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The modern manager is spoilt for choice when it comes to advice on how to do a better job. The morning snail mail is often bursting with publishers’ blurbs on the latest ‘must have’ blockbuster management book, which offers a new miracle cure for the intractable problems of management. The email also now bombards us with books, conferences, seminars and workshops on the latest, state-of-the-art thinking in management.

Accidents at work

The arrival of the ‘ambulance-chasing’, litigious American, accident-at-work television advertisements has focused sharply on safety in the workplace. If you have an accident that was not your fault, which is the crucial bit (said sotto voce), then maybe you have a (large, legitimate) claim against your employer. Slip on a wet toilet floor, get six months off and £10K compensation. You get the idea.

Acquiring people skills

Some jobs demand a lot of the newly trained. Not so much their job-related knowledge and skills but those soft skills related to that fashionable concept: emotional intelligence.

Addicted to consultants/ consultant dependency

For a long time critics have argued that psychotherapy makes things worse not better. Psychotherapists, it is argued, diminish the dignity, autonomy and freedom of those that come for help. Therapy is a form of social control: it is an assault on the freedom of the individual (patient). It is a way of coercing people to believe according to the dictates of other people and to believe things about themselves and their experiences which quite simply are not true.

Barnum in business

Phineas T. Barnum is remembered for many things. He was the super-salesman of his day. And perhaps the super-cynic. He is particularly remembered for phrases which capture his philosophy: ‘Money is a terrible master but an excellent servant’‘There’s a sucker born every minute’‘Every crown has a silver lining’‘Advertising is like learning — a little is a dangerous thing’


It is probably the BBC obsession with balance that does most to encourage the ‘behalfer’: that self-appointed person who speaks on behalf of others. Whatever the issue is, fox-hunting or sex education; advertising to children or diagnosing yet another newly found behavioural syndrome; the BBC likes antiphonal chanting.

The bullying boss

Is your boss essentially a bully and, if so, why? What can be done to change this behaviour? And are you to some extent the cause of it?

Business books and Stalinist Realism

Dictators throughout history have had an ambivalent relationship with artists. Architects, painters and sculptors have often been targeted as deeply undesirable citizens. Political potentates particularly dislike the ‘avant-garde’ artists and their fellow travellers. They see art as potentially corrupting and artists as having crypto-political, dangerous, left-wing agendas. Art is spin for the masses and needs to be controlled, indeed harnessed. Censorship is common in dictatorial regimes.

Cash rich, time poor

Your boss calls you in and makes you an offer. For reasons too problematic to explain you have the following option: a week’s extra leave (5 working days) or £2000 cash (brown envelope, no questions asked!). You choose the week so he increases the money. How about £2,500? So if you take the money, he increases the time: 8 days.

Conference stress

For organisers and speakers, both the in-house and the public conference can be a source of considerable stress. Indeed, surveys show that the most common phobia is public speaking, which may affect up to a fifth of the population. Yet the need to give speeches to big and small, known and unknown, friendly and hostile audiences grows as a requirement with promotion to senior management.

Continuous assessment

At universities, just as in schools, there has been dramatic evidence of grade inflation. Nobody argues that young people are growing suddenly more intelligent or much more conscientious so the explanation must lie elsewhere. A favourite explanation is changes either in the difficulty of exams or the marking systems. Cynics believe both: standards are dropping to keep parents, children, teachers and, most importantly, the government happy.

Control freak

One of the commonest accusations made by desperate and frustrated staff is to accuse a boss (or colleague) of being a control freak. What does it mean to be a control freak? Why are people like this? Can they be helped or changed? How can you best manage a control-freak boss?

Delivering bad news

One of the more important, and certainly less desirable features of managers is that they often have to deliver bad news: the company is merging with a rival, finance is being out-sourced, a new ethnic and gender affirmative action policy is being or not being (depending on your view) implemented. The question is how to deliver the message such that it maximises the listener’s attitude change.

Development plans

One way to ascertain both the age and the training experience of any middle-aged manager is to ask him or her what the opposite of ‘strengths’ are. If you think one has strengths and ‘weaknesses’, you are old-fashioned and clearly haven’t been on a training course recently.

Does coaching work?

