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P1010098_8X6Hello I’m David Bowles and I want to welcome you to my blog on morale/engagement and performance, and the future of capitalism, the themes of two books published worldwide by Palgrave-Macmillan (see tabs above and pictures below), which I co-authored with Professor Cary Cooper.  Instead of just focusing in the first book on “what to do on Monday morning” to improve morale and engagement, Cary and I have looked in depth at the performance connections with morale…the things which are the answer to the question: “why should I care about this touchy-feely stuff”?  As we say in the book, performance is the reason why you should care and why organizations large and small are making morale and engagement “mission critical”. 

Cary and I also strongly believe that worker morale and engagement is part of the way in which we can….we MUST….change our capitalist system, a system to which we are passionately committed.  We extend our insights from the first book into the second, suggesting that the Crash of 2008-9 has demonstrated just how much our capitalist system….and the work cultures which underlie the way the system operates…..need to change, and how that change can occur

I look forward to sharing with you here the research-based data we feature in the books and discussing your reactions to, and experience with, what I have to say.  Whether you are interested in productivity, profitability, customer satisfaction, worker health or innovation…all are affected by, and our data show, driven by, high morale and engagement.  Coming at a time of unprecedented stress and upheaval in organizational life, the drive towards high morale and the workforce engagement which results from it, can be our way towards success in the tough, globalized world which is our future.  It can surely be a part of the way towards a more “conscious” form of capitalism which works for everyone, not just the few. I look forward to sharing this journey with you and hope you will contribute your ideas and thoughts.

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Corporate Cultures Book Cover

More than 30 years ago a book appeared which has stood the test of time in organizational literature and which galvanized a generation of leaders and consultants with its clear and powerful approach.  That book was Corporate Cultures by Terrence Deal and Anthony Kennedy.  Defining culture at work as simply “the way we do things around here” the authors demonstrated that this was the secret ingredient which we had all been seeking, which enabled…or totally disabled…the best strategic plans.  As famed management guru Peter Drucker stated “culture eats strategy for breakfast”.  One of the ways in which this works is that cultures create the environment in which workers choose to, or not to, engage. This in turn drives, or deprives the organization of, enormous performance benefits in terms of customer satisfaction, productivity, innovation, profitability and even worker health.

Fast forward to today, and we find few leaders who lack this knowledge, but many more who pay lip service to the importance of culture but who fail to act on it.  Why is this?

–changing culture is easy to read or talk about but far more difficult to implement;  part of the reason for this is that the most effective, powerful cultures involve giving up power and control

–certain personalities are loathe to do this, for example those whose ego drives them…and perhaps, through them, their whole organization.

This is why, when leaders ask what they need to do to create a more effective culture, I tell them that getting to know themselves at a deeper level is step 1, it will raise their emotional intelligence and form the basis of change.   Secondly, instead of implementing a laundry list of “things to do on Monday morning” to change the culture, that they instead take a look at everything the organization does and put it through what I call the BEST test:

is what we are doing Balanced, for example between cooperation and competition? This alone can totally change a culture:  witness Microsoft’s disastrous “stack ranking” (firing of the bottom 10% of each group each year), which pits people against each other, destroys cooperation and morale and results in a flatlined stock for over a decade.

–are our practices “Engagement Friendly”, for example do we treat people fairly?  Fairness is the bedrock of any successful work culture, but it is misunderstood:  nothing about it means equality of outcome, only equality of opportunity.  This means banishing favoritism, nepotism and related behavior from “the way we do things” and focusing only on performance.

–is what we are doing Sustainable?  For example do we have a short term focus rather than investing for the long term?  Do we act unethically?   Clearly, lack of sustainability is a fatal flaw in any culture, yet too many organizations act this way, as the low tide of the recent financial Crash clearly demonstrated.

–is what are doing Trackable?  Any journey such as one whose goal is to improve culture at work must track its starting point and milestones along the way.  How else will we know whether we are reaching our goals, either in the organization as a whole or in individual parts?  Surveys of the whole workforce are the powerful tool which successful cultures use to track themselves.  Don’t believe that you can make or sustain these kinds of changes without such a tracking mechanism.  Ask Google, they do this all the time.

Culture change is not for the faint of heart, or for those whose ego drives them.  We need leaders who have the courage to step beyond themselves and commit to the good of all stakeholders, from their own workers to society as a whole.  Those who do, such as Whole Foods and BMW, enjoy great success as their reward.  The future belongs to organizations which make orienting their cultures in this direction central to their mission.

