Bowie: a Man to remember.

David Bowie died last sunday. He was 69. He had just released what is now his musical testament “Black Star”. A wave of emotion went through the world. Bowie seemed to have had only admirers.

Blackstar_album_cover Bowie
Blackstar Cover

We can all learn from him. There aren’t many artists who changed so often and who were looking for new things, constantly. Most people invent themselves only once. He did it many times.
What do I mean? Do people invent themselves? Yes they do. We all build our own narrative. We create stories based on our experiences. But most of us write only one book. Bowie wrote a postmodern masterpiece that consists out of different books, each with a different style.
Just like Picasso, Bowie had various phases or periods. It’s like he closed a chapter just to open another one. For that you need energy, courage.

So what can we learn from David Bowie?

  • By closing a period you are free to do something completely different.
  • Creativity only occurs when you have to courage to change. You might be tempted to do what has been successful. But you must realise that chances are that you will lose altitude when you repeat yourself.
  • You can evolve better if you don’t care about what others might think of you. Leading a life based on the expectations might not be fulfilling.
  • You can be authentic whilst experimenting.
  • Experimentation leads to innovation.
  • Staying humble reinforces authority. Bowie was not a spoiled star. He was humble, accessible, interested.
  • Being interesting is less sustainable than being interested. Bowie was a voracious reader, open to a lot of influences. Being interested makes you learn, see things differently.
  • Doubting yourself is a good thing. It’s the engine behind progress and learning.
  • Some people might have been startled by his appearances during some of his chapter. Don’t. Look through it and listen to the message and the meaning. If you want to be standard, you will produce standard.
  • Dignity has a value. The way he could release a good album only days before his death deserves respect. The word dignity comes to mind.

The least what we can say is that he was a role model to many musicians and people. We can all learn a lot from someone like him.
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HR strategy: Control + Alt + HR function ?

snale - HR Strategy

HR strategy, the discussion.

I’ve been in HR now for more than 15 years. In all these years the “strategic” role of HR has not been out of the debate.
Through the years I’ve noticed that this strategic role is complex and intangible. I will not try to define and describe the word strategic in this blog. You could check other literature for that. I am looking for what defines the strategic role. And I would like to answer the question how HR could become more strategic in the future.  I am aware it’s not perceived as strategic today.

The management team

There’s a perception that being a part of the management team is the most important indicator for the strategic nature of an HR manager. Only when you’re on the team, you are strategic.
But this is nothing more than a perception. I’ve known HR managers who are member of that team but who were not strategic at all and vice versa. So it’s not that. So it’s not team membership. Could the strategic role depend on the person?

The person

If an HR manager is not perceived as being strategic, surely it’s due to his or her own behaviour. There is one key question. Does the HR Manager have enough power to influence the strategic decision-making ?
Being able to influence is always an advantage. Sometimes it might be necessary. But it’s absurd to limit the strategic power of the HR function to the personal impact of the HR Manager.
So it’s not team membership or the HR Manager’s behaviour. What then is the determining factor for  HR to become strategic?

The functions and roles

Dave Ulrich has introduced one of the most influential models in HR. He clearly described 4 roles for HR. HR was to become next to the administrative expert also a champion for the employees, a change agent, and a strategic partner.

The 4 HR roles, inclusive the HR strategy role.
Dave Ulrich’s model of HR

This offered a framework that helped HR departments to develop into what they are  now. Various people fulfill the different roles within the department. Those people need to collaborate with one another and with the internal client.
The focus on the internal client cleared the way for the HR business partner. This is a generalist who functions as a single point of contact for the internal clients. This function also integrates a change driving and strategic dimension.
So here we were and are.
HR finally became a full function, covering the four roles. And the people in  HR departments started integrating the strategic dimension in their roles. The strategic HR role was born.
Was it ?
If all of this were true, why hasn’t the discussion about the strategic role of HR not stopped? Why have certain HR functions dramatically felt the crisis? Why have they been hit by serious cost cutting? Why was HR unable to turn the continuous “noise” about its HR strategy into satisfaction ?
Could it be that we have forgotten the people?

