Companies around the world are debating how and when to return to the office. Health and safety has taken on a whole new significance in the era of coronavirus. To bring people back safely, the options for office redesign are bewildering. How should desks be arranged to enable social distancing alongside the benefits of being in the same room? And do people need to return for five days a week?
Many companies are looking to have some employees work from home, some of the time. But unless careful thinking goes into this, companies run the risk of getting stuck in the middle, achieving neither the benefits of the traditional office nor the safety conferred by the home.
Consider, for instance, the 6 Feet Office. This concept, developed by a commercial real estate multinational, Cushman and Wakefield, aims to ensure that employees remain six feet apart at all times. It is achieved by spacing desks, creating one-way people circulation, and including visual signs in the carpeting around each desk so as to nudge people to keep their distance.
This idea runs the risk of throwing the baby out with the bathwater. As architecture scholar Kerstin Sailer has noted, its combination of distanced furniture, nudges, and warnings can also stigmatise social interaction, pushing all communication online, even in the office. If that is the case, why not just work from home?
Companies need to incorporate an essential lesson from the COVID-19 lockdown: Zoom works surprisingly well. But there are also lots of benefits to informal interaction – something a prearranged video call cannot replicate. In light of this, we propose a hybrid system of the best of both worlds. If fewer people are coming in to maintain social distancing, it is best to have all teams represented. And the office layout must facilitate connections between people rather than keeping them apart.
Planned vs unplanned communication
There’s an important distinction between planned and unplanned communication at work. Unplanned communication typically takes place via serendipitous encounters and, importantly, involves conversations across teams. Here proximity is needed.
This is because different teams are typically not part of the same reporting line, and so communication depends on unplanned engagements like overhearing each other talk or chance encounters in the corridor. This can have real business benefits. As one of us has documented in our recent book, unplanned social interaction across nearby desks in a Wall Street trading floor improved the use of financial models.
In the case of planned communication, remote conferencing technology has made proximity less important. The reason is that within-team communication typically happens on a planned and routine basis, so all it needs is a digital platform.
This message came out clearly from a panel event we organised at the LSE’s Systemic Risk Centre. Charles Bristow, global head of rates trading at investment bank JP Morgan, and one of the panellists, explained that “a team of people trading together on a single product are getting incoming inquiries through the same channels” and “use the same tools”. For that reason, communicating remotely is incredibly easy and can even be more efficient.
So physical proximity is primarily needed for unplanned communication. It means remote working can continue at little cost to planned communication. And it potentially means that if companies want to bring limited numbers of people back to the office, they should focus on having at least one member from every team. This will enable cross-team communication, which relies on physical proximity.
Keeping everyone engaged
Another important element of office design to take into account is the extent that it facilitates employee engagement – whether people leave their desks to come into face-to-face contact. This is important for building better relationships between colleagues and company culture.
To facilitate this, the focus on social distancing must distinguish between distance and accessibility. While distance reduces the extent that people can engage with each other and collaborate, research in architecture shows that ease of access and facilitating movement can partly compensate for distance.
As Sailer has established, in a house where every room is accessible to every other room via a door, connection is far easier than in one where you can only access a given room from the adjoining one. The same degree of distancing between people, in other words, can lead to vastly different levels of engagement.
To achieve this connectivity (while maintaining social distance), companies can leverage the staggered return of employees to remove some desks and create a corridor around the periphery of their open plan offices, giving employees the chance to easily access each other. Encounters and conversations can be further facilitated by nooks and corners outside such a corridor, so that employees can have quick one-on-ones without blocking circulation.
The return to the office after months of remote working gives companies a chance to make their setups more effective. They can incorporate the benefits of remote working, while ensuring people can interact and exchange ideas in a safer way than if they blindly replicated their pre-COVID work arrangements.
Well into the pandemic’s second year, we are beginning to see light on the horizon. We’re not out of the woods here in Canada. As some areas of the country continue to struggle to contain the virus, others are optimistic due to lowering case counts thanks to restrictions and lockdown measures.
The rolling lockdowns and public health restrictions of the pandemic response meant a massive shift to remote and virtual work for many workplaces. As we look towards and plan for the post-pandemic future, businesses and organizations need to thoughtfully consider what the future of work looks like for them.
They will need to reflect on their operations pre-pandemic, consider what they learned from the disruption of the crisis, and ask themselves: How can we build back better?
• Teams have a strong leader, or they can feature shared leadership.
• Teams have clearly defined task interdependencies and interfaces among team members, or team members can perform their work largely in isolation.
• Teams have the same goals and rewards for all members, or they can offer individualized goals and rewards.
• Teams communicate virtually, or they can communicate so face-to-face.
• Teams have a shared history and aspirations, or they operate for a limited time, after which they disband.
A strong leader, alongside clearly defined task interdependencies, focuses on the team as a whole, whereas virtual teamwork and individual rewards emphasize the individual team member.
Combining features of teamwork that promote autonomy with other features that foster cohesiveness and a sense of belonging is likely the best path forward.
Emphasize shared goals
As long as employees continue to operate in a virtual setting, it’s important for leaders to define shared goals and rewards. Teams must share a vision of the future that complements the larger degree of autonomy they’ve experienced through virtual teamwork.
Focusing on elements of teamwork that bring team members closer together should not be left to chance. As some organizations learned during the pandemic, scheduling social hours can replace the spontaneous conversations at the water cooler. A book club can replace the informal learning over a lunch chat. A fireside Zoom chat on company values and goals can replace an in-person town hall.
But post-pandemic, few organizations will maintain an all-virtual presence. Many will move towards a hybrid model. For those teams returning to the office, it will still be important to protect the benefits of remote work: uninterrupted time for strategically important projects, and respect for personal preferences.
The pandemic has also almost eliminated a troublesome feature of organizational life: presenteeism, or showing up to work when sick. We must not go backwards in this regard. Workers must protect themselves and their team members from the consequences of illness.