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I admit I do like the Employee Engagement (EE) Network, a group of some 6000 people brought together by master facilitator and EE consultant David Zinger, someone for whom I have great respect.  Recently, a member posted a discussion online, on the subject of this post, which I have been really enjoying.  Well OK perhaps at times some of the posts drive me crazy, like the ones who say that there is no proven connection between EE and performance (like customer satisfaction, profitability, productivity or worker health)….WHAT?  My co-author and I have even written a whole book…on this exact subject!

So today I braced myself for some anger-mail back to me and put a post on the network, fueled in part by some of the misinformation, but also arrogance of some of the self-appointed “experts”, who think that they…and only they…hold the keys to the high engagement Kingdom…sigh.  Here is what I said:

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Sharon, a few thoughts:

1.  Management loves fads…MBO anyone?  I think anything can become that, especially when it reaches the level which EE has reached.  Before EE there was…and still is…morale, its cousin. But morale never became sexy enough to reach fad status, so it has endured, chugging along since WWII till now.  Remember, it is good enough for the military….

2.  With fad status, people come out of the woodwork as “experts”.  Like the apocryphal story that when a taxi driver gives you stock tips, the market has topped, perhaps when everyone gives EE advice (or becomes a “life coach”) it is time to find another field.  Its not there yet (with EE, it surely is for “life coach”)….but sometimes I shake my head at what people say, even in this discussion.  Like our leader David Z, I am also wrong half the time, but having said that there there are a few established facts:

–the connection between EE and performance is not “squishy” but rock solid and supported by great research, including peer reviewed academic work.

–underneath the national EE averages quoted here, many great companies have found the secret to high EE, so to say that only a select few individuals know what to do to achieve this (some of them gracing us with their presence here!)… is plain silly and quite arrogant.

–it is not clear to me that one size fits all; yes of course one needs to treat people well, but does high EE at a nuclear power plant contain the exact same elements as at Google?  By necessity, the cultures are quite different…..

–speaking of Google, they survey the heck out of their workforce, both annually (with a long survey, 100+ items) and monthly.  Of course that’s not all, an army of in-house Ph.D.s then goes to work to analyze the data and there is extensive follow on.  So to the survey haters here I ask, is this a badly managed company?  Do you think perhaps they get something from their surveys which they cant get any other way, or are they too stupid to know how to do that?

Just a few thoughts to add to the discussion….

David

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To see the original discussion, go here:  http://employeeengagement.ning.com/forum/topics/what-happened-to-employee-engagement?xg_source=activity

To join the Employee Engagement Network, go here:  http://employeeengagement.ning.com/

(Picture By Robert Lawton (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5)], via Wikimedia Commons)

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Last week Cary Cooper and I held an event at the Work Foundation in central London to officially launch our new book, The High Engagement Work Culture:  Balancing ME and WE to a sold out audience of professionals from around the UK, both public and private sectors.  I have put together a clip from this event, where I discuss the Ego at Work:

STANDARD DEFINITION: http://youtu.be/D_uMl9nq3dA

HIGH DEFINITION: http://bit.ly/12C53td

I hope you enjoy seeing some of this great evening which we had!  Many thanks to our Work Foundation friends such as Nina Gryf and her staff, for putting this on and welcoming us all into their superb London environment.

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I’m very pleased to say that Huffington Post contributor Peter Smirniotopoulos has given our new book a great boost with a lengthy and in-depth review, which,  as its author, I am very happy to read.  Peter understands what Cary Cooper and I were trying to do in terms of looking for a new kind of capitalism, a way forward after the Crash of 2008 which might just bring us to…less Crashes!  Not just that but a capitalism which works for everyone, not just a few.  We approached this book with a fervent belief in the capitalist system, and its power to lift people out of abject poverty, which has been demonstrated around the world;  at the same time we had no starry-eyed view that it should be some kind of laissez-faire system, à la Ayn Rand.   This makes no more sense than football players running around the field with no rules and no referees.  In American football alone there is a big (and growing) set of rules and no less than seven people on the field to make sure those rules are followed…NOTHING laissez-faire about that!  No wonder it is so popular, nothing but performance determines outcome.  This is the way the capitalist system should be run.