The people

Employees and their managers do not benefit a lot from the fact that the HR function is strategically positioned. That’s because there’s a long way between the definition of a strategy and the experience in the field.
Suppose your manager:

  • is a member of the management team.
  • supports and communicates the HR decisions to the own department.
  • is actively participating in the HR decision-making process.
  • has the active support of an HR business partner.

Then chances are that

  • the implementation of the HR strategy will go ahead smoothly
  • you will effectively feel “something” of what the HR strategy is all about.

But even then. Interpretations, convictions, emotions and misunderstandings about roles and responsibilities between the business and HR could spoil the party.
Should we conclude that an HR department can be as strategic as it wants, but that at the end of the day it’s the people who mess up ?
Absolutely not.
If people perceive the collaboration between HR and their department negatively, there is a problem. People do not experience the  HR strategy as intended. In that case HR has seriously messed up.
HR and the company face a huge challenge here. An HR strategy can only be successful if there’s a good collaboration between HR and the line managers. And I’d take it a step further. The line manager should become the real owner and executor of the HR strategy in his/her department. The HR business partner can give support and not drive the HR agenda. It’s about coaching business people towards HR (strategic) decisions. The HRBP should not take this decision him/herself.

The people processes

So the line manager is responsible for HR. And the HR business partner has a supporting and coaching role. We cannot expect our line manager to set up a “mini HR team”. That would not work. That would only lead to ineffective fragmentation of the HR function.
But line managers manage a lot of processes. So they can also manage HR-processes if they’re supported by experts and coaches. Some examples are:

  • Recruitment
  • Performance management
  • Outflow of weak performers
  • People Development
  • Team building

Let me introduce a new process the business could perfectly drive: the HR strategy process.

Control + Alt + HR function

HR Strategy is about the continuous improvement of people processes. It’s driven by the business. HR is no longer a function. It’s a process, driven by the business.
How do we have to understand these processes?
Some examples. Improvement of:

  • Hiring. How and where to attract our future talents ? Business people  know the market better than HR people.
  • Talent acquisition and development processes. Which competencies will we need within 5 to 10 years? Business people  know the future needs of the customers better than HR people.
  • Industrial relations. How can we convince the unions better than by telling them how the business is working ?
  • Internal communication. How can we integrate social media in the existing employee communication platforms?
  • Retention. How can we use the output of exit interviews more appropriately?
  • Team building and collaboration. How can we better deal with conflicts in our teams?
  • Leadership development. How will our own leadership have to evolve if we want to stay successful ?

Imagine managers becoming responsible for driving and managing these people processes. They are not only responsible for driving existing people processes but also for co-creating new ones. Of course, they are supported by colleagues and HR.
Screen Shot 2014-06-07 at 20.13.24
I think these managers will be much more willing and able to:

  • see the HR strategy as their HR strategy
  • make it much more concrete for their people.
  • transform employee’s negative perceptions about HR into transparent understanding of it.

That is the real meaning of strategic HR.
Read also:

Are you an imposter?

What a bold question to ask. However, many people seem to suffer from the imposter syndrome. They feel like anyone else would be better at their job then they are. Very often these are highly proficient people who are comparing themselves continuously to others. They judge others on what they see, which is of course only a façade. Social comparison is the killer of joy. People with the imposter syndrome seem to be unable to put things into perspective and appreciate the qualities and achievements they have.
In the past we paid more attention to people who really are impostors, like Madoff. Those who think they are imposters have been neglected.