Post-pandemic, the world of work will probably never be the same again. And that’s probably a good thing. We now have an opportunity to make it better.
A job – any job – is generally thought of as better than no job at all. Consequently, low-paid work is often considered a “stepping stone” to a higher-paid job. But how easily do low-paid workers climb up the pay scale, really?
Our new research suggests past studies may have considerably overstated the chances of moving from low to higher pay. This has significant implications for understanding labour market behaviour.
Given the NZ$3.3 billion increase in welfare payments announced in New Zealand’s recent budget – dubbed the “biggest lift in a generation” – and the ongoing focus on inequality and minimum wage rates, how we measure income mobility is increasingly important.
In particular, what are some of the characteristics of the low-paid workforce? How likely or unlikely is it that an individual can transition from low to higher pay?
Past research has described low-paid work as a stepping stone if there is a greater chance of moving to higher pay relative to someone who is unemployed.
Furthermore, the data have suggested relatively high likelihoods of making the transition from low to higher pay — estimates range from 47% to nearly 90%, based on studies from the UK, Australia and Germany.
However, this research has mostly had to rely on survey data based on individual responses to an annual set of questions. This means we can only observe a snapshot of any given labour market once a year.
When determining whether an individual is unemployed, low paid or higher paid, a lot of information between those annual surveys falls into the unknown.
What traditional research misses
Why does this matter? It helps to imagine three different individuals, with different labour market experiences, answering a survey about their employment status in October 2019 and again in October 2020:
one was low paid in the first survey and remained in low pay every month until the second survey
the second oscillated between low and higher pay between surveys but happened to be in low pay at each survey point
the third regularly moves between low pay and unemployment but is also in low pay at the time of each survey.
Because of the lack of information between survey time points, all three individuals will fall into the same category. In turn, this may influence estimates of movement out of low pay.
First, we mimicked conventional earlier research by looking at the labour market from only one month each year. Through this lens, New Zealand looks similar to Australia, with the probability of moving from low pay to higher pay estimated to be 74%.
When we use the detailed monthly income records, however, it is clear the picture is not as rosy. Most importantly, the likelihood of moving from low pay to higher pay is much lower than traditional methods suggest.
In fact, for those who have been in low-paid work for all of the prior 12 months, we found the likelihood of them moving into higher pay in the following month was only 28%. Being continuously in low-paid work, it seems, means it isn’t easy to climb out.
A limited stepping stone
On the other hand, our research confirms the stepping-stone effect does exist in the New Zealand labour market: compared to being unemployed, you’re more likely to move into higher pay from being low paid.
Specifically, someone unemployed for the previous 12 months has only a 1% probability of moving into higher pay in the next month. That compares to 28% for those in low-paid employment for all of the previous 12 months.
Overall, our research highlights the value of detailed, high-frequency, integrated data in assessing the nuances in the labour market landscape.
On top of that, it illustrates the real difficulty in climbing the wage ladder for those in long-term low-paid work. This suggests policymakers should focus on pathways to wage growth, as well as on job creation itself.
One summer night in August, 1935, a young Soviet miner named Alexei Stakhanov managed to extract 102 tonnes of coal in a single shift. This was nothing short of extraordinary (according to Soviet planning, the official average for a single shift was seven tonnes).
Stakhanov shattered this norm by a staggering 1,400%. But the sheer quantity involved was not the whole story. It was Stakhanov’s achievement as an individual that became the most meaningful aspect of this episode. And the work ethic he embodied then – which spread all over the USSR – has been invoked by managers in the west ever since.
Stakhanov’s personal striving, commitment, potential and passion led to the emergence of a new ideal figure in the imagination of Stalin’s Communist Party. He even made the cover of Time magazine in 1935 as the figurehead of a new workers movement dedicated to increasing production. Stakhanov became the embodiment of a new human type and the beginning of a new social and political trend known as “Stakhanovism”.
That trend still holds sway in the workplaces of today – what are human resources, after all? Management language is replete with the same rhetoric used in the 1930s by the Communist Party. It could even be argued that the atmosphere of Stakhanovite enthusiasm is even more intense today than it was in Soviet Russia. It thrives in the jargon of Human Resource Management (HRM), as its constant calls to express our passion, individual creativity, innovation and talents echo down through management structures.
From the mid-1990s, we charted the rise of a new language for managing people – one that constantly urges us to see work as a place where we should discover “who we truly are” and express that “unique” personal “potential” which could make us endlessly “resourceful”.
The speed with which this language grew and spread was remarkable. But even more remarkable are the ways in which it is now spoken seamlessly in all spheres of popular culture. This is no less than the very language of the modern sense of self. And so it cannot fail to be effective. Focusing on the “self” gives management unprecedented cultural power. It intensifies work in ways which are nearly impossible to resist. Who would be able to refuse the invitation to express themselves and their presumed potential or talents?
This story is part of Conversation Insights The Insights team generates long-form journalism and is working with academics from different backgrounds who have been engaged in projects to tackle societal and scientific challenges.
Stakhanov was a kind of early poster boy for refrains like: “potential”, “talent”, “creativity”, “innovation”, “passion and commitment”, “continuous learning” and “personal growth”. They have all become the attributes management systems now hail as the qualities of ideal “human resources”. These ideas have become so entrenched in the collective psyche that many people believe they are qualities they expect of themselves, at work and at home.
The superhero worker
So, why does the spectre of this long-forgotten miner still haunt our imaginations? In the 1930s, miners lay on their sides and used picks to work the coal, which was then loaded on to carts and pulled out of the shaft by pit ponies. Stakhanov came up with some innovations, but it was his adoption of the mining drill over the pick which helped drive his productivity. The mining drill was still a novelty and required specialist training in 1930s because it was extremely heavy (more than 15kgs).
Once the Communist Party realised the potential of Stakhanov’s achievement, Stakhanovism took off rapidly. By the autumn of 1935, equivalents of Stakhanov emerged in every sector of industrial production. From machine building and steel works, to textile factories and milk production, record-breaking individuals were rising to the elite status of “Stakhanovite”. They were stimulated by the Communist Party’s ready adoption of Stakhanov as a leading symbol for a new economic plan. The party wanted to create an increasingly formalised elite representing the human qualities of a superhero worker.