The popularity of executive coaching has taken many by surprise. Clearly it has fulfilled some important need. Just as the rich and powerful once needed a personal therapist both as a trophy and as an adviser, so managers now appear to have the need for an executive coach and their very expensive conversation.

Emotional labour

Even before the craze for emotional intelligence it was recognised that many workers were required to display certain emotions as part of the job. In effect this ‘emotional labour’ means hiding or suppressing real feelings while displaying other, even opposite emotions. They may have ‘appropriate emotions’ which they have to display more or less intently than would come naturally. Waiters and nurses, gardeners and fitness trainers, accountants and attorneys, psychotherapists and independent financial advisers all have to fake emotion: concern, interest, enthusiasm, and so on.

Expectations … and how to manage them

There are lots of books listing brilliant interview questions and answers. In an escalatory game of bluff and counter-bluff, both interviewers and interviewees buy these books to improve their techniques.

Expensive experts/the consultant, the trainer and the facilitator

What is the essential difference between a human resource consultant and a management trainer? The answer is quite simple: between £500 and £1800 a day. So what is the difference between a trainer and a facilitator? Or between a moderator and presenter?

Failing in business

The statistics on business failure, especially with respect to small businesses are depressing. In some sectors, like restaurants, more fail than succeed. And success is defined just as staying in business — sort of solvent — for a year or two.

Fixers and inventors: semi and real creatives

There is a great deal of nonsense spoken and written about creativity, mostly by those in the business. The single greatest myth peddled by gurus, trainers and their fellow travellers is the ‘prizes-for-everyone’ idea that we all are creative.

Fudging the happy sheets

While the government’s explicit mantra was ‘education, education, education’, some believe history has proved it to be more like ‘evaluation, evaluation and evaluation’. Politicians appear very eager to set targets and expend time and money finding ways of measuring whether they have been achieved.

How to choose consultants

The change programme has stalled; the company appears to be haemor-rhaging the best talent; the M&A (merger and acquisition) threatens to fail; the voluntary severance is only being used by those you want to keep; a mean-and-lean newcomer is aggressively eating at your market share … what to do?

Hypocritical management speak

Many captains of industry argue passionately even eloquently for the market economy. Market forces, they argue, do and should determine the price of products and labour. They also supposedly determine their generous salaries. It has become fashionable for what the tabloids call ‘fat cats’ to explain their ‘appropriate packages’ in terms of (global) market forces. ‘It is the international going rate for the job. You can’t get good people unless you pay competitive salaries.’And the latter are determined by market forces — well sort of! Most favour as little regulation as possible be it from London or Brussels, unless of course they are immediate beneficiaries of it. They see controls, regulations, tariffs and barriers as red tape: bad for themselves and bad for the consumer.

Ice breakers

All trainers like to start (adult) courses of all sorts with an ice breaker. They believe that participants need to be ‘energised’ by a bit of fun; perhaps some physical activity which lets them have a bit of non-verbal contact.


What is the single most desirable characteristic employees want in their employer? Imagination, maturity, inspiration, fair-mindedness? No. How about loyalty, concern, support, dependability or competence? No.

Intrinsic motivation

Why is a pilot paid more than a professor? Or a newsreader paid more than a nurse?

Judging intelligence

Job advertisements for a very wide range of jobs at very different levels often specify very similar traits required for the job. These traits or competencies are typically such things as team-player, innovative, customer-focused, honest, hard-working and so on. Surprisingly, intelligence is rarely mentioned, though there may be euphemisms for it.

Kickin’ arse

Years of research on the personality characteristics of successful chief executives are beginning to yield consistent results and a few surprises. Three findings are neither new nor surprising. CEOs have to be reasonably bright, emotionally stable and hard working. They must be bright enough to understand the business, tumble the numbers, learn new things.

Knowledge college management

Taxi drivers ‘do the Knowledge’. They have knowledge colleges that help them effectively remember the entire London A to Z. This prodigious feat takes two to three years and actually results, so cognitive neuroscience brain imaging has shown, in parts of the brain growing and being more active.

Larks and owls

Nearly one hundred years ago educationalists had to make some pretty important decisions about school timetables. When should one schedule Maths and when PE? When are students most attentive and most receptive? Does rote or new learning take place best in the morning or the afternoon?