Sign of the Time

The question is if some people are not pushed into imposterism? We live in an age of personal branding and are pushed to manage our identity as a brand. And how can we keep that identity genuine? Through social media we get access to audiences that were previously unreachable and we are being flooded with manipulated impressions of perfect lives. Social media enable us to build images of ourselves. Introverts can become extraverted. Everyday media confront us with ideal families, ideal bodies, ideal minds. And people start copying other people or role models, like children do. It takes a strong and independent personality to resist the temptations of imitating people that are  successful, more successful than we are. And when self-doubt starts taking the lead, people might be lost. On the one hand they might try to boost their “personal brand” in order to impress others, and on the other hand they feel an increasing discrepancy between the brand they are creating and the reality. And they might believe they are failing.

You don’t have to be Posh

The ideal state is one of POSHism: being Perfect, Original, Successful and Happy. And the biggest contradiction is that people often try to be POSH by copying others. They run off to Hollister to buy the same T-shirt that thousands of others wear. They are trying to go to the same places and drive the same cars as their successful peers.

The quest for authenticity

But there is another counter tendency. People are looking for authenticity and intimacy. There’s even a market for that. Now you can buy authenticity. There are personal coaches that will tell you what to wear to be authentic. There are travel agencies thar offer unique trips to Antarctica, the middle of the Sahara, the icy slopes of the Himalaya (only to find out that there are traffic jams towards Mount Everest).
The quest for authenticity is in itself not authentic. The moment you ask yourself the question “am I authentic” you stop being authentic. And how authentic can you be? Should we measure that? We are all products of nature-nurture. The only thing we can control are the choices we make as of today. But if we take authenticity as a criterion for these choices, the choices will not be authentic. It’s like happiness. The moment you start thinking about happiness, you risk to become unhappy. So maybe to be authentic, our choices should be based on principles that we apply categorically? But will that get you closer to yourself?

Letting go and appreciation

The only way to even get near your true inner self – let’s take this as the definition of authenticity – is to let go and to appreciate what is. What can you let go? The have to’s, the musts, the ought to’s, the should do’s, … as far as you do not damage others by letting go (you’re not an island).  What can you appreciate? Anything. And accepting the things you cannot do is a part of that. This is far away from a well constructed and mediatized personal brand. You are what you are and you become what you can become, but that’s not a brand.
So should we no longer boast about ourselves? Should we tell only the truth? Should we stop embellishing our CV’s? The answer is probably yes. Life becomes easier when you embrace yourself and you are clear about what you want and don’t want. You do not have to remember what you’ve told during a job interview. You do not have to spend energy on upholding an image of yourself. You cannot get caught lying. Your employer, or partner, will not discover unpleasant things later on. You’re an open book.
And now you’re thinking: OMG, if I tell the truth, nobody will hire me. Or I will never find a partner in Life. The challenge is not to find employment, it is to keep employment. It’s not about finding a partner, it’s about making the relationship last. And that can only be based on trust and truth. On being yourself. Not on some kind of fabricated image of yourself.

Branded and Authentic?

@HeidiWulff asked me the question on twitter why I put personal branding in contrast to authenticity. She mentioned that most literature on personal branding refers to the need to be authentic. This is true. Check e.g. this review. But what I see happening is that personal branding in practice is limited to the engineering of a brand, an image of oneself. Many articles on personal branding are about how to uphold an image on social media in an efficient way. But I agree that this is not what it should be. Personal Branding could be a quest to achieve what we can, be who we can be, live our life at the fullest, … But then I’d suggest not to use the word personal brand. Self-fulfillment will do. So being oneself is not passive. We all have the duty to become more of ourselves. Like Tomasso de Lampedusa wrote in his novel “Il Gattopardo” we have to change in order to be ourselves.

From being an imposter to healthy Self-Doubt and Self-esteem

A healthy doubt about yourself is not wrong. It stimulates evolution. But once you think you’re an imposter, you might need to think about how you want to arrange your life, what you want to do, why you are doing what you are doing. What makes you think you’re a mediocre imposter? What makes you think that all others are better than you are? What about your self-esteem, your personal dignity? To what extent do you enjoy what you are doing? Why do you care so much about what others do (better)? What kind of feedback have you received about what you are doing? And finally be mild on and be kind for yourself. You are probably not an imposter. Similar questions can be asked about personal branding.