Such workers began to receive special privileges (from high wages to new housing, as well as educational opportunities for themselves and their children). And so the Stakhanovites became central characters in Soviet Communist propaganda. They were showing the world what the USSR could achieve when technology was mastered by a new kind of worker who was committed, passionate, talented and creative. This new worker was promising to be the force that would propel Soviet Russia ahead of its western capitalist rivals.
Soviet propaganda seized the moment. A whole narrative emerged showing how the future of work and productivity in the USSR should unfold over the coming decades. Stakhanov ceased to be a person and became the human form of a system of ideas and values, outlining a new mode of thinking and feeling about work.
It turns out that such a story was sorely needed. The Soviet economy was not performing well. Despite gigantic investments in technological industrialisation during the so-called “First Five-Year Plan” (1928-1932), productivity was far from satisfactory. Soviet Russia had not overcome its own technological and economic backwardness, let alone leap over capitalist America and Europe.
‘Personnel decides everything’
The five-year plans were systematic programmes of resource allocation, production quotas and work rates for all sectors of the economy. The first aimed to inject the latest technology in key areas, especially industrial machine building. Its official Communist Party slogan was “Technology Decides Everything”. But this technological push failed to raise production; the standard of living and real wages ended up lower in 1932 than in 1928.
The “Second Five-Year Plan” (1933-1937) was going to have a new focus: “Personnel Decides Everything”. But not just any personnel. This was how Stakhanov stopped being a person and became an ideal type, a necessary ingredient in the recipe for this new plan.
On May 4, 1935, Stalin had already delivered an address entitled “Cadres [Personnel] Decide Everything”. So the new plan needed figures like Stakhanov. Once he showed that it could be done, in a matter of weeks, thousands of “record-breakers” were allowed to try their hand in every sector of production. This happened despite reservations from managers and engineers who knew that machines, tools and people cannot withstand such pressures for any length of time.
Regardless, the party propaganda needed to let a new kind of working class elite grow as if it was spontaneous – simple workers, coming from nowhere, driven by their refusal to admit quotas dictated by the limits of machines and engineers. Indeed, they were going to show the world that it was the very denial of such limitations that constituted the essence of personal involvement in work: break all records, accept no limits, show how every person and every machine is always capable of “more”.
On November 17, 1935, Stalin provided a definitive explanation of Stakhanovism. Closing the First Conference of Stakhanovites of Industry and Transport of the Soviet Union, he defined the essence of Stakhanovism as a leap in “consciousness” – not just a simple technical or institutional matter. Quite the contrary, the movement demanded a new kind of worker, with a new kind of soul and will, driven by the principle of unlimited progress. Stalin said:
These are new people, people of a special type … the Stakhanov movement is a movement of working men and women which sets itself the aim of surpassing the present technical standards, surpassing the existing designed capacities, surpassing the existing production plans and estimates. Surpassing them – because these standards have already become antiquated for our day, for our new people.
In the ensuing propaganda, Stakhanov became a symbol burdened with meanings. Ancestral hero, powerful, raw and unstoppable. But also one with a modern, rational and progressive mind which could liberate the hidden, untapped powers of technology and take command of its limitless possibilities. He was cast as a Promethean figure, leading an elite of workers whose nerves and muscles, minds and souls, were utterly attuned to the technological production systems themselves. Stakhanovism was the vision of a new humanity.
‘The possibilities are endless’
The Stakhanovites’ celebrity-status offered enormous ideological opportunities. It allowed the rise of production quotas. Yet this rise had to remain moderate, otherwise Stakhanovites could not be maintained as an elite. And, as an elite, Stakhanovites themselves had to be subjected to a limitation: how many top performers could really be accommodated before the very idea collapsed into normality? So quotas were engineered in a way which we might recognise today: by the forced distribution or “stack ranking” of all employees according to their performance.
After all, how many high-performers can there be at any one time? The former CEO of General Electric, Jack Welch, suggested 20% (no more, no less) every year. Indeed, the Civil Service in the UK operated on this principle until 2019 but used a 25% top performer quota. In 2013, Welch claimed this system was “nuanced and humane”, that it was all “about building great teams and great companies through consistency, transparency and candor” as opposed to “corporate plots, secrecy or purges”. Welch’s argument was, however, always flawed. Any forced distribution system inextricably leads to exclusion and marginalisation of those who fall in the lower categories. Far from humane, these systems are always, inherently, threatening and ruthless.
And so Stakhanovism is still flowing through modern management systems and cultures, with their focus on employee performance and constant preoccupation with “high performing” individuals.
Something that often gets forgotten is that Stalinism itself was centred on an ideal of the individual soul and will: what is there that “I” am not able to do? Stakhanov fitted perfectly this ideal. Western culture has been telling itself the same ever since – “the possibilities are endless”.
This was the logic of the Stakhanovite Movement in the 1930s. But it is also the logic of contemporary popular and corporate cultures, whose messages are now everywhere. Promises that “possibilities are endless”, that potential is “limitless”, or that you can craft any future you want, can now be found in “inspirational” posts on social media, in management consultancy speil and in just about every graduate job advertisement. One management consultancy firm even calls itself Infinite Possibilities.
Indeed, these very sentences made it on to a seemingly minor coffee coaster used by Deloitte in the early 2000s for their graduate management scheme. On one side it said: “The possibilities are endless.” While on the other side, it challenged the reader to take control of destiny itself: “It’s your future. How far will you take it?”
Insignificant though these objects may appear, a discerning future archaeologist would know that they carry a most fateful kind of thinking, driving employees now as much as it drove Stakhanovites.
But are these serious propositions, or just ironic tropes? Since the 1980s, management vocabularies have grown almost incessantly in this respect. The rapid proliferation of fashionable management trends follows the increased preoccupation with the pursuit of “endless possibilities”, of new and unlimited horizons of self-expression and self-actualisation.