Lumpers and splitters; halos and horns

There is a fundamental difference at the heart of the debate among intelligence researchers between what have been called lumpers and splitters. Lumpers argue for what the experts call general intelligence. Arguments are based on the fact, long established, that if you give people a wide range of ability tests people tend to score about the same on each. That is, bright people tend to do well on all the tests and vice versa. Really good intelligence tests, however, still have as many as 16 subtests measuring vocabulary, verbal reasoning, ability to do calculations, spatial ability and so on to improve both reliability and validity.

Lying in interviews

Most interviews, particularly those involving selection, witness three interesting psychological and moral phenomena. Self-deception, impression management, and downright porkies. And who tells them? Both inquisitor and applicant: job seller and job buyer. Telling lies at interview is not only an issue for interviewers.

Management apologetics

There is a branch of theology called ‘Apologetics’: It is not about being contrite, guilty and chanting eternal ‘mea culpa’. It is about providing a systematically reasoned argument in defence, and vindication of, (Christian) beliefs. An apologist is therefore one who speaks and writes in defence of a belief system, specific cause, or institution.

Management literacy

The word literacy has clearly been hijacked. It used to have a simple and clear meaning which referred to the ability to read. Countries have literacy statistics which are proud boasts of their economic and democratic development.

Management tips

Tipping is not a trivial business. It is estimated that over 90 per cent of restaurant diners tip their waiter/ress around the tune of 10 per cent of the bill. If you include part-timers there may be as many as a million people employed in the serving business. Often a substantial portion of their income is based on tips. So it pays to learn how to maximise the tips.

Marketing hubris and humility

Human resources specialists are used to critical self-examination of their role, function and even existence. Derided as bureaucratic, unresponsive, self-important, ‘Human Remains’ they are practised at personnel apologetics: a defence of their importance in the organisation.

Money secrecy

Should people in an organisation know precisely what each other are paid? Should they know roughly, given published wide bands for particular job levels (for example Senior Supervisor £25,000–£29,000)? Or should the amount be a secret known only to a select few, who are themselves sworn to secrecy?

The M-word

Morale is somehow an old-fashioned word. It was the thing senior officers enquired of their subalterns: ‘How’s morale with the troops, Archie?’ The dictionary definition implies three important things about morale. First, it is both a ‘mental and emotional condition’: that is, morale in medieval language is located in both the head and the heart. Second, this condition has various components such as confidence, enthusiasm and loyalty. Third, it can be both the property of individuals and groups with respect to their job or immediate task.

Nomadic workers

There are many fundamental differences between agrarian and nomadic societies. Nomads are usually forced, through environmental extremes, to be hunter-gatherers or shepherds, moving in search of good pastures and better weather. The Eskimos or Inuit, some sub-Saharan Arabs and the Kalahari Bushmen are constantly on the move. They have a way of life suited to this necessity.


What leads people to being remorselessly, almost naively, optimistic while others maintain a gloomy pessimistic outlook under the most favourable conditions? Certainly observations confirm that people are fairly consistent over time with respect to their disposition to view the world. In short, optimists nearly always see events (present and future) in a positive light while pessimists see the same events in the opposite way. Optimists see the donut; pessimists the hole.

Personality testing

Almost no job applicant or training course attendee can escape the ubiquitous psychological test. Such tests are supposed to facilitate the decision making of selectors and the self-insight of trainees. There are psychological test junkies who seek out every opportunity to go for yet another test, while there are equally numerous test-phobes who would do a great deal to avoid having to be tested. From a tester’s viewpoint, there are cynics, sceptics, enthusiasts and addicts whose attitudes to, and use of, tests may be polar opposites.

Problems of the board

Executive teams frequently have problems. These can be both chronic and acute. And for some the prognosis is poor unless something drastic is done quickly and rationally.

Psychologists in business

Few people in business either have, or will admit to having met a psychologist, lest others imagine they are in, or need, therapy. That is, unless the psychologist happens to be an executive coach, which is somehow OK. Most people are unable to distinguish between a psychologist, psychoanalyst, psychiatrist and a psychiatric social worker.

Psychology of hoarding

Remember the paperless office? One of the many unfulfilled promises of the web was that the snail mail would die along with all that expensively produced and desperately unecological paper. Indeed the web seems to lead to more rather than less paper for many business people.