Long Termism

Short termism

Today’s capitalism is much different from what it was half a century ago. Then, valuation of a company was more based on tangible assets corrected with potential, while today financial analysts take a look at potential value, hardly influenced by information on tangible assets. That is why companies like Twitter get such a high valuation, without being profitable. The stock price of today takes into account the potential of tomorrow, even when that potential is highly speculative and not based on evidence or assets. This is how financial crisis is inherent in the system. The Tulip crusis, the dot com crisis and the 2008 crisis are all examples of the financial system getting overheated because of overvaluation. This is wat Sloterdijk has called futurism: our entire lives, our economy is based on growth and the future value of today’s decisions.
Another thing that has changed, is the short-term thinking. While investors used to have a long term perspective upto 6 years, today the perspective is a quarter. This is called short termismAnd you might assume that this perspective, which has led to many weird decisions – would have been abandoned after the 2008 crisis. But this is not the case.

The holy grail of Long Termism

McKinsey and the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board (CPPIB) conducted a survey involving more than 1,000 board members and C-suite executives around the world. The purpose of the survey was to assess the progress in taking a longer-term approach to running a companies. For the full article published in Harvard Business Review, follow this link.
The results are stunning.

  • 63% of respondents said the pressure to generate strong short-term results had increased over the previous five years.
  • 79% felt especially pressured to demonstrate strong financial performance over a period of just two years or less.
  • 44% said they use a time horizon of less than three years in setting strategy.
  • 73% said they should use a time horizon of more than three years.
  • 86% declared that using a longer time horizon to make business decisions would positively affect corporate performance in a number of ways, including strengthening financial returns and increasing innovation.

The authors propose 4 lines of action:

  1. Invest the portfolio after defining long-term objectives and risk appetite.
  2. Unlock value through engagement and active ownership
  3. Demand long-term metrics from companies to change the investor-management conversation.
  4. Structure institutional governance to support a long-term approach

To me Long termism is like the holy grail. We all want it but we seem not to find it. If business leaders are convinced that long termism is the way forward, why is it then so hard to move in that direction. Especially when we know that the economy and the entire world would benefit from it? Why is it so difficult to focus on sustainability of business decisions? These are of course naive questions. And the answer is simple: greed and growth. The quarterly reports are rituals of an economy that has bedazzled itself by greed. And growth has become the ultimate target. And unfortunately inflation makes it necessary to have growth in order to maintain profitability (oh yes, we need profitability).

Short Termism and Talent

This blog is not about the above 4 strategies, nor does it provide solutions on how to move to long termism. This blog is about the impact of short termism on what companies like to call their single most important asset: its people. Asset managers should take into consideration a company’s capacity to attract, develop and retain a workforce. For that you need leadership, an attractive context, investments in people and of course a clear people strategy. Asset managers should refrain from trying to valuate these corporate characteristics into money value. Attempts to do this in the past were not satisfactory. The so-called human accounting failed because of the lack of clear criteria to valuate human characteristics and more importantly because of the fact that human assets are not owned by the company. You could view the human side of enterprise as some sort of goodwill, without property rights (you can own a strong brand, you do not own talent). On a more philosophical note you could say it’s also not human(e) to try to valuate human factors of companies. That is why I do not talk about human assets, human resources or human capital, but just about people.
There is at least one issue asset managers and business leaders should take into account: short termism has possible detrimental effects on the people strategy. There are several reasons for that.