It is in this light that we have to show our selves as worthy members of corporate cultures. Pursuing endless possibilities becomes central to our everyday working lives. The human type created by that Soviet ideology so many decades ago, now seems to gaze at us from mission statements, values and commitments in meeting rooms, headquarters and cafeterias – but also through every website and every public expression of corporate identity.
Stakhanovism’s essence was a new form of individuality, of self-involvement in work. And it is this form that now finds its home as much in offices, executive suites, corporate campuses, as in schools and universities. Stakhanovism has become a movement of the individual soul. But what does an office worker actually produce and what do Stakhanovites look like today?
Today’s corporate Stakhanovites
In 2020, the drama series, Industry, created by two people with direct experience of corporate workplaces, gave us a glimpse into modern Stakhanovism. It is a sensitive and detailed examination of the destinies of five graduates joining a fictional, but utterly recognisable, financial institution. The show’s characters become almost instantly ruthless neo-Stakhanovites. They knew and understood that it was not what they could produce that mattered for their own success, but how they performed their successful and cool personas on the corporate stage. It was not what they did but how they appeared that mattered. https://www.youtube.com/embed/PbM84z4XYgc?wmode=transparent&start=0
The dangers of failing to appear extraordinary, talented or creative were significant. The series showed how working life descends into unending personal, private and public struggles. In them, every character loses a sense of direction and personal integrity. Trust disappears and their very sense of self increasingly dissolves.
Normal days of work, normal shifts, no longer exist. Workers have to perform endlessly, gesturing so that they look committed, passionate and creative. These things are compulsory if employees are to retain some legitimacy in the workplace. So working life carries the weight of potentially determining a person’s sense of worth in every glance exchanged and in every inflection of seemingly insignificant interactions – whether in a board room, over a sandwich or a cup of coffee.
Friendships become impossible because human connection is no longer desirable since trusting others weakens anyone whose success is at stake. Nobody wants to fall out of the Stakhanovite society of hyper-performing top talents. Performance appraisals that may lead to dismissal are a scary prospect. And this is the case both in the series and in real life.
The last episode of Industry culminates in half the remaining graduates getting sacked following an operation called “Reduction In Force”. This is basically a drastic final performance appraisal where each employee is forced to make a public statement arguing why they should remain – much like on the reality TV series The Apprentice. In Industry, the characters’ statements are broadcast on screens throughout the building as they describe what would make them stand out from the crowd and why they are worthier than all others.
Reactions to Industry emerged very quickly and viewers were enthusiastic about the show’s realism and how it resonated with their own experiences. One YouTube channel host with extensive experience of the sector reacted to each episode in turn; the business press too reacted promptly, alongside other media. They converged in their conclusions: this is a serious corporate drama whose realism reveals much of the essence of work cultures today.
Industry is important because it touches directly on an experience so many have: the sense of a continuous competition of all against all. When we know that performance appraisals compare us all against each other, the consequences on mental health can be severe. https://www.youtube.com/embed/R32qWdOWrTo?wmode=transparent&start=0
This idea is taken further in an episode of Black Mirror. Entitled Nosedive, the story depicts a world in which everything we think, feel and do becomes the object of everyone else’s rating. What if every mobile phone becomes the seat of a perpetual tribunal that decides our personal value – beyond any possibility of appeal? What if everyone around us becomes our judge? What does life feel like when all we have to measure ourselves by are other people’s instant ratings of us?
We asked these questions in detail in our research which charted the evolution of performance management systems and the cultures they create over two decades. We found that performance appraisals are becoming more public (just as in Industry), involving staff in 360-degree systems in which every individual is rated anonymously by colleagues, managers and even clients on multiple dimensions of personal qualities.
Management systems focusing on individual personality are now combining with the latest technologies to become permanent. Ways of reporting continuously on every aspect of our personality at work are increasingly seen as central to mobilising “creativity” and “innovation”.
And so it might be that the atmosphere of Stakhanovite competition today is more dangerous than in 1930s Soviet Russia. It is even more pernicious because it is now driven by a confrontation between people, a confrontation between the worth of “me” against the worth of “you” as human beings – not just between the worth of what “I am able to do” against what “you are able to do”. It is a matter of a direct encounter of personal characters and their own sense of worth that has become the medium of competitive, high-performance work cultures.
The Circle, by Dave Eggers, is perhaps the most nuanced exploration of the world of 21st-century Stakhanovism. Its characters, plot and context, its attention to detail, bring to light what it means to take up one’s personal destiny in the name of the imperative to hyper-perform and over-perform one’s self and everyone around us.
When the ultimate dream of becoming the central star of corporate culture comes true, a new Stakhanov is born. But who can maintain this kind of hyper-performative life? Is it even possible to be excellent, extraordinary, creative and innovative all day long? How long can a shift of performative work be anyway? The answer turns out not to be fictional at all.
In the summer of 2013, an intern at a major city financial institution, Moritz Erhardt, was found dead one morning in the shower of his flat. It turns out that Erhardt really did try to put in a neo-Stakhanovite shift: three days and three nights of continuous work (known among London City workers and taxi drivers as a “magic roundabout”).
But his body could not take it. We examined this case in detail in our previous research as well as anticipating just such a tragic scenario a year before it happened. In 2010, we reviewed a decade of the Times 100 Graduate Employers and showed explicitly how such jobs can embody the spirit of neo-Stakhanovism.
Then in 2012, we published our review which signalled the dangers of the hyper-performative mould promoted in such publications. We argued that the graduate market is driven by an ideology of potentiality which is likely to overwhelm anyone who follows it too closely in the real world. A year later, this sense of danger became real in Erhardt’s case.
Stakhanov died after a stroke in Donbass, in eastern Ukraine, in 1977. A city in the region is named after him. The legacy of his achievement – or at least the propaganda that perpetuated it – lives on.
