Over the past century, there have been dozens of management philosophies that have been touted as "the way" to keep employees motivated and encourage excellence and productivity. But it's far from a solved problem. Stack ranking (aka vitality curve) has fallen out of favor a bit, and a trend of self-managing has appeared that could keep employees more satisfied with their bosses -- because if you're managing yourself, you only have yourself to blame. Some companies are trying to quantify various metrics for organizational behavior to make it more objective and fair. Maybe we'll know how it all works in a few more decades, but in the meantime, check out these HR experiments.
Organizational behavior can be a complex subject, and the fruits of research on the topic can range from curious phenomenon like the Hawthorne Effect to abolishing stack ranking (or instituting stack ranking). If you're interested in trying to avoid becoming a pointy-haired boss, you can brush up on some HR experiments and check out these links.
There are only so many hours in a day. It'd be great to be able to get more done in less time, and people are always looking for easy (or any!) solutions that might boost their productivity. Some folks try polyphasic sleep schedules to try to get more waking hours, but that's cheating. (Sleeping less is probably not healthy, either.) Here are just a few other stories about changes that you can try to get more things done.
When you get out there, all I ask is that you: DONíT WRITE FOR FREE! Nobody asks strippers to strip for free, doctors to doctor for free or professors to profess for free. Have some pride! What you know how to do now is a skill that 99.9 percent of the people donít have. If you do it for free, they wonít respect you in the morning. Or the next day. Or the day after that. You sink everybodyís boat in the harbor, not just yours. So just DONíT!
Writers need to write. A lot. Indeed, the only way anyone gets better as a writer is to just Ö do it. Your credential as a J-school grad is nice, but it is insignificant compared to experience. And, as the media world progresses further and further into the digital age, it becomes increasingly insignificant in an absolute sense.
Furthermore, Calcaterra points out what Reilly is really saying here, which is "don't undercut me, so I can keep my super high salary":
What Reilly is really doing here is not giving advice to graduates. Heís giving them a warning: ďDonít take my job! Donít take my friendsí jobs! They make a good living writing, and if you come in and undercut them with your blog or your contributed piece, you may screw with the system, so cut it out, will ya?Ē
Also, I think Reilly is wrong. Plenty of people ask doctors to doctor for free and professors to profess for free -- just not all the time. I assume that people also ask strippers to strip for free as well, and my limited knowledge of stripper employment suggests that they make most of their money from tips, rather than salary, anyway... But the point -- which seems to go right over Reilly's head -- is that doing something for free is not the same thing as not earning money. No one is saying "write everything for free." What people are saying is that writing some things for free can have serious benefits, in terms of exposure, or recognition, or the ability to improve your writing. And, for many, it becomes a way to make money. I wrote Techdirt for free for many years, and now it makes me a good living. If I had followed Reilly's advice, I never would have started Techdirt in the first place.
One of the interesting things we've seen in talking with various content creators who seem down on some of the new business models that are out there, is that they balk at the realization that some of them involve real work. We point to examples of musicians better connecting with fans and giving them reasons to buy, and we get critics mocking those because some of them involve such horrible things as having to do actual work or involve (horror!) actually having to go out and talk to fans. I'm beginning to come to the conclusion that these people might just be lazy. They seem to want everything handed to them. Because one thing that becomes clear as you talk to the many success stories in the content creation world is one simple fact: they work their asses off.
That doesn't mean that all it takes is work, or that if you work hard at things, you're guaranteed to succeed. There's nothing that's ever guaranteed success. But working hard can't hurt. Parker sent over this cool example of the band Hollerado, who detailed not just a variety of creative ideas, but also detailed the almost superhuman level of work and commitment the band put into building up their success as an indie band. The details come out in an email the band sent to Bob Lefsetz, whom they follow (not surprisingly). I was trying to pick the highlights, but there are so many, that I'll repost a big chunk of the letter, because the story is really worth reading (if you want to see the full thing click the link above):
For our first american tour, no-one wanted to book us. So, instead of booking shows, we drove as far way from our homes in canada as we could get. We would then show up at venues where a show was going on and tell them we were 2000 miles away from home, had a gig booked down the street but it somehow feel through. "Would you guys mind if we played a short set here tonight?" IT WORKED! We played countless shows this way.
-Since we rarely got paid more than a few drinks and sometimes pizza, we needed to make gas money.