Peter gets all this in his review, which is kind enough to praise our opening Chapter on the corporate culture of Wall Street which contributed to the mess which was created.  He says:

The High Engagement Work Culture may be worth reading just for the opening chapter, in which the authors summarize the causes of the collapse of the financial services, residential mortgage, and housing markets in the U.S. To my knowledge, no one has taken a look at the symptomatology leading up to the 2008 crash from the perspective of Wall Street’s prevailing corporate culture, with the insights only these two authors can provide.”

He does a great job of covering our case studies, of BMW and Whole Foods Market, which demonstrate that our vision of a new kind of capitalism is not just a pipe dream, but a reality being lived by the very best companies around the world.  The fact that their share prices have been at record highs in the last year attests to the wisdom of this approach, and demolishes any idea that it is simply too “touchy-feely”.  Like football, there is nothing “touchy-feely” to this way of running an organization;  on the contrary, this is an approach that the bravest leaders take on, those who are willing to put their own egos aside and work for the good of everyone.  That’s why we gave the book the title: Balancing ME and WE.

I hope you take a look at Peter’s review and see how his insights add to this discussion.  While you are there, take a trip to some of his links where he has discussed related issues before.  Indeed the reason I got in touch with Peter in the first place was because of such an article which he wrote, where the very first sentence pointed out that he is a 100% committed capitalist.  That is the only thing to be if we want to nudge this capitalist system of ours towards something better, more sustainable, and which works for everyone.

Once again, Peter’s review is available here: http://huff.to/SFSVNw

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I have talked quite a few times in these pages and in my two books about CEO pay, especially in the US.  Why is this?  Because I believe the way it is set it is a fundamental building block for worker engagement, or a destroyer of that.  Why do I say that?  Let’s start with the basics:

–CEO pay in the United States is way way higher than anywhere in the world, in fact it is in a world of its own.  Fortune magazine* said in November 2011 that the ratio of CEO pay to average worker had climbed to 475:1 by 2010.  Yes that is not a misprint, it is a fact.

–It has not always been so, as the chart below shows:  using data from four different sources, you can see that there has been an “arms race” since the 1960s, in which CEO pay has gone from a ratio of about 20:1, then edged up to 25:1, went sideways for a while and finally began its incredible hike up to its current level. What makes this even more amazing is that these stratospheric ratios have endured in spite of the worst recession since the Great Depression, since 2010 was officially after the recession had reached its bottom. Had the 2008-2009 Crash devastated US CEO pay and brought it down to earth closer to that of average workers, we would see it by 2010…but we do not.

–While there might be some relatively small differences between the sources of data, there is no disagreement on the over trend we see here:

–By way of comparison, European CEO pay ratios are below 20:1 in most countries and we would see riots in the streets in they went any higher, especially in the current “austerity” climate which permeates that continent.  Lets see some of those numbers, also from the Fortune article*, and quoted in our book:
Hong Kong: 44:1
Britain: 22:1
Canada: 20:1
France: 15:1
Germany: 12:1
Japan: 11:1

Are executives really worth so much less in all these countries, or are we simply paying too much in the US? Its hard to imagine all the great CEOs that exist throughout the UK and continental Europe, in Canada and Japan, being totally demotivated by their pay yet running such great organizations as they do. Having consulted very extensively in the US, as well as throughout Europe, I can say that is NOT the case. So what are the justifications for high pay? John Mackey, Co-CEO of Whole Foods, demolished these one by one in a superb piece which is well worth reading. Mackey himself sets his pay and that of his Co-CEO at a maximum of 19 times the average Whole Foods worker, and its stock is at record levels…cause and effect? Yes, its just one sign of great management. Moreover, Graef Crystal, one of my favorite people in the esoteric world of executive compensation, and now retired, devastated the argument that this high pay was simply performance-driven. In an extensive study he showed that there was in fact zero correlation between pay and company performance! Instead it was driven by size of the organization regardless of performance. No wonder US CEOs strive to grow companies in the US through acquisition (most of which fail)…it is a path to personal riches simply by increasing size!

This is a big topic and one which I have covered in our new book in a chapter about the ego and in these pages at length.  Yes I think a lot of this is ego driven. The ego HATES it when the other guy…or gal…is paid more! Cooperative and captive Boards of Directors (ones that are too dependent on the CEO for their continued presence on that Board and lucrative stock options, etc.) are also a problem.