Selection mistakes

Selecting people is a serious business. Despite the efforts of both trainers and therapists adults are pretty hard to change. The package of abilities, attitudes and traits found in a person in their mid-twenties will probably quite happily (or alas unhappily) see them through to the grave.

Selling cost-saving devices

Answer three simple (Yes/No) questions (i) Would you prefer a ‘closed plan’ office of your own to working in an open-planned office arrangement? (ii) Would you prefer learning/training with a ‘live’ lecturer or trainer at work to being taught by e-learning methods? (iii) Would you prefer to interview, negotiate or conference a person in another country face-to-face to going through a video-link-up facility?

Sociobiology and inheritance tax

Some of the most successful popular books over the past 30 years have been based on evolutionary theory. Whether they have to do with altruism (The Selfish Gene) or relationships (Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus) or general behaviour (Man Watching), they all endorse a neo-Darwinian view of human nature. Evolutionary theorists and their more zealous sociobiological cousins have powerful, intriguing and sometimes counter-intuitive explanations for all sorts of behaviours. Early work focused on topics such as cooperation, reciprocity and sharing. More recent work has dwelled on mate choice and selection.

Strategic planning: who needs it?

Is a company’s success inversely related to its number of strategic planners? Has strategic planning lost its shine? The eighties were the heyday of these number-tumbling wonderkids, freshly minted from business school. But where are they now?

Support groups for CEOs

It is not only the long-distance runner or the commercial traveller who are lonely in their jobs. They spend long periods of time alone which is certainly a hardship for the latter group, who are usually very social animals.

Teaching old dogs new tricks

The L-word is spreading. People with a particular learning style work in action learning groups in a learning organisation. They are encouraged, to indulge in life long learning, perhaps e-learning after a learning needs analysis. But what needs to be learnt, by whom, and when is not always clear. What is clear to any training manager is that the world is neatly divided into learno-phobes and learno-philes. The former strongly resist all learning initiatives, the latter embrace them all.

Telling clients what they want to hear

All salesmen know the dilemma well: should you tell clients what they want to hear, or the mundane, far less attractive, truth? Only point out strengths and ignore weaknesses? For some it pricks the conscience. But business people and consultants know their lives are easier, happier and richer if they simply give in and agree with the clients and do what they want, irrespective of whether their decisions are wise or not.

The Icarus syndrome

The war for talent continues. The illusive high-flyers seem in short supply. Is the pool of these highly competent, creative, motivated, entrepreneurial, committed, innovative, stress-resistant (blah, blah, blah) people drying up?

Typical management style

Post World Cup fever has led to an interest in different management styles. Could one attribute a country’s success or failure to the typical style in which people at work were managed?

Unlocking talent

Among the many promises made by coaches, consultants and educators is that a particular product or service will unblock or unlock some amazing hidden talent. People love to believe that they have some wonderful, but curiously unused capacity to be creative, empathic, productive, self-healing, or what-you-will.

Visitors from headquarters

‘I am from headquarters and I am here to help you’ is a well-known lie. It is equated with ‘Your cheque is in the post’ and ‘The restructuring will benefit everybody’.

What makes a good business conference?

Business conferences are big money. Many can cost between £500 and £1000 a day per attendee. And a short day at that — of little more than four hours’ chalk and talk (10.00–16.30). Senior executives are bombarded by ‘invitations’ to attend ‘ vital, crucial, state-of-the-art thinking events that are breakthroughs in achieving world class’ … blah, blah, blah. Enough people attend these events to maintain a small industry that booms in the good times. Famous speakers can command easily £10,000 for a ‘turn’ and hundreds can be guaranteed to pitch up to hear and see their favourite guru/media person in the flesh.

Wisdom in business

Inevitably certain words and concepts come in and out of fashion. Indeed, some become politically incorrect, others de rigeur. Accusing someone of having LMF (low moral fibre) or being ‘a sausage short of a fry-up’ is liable to get one into trouble with the HR police. Equally, neuroticism has become ‘negative affectivity’ and brainstorming has become ‘thought showering’.

Work-life balance

One of the new business issues of our time is the so-called work—life balance. It’s a curious term with possibly hidden meanings.


Management is often a difficult, thankless if (on occasion) well remunerated task. Managers have a variety of different tasks from budgeting to PR. And most crucially they have to be good people managers.

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