Merry Christmas to All of You

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Rebalancing society

”Enough of the imbalance that is destroying our democracies, our planet, and ourselves. Enough of the pendulum politics of left and right, as well as the paralysis in the political center. Enough of the visible claw of lobbying in place of the invisible hand of competing. Enough of the economic globalization that undermines sovereign states and local communities. Have we not had enough exploiting of the world’s resources, including ourselves as “human resources”?”, writes Henry Mintzberg in his pamphlet “Rebalancing Society” that was later published as a book by MacGraw-Hill.

Henry Mintzberg calls for a radical renewal of society beyond what he refers to as the left, the right and the centre. He sees the plural sector, i.e. the community, as the major driver of this renewal as the private sector and the governmental sector have done well proving their incapability to do so. I would recommend referring to this book when setting the scene for a more critical approach to teaching Organisational Behaviour. I believe that Henry Mintzberg offers an appropriate interpretation of the imbalance that we observe in many of the so-called Western societies where the private sector is given priority and thereby assigned the authority to determine how societies are supposed to function. Addressing the imbalance in society, Henry Mintzberg takes a critical stance towards, for example, resource exploitation, the neglect of the externalities caused by human activities, growth for the sake of growth, the power of big corporations (which apparently are not only “too big to fail” but also “too big for jail”), and relentless individualism with “every person and every institution striving to get the most for him-, her-, or itself, over the needs of society and a threatened planet” (p. 20). He also refers to social initiatives emanating from the plural sector as being the ones, who have the capacity to bring about change in society.

The following YouTube-clips may serve as a teaser for the book. The full manuscript is available online from:

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Ask your manager!

The other week I had a guest in my course. She works in the HR department of an internationally operating firm and trains employees in the area of business ethics. The company has a code of conduct and in order to implement the ethical guidelines specified in the code they developed a card game. The guest introduced my students to the company’s approach to business ethics and ethical conduct and she invited the students to play the game. We divided the students in groups of six and in the groups they had to respond to several ethically difficult questions, such as:

  • One of the suppliers of our company sends you 20 bottles of expensive wine. What do you do?
  • One of our competitors invites you to a golf seminar. What should you do?
  • You are offered a two-weeks holiday in Hawaii by one of our suppliers. How do you react?
  • You learn that one of your colleague’s relative is employed at one of our suppliers. What do you do?

For each of the questions the cards provided four possible answers and students had to decide, which of the four would be the correct one. In case students’ guesses differed we asked them to discuss the reasons. With regard to the correct answers, it quickly became obvious that each time one of four possible answers to each ethical dilemma stated: “Talk to the manager.”, “Discuss with your manager.”, “Report to your manager.”, or “Inform your manager.” this was deemed to be the correct one. Hence, students did not have a hard time deciding for the correct answer.

It soon become patternly obvious to the students that in order to ensure ethical conduct employees had to ask their direct manager with regard to almost every ethically problematic situation that they could come across during their work. Therefore, I asked my guest, why they decided for this approach. She explained that according to the firm’s view managers are usually better equipped with the necessary knowledge to take decisions according to what counts as ethically correct behaviour. Hence, employees should frequently refer to their direct manager.

I saw this pattern before, when I analysed the codes of conducts of big German firms. Even though almost all of the codes strongly emphasized the employees’ vital responsibility for implementing the ethical guidelines that the code specifies, the code text made it very apparent that in the end the employees had to refer to their direct supervisors, managers in higher positions, or specific ethics boards as soon as they experienced or observed something that could violate ethical conduct. Hence, and rather unsurprisingly, the distinction between management and employees, i.e. the division between conception and execution as one legacy of Scientific Management, is also observable with regard to determining what is write or wrong behaviour and taking appropriate decisions.

Posted in Ethics, Management, Managerial control, Scientific management, Taylorism | Leave a comment

What is Organizational Communication?

