 20, 2012

  11. The need for communication leads to speech and grammar and language February 25, 2013

The need for communication leads to speech and grammar and language

February 25, 2013

Extracts from a recent lecture

from liu presentation -Communication for Managers

  1. Thinking gives rise to words
  2. Words are not necessary for thought –but they help
  3. Many words and many people give rise to the need for cooperation which needs communication
  4. The need for communication leads to speech and grammar and language
  5. Grammar is not necessary for thought – but it helps
  6. Language is not necessary for communication – but it helps
  7. Speech is not necessary for language – but it helps
  8. Message is an information package
  9. Meaning comes first and is necessary for message and needs an algorithm for the conversion
  10. Information is whatever can be detected by our senses (sensory, aural, visual, olefactory…..)


How to use your CV to “control” the subsequent interview

November 20, 2012

Over the last 15 years or so I have often found myself advising employment seekers – from young graduates to potential Managing Directors – about how to write and structure their CVs. It has often occurred to me that in the heat of trying to write down everything that might conceivably be of some interest to somebody, the purpose and objectives of the CV are sometimes forgotten by the authors. Many CV writing guides are often focused on format. Some may even include something about content but most usually take the “purpose” for granted. In the overwhelming majority of cases the objectives of submission of a CV is to be first selected for an employment interview and then to form the basis or the starting point for the interview itself.

(Scroll to bottom of post for “Writing your CV” pdf)


Manager Selection: Using hypothetical scenarios in interviews

June 10, 2012

When selecting for managers a common error is to equate “successful” with “good”. But as I have posted earlier regarding  what makes a “good” manager and the attributes he has,

Success is transient. Just like profit or cash-flow – it is over once it has been recognised. The success counter is set to zero once the success is “booked”.  Goodness lasts longer – it is like a balance sheet item. This financial analogy is sound. A success once booked – like profit or cash – gets transferred to the goodness in the balance sheet. It is available as a balance sheet item for future results but does not – in itself – ensure such future results. Past successes like previous profits provide a track record and an indication of things to come but do not, in themselves, ensure future success or profit. And just as a lack of profit or a shortage of cash can impair a balance sheet, a lack of success can impair a manager’s goodness.

Success and goodness are different.

Here I address the use of hypothetical scenarios in selection interviews to find the “good” manager.


Professor at IIM-A resigns

April 14, 2012

Update 2014! See new post 


There are many comments in support of Prof. Dass  and some in support of Sujoy Pal. But many are rather nasty and merely personal attacks against the one or the other. I have left the last comment with one of Prof. Dass’ students which is rather more compelling than the personal attacks.

But if the allegations against Prof. Dass are largely malicious then it is a great pity that

  1. he resigned, and
  2. that IIM-A has not backed him up and declined to accept his resignation.

IIM-A does not come out of this very well. My tentative conclusion to all this is that IIM-A is still developing its own internal processes and does not really know – yet –  how to handle matters of alleged plagiarism.

There are some parallels with development of internal processes in industry to deal with corruption over the last 15-20 years. Here the mistake made by industry – in my opinion – was to focus on compliance rather than on ethics. A focus therefore on detection and punishment rather than on prevention. There is a risk that Indian Universities are going down the same path with a focus on plagiarism detection rather than on ethics. While the act of “policing” cannot be avoided by organisations the mere mechanical use of software to detect plagiarism is not enough. My own experience is that if ethics can be sound then compliance (or plagiarism) largely become non-issues. The challenge is  how to institutionalise the development of sound ethics in any organisation.

Comments on this subject are now closed.


Professor Rajanish Dass at the Indian Institute of Management in Ahmedabad had blamed his co-author, Sujoy Pal (a research associate) for the plagiarism he was found guilty of. Dass has claimed that it was due to “ignorance and not intention” and had taken his case to the Gujarat High Court which had given him a small measure of relief when it had instructed the Institute to take some of his additional responses into account.

But he has now bowed to the inevitable and resigned.

Faculty of Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad (IIM-A), Rajanish Dass, who had approached the high court after the institute accused him of plagiarism, has chosen to resign from his post at the institute. 