  1. People are flexible and versatile, but not as versatile as many non-human factors
    The makable person is partly an illusion. People can only become more of themselves and as a company you ought to work with the talents at hand. Now this might be a reason to prefer short term reorganisations every time the company changes its strategy. The question is how often one can do that. Companies that restructure often will see their employer brand damaged. It is even to be expected that the memory of the labour market will increase due to social media supported exchanges berween current, former and future employees.
    People are simply not interested in short term thinking. They crave for stability, certainty anh predictability. In the current economic turmoil these are things that are difficult to offer. But in the turmoil, a stable strategy can do wonders for economic performance as the article in Harvard Business Review shows. It can do wonders for a people strategy as well.
  2. Culture
    Culture is one of the most determining yet less tangible aspects of corporate life. But culture is not easily changed. So short term decisions can fail because of their incompatibility with culture. Short term decisions that require culture change are bound to fail. Of course you could engineer the corporate culture on short term decisions. But this is not advisable. Culture is about identity and values. Those are parts of the corporate equation you do not change lightly and easily. Let’s not forget that culture is key in attracting and retaining people. Most people are looking for a company they can identify with.
  3. Great things take time
    Rome wasn’t build in a day. Companies usually start small. A decision is often 1 % of the work. You can dream to realise objectives in a quarter, but you need more time than that to realise great things. Let’s not fool ourselves. Compare it to architecture. Before you can build, you need to plan ahead. And when you start the construction, you’d better know how it will look like. Having to change the plan during the construction phase is possible, but costly. And then, you need to take the necessary time. Fast implementation can lead to sloppiness, unstable constructions, repair costs, … Not every construction has to be a Sagrada Familia, but if you want to leave mediocrity and create great things, you need to give it time. A quarter in corporate life, is like a second in a day. And this is especially the case where people are involved. Time and again I have seen how the time fetish has led to senseless decisions. Time is only of the essence when it comes to competetive situations. But focussing on the long term, does not exclude agility. Agility can even be a long term strategy. And even becoming agile will take time and perseverance.

What Long termism can do for People management

Imagine what a long term investment approach would mean for the daily operational management, especially people management. A long term approach makes these things possible:

  1. Building a (performance) culture
    Now this should be something any asset manager should be interested in. Having a long term perspective enables companies to build culture, also a strong performance culture. But we should bear in mind that a performance culture is not only about people working hard. A performance culture is a system that is carefully built and that integrates leadership, strategy, performance management and talent management. To build a high performance culture you need to create processes but also rituals and habits. You need values that take time to come down from the walls and settle into the hearts, heads and hands of the employees. Above all, you need to create meaningfulness. People can work hard as long as what they do is meaningful.
    So as a company you need to invest in conversations with the employees on all levels, in order to explain the strategy. And if a company restricts its strategy to financial parameters, people will not be interested. Finance does not thrill most of the employees. And if you change strategy too often, leadership will lose its credibility. People on the shop floor are very critical about strategy changes. So make sure that there is a stable strategy, as part of a performance culture. And if you change that strategy, you’d better make sure you have a good reason to do it.
  2. Retaining people
    In the war for talent, the gravity of a company is crucial. Short termism reduces that gravity, while long termism increases it. By retaining key performers a company can create a stable operational quality
  3. Hiring on potential and attitude, rather than on experience and competencies
    Short term pressure makes it difficult to hire people who are not ready yet, but have the potential for future contribution. As pressure on short results puts line managers under pressure, they are less likely to easily recruit young people, management trainees or people with atypical profiles. There is just not enough time to invest in education, training. Short term pressure leads to cloning and a lack of diversity.
    A company can benefit from diversity. Diversity leads to creativity, better decisions, more input. Companies can translate this into money value. Of course you need to start hiring for diversity, hiring on potential and attitude. And when you start, you cannot expect immediate return.
  4. Capability Building
    An essential element in strategy is capability building. A capability creates a competitive advantage. Capabilities could be operational excellence, customer intimacy, product leadership, time to market, talent building, leadership, … All of these capabilities are based on human charachteristics: knowledge, creativity, engagement, customer orientation, … Creating a capability requires all people to contribute according to the desired capability. Building a capability requires time. Short termism destroys capability. Long termism helps to build it.
  5. Allowing for errors
    In a short term approach errors are problematic. Errors reduce results, put more pressure on people. Because errors usually have a negative impact on committed results companies might look for scapegoats. This narrows behaviour to safe behaviours, to umbrella tactics and reluctance to take initiative. The risk appetite of companies need to be determined and needs to be translated into both corporate culture and investment culture. Errors can be sources of learning and therefore a leverage for future success.
    Short termism leads often to a focus on operational excellence and not enough on explorative activities. Exploration indeed can interfere with exploitation, unless you plan for it. And if you plan for it, you need to expect that explorative processes need time.
  6. Chosing the proper way and the proper moment to act
    Short termism urges companies to take short term decisions on employment matters. These decisions might be necessary, but inspiration sometimes comes from a short term target. Sometimes companies may lay off people in one year, just to find that they need to recruit similar profiles in the next year. Asset managers might urge companies to do so based on short term targets and short term benchmarks.
    In the aftermath of the financial crisis in 2008, many companies were facing a massive decrease of sales. Customers emptied inventories and did not order, because they were facing similar problems. It was a vicious circle and some economists feared a total breakdown of the economic system. Indeed, sales slowed down in many sectors, leading to a general slowdown of the economy. This has led to many bankrupcies and lay-offs. Still, some companies tried to avoid this. For a clear reason. The employees involved had competencies that were difficult to replace. Those companies realised that they had invested a great deal in their skills. So they held on to their employees. They made use of techniques in the labour market such as flex time, temporary unemployment, voluntary reduction of working time, … These companies have recovered faster from the crisis than companies that took short term action. Long termism was beneficiary.


