Holding up the mirror

HR Business Partner – the modern court jester in companies?

This is a contribution by our guest author Christoph Henties. Christoph already published the three-part “Organisations Learn Jazz” in June this year. We are very happy to have him back this week.

Recently, in a conversation with an experienced, committed HR manager, she quoted one of  her superiors: “Our job in HR is solely to implement the board’s decisions and measures.” I visibly felt the restrictive effect of this statement of loyalty to the hierarchy on my interviewee. The disappointment at neglecting one’s own ideas for constructively shaping creative personnel work for employees and the organization was all too noticeable.

The concept of the court jester came to my mind: a figure who could tell the authorities unpleasant truths without fearing the consequences. This figure could mention the unspeakable. It had the task of telling the ruler the truth, had the freedom of fools.

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Who cares?

Have you noticed those stickers? They are proudly displayed on cars – mostly on the back and often on vehicles like the KIA Carens and the Peugeot 807. Very rarely or not at all on a Mercedes Benz SLK or an Audi TT. You may think: “Oha! The latter vehicles are well-endowed with horsepower, while the former are in need of it.” With this I counter with the Opel Tigra Twin Top, which even with the largest engine produces a modest 125 bhp. Now you might think: “Eureka, I‘ve got it. The latter are made by German carmakers and the former are from countries less skilled in car making.” I counter such a foolish assessment with a dry “Citroën C3 Pluriel”, a convertible like SLK and TT, which is built in a country that stands for French bread and overpriced red wine, and in terms of power potential still lags behind the above-mentioned Opel.

The former often sport small screens at the back fastened to the headrests, which is never the case for the latter. To all those who now think: “The latter can only accommodate two people, while the former can accommodate six to seven”, we can only shout “Brilliant!”

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Innovation or decay?

Blame Management (Part 2)
Undocumented, but practised processes of project management

While in Part 1 we introduced ourselves to the significance of this falsely demonised topic in society and companies, it is time now to become more concrete.

This requires a common understanding of what it is all about.

Definition of terms

The English term “blame” has also been very common in the German-speaking world for some time, but there it is increasingly used in its progressive form of “blaming”, i.e. accusing someone of something. In my opinion, we should expand the definition in the corporate environment in such a way that it better fits actual practices:

“Assigning responsibility for negative events or circumstances to the lowest still plausible, but politically most defenceless hierarchical level.”

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Autumn is here

… or: Halloween in day-to-day leadership
(Part 1)

And with falling leaves, persistent rain and colder nights dread falls upon us… When I went to my car yesterday in a good mood, it was already there! She was waiting for me, unmissable, right in the middle of the door to the underground car park! That’s my door, it wanted to tell me. I would have liked to have agreed with it and run back up the stairs immediately. My breathing became shallow and my body began to make movements the mind considers nonsense, but my mind had absented itself anyway. You guessed it. On the door sat a cobweb spider, aka a house spider, altogether about 6 cms across.

Why am I telling you about my fears?

Because I think it’s time to make fear socially acceptable. Fear is a deeply human emotion that unfortunately sometimes makes us do things that don’t make sense. I often experience this in companies. But first things first.

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Innovation or decay?

Undocumented but practised processes of project management: Blame Management

Du …

Many, perhaps even countless approaches and best practices can be found for projects and for dealing with projects. Often they differ only insignificantly, which stems from the nature of things, or better said, from the nature of project management. After all, there is a certain consensus about the most important aspects and topics in this environment. Only in the weighting of the topics and then possibly in the details do the different approaches differ. However, one thing strikes you: not all the important procedures commonly used in practice are included in these descriptions. And these tried and tested approaches often make the difference between personal success and personal failure. We need to bridge this gap.

The following is a detailed and process-oriented description of one of the most important aspects of successful project work: the process of blame assignment and administration (blame management).

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Multicultural teamwork

“What you don’t want people to do to you…”

When we talk broadly about international company takeovers, joint ventures and corporate co-operations, there is an interpersonal aspect behind these economic headlines: teams that previously were often active only in their own language and cultural area need to initiate international cooperation. I have already experienced this situation in two companies (one formerly German and one formerly Dutch) and am aware of the uncertainties that the initial phase of an international team structure brings with it. The time is not always there to prevent all potential gaffes with hazard warnings. I can assure you that under the pressure of day-to-day business, people very often blunder, even with the very best intentions!

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Can you hear me? I can’t hear you!

International Conference Calls

In international companies, the Conference Call is the easiest way to hold meetings with participants from different countries. Depending on the company’s policy, this is done as a video call (with web cams) or audio only. Both have pros and cons.

The advantage of the video call is that it becomes easier to follow what is happening, because you can see the participants talking and can recognize and interpret any emerging anger, impatience or lack of understanding earlier.

The advantage of “audio only” calls, on the other hand, is that you can take part in meetings that take place in the middle of the night or in the early morning due to the time difference, even in your pyjamas, without anyone noticing it. In addition, you can wander around the house during the meeting – equipped with a headset.  However, it makes sense to know the range of your headset, otherwise you might miss crucial dramatic moments.

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The fairy tale of predictability

Once upon a time there was a great king who had ruled his country for many years. He also had a beautiful daughter, who grew up with frogs and dwarves, but that is completely irrelevant to this story.

The king had learned to protect his kingdom successfully against invaders and raids and had fought many a battle. He had a big, strong army, so nobody dared to attack; there was peace in his country for a long time. 

But more and more travellers reported incredible changes in other parts of the world.  Previously unknown kingdoms rose rapidly, while others disappeared into insignificance at the same speed.

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“First they ignore you, then…”

Do you know what happens next? This: “…they laugh at you, then they fight you and then you win.”(1) A sentence often quoted by politicians, the weight of which is increased by the reference to Gandhi and with which you can always make an impression. Thus the populist politician Frauke Petry felt inclined to twitter this quote on 24.09.2017 to the result of the Bundestag election. Hmm…. But actually people say it didn’t come from Gandhi himself but from the US-American trade unionist Nicholas Klein a good 100 years ago.

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Riding a dead horse

According to Wikipedia, Industry 4.0 or the Fourth Industrial Revolution is “a word creation originating from a project in the high-tech strategy of the German government, which promotes the computerisation of manufacturing.” Is this now the panacea for all the problems of the manufacturing industry? Is it enough to network a factory?

An industrial revolution is characterised by the fact that it brings about fundamental changes in all areas of social life and thereby changes and reorganises the economy. But a few more sensors, some big data here and a pinch of cloud services there are not enough. It’s about more than integrating planning, production and resources. Many companies have to ask themselves whether their business model will still function at all in the future in the environment of new technical developments and social changes.

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