But the truth is that people do have limits. They do now, just as they did in the USSR in the 1930s. Possibilities are not infinite. Working towards goals of endless performance, growth and personal potential is simply not possible. Everything is finite.
Who we are and who we become when we work are actually fundamental and very concrete aspects of our everyday lives. Stakhanovite models of high-performance have become the register and rhythm of our working lives even though we no longer remember who Stakhanov was.
The danger is that we will not be able to sustain this rhythm. Just as the characters in Industry, Black Mirror or The Circle, our working lives take destructive, toxic and dark forms because we inevitably come up against the very real limits of our own purported potential, creativity or talent.
I want to address the subject of the damage we can do to our business unless we diligently follow ethical practices and treat our clients as our first priority.
I have noticed that clients appear to have been relegated to ‘nuisance’ status in some companies – people either to be ignored or put on hold until a more convenient time. I am not talking about the many businesses that are started with the sole objective of making profits, with no concern for the people or planet. These businesses were never ethical in the first place, and by virtue of their damaging products and/or services probably never will be. I am talking about businesses that started because of a passion, that wanted to make a difference, but through lack of thought, or bad management, have fallen off the ethical ladder and are now a source of frustration and disappointment to those that deal with them.
It makes me wonder what went wrong within these companies, why they dropped the ball. It doesn’t make sense to mistreat or undervalue clients – they are, after all, the source of income. No clients, no money, no business!
My experience of dealing with such companies has really clarified what not to do in my own business. This is what I have learned about how to run an ethical business.
Remember that You Are Just One Link in the Chain
Business dealings are rarely confined to just you and your client. If you supply products you have suppliers, and your client will also have other businesses and people linked to them. When you let a client down you are often letting down a string of other people of whom you aren’t aware. You could also be responsible for your client being perceived as unprofessional, as they couldn’t deliver on their promise because you didn’t deliver on yours.
For example, I recently purchased an item online. The order went through, payment was taken but nothing was delivered. Nobody contacted me and I eventually ended up phoning them. They weren’t aware that my parcel hadn’t been delivered. The firm they had contracted to deliver it had apparently tried twice – they didn’t leave a card either time, and I was actually at home at the times recorded. As a result I ended up cancelling the order. It would have turned out very differently if:
The seller tracked all their orders and confirmed delivery
The delivery company had tried harder to deliver the parcel or left a ‘You Weren’t at Home’ card
The delivery company had notified the seller, so they could contact me themselves
As delivery wasn’t treated as a priority by either company, it didn’t happen. They each acted as disinterested individuals, rather than as a team with a common goal.
Communication is so important. Answer phone calls, emails and questions – don’t leave your clients wondering what’s happening, and potentially cause them stress and worry. Some questions might seem trivial to you, but they obviously aren’t trivial to your client or they wouldn’t have asked them.
If your company is one that gets asked the same standard questions time and again, make sure you have a list of answers ready.
The problem with lapses in communication is that trust gets eroded, and you could end up dealing with some very angry and frustrated clients. Believe me – that will take up much more of your time than if you had kept in touch in the first place.
You are running a business, not the Secret Service, and your clients need to know!
Tell the Truth
Always tell your clients the truth, don’t string them along. If you don’t have the product they want in stock, or you can’t provide the service they require right now, tell them. Yes, you may lose their business in this instance or they may be prepared to wait, but you are leaving the decision up to them and that’s where it belongs. The important thing is that they will remember your honesty and could send other business your way. If you tell them lies in order to keep their business, that might be the only business you’ll ever get from them – and if you’re really unlucky, your shortcomings could end up doing the rounds on social media.
Don’t Forget that Your Clients have Lives Too
This is particularly important to remember if you have a company that impacts other people’s businesses in a big way. That without your product or service the business can’t function. It is a good idea from time to time to think about what effect your actions are having – are you uplifting your clients so that their lives are enhanced by their association with you, or are you pushing them towards bankruptcy?
Have a Back Up Plan
Life is uncertain and full of surprises, so protect your client’s interests by giving them an alternative contact in case you are unavailable.
If someone has paid you for a service, then it is only polite to let them know when you plan to be away from the office, if it is likely to affect them in some way. An email after the event, apologising for not being in touch because you’ve been off skiing, is not likely to be received very well.
Keep to Deadlines
Don’t pull deadlines out of thin air because that’s what you think your client wants to hear. If you can’t finish the job by Friday, don’t tell them you can. Look at the facts and figures, understand what is possible and, if you can, add a day or so just in case of hiccups. You’ll then get brownie points for being ahead of schedule.
Tell them if something crops up which will cause delays. Don’t pretend it’s of no consequence. You don’t know what impact the delay will have on your client. If they are aware of it, they can deal with it in a timely fashion at their end.
Good Intentions aren’t Enough
You might be the nicest person in the world, but your charms will fall on stony ground if people know that you can’t be relied upon, and that your word doesn’t mean anything. Don’t forget the saying ‘The road to hell is paved with good intentions’. The only way to run an ethical business is to back up your words with positive and timely action.
I believe it is crucial not to underestimate your importance and impact on other people’s lives. If you focus on your clients’ needs, rather than seeing them from just a monetary angle, I truly believe that your business will flourish and become a thing of joy.
I recently watched an episode of ‘Undercover Boss’ on YouTube. It was about a chain of convenience stores which also sold hot food and drinks. ‘The Boss’ visited the store which outdid all the others on coffee sales, in order to see what it had that the other stores didn’t. What the store had was this amazing lady who knew her customers by name, was genuinely interested in them, and always had time to have a laugh and a joke. People visited the store because that lady brightened up their day – they could have bought coffee anywhere. I think that says it all.
Sue is the Founder of Soulfully Connecting. The idea behind Soulfully Connecting is to demonstrate that there are other ways of living which can heal the earth, the animal kingdom and ourselves. She is passionate about people having freedom of choice, which is only possible when they know about all the options.
I wanted to explore the meaning behind the word ‘ethical’ in this day and age, and how some companies manage to slip through the net using marketing tactics.