But now comes a new piece of research by Charles M. Elson, director of the John L. Weinberg Center for Corporate Governance at the University of Delaware, and Craig K. Ferrere, one of its Edgar S. Woolard fellows, which will really throw a wrench into the cogwheels of executive comp, as we call it. The researchers have demonstrated that one of the core mechanisms for high executive pay in the US, the comparison of the CEO with a “peer group” of such talent, is essentially deeply flawed. They show that:

–the skills of CEOs usually can’t be successfully transferred from one organization to another. ““It’s a false paradox,” Mr. Elson said in an interview with the New York Times’ Gretchen Morgenson recently. “The peer group is based on the theory of transferability of talent. But we found that C.E.O. skills are very firm-specific. C.E.O.’s don’t move very often, but when they do, they’re flops.”

In other words, you have no peer group, Mr or Ms CEO, you have only yourself and while you can do quite well here, you are unlikely to do well elsewhere….or even to be invited to work elsewhere.  This decreases your value!  On the subject of being able to work elsewhere, listen to Morgenson: 

“One study, a 2011 analysis of roughly 1,800 C.E.O. successions from 1993 to 2005, found that less than 2 percent had been public-company chief executives before their new jobs. Nevertheless, the notion persists that chief executives and their skills are transferable — and that they will walk if their pay doesn’t keep rising.” 

To add insult to injury, these authors point out that peer comparisons conducted by Boards or their consultants  often use extremely successful CEOs as the benchmark while not adjusting for the performance of their own CEO against this high bar.

At this point you might be wondering how I can connect this to worker engagement: well its actually quite simple and is the reason that companies like Whole Foods and BMW control this aspect of their culture so carefully. The reason is that these management teams wish to demonstrate to their workers that everyone is in this together, that they, the executive team, are not on another planet. As I found out when interviewing BMW for the new book, the carefully crafted “personnel politics” as they call it, the desire to “stand close to the workers”, proved to be a bonanza for the company when the 2008-10 “Great Recession” eased and the company found itself with overwhelming demand for its products in Asia. The workers pitched in with unprecedented levels of overtime. At General Motors, which had had typical “supersized” pay for executives, the only “bounce back” that they could manage was one which the bankruptcy court shepherded them through, a cruel comparison to their competition in Bavaria. The same was true for Chrysler, and Ford barely escaped with its life.

Controlling executive pay is important all the time, not just in recessions, its just that recessions reveal the damage which poor management practices have created in these companies. If you want to stand in front of your workers, in good times and bad, and say “we’re all in this together” you had better make that a reality with your pay practices…or risk their private scorn and resulting lower engagement. Boards should take this into consideration, along with the fact that, no matter what they say, CEOs really don’t have many other places to go!

* Fortune Magazine, November 7th, 2011, page 28
Chart is modified from one in The High Engagement Work Culture:  Balancing ME and WE (Palgrave-Macmillan), copyright 2012 David Bowles and Cary Cooper

Image courtesy of sheelamohan / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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Tourists enjoy the beautiful Olympic rings hung from inside Tower Bridge during the 2012 London Games.

As someone who does not have to be in one particular place in order to work, I take full advantage of the time and friendlier summer weather conditions to wander around, budget permitting. This summer I found myself in my usual haunt of southern Germany (where I live part time) and also in France, Great Britain during the Olympics and British Columbia, Canada. Not only is this incredible fun but it also allows me to observe first hand things about which I often write, i.e. workers being engaged, disengaged or something in between. I was shocked at some of the things which I saw, and not in a bad way…

Let me say first of all that most of the jobs which tourists see people doing, whether waiting tables, carrying bags in hotels, cleaning restaurants (including bathrooms), working for a railway company, pumping gas/petrol and so on, I have also done.  There was a time when I figured that I had had 25 jobs before “settling down” (a phrase which will never really describe me) to the more structured world of consulting and eventually to writing business books and blogging here. This means that, unlike Mitt Romney (“I like being able to fire people who provide services to me”) I approach anyone in such jobs with a feeling of identification rather than entitlement. I don’t act demanding and I do act friendly, because time has taught me that life is far far better that way. It was not always so:  I didn’t get to write a 22 page chapter about the ego in my recent book (with Cary Cooper) by not having any personal experience to draw on!  Now all this means is that when I receive bad service, for example, it is not as a result of me being an unmentionable body part with the people serving me. It is because of them….or at least the situation they are in. I know what a boss from hell can do to one’s desire to provide “great customer service”….it can destroy it. I also know that, economic conditions being reasonable, one can choose to work elsewhere. Yes I know economic conditions have been far from reasonable for years, in many places, and that one of the consequences of this is that people have been spending too much time in the grip of such bosses.  I also know about, and have written here about, the “worker from hell”, the person who is in the vice-grip of the ego and who does constant damage inside and outside the organization.