Confirming the resignation, dean of academic affairs at IIM-A, B H Jajoo said, “He left on April 2.”  ……. In its report to IIM-A director Samir Barua on February 3, the committee concluded that allegations against Dass were “valid” and he has resorted to plagiarism in three papers. Confirming his resignation, Dass said, “I submitted my resignation due to health issues on April 2, which was accepted by IIM-A on the same day.” 

Dass has been on medical leave from the institute since the time he had approached HC (the High Court).

Considering that he had resigned 12 days ago and in a rather high profile case, it is a little surprising that the Institute did not have the courage to come out with the news of his resignation immediately. It suggests that they have not yet seen the advantages of transparency and that some are perhaps still hoping that the plagiarism issues cropping up at IIM-A will merely go away.

Some students at IIM-A have also accused Dass  – anonymously – of having outsourced his own thesis to students at Jadavpur University.

What makes a “good” manager?

April 12, 2012

Much of my work these days is in helping organisations in the selection of their managers. This has developed into a series of  talks and “workshops” for those involved – or to be involved – in the selection and recruitment or promotion of managers.

The objective is of course to appoint managers who will be successful (however success is to be defined). But that “success” lies in the future and will only ever be measured in retrospect. While defining what would constitute “success” is vital, it is my contention that the selection process has to focus on the “goodness” of the manager.

I take “goodness” to be an inherent attribute of a manager whereas “success” is a value-judgement of what has been achieved – but only and always in retrospect. “Successful” cannot and should not therefore be equated with or substituted for “good”.

Success is transient. Just like profit or cash-flow – it is over once it has been recognised. The success counter is set to zero once the success is “booked”.  Goodness lasts longer – it is like a balance sheet item. This financial analogy is sound. A success once booked – like profit or cash – gets transferred to the goodness in the balance sheet. It is available as a balance sheet item for future results but does not – in itself – ensure such future results. Past successes like previous profits provide a track record and an indication of things to come but do not, in themselves, ensure future success or profit. And just as a lack of profit or a shortage of cash can impair a balance sheet, a lack of success can impair a manager’s goodness.

Success and goodness are different.

The likelihood of a manager with a proven track record of success being a “good” manager is high. There is also no doubt that the probability of a “good” manager achieving the best result possible is high. From this it follows that the chance of achieving success is enhanced with a “good” manager. Success though does not just require goodness. And goodness does not ensure success. But goodness does predicate achieving the best result possible. In other words, if the goodness is inherent then the track record may follow. To continue with the financial analogy, if the balance sheet is sound then the probability that profits and cash may follow is enhanced.

Therefore it seems to me to be a much more grounded approach to focus on the goodness of a prospective manager rather than on just his track record of past successes or on trying to make a forecast of his future success.

I define nine fundamental “building blocks” which together as a package indicate the potential “goodness” of a prospective manager: (more…)

Japan Colloquium: Lessons for crises management

July 24, 2011

I was recently invited to write a contribution for a Japan Colloquium for the Indian Institute of Management – Ahmedabad.

My contribution entitled ” Sound judgements must not be stifled by Crisis Management Protocols” appears in Japan’s Tragedy and Aftermath: Lessons for Crises Management, Vikalpa, Volume 36, No.2, April – June 2011, pages 81 – 118.

Sound Judgments Must Not be Stifled by Crisis Management Protocols – Vikalpa June 2011

The story is told that at the Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear plant, the three reactors in operation began an orderly shutdown when the Great Tohoku quake of 2011 struck, even though the magnitude at 9.0 was significantly higher than the 8.3, the plant was designed for. But when the tsunami wave rolled in and all the 13 back-up diesel generators and all the emergency cooling pumps were knocked out, then an unprecedented and unforeseen chain of events was set in motion. It is said that the site management quickly came to the conclusion that sea water cooling was necessary even though this would render the reactors permanently inoperable. But it took a further eight hours for the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) management in Tokyo to agree. In the event the meltdown of the fuel rods may have been unavoidable in any case but an additional eight hours of cooling with sea water could not have hurt. A similar story is told about Hurricane Katrina where an operating engineer had the possibility of opening some valves and preventing flooding of some areas of New Orleans but did not do so because such a decision was explicitly excluded from his authority and his superiors were unreachable.