I have recently read articles praising companies who are considered the most ethical – there is a list of these illustrious and successful business ventures of 2013, 2014 etc. – and they are set up as the benchmark for the rest of us. I opened the list in anticipation of seeing estimable companies mentioned, but was horrified to see a number of corporations on the list who are known to create products that compromise health or are involved in deforestation or child labour – to name but a few crimes against humanity.
Even if a company is taking steps to become more ethical, surely they shouldn’t be allowed on such a list until they have some substantial history in ethical practice. These questions immediately came to mind – “who on earth compiles these lists and what is their agenda?” “Are they genuinely ignorant of the practices of these companies, or is profit the only criteria?” Or even worse – “Is ethical practice now being judged by the 80/20 rule?”
So, what is considered an ethical company in this day and age?
Is it all about how a company treats their employees? If the people that work for them are treated well, getting decent salaries and benefits – does that make the company ethical?
If their employees have protective clothing while they are spraying the planet with toxic chemicals – does that make the company ethical because it is looking after its own?
If employees are given the benefit of cheap food and clothing in the form of company discounts, is the company ethical if the food is the end product of compromised ingredients and tortured animals?
If job opportunities and helping the economy is stated as being a valid reason for companies to start business ventures that poison the air we breathe, the water we drink and the food we eat, I have to ask – who benefits?
Or maybe being seen as ethical is all about a brilliant marketing campaign. A campaign which makes the general public feel all warm and fuzzy – full of cute animals, young children or a celebrity or two – or maybe all of the above if the company has unlimited finance to throw at it. We are presented with an emotional roller coaster ride which dulls the senses and convinces people of its sincerity and authenticity, because it’s just so darn pretty!
For example, the food and drink industries are money machines that can employ the most ingenious and brilliant of marketers who are capable of blindsiding the uninformed into believing every word they say. A lot of them churn out addictive products which lack nutrition and create severe health problems through the addition of ingredients which kill brain cells, and generally attack the organs of the body. However, that seems to be acceptable because their marketing campaigns bring people together in happy food and drink related ways, and their packaging is so bright and colourful and the wording so reassuring – natural, farm fresh – got to be true, yes?
It comes to mind that some of the most successful confidence tricksters and serial killers come in a very pleasing physical package. It is because they are good looking that they are able to get close to their victims, but beautiful on the outside doesn’t necessarily mean beautiful on the inside. I think this rule applies to companies and their marketing campaigns as well.
We are surrounded by marketing images which promote ‘beauty’! These images not only corrupt and destroy people’s self-confidence, but they also set the precedence that beauty is best. Therefore, in our subconscious we link beauty to all that is good, and we dismiss all that is not beautiful, according to the current standards set by the media and marketing industry.
I lived in the Algarve, Portugal for a couple of years and while I was there I knew people who had orange trees on their land. They were the sweetest oranges I’d ever tasted in my life, yet none of those oranges would have reached supermarket shelves. The reason why is that they were all ‘ugly’ fruit – they weren’t tampered with in order to make them visually pleasing. I was told by the owner of the orange grove that the ugly fruit were the sweetest, and that is something I think is worth remembering, because it opens our minds and we won’t so easily be seduced by beauty if we know there is a viable alternative.
If a cosmetics company donates money to eradicate skin cancer they have to be ethical, right? People will think that they are wonderful and more readily buy their products. However, what if that same company includes ingredients in its products which can cause cancer – aren’t they just creating a market for themselves? It bears thinking about!
If a food or drink company gives donations to schools in the form of IT or sports equipment etc., is it really an altruistic act? They often get returns in the form of advertising on the premises and massive hikes in sales as the word spreads about their good deeds. Not forgetting that they are creating a new generation of people who will be addicted to their products.
Charitable donations also need to be a win/win situation. The people needing help are no lesser beings than the people giving it, just because they don’t have financial wealth. They shouldn’t be exploited in the name of profit.
I think we need to remember that the companies that give lots of money to charity are usually companies that can easily afford it. It doesn’t hurt them at all, in fact it often benefits them – they don’t feel the pinch. There are many companies that give money open-heartedly and genuinely help everyone they touch, and there are those that give money in order to gain goodwill and a rise in sales. It is our job to find out which is which.
So what percentage between donations and damage constitutes ethical by today’s standards? Is it 25%/75% or does it need to be 50%/50%? Who makes these decisions and what is their agenda? It doesn’t seem to be the health and well being of the planet, that’s for sure.
I suggest that before we decide that a company is ethical we look deeply into the face of that company, look into its eyes and see its soul. Remember that a beautiful face is no indicator of a beautiful soul – the eyes are the windows of the soul and by looking deeply into them you will be able to discern whether it’s transparent or deceptive.
My father was a magician, a member of the Inner Magic Circle, and when I was growing up I used to watch him practice. He told me to always watch the hand that seemed to be doing nothing – and that has taught me a valuable life lesson. So when a company or institution of any sort puts forth a spectacular display which draws my attention, I drag my eyes away from where the lights are shining and look into the shadows to see what they are hiding, what is it they don’t want me to see? If after careful scrutiny and research I find there is nothing being hidden, then I deem that company ethical and sit back and enjoy the show!
I am not for one minute telling anyone what to think, or what to do. What I humbly suggest is that everyone looks carefully at the decisions they make, and the companies they support by either using their services or buying their products. Then each of us will know that we aren’t being led by the nose into compromising our own set of values and what we personally believe in.
The bottom line is that if people, animals and the planet are being negatively impacted by a company’s products or services, that company is not ethical – no matter how much they give to charity, or how many heart-warming marketing campaigns they launch. They are shirking their responsibility towards all living things in the name of profit. That is the truth!
I would love to hear your comments and what the word ‘ethical’ means to you personally.
Sue is the Founder of Soulfully Connecting. The idea behind Soulfully Connecting is to demonstrate that there are other ways of living which can heal the earth, the animal kingdom and ourselves. She is passionate about people having freedom of choice, which is only possible when they know about all the options.