-We had a laptop with the the tracks to our demo CD. We would go to best buy, get a CD burner and a couple spindles of blank cds. We would burn a hundred demos in the parking lot and then return the CD burner to Best Buy. we would then put the demos in ziplock bags. (hence the name of our first recordÖ record in a bag)
-Once we had a stash of demos we would drive to the nearest mall and set up shop in front of Hot Topic (probly the most shameless thing we have done for our band). We would stand there for hours, with discmen and demos asking anyone who would stop to take a listen if they wanted to buy a demo in a bag. We could sell the discs for 5 bucks and still make $4.50 to put towards gas.
-We did this for 2 years. Anything to avoid having a real job, right?
-In febuary 2009, we released our first full length album for FREE online.
-That same month we invented the RESIDENCY TOUR. We took the old concept of playing a residency one day a week at the same bar and made it psyco. We booked 7 residencies for the month, one for each night of the week. Every Sunday of that cold February we played in at the same club in Boston, every monday at Pianoís in NYC, Tuesday was Lacolle Quebec, Wednesdays- Hamilton ontario, Thursdays - Toronto, Friday - Ottawa, Saturday - Montreal. Repeat 4 times. 28 shows in a row. over 12,000 miles of crap canadian winter driving in 28 days.
- In febuary 2010, we started our own record label to release "record in a bag" in stores in Canada. Although every distributor we talked to said it was impossible, we were finally able to convince one (Arts and Crafts) that we could literally package "record in a bag" in a ziplock bag filled with goodies. So far we have sold over 10,000 copies of it in Canada. With no label support, our first single "Juliette" went top 5 in mainstream Canadian alternative radio.
- Things began to take hold in Canada and we soon became privy to the Canadian grant system for touring acts. Still, when they gave us a budget to play a showcase in China, we took the budget and stretched it for all it was worth. We turned it into a 3 week tour deep into china. We recorded a song in mandarin chinese and released it on the internet in China. We were able to return for another tour 6 months later.
Now that's a hard working band. But it's also a band that doesn't take anything for granted and that isn't sitting around waiting for someone else to give it the magic answer for success. It's a band that clearly cares about its craft as well, and recognizes the value of getting out there and playing. While it doesn't come through as fully in the letter, some of the commenters on the post also add in the point that the band is also extremely engaging with fans, and puts on a fantastic live show (not a surprise, given everything else).
I'm sure some of the usual commenters will claim that this is somehow horrible or will misrepresent this as me saying that all bands should just start driving 12,000 miles to do a show in a different city every night. But, as I've pointed out over and over again, there is no magic bullet to be successful (and there never was). The point is that if you're committed, hard working, good, creative and willing to embrace what fans want and what the technology allows, you have a much better chance of succeeding today than ever before. As these guys have shown, you don't have to worry about gatekeepers any more. In the past, the strategy was almost entirely focused on getting "noticed" by a gatekeeper and then hoping that they would provide that magic bullet (which they rarely did in real life).
For those who are willing to embrace what this world allows, the story above is likely to be inspiring. For those who want to sit back and have everything handed to them, I could see how it would be horrifying. But I get the feeling those people won't ever be satisfied.
As you may have noticed, we've been running some experiments lately with more interactive ad units that actually seek out feedback from our users. You can click in the ad to "vote" on the poll question, and from there you're able to input your own views as well. This time, the discussion focuses on what you most use your computer for when you're not working, with the poll answers being Games, Movies, Music or other. Once again, we're going to shut down comments on this post directly, but the ad unit should be running for the next few days both on the front page of Techdirt and beneath this post. If you have some thoughts on the subject, please feel free to take part.
Once again, this is sponsored by ASUS Windows Slate, in partnership with Microsoft and SAYMedia.
Of course, there's a bit more to this case that makes the facts a bit different and makes me wonder if it would apply in other circumstances. In this case, it dealt with a federal prosecutor who was fired, and is trying to claim that the firing was for his whistle-blowing. He was trying to access the emails of a US Attorney that he believes will reveal why he was fired. So it wasn't a case of a company trying to review the email (which is normally the case in these types of lawsuits). And, as such, it makes sense. The attorney-client privilege should be seen as one that has an incredibly high barrier. Any weakening of that privilege -- such as by saying that if you email your lawyer from work, it doesn't exist -- would be troubling. But what would be more interesting is what would happen in a lawsuit where it was the employer looking at the material. If a company has a regular program of recording and examining employee email (as many do), then how would the issue be resolved? It would seem that, in such circumstances, it would make a lot less sense to consider the content protected, since the employer is not asking for it, but already has access to it.
In related news, however, the Supreme Court will be hearing a case that looks at whether or not your text messages are private, even if sent from company mobile phones.