When addressing the topic of communication, most OB textbooks refer to the sender-receiver-model, write about downward, upward, and lateral as well as written, oral, and no-verbal communication, discuss various types of communication channels and how to best use them for conveying different messages, and pay attention to formal communication and the grapevine.

I have not yet been able to find a OB textbook that introduces students to the idea that it is through communication that we establish the whole notion of what we take to be the organization. Even though the concept of communication as being constitutive for organizations has become quite prominent within organization studies, at least among those, who work in the subfield of organizational communication, apparently it has not yet found its way into OB textbooks.

In case you would supplement your OB textbook, you could do so by watching the following video aptly differentiating between the more classical way of understanding communication in organizations and the perspective that sees organizations as communication.

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Life and death in Apple’s forbidden city

Posted in Assembly line, Globalisation, Meaning of work | Leave a comment

Organisational Treasure Hunt

One of my student instructors (Thank you, Dicte!) came up with the idea to offer our students the possibility for an organisational treasure hunt. She suggested contacting local businesses and asking whether one representative would be available for an interview with a group of two or three students from our course. Initially I was unsure whether we would be able to establish contacts. But in the end we had a list of twelve businesses that were ready for an interview. I have to admit that we did not succeed to get access to well-known firms. Rather we ended up with a list of contacts to local shops, hairdressers, restaurants, a butcher etc. Not very impressive you might retort. However, given the short time that was available for contacting the firms and the small-town environment of our campus, we were fairly satisfied.

After matching the students to the businesses, i.e. asking students to form small groups and selecting one of the businesses from the list, we offered them a short interview guide. This guide consisted of the following list of questions, addressing the topics that we talked about so far in the course:

  1. What do you think is good leadership in your business?
  2. Do you believe that leaders in your business have to have a specific personality? If yes, could you please describe this personality?
  3. How would you describe a good worker in your business?
  4. What do you (or your company) do in order to find and select a new employee?
  5. How do you motivate your workers? Why do you motivate them the way you do?
  6. How do you deal with emotions in your business? Think about the relationship towards customers or the relationship between employees.

You will easily discover that in our treasure hunt-exercise, we addressed fairly traditional OB topics. This is due to the fact that currently I cannot teach OB from a critical perspective but have to subordinate to a more traditional curriculum, emphasising organisational effectiveness, hierarchy, and the teaching of instrumental knowledge. However, without much effort I could imagine asking students to conduct interviews with firm representatives addressing topics such as race, gender, sexuality, equality, identity, emotional labour, yet, also managerial control, alienation, and exploitation.

Furthermore, we decided for contacts to private businesses. However, depending on the local conditions of your campus, students could also visit other organisations such as voluntary organisations, cooperatives, NGOs, or social businesses in order to learn about their ways of organising work and how the people, who work in these organisations, perceive their world of work.

Working with the results of the interviews, we invited the students to create a poster. We asked them to use their creative potential and produce a poster that aptly summarises the information that they gathered in the interview. In one of the classes we let students present their poster and we offered a prize to the group, who provided the best one.

Asking students for their feedback, I learned that some of the businesses that we had chosen were considered to be too small, i.e. only one or two employees, in some cases only the owner and her or his partner. This made it difficult for the students to receive satisfying answers to questions about leadership or employee motivation. Therefore students suggested that next time we should attempt to find bigger businesses, even though most of them were aware of the fact that in a small town this would constitute a challenge.

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Male flight attendants’ identity work

I assume that not many of us struggle explaining to our students how male flight attendants have to work on their identity as a reaction to for example being employed in a sex-stereotyped occupation and the emotional labour that is required from them by the employer (and the passengers). However, we may struggle aptly illustrating how male flight attendants behave in the cabin. The following videos of the performance of safety instructions of Westjet Steward, Michael McAdam, could be of help. At least they are hilarious.





Posted in Emotional labour, gender, identity, Men and women working, Stereotype | Leave a comment