The authors of the McKinsey Study conclude:

We are convinced that the best place to start moving this debate from ideas to action is with the people who provide the essential fuel for capitalism—the world’s major asset owners. Until these organizations radically change their approach, the other key players—asset managers, corporate boards, and company executives—will likely remain trapped in value-destroying short-termism. But by accepting the opportunity and responsibility to be leaders who act in the best interests of individual savers, large asset owners can be a powerful force for instituting the kind of balanced, long-term capitalism that ultimately benefits everyone.

Short termism destroys value, also in terms of people. A true people strategy needs to be long term. It creates culture, capabilities, engagement, … The model of the future needs to be based on long termism. Also in people management.

5 ways to extend your holidays

One or two weeks of holidays might bring you to places that approach the sunny or snowy images of glossy magazines. You enjoy a different climate, culinary excursions, new sensations, new people, new cultures,  … You discover new scents, you discover new dishes, … Or when you are headed for a wintersport destination you will discover the slopes of the mountains and inhale the incredible fresh air.
And then you return to the grey reality of daily existence. And the holiday experience becomes a fading memory.
It does not have to be like that. Or at least, you can slow down the process. There are ways to extend this experience. Let me share with you 5 ways to extend your holiday experience after your return.
1. Don’t clean up too fast
After having returned from holidays you rush to the washing machine, you put away the maps and guides and you clean up your car. Don’t do this to hastily. Leave a map on the table so you can browse through it and retrace the places you have visited. The Tuscan dust in your car reminds you of the small roads that took you to your borgo.
We can recommend poggiacolle and borgo tre rose in Tuscany. And for winter time (and summer) Sporthotel Neustift.
2. Import your destination
Buy local products so that you can use them at home. I am not only talking about food (pasta, pepper) and wine (castello di ama, antinori, poliziano, avignonesi, …) but also about daily products such as soaps, schiuma (for shaving), German white beer … With a bit of luck you will be using some products for the next couple of months or even years.

3. Relive some sensations

3 examples of how you can relive the sensations of your holidays.
When in Italy we listened to radio subasio, radio kiss kiss. After our return we listened through the internet ( So we listened to the same songs and language which brought back memories of the trips, visits and evenings. Mind you, the radio station broadcasts a lot of crappy music, but on holiday you do not mind too much.
When baking potatoes we use olive oil, which we had bought in Italy, and spice it with rosemary (from our garden) to create the rosemary potatoes we had eaten in different restaurants. Or try to imitate the delicious ravioli from the bottega in Radda.