In his essay “Perpetual Peace,” the German philosopher Immanuel Kant talked about the importance for each country to come together and join forces in a “league of nations” whose sole objective would be to ensure their peaceful coexistence. According to Kant, the governments are morally obligated to pursue peace and collaborate with other nations to ensure perpetual order.
Kant’s ideal and the need for a set of rules to govern our self-interested behaviors are now more evident than ever before. In today’s America, there is a rupture between those who still live by the principles of ethics and morals and those who don’t care for them at all. Instead of being united by the ideal of peace, as Kant envisioned the future, we are divided by hatred.
Given these circumstances, one can’t help but wonder: what is the future of ethics and morals in today’s America?
The Importance of Ethics
No nation can survive without a strong ethics and moral foundation. They’re the driving force that shapes individual behaviors within a society. While the written law holds people and companies responsible for their actions, ethics represent a self-governing system that allows people to live together and preserve the peace of the community. Due to ethics, we’ve achieved a state of equilibrium that teaches us how to behave when the watchful eye of the law is not available.
However, in today’s society, ethics seem to have eroded. More often than not, people no longer respect the unwritten rules that ensured their peaceful coexistence. And, the deeper the erosion of ethics, the more the interaction between people, whether it’s business or friendship, suffers. Since fewer people respect the rules, nobody will no longer trust anybody and society as we know it will cease to exist.
Are Ethics and Morals in America an Endangered Species?
It might seem like a grim picture but, judging by the way things are going right now, ethics and morals look like an endangered species. One of the most visible signs that we have a serious ethics problem is within the life and blood of our country: the Government.
The Government is the part of America where the deterioration of ethics and morals can best be observed. It’s here that greed, personal interest, and corruption have taken over the rigorous standards and behaviors that once prevailed.
Ethics and morals are on the verge of becoming extinct in today’s Government. Instead of addressing and solving some of the country’s most stringent problems, such as the deterioration of the education system, income inequality, massive student debts, and so on, politicians parade them in front of the citizens, inciting them one against each other.
As a result, we are deeply divided on every possible subject from abortion and marriage to guns, foreign policies, migrants, privacy right, and even God.
Fortunately, there’s one thing we can all agree: the country is going in the wrong direction.
A Ray of Hope
Evidence of America’s crisis of ethics can be seen everywhere, from the business world to our politics. However, our personal and social behavior has improved significantly in the past few decades. Although it may not seem like it, we are less racist, homophobic, and sexists than we were three decades ago. The rates of crime, drunken driving deaths, divorce, teen pregnancy, and domestic violence are also down.
Why this gap?
One explanation might be that while we are divided regarding important national issues, we’ve understood that if we want to live in a peaceful community, we need to keep our conduct in check. We’ve understood that united we can work and function better. Now, we need to apply this as a nation as well.
Let’s not allow the elite to divide us. United we are better and stronger!
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Many businesses just getting started are finding that the competition for attention on the web is fierce. And these businesses are finding that by going green, they are displaying their corporate responsibility, but they are also finding that there are financial benefits to going green. So how does a new business go green in a responsible way? Start by doing some research on the web and list the ways of which a company can go green. If a company is going to claim to be green, then it must have the consistency in every aspect of the business model. If your business is going to claim to be green, then you must practice what you preach.
Top Ten Ways a New Business Can Go Green:
Comply with all environmental regulations that are relevant to your industry. Compliance not only reduces your company’s environmental footprint, but it also protects the business from any legal actions or fines from the government.
Develop a company-wide environmental plan. Developing a strong environmental plan will help define the corporate culture and boost the energy efficiency of your company to minimize its footprint. The plan should clearly detail the company’s green strategy and encourage divisions throughout the company to follow more green business practices that help to shape the company’s overall environmentally-friendly objectives.
Build green. If your company is opening a new office or expanding locations, now is a good time to include as many energy-efficient features as possible. You can look to install energy-efficient heating and air conditioning systems, as well as appliances, equipment and lighting.
Buy green products and services. When buying necessary supplies or producing service providers for the company, it is important to think green. Businesses owners should consider filling the supply closets with products that are made from recycled materials or can be recycled, bio-based and non-toxic. Look for office equipment that has an energy-efficient rating, such as Energy Star.
Choose green web hosting. Many business owners have decided to go green with their web site in order be more consistent with their green plan-of-action. Choose a web host that is carbon neutral and offers environmentally friendly wind-powered or solar-powered web hosting. Moving a web site to another web hosting provider is not a difficult task, and many web hosts even offer a free site migration service.
Adopt energy efficient practices. Using more energy-efficient office equipment and implementing energy-reducing practices in the office will help save the environment and your bottom line. Employers should stress to employees that they be prudent and conservative with their energy use and provide energy-saving tips.
Reduce, reuse, recycle waste generated. Streamlining the company’s operations can reduce waste and lead to substantial savings and increased productivity. To save money and reduce waste, small businesses should use post-consumer recycled products and cut back on excessive packaging of products.
Conserve water. A water-efficiency program not only reduces your company’s strain on our nation’s water supply, but it also reduces your company’s costs from buying, heating, treating and disposing of water. Small businesses can reduce water waste by implementing water-saving equipment utilities and should always try to minimize discharges to sewers.
Adopt a company-wide pollution reduction plan. Every business creates waste, but it’s how you deal with it that separates you from the herd. Take steps to minimize waste, whether paper, dirty water or hazardous or toxic waste that requires special handling or disposal.
Create a green marketing strategy. Spread the word about your environmentally-friendly business by incorporating “green” claims in your marketing strategy to boost your brand image. Refer back to tip #5. Many green web hosts offer an emblem or a certification program for webmasters who want to use their web site to display the company’s “green” environmentally friendly status.
One final tip. Join industry partnership and stewardship programs to help you keep abreast of the latest developments in green processes and equipment, but it also helps build relationships with other green business owners in the industry.
