Archive for June, 2009

Full Pay, No Pay, or “Free” Holiday

British AirwaysEarlier, this week my attention been drawn by the unsettling article in Financial Times. The author, Lucy Kellaway examined rather unusual case scenario with British Airways letting own employees to choose if they rather work for a month with full pay, “volunteer” for a month with no pay whatsoever, or take a month off work, again, with no pay.

Such an eccentric request is a cause of the company’s critical cost-cutting strategy, which lead to the scaling down of the employee wages. Additionally, Kellaway puts a point forward about the added value on the survival of the company and the pressure point to diminish workers’ pay.

I would like to carry the idea and ask You: would you rather … ?

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The Language for Business

“Here speeching American.”

  • sign in a Moroccan shop.

“STOP! Drive Sideways.”

  • detour sign in Japan.

“Our wines leave you nothing to hope for.”


Are you sure your message is perceived by others, the way it is meant to be? It is fair enough if you have a linguistic interpreter at your service, but what if you don’t? From my own and sometimes not particularly funny social exposure I can tell that presumptions, may have entirely different meanings and consequently the end results, but lets move on.


Nowadays, when businesses are operating on the global scale it is becoming of the essence to invest in language skills. While exploring the antagonistic job market of the freshmen graduates, I have come around adverts which required the knowledge of one, two, three even four languages. That is for a graduate level entry and the positions were not even highly ranked. Following the same direction, the question arises: if you had to pick up another language, from the business’ point of view, what would it be?



Seems like linguistic paths are unlimited, however it is tend to be highly influenced by the geographical positioning. As Joshua Cook illustrates the knowledge of English language is a necessity in European region, nonetheless in well developed countries such Germany and France native speak is still unparalleled. Similar case for Japan, even though English is being actively taught in schools, important business operations are carried out foremost in Japanese.



Language Predictions for the Future


According to Cactus Language Training at the present, the languages with the most speakers are Mandarin Chinese, English, Spanish, Russian and French. “The languages most widely studied in English-speaking countries are currently French, German, Spanish, Italian, and increasingly Mandarin and Japanese. In Australia languages like Indonesian and Vietnamese are also quite popular.”


It is hard to speculate and there is no single right answer to what could be the best language to learn. As with most tough decisions, it comes down to a mix of thorough planning, personal objectives and a pinch of salty luck. So if you are picking up a new language as a part of the outlook and potential career development exercise, do the homework and do the comprehensive “target” research.



Dead Fish Handshake? No no no!


No matter how heavy your linguistic baggage might be never forget the universal business language. And I am not talking about the library of standard electronic business documents, what I am referring to is the general business etiquette. Do smile, maintain eye contact, hold the posture, make firm handshake of course - in other words follow the body language and focus on the positive qualities you already have.


And one last grain of advice is to be sensible and aware of the professional language doublespeak. Technical jargon might demonstrate your area of expertise, however it is better to be plain and clear, rather than confusing and misleading! “An in-depth knowledge of your field may get you in the door, but good communication skills will open many more.” (source: The Business Style Handbook)

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Murphy’s Law

“Whatever may go wrong, will go wrong”


It seemed my university housemate was a magnet for this maxim; however I will save the stories of our reckless adventurous journey as students for another time and place… In the business context however, Murphy’s Law entails a “fairytale” gratifying line of events, which are going wrong in the most unsuitable times.


A good illustration of this point is the Zantaz Company that specialise in email archive software. The net value of the organisation in 2007 estimated $375m, however  after the company was bought out by Autonomy Group, the sale share of the original founder was watered down to absurd $650,000. It is perceived through transgression of the internal decision making apparatus, leading to severe drop in valuation and dilution of early stakeholders (source: Venture Beat).


Similarly, the wake of the General Motors joins the boat of fail. The supposition of the company’s bankruptcy is the business process modelling / management (BPM). The logic behind is very simple - to manage the manufacturing costs. The series of actions to achieve the end result required to “test every auto part, and look for the most expensive parts that were the most reliable. Next, ask suppliers for a cheaper version of that part”. On the chart of the quality versus the cost, it is most likely to affect a curve in the negative way. The competitors on the other hand use similar BPM but, as kindly argued by the decision management expert James Taylor, they have adopted a “different set of decision-making criteria”. In short, the biting indiscretion was a result of the tactical decision misplay and could have been prevented.


The final case I want to bring to your attention is Cisco Systems and their Human Network Effect: meet more, travel less (do watch it) TV commercial, which I personally find rather tasteful. The back story with reference to the commercial is the inappropriate broadcasting time, which happened to be during news coverage of the crashed plane in the river. The advertisement mocks routine plane emergency instructions and the unlikely event of water landing”. Alana Semuels acknowledged general and Cisco distress with regards to the ironical situation.

“Any time there’s a big news incident, advertising professionals work to pull ads that may offend viewers by hitting a little too close to home. That’s why you probably won’t be seeing any airline commercials soon. Unfortunately for Cisco though, planes fall from the sky more quickly than the ad departments of TV networks can move.”


The above examples are only a slight extent of how events in the business situation can go really wrong. No one is completely protected from a scenario of different variables, which can potentially cripple the lifeblood of your company. However, there are general pointers to be followed to minimise the risks of unexpected exposure:


  • Do protect your business, have a contingency plan and a back-up strategy (”A” and “B” plan);
  • It is absolutely vital to prioritise and focus on strategic areas, especially in multiple projects but never neglect organisation and development. Left to themselves things tend to go from bad to worse, Laissez Faire (Let it Be) is a big No-No;
  • Constantly review your “span of command” and “operations mechanism”. Look into all anomalies and report where applicable. It is very easy to leave something out in wide and tall hierarchical structures;
  • Carry out extensive market research. If you do lack the resources for own research and development department, outsourcing might be your answer. Never underestimate the usefulness of competitor analysis, even in the times of hardship - be prepared, not sorry!


And most importantly “Smile… tomorrow will be worse”. ; )

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