The question that arises is whether the culture of an organization helps or hinders individual managers to make judgments at times of crisis or impending disaster? Should the site manager at Fukushima or the operating engineer in New Orleans have had to wait for higher authority as they did or should the organizational culture have permitted him to bypass the chain of command? ……

The “goodness” of a judgment can only be assessed long after the judgment itself and therefore it is the soundness of judgment which must be sought rather than the intangible goodness of a future result. But a sound judgment must also be consummated by the willingness to exercise it. 

Strength in a Manager: The materials analogy

May 8, 2011

No manager operates without stresses of all kinds. He is continuously subjected to physical, mental, psychological and emotional stresses. They may be cyclic or prolonged or sporadic or intermittent. It is his ability to withstand stress and continue operating without breaking down which we can call his strength of character. An individual’s strength is always present and is brought to bear automatically whenever stress is encountered. It cannot be turned “on” or “off” at will or to suit changing circumstances but it is never absent. It is unique to the individual and different individuals will be more or less suitable for the particular stresses encountered. Strength carries no connotations of inherent goodness or badness but whether it is wholly or partially sufficient or suitable depends on the particular individual and the specific stresses experienced.

The materials analogy

The strength of a material is a measure of its ability to withstand stress without failure by fracture or by rupture.

The strength of character of a person is a measure of his ability to withstand the stresses he encounters without failure by “breaking down”.

Napoleon Hill 

“Character is to man what carbon is to steel”

It is remarkable that so many of the terms used in materials science to describe the strength of materials are also applicable to human character. Strong, tough, resilient, brittle, malleable, tempered, hard, stiff, yield, stress, strain, deformation, ductile, elastic, rigid, fracture, fatigued and twisted are all words which have very precise meanings when applied to the properties and behaviour of materials. They are also all words which can be used – with very similar meanings – in describing facets of human character.

Stress in materials science is measured in units of the force applied per unit area of the material. Stress may be tensile (longitudinal pulling) or compressive (longitudinal squeezing) or it may be shear (sideways) or it may be torsion (twisting). The strength of a material is determined by its microstructure and defined as the magnitude of the stress that must be applied for the material to fail by fracture or by rupture.

There seem to be many parallels between the properties of inanimate materials and the components of human character. A person’s strength of character is similarly dependent upon his microstructure and is also a measure of his breaking stress. Toughness in a person, just as in materials, is not synonymous with strength but it is a related characteristic. It represents a person’s ability to absorb a great volume of stress or repeated applications of stress where he may yield to some extent, but does not break. As with a material, his resilience marks his ability to absorb setbacks and to recover his equanimity. He can also be subject to repeated stress cycles or difficult working conditions for prolonged periods leading to fatigue or creep where a gradual onset of small failings can lead to a total failure. Stubbornness in character has great similarity to brittleness in a material. The microstructure of the manager’s character, just like that of a material, can be changed by tempering or hardening or some other strengthening processes. Some managers are strong in tension and resist being pulled along by the latest fashion. Others are strong in compression and can withstand the weight of many trying to squeeze them into a particular shape. Just as material properties make them suitable for particular applications, the different characters of managers make them suitable for particular environments or particular tasks.

Properties of materials are amenable to precise tests and the results of the tests, which can be expressed mathematically, apply universally to all materials having the same composition and microstructure. Human characteristics are subject to much greater variation, are not as easily measurable and cannot be as readily predicted. Tests for the ultimate strength of a material are carried out by stressing a standard piece of the material to the point of destruction and the test pieces themselves are thereafter rendered useless. The strength of human character however, is not amenable to similar testing and does not allow of the same quantitative and mathematical approach. The science of materials though, is illustrative of, and does provide some very valuable insights regarding, human character, but it must be emphasized that it is only an analogy. Analogies serve very well for getting clarity in a new area of study by comparison with a familiar area, but there are many aspects of human character which are quite unlike material properties and the analogy no longer applies. Unlike materials, even conflicting character traits can co-exist in a person and the same trait can be manifested differently in different circumstances or at different times. A material is either brittle or it is ductile, but never both. But human character, for example, may be brittle and uncompromising in regard to integrity but flexible with regard to fallibility, both at the same time. A particular manager may be malleable and yielding with his superior while being hard or inflexible with a subordinate.   A manager may exhibit different, and even diametrically opposite, character traits to the same person but at different times. Strength of character is not an independent trait in itself but is a composite of many different features.

From Chapter 6: Essence of a Manager

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