For years we've pointed out how silly it is for companies to use filters and other tools to try (and fail) to block "personal surfing" at work. It's based on the faulty notion that every second you're at work should be focused on work. But offices provide water coolers for a reason, and people take breaks for a reason. Nearly a decade ago, studies started showing that allowing personal surfing at work made employees happier and more productive. A couple years after that a study showed that thanks to modern connectivity at home, those who did personal surfing at work more than made up for it by working at home. And, just a couple months ago a study showed that those who access social networking sites at work tend to be more productive.
It's not hard to figure out why, really. First, allowing for a good balance between the two allows workers to take short mental breaks which allows them to be more fully focused on work when needed. On top of that, they don't have to worry about personal things while at work, but can take care of issues quickly and easily. Finally, and most importantly, many start using social networking and other online tools to help them work. After all, despite what naysayers say, these tools can be very useful in many different jobs.
And yet, more and more companies keep installing filters and trying to block out personal surfing at work, insisting that it must be a bad thing. But it appears that as a younger generation who grew up on this stuff enters the workforce, they're starting to convince companies to change their ways. Younger employees who have to battle internet filters, and even start working from the local coffee shop to avoid corporate filters, and teaching companies that blocking access to useful tools doesn't help things. And, yes, there will always be some people who abuse it, and workplaces can monitor for that. But they can do so by seeing who is not getting their work done, rather than by simply blocking all access to anyone. In the early days of the telephone, some offices banned them, fearing that they would be used for frivolous purposes, rather than work. These days, that's silly. In the future, the idea that we should ban all social networking sites will be seen as equally silly.
Earlier this year, we pointed out that it was silly for companies to block Facebook at work, because it's merely a communications tool. It can be misused, but that would show up in the performance of the employee. Instead, embracing Facebook and recognizing that it's just a communications platform -- like the telephone or like email (both of which some companies wanted to ban when they first became popular), it can be a very valuable tool.
They are part of the way in which people communicate which they find intuitive. Banning Facebook and the like goes against the grain of how people want to interact. Often people are friends with colleagues through these networks and it is how some develop their relationships.... Allowing workers to have more freedom and flexibility might seem counter-intuitive, but it appears to create businesses more capable of maintaining stability."
Now, of course, some people are going to show up here and start commenting about how much time they (or others they know) waste on Facebook during the workday. However, as we said, it's no secret that some people abuse access to those systems -- but the focus should be punishing for the abuse, not punishing everyone and throwing out the good with the bad. Others will (as they always do) say something along the lines of "if you're at work, you should be working -- using a social network should never ever be allowed." Again, similar things were said originally about the telephone and email, and those have turned out to be very productive tools. Letting people communicate in the way they find most efficient and effective is a huge part of making sure a business is functioning well -- even if it includes letting employees spend some time on Facebook.
More than five years ago, we first discussed whether or not it made sense to take a laptop with you on vacation. Many people do so, and say that it's actually quite useful, because it allows them to stay caught up with work with just a little bit of effort. The end result is that when they get back to work, they're not overwhelmed with everything they missed. Now, however, a psychologist in the UK insists that taking a laptop on vacation is "stupid" and can break up your family. Seems a bit extreme. Having done vacations both with and without my laptop, I'd say that it actually depends quite a bit on the person, the job and the vacation (well, and the other family members). Mike Elgan, over at Computerworld does an excellent job shredding the psychologist's faulty logic:
Clearly he's not talking about attention itself, but diverting attention using a computer. Cooper's clear assumption is that work is "bad" and that leisure is "good," that technology (a laptop) is "bad" and non-technology (a book) is "good."
Cooper also makes a host of other assumptions. For starters, he assumes that you're disconnected from your own family all year, and need to "commune again with your family, connect with your children." So that's his advice? Become alienated from your own family, then "commune" with them for only two weeks a year? Why does he assume alienation in the first place?
Cooper assumes that you're some nine-to-fiver who doesn't do creative work. As an opinion columnist, good ideas can strike me anytime, anywhere. That's true for a lot of different kinds of people. For many, a laptop is merely a writing tool, and a source of information and inspiration.
An increasing number of digital nomads are traveling without taking time off. The laptop *enables* travel and time away with family rather than creating a problem while traveling.
It appears to me that Cooper is making a lot of assumptions, and using his credentials to give credibility to his anti-technology bias.
Indeed. There are both good things and bad things about taking laptops on vacation, but it's a choice that each person should make for themselves -- and if it makes sense for them, it's hardly "stupid."