Another way to relive sensations is to try and extend some holiday habits. Why should you not play a game with your kids after the holidays like you’ve done during the holidays? You have probably not watched TV during two weeks, so why should you do that after your holidays? Try and hold on to some positive habits you have developed during your holidays.
4. Make some of it durable
Try and bring something durable back from holidays. It’s not necessary to buy something. It can be a pebble stone or a bowl of sand. But you can also purchase something that is linked to the trip. By looking at it, your memories will be revived. It’s a lifetime extension of your holiday experience.
5. Expand your experience
You might have seen many things during your trip. And you can expand that after your trip by reading up on the things you have (not) seen. Or by reading novels that have your holiday destination as setting. You can find some examples for Italy on Continue your exploration after your return.
Enjoy your extended holidays.

Togetherness: 4 strategies to enhance collaboration

Togetherness. The word suggests this is a collective state of being. But it’s not only that. It’s a process. And not an easy one for that matter. Think about it. How often have you experienced a complete state of togetherness? How long did it last? And how did it feel? Very often togetherness is experienced for a brief moment. It’s based on the coincidental interaction of individuals. For a moment they join forces and achieve things no one can achieve on his own. And very often the togetherness evaporates, becoming a (sweet) memory. This video illustrates this quite well.

So togetherness is a state, that often does not last very long, and it’s a process because a group needs to grow towards it. So how could you accelerate the process and prolong the state of togetherness? And how can you make sure that the state of togetherness is set on a larger scale? Not only a team should experience togetherness within itself, but people in organizations should be able to relate to other parts and to the entire organization.
You are wrong Mr Owen
At the end of the 90ies Lindsay Owen-Jones, the CEO of L’Oréal announced that his company would crush its competitors. The employees of the international business units of Henkel Cosmetics did not agree and they made a T-shirt with the slogan “You are wrong, Mr Owen”. This amongst other things created togetherness. The identification of an enemy outside the company increases feelings of togetherness. It’s classical, but it works.
Get rid of the (mental) org chart
A big issue of companies is the silo-effect. As if people internalize the org chart in their minds. Organisation charts seem to create mental boundaries and decrease togetherness. Cooperation between units decreases, togetherness within the unit increases. The only way to get rid of that is to combine forces and mold people into processes, in which the next step is always a customer. So instead of classical org charts which seem to become limiting realities, we should focus on creating flows in which people work towards a common result.
Outside in
Too often people take themselves as the starting point. My competency, my job, my place in the organization. Well, all of this is irrelevant. The only relevance comes from the customer you serve. And everyone has a direct customer, and every company serves a customer base. So bring the customer into your organization. Let the customer be the starting point of anything you do. Serving a customer creates meaningfulness and togetherness. Build a strong customer image to enhance togetherness.
Collaborative Leadership
Cooperation is a skill. It is not easy.  It requires an attitude and it requires practice. But the three first strategies should make it easier for people to cooperate. Nevertheless, there is an important role for leaders here. If a leader is focussed on safe-guarding his own territory or even expanding it, there’s a problem. Territory-based leadership is detrimental to togetherness. This kind of leader shows the bad example. This kind of leader will think in terms of defensive or offensive tactics. This kind of leader will attack other units within the company and think in terms of win and lose. To enhance togetherness we need a different kind of leader. One that sees leadership itself as a kind of collaboration. One that enhances the togetherness within the team, but also reaches out towards other teams. This kind of leader will create togetherness and will show the example. Who was the leader in the video “The Tree” ?
4 Strategies
So these are 4 strategies you can use when you want to enhance togetherness in your organization. I am sure there are others, but these are a good start.
1. Create the enemy outside
2. Create horizontal process flows, rather than static organization charts
3. Build a strong customer image.
4. View Leadership as collaboration