As demonstrated, there are numerous shades of green, so going green can equal many different things. If choosing a company-wide green plan is important to you or your organization, then take a closer look at your business plan to find out what green practices are in place in the plan and what changes need to be made. Take into consideration, for example, the everyday practices you plan on implementing and the company’s policy on green practices such as “reduce, reuse and recycle”.
Ms. Rosendahl has over 19 years experience in systems analysis, hosted applications, and management as well as 13 years experience in web hosting and Internet marketing. Ms. Rosendahl has a Bachelors from Houston Baptist University with a double major in Computer Information Systems and Business Management. Stephanie is the founder and CEO of website hosting [https://www.greenhostit.com] firm – GreenHostIt.com.
Ethical Technology Advocates are going to be mankind ‘s go betweens with a wave of robots and artificial intelligence programs which will be helping to operate our complex and connected community by 2025.
Certainly one of their crucial tasks is to negotiate the delicate relationship of ours with the robots by setting up the ethical and moral regulations to which the devices – as well as the makers of theirs – operate simply exist.
The role of theirs is going to be essential in making sure that not one of the nightmares of ours about robot world domination by chance come true. As Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft, claims,’ The many critical next step in our goal of AI would be to agree on an empathic and ethical framework for its design.’
This can be 1 of our most pressing concerns as the robot revolution unfolds, says roboticist as well as artist Alexander Reben – who has developed the very first robot that could decide whether or not to inflict pain on a man.
‘I’ve demonstrated that a dangerous robot is able to really exist,’ he says.’ So we are going to need folks who can confront the fears of ours about AI getting out of control.’
Other Ethical Technology Advocates are going to work as coaches to robots, indicating their machine pupils how to recognize the subtle nuances of daily speech as well as behaviour which will enable them to have interaction reliably – and easily – with their human bosses and colleagues.
As Fernando Pereira, distinguished researcher in healthy language knowledge at Google, claims,’ There are a lot of ambiguities in the manner in which humans talk and act that call for a human level of common sense, and many years of instruction from our friends and families, to realize.
‘An AI will be totally lost in coping with each one of these subtleties unless it’s a human instructor to give it a varied and rich very power to resolve problems.’
It is going to be these human coaches that enable robots to take care of us safely. Robot nurses are going to need to understand our grandfather ‘s sarcastic feeling of humor for treating him appropriately.
Ashleigh Rhea Gonzales, researcher in NLP new developments as well as software system enhancement at Volumes Research, thinks a creative arts training will provide these employees the critical thinking and decision making skills needed to shape business and federal policy around the launch of AI and robots.
‘Technical skills like coding are helpful, but having plenty of business sense for creating AI and robot treatments with a client ‘s best interests and requirements in your mind is vital,’ she states.
An Ethical Technology Advocate’s communication abilities are going to be critical in choosing fails or perhaps whether the robot revolution succeeds. It is going to be the job of theirs to convince a sceptical public which the march of the devices is in their greatest interest while as entire middle management and semi skilled work groups are made obsolete by automation.
‘If the public opinion is the fact that the designers behind this particular technology are reckless, we are never ever likely to see completely autonomous devices in the marketplace,’ affirms Gonzales.
‘Without solid communicators handling development, advertising as well as damage control when something fails, the robots will in essence fade from popularity.’
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How Can You Tell If Someone Is Authentic? By Jon Allo
Being a more authentic person is good for business but it’s also good for your personal life. When you are just a genuine person and the same person in any situation, you will feel better about yourself and you’ll be able to build a more successful business too.
Here are qualities that make a person authentic.
They Are Consistent
An authentic person is always a lot more consistent than someone who is trying to be false. That’s just the way it is. Most people aren’t good at misinformation. They’re better at being honest, open, and truthful. When you let yourself let go of concern about others knowing the real you, consistency is never a problem.
They Are Good at Introspection
Being able to look at yourself and reflect on who you are and be accepting of who you are, enables you to be more accepting of who other people are. When you’re not worried about what others are doing and their status over yours, it’s easier to be yourself based on your own experiences. You can admit to mistakes, you can learn from your mistakes, and you’re okay with that.
They Are Good Listeners
A person who is authentic is really interested in others, so they are good listeners. They ask open-ended questions and get to know people better. They never feel jealous of others because they are happy for others when they experience success, and that attitude shows through.
They Are Team Players
An authentic person tends to play well on teams, whether it’s a sports team or a business team. That’s because they are happy for everyone to experience wins and feel no need to have the light shone only on them. They are happy to share the spotlight.
They Are Transparent
They are easy to communicate with due to their openness. You’ll never have to try to read between the lines with an authentic person; they’ll tell you the truth about how they feel. But, by the same token, they’ll let you be yourself too. When you can appreciate yourself and others regardless of flaws, then you’re coming closer to becoming an authentic person.
They Focus on Potential
An authentic person tends to focus on potential and often has a long-term vision of what they want to achieve. They do not react to negativity with fear, anger, or in the moment. They’re able to look ahead to the future and determine the best responses that put the whole thing in a bigger world focus.
They Have Good Character
You’ve likely heard the quote that “Character is what you do when no one is watching”, and there is probably nobetter way to explain what character is than that quote. A person of good character doesn’t say things they don’t mean, lie about what they did or said, or make things up.
They Have a Vision and Share It
A person who is authentic has a constant vision that they are not afraid of sharing with others. They know how to share their vision because it’s authentically theirs and they feel confident in that vision of what they want to do and how they want it to affect their business, their audience, and the world.
They Learn from Experience
A person who is authentic is often better at learning from their experience than others. The reason is they are not afraid to accept their own responsibility if something goes wrong. They can look at what they did and fix things based on what they did, without even worrying about what someone else did.
Being an entrepreneur can be overwhelming and exhausting. So how do some people seem to thrive and achieve their goals and dreams while others struggle? The answer is mindset. To start taking steps today to embrace a success mindset get a copy of my free checklist, Cultivating A Business Mindset at https://jonallo.com/mindset