Identity and dignity : why you should not hang on to your role

I read an interesting blog post the other day by Dawn Smedley. She wrote about how to reframe your job and not to identify with it as it is. This made me think about how important a job really is and how it does define who we (think we) are. But what does that tell you about people who do not have a job, or who have a job with low responsibility, less status, …
This is a discussion I have with one of my daughters who is in puberty. She cannot understand how someone takes a job that is in her eyes of less value. This is an interesting discussion because it’s not so much about the job content but about the (societal) appreciation of that job. When I tell her that anyone can be proud of what he or she does in any job, she has difficulty to understand that. And I hope to help her in discovering the value of what someone does and the dignity anyone has. That’s education.
There are two things that I want to stress:
(1) what you do does not define who you are. Defining yourself by your job is reductionist.
(2) Dignity is much more important than competence.
Dignity is about apprecation, acceptance and intrinsic values. Competence is behavioural, normative and observable. Work has become so important that it has come to overshadow our dignity. And this is illustrated by focussing on the loss of work. When someone loses his job this is felt as an attack on his dignity. That is because this event is felt like a negative appreciative. There are feelings of outrage, disgust, anger, fear, … People feel useless and they develop doubts about themselves, their competencies, their contribution. Recently a union member committed suicide in the context of a factory shut down. That is how important work can be.

Nedko Solakov in Amadoodles
Nedko Solakov in Amadoodles

Viktor Frankl described how people could find meaningfulness in very extreme circumstances. Frankl was a prisoner in a concentration camp during the second world war. The circumstances were horrible and yet some people kept their humanity and dignity. Even more, dignity was all that was left to them. But it wasn’t hard to lose it in such undignifying circumstances.
Feeling useless is one of the worst things that could happen to someone. People need a purpose to keep their dignity. That is why a job is so important. The most important thing about a job is having one. Because it’s not only a source of income, it’s also a source of identity. I am what I do. And that’s a risk. Therefore it is important to develop a sense of identity outside of work: I am a friend, a colleague, a parent, a volunteer, a citizen, … I am me. Everytime something changes in one of those roles, one needs to reinvent oneself, redefine one’s identity and keep a sense of dignity.
If we let our identity and our dignity depend on something temporary like a job or status, we risk to lose it some day: when we lose the job, when we retire, … We are more than our job.

Passion: Kathleen Ferrier

Kathleen Ferrier

Sometimes one can come across amazing stories about passionate people.  Some people are so passionate about what they do, that they sacrifice personal health for the benefit of others, or for art. Kathleen Ferrier (1912 – 1953) was like that. Mrs Ferrier was an English contralto who died early from breast cancer. I had heard about her through a performance by Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker, the Belgian choreographer. She used one of Ferrier’s last recordings for one dance production that I saw in the Concertgebouw in Brugge. She used “Der Abschied” (the farewell), a song by Gustav Mahler which is a part of the “Lied von der Erde” (song of the earth). The recording dated from May 1952, one year and a half before her death, now 60 years ago. She recorded this knowing that she was terminally ill. The recording is stunning, even though it’s not technically perfect (compared to current standards).
You can listen to that recording on youtube
So why do I want to talk about her? Because there is something peculiar about the way she handled her disease. After discovering a lump in one of her breasts, she continued to perform and waited to find the time to go the a doctor. After being diagnosed with cancer, she withheld this information from the public and continued to perform and to record. She refused the removal of her ovaries after she had been told that the chances for recovery were minimal and that the operation might have a negative impact on her voice.
During her last performance – in Gluck’s Orpheus – she broke her thigh bone, but she continued to perform and the public did not even notice. It was her last performance. Her death came as a shock to many people.
Kathleen Ferrier was someone who had a talent and who had passion. She used her talent and shared her music with audiences until she physically was unable to continue. Her own suffering and health was for her less important than the music and the audiences she loved. With current treatments Mrs Ferrier might have lived. Most people would also have taken the chance of having a life saving operation. She chose not to, because she chose for her profession and passion. I don’t think this is stupid, do you ?
More information about Kathleen Ferrier on Wikipedia