I’ve written elsewhere about engagement in Germany so won’t cover that here.  My experiences there this year re-confirmed what I have found before.  So….on a short trip to Paris and some of the cities to the north, I had some interesting experiences. I have talked in both books I have written about Parisian waiters, and not always in a complimentary way. Their reputation has been poor over the decades, and rightly so (full disclosure: I used to live there, a long time ago, so this is not just based on hearsay).  Although my sample this year was small and absolutely not representative, I am going to have to eat some of my words. I had great service, friendly waiters, and not just that…people in the street helping me find places whose locations I had forgotten.  This was not always so.  I have spoken good French since I was about 14, so its not a language issue, and I still remember pulling up to a short line of people at a bus stop to ask for directions somewhere in the Burgundy region, and getting that classic French brush off, which sounds like “bofff”, accompanied with an arm gesture of hopelessness combined with “get lost”.  Nothing like that this time, quite the opposite. I know that some time ago, the French woke up one day to some kind of article in the newspaper saying that they were considered among the unfriendliest in Europe for tourists (if you can find this, let me know)….and that this “shocked” them….Was it enough to get the ball rolling to the point where things actually changed? Or was it just me that changed over the years and now I am seeing the fruits of that change (as in “as you perceive things so you will find them)? I will never know but I am open to the possibility of both being true!

A short hop over the Channel took me to London in the heat of the Olympics, and what a job those Londoners did (Mitt Romney eat your heart out, and sorry to mention you twice in one blog but honestly you earned that “Mitt The Twit” headline in the conservative Daily Mail). The place was literally lifting off the ground, in spite of the initial issues with security, etc.   In the end none of the “problems” mattered, the Olympics were a triumph and the many Olympics volunteers I met were the epitome of great, engaged, hosts.  And they were unpaid…..As I prepared to leave Heathrow I asked various tourists from the US and other places how well they were treated by the Brits and they raved about the hospitality.  They gave me story after story confirming my experience as to how helpful, kind and “going out of their way” the thousands of volunteers and paid Olympics workers had been.  Talk about an engagement surge, and lets hope this carries over.  One of the biggest benefits:  this destroys any arguments that GB (or anywhere else) is incapable of creating a highly engaged workforce  (contrary to the low levels of this measured by surveys over the years).  In other words, there is nothing, nothing about the British character which determines, and makes inevitable, low levels of worker engagement.  There is bad management and there are other things in the work environment which make that happen, not some pre-ordained national character defect!

On my way back to my home base of southern California, I took the long route, via British Columbia, which was a delight and a living laboratory for the high engagement work culture.  If it is in the water, lets bottle it and distribute world wide!  I was quite overwhelmed by how friendly, helpful and considerate all sorts of workers were, from Wal-Mart to…bus drivers!  One advantage of taking public transport is that a visitor is really exposed to the “real world” realities of where one is visiting.  I have never seen such engaged bus drivers as in Vancouver and Victoria, BC…ask them to point out a stop and they gladly and reliably do it.  Ask them quickly while getting off the bus where to go, and they even stop the bus, jump off and point the way!  At the very least they take the time to help.   Having trouble with the payment system?   They gladly help.  Did your bus ticket run out of time one minute before getting on the last connection?  They wave you on board.  Now bear in mind that Canada is a highly unionized place, and these are union workers.  This does not make them slaves to any rigid behavior (driven by negotiated “work rules”) which goes against simple friendly gestures of customer service, which I have seen elsewhere.  I was impressed, as I was by the Canadian public, which turned out  to be as friendly and helpful..and “engaged” with a tourist such as myself, as any I have seen in my travels around the world.

From the streets of London to those of Paris and Vancouver, my experiences re-confirmed for me that: a) when you treat people well, as a customer, you will greatly increase the likelihood that you will receive this back! b) that places which are often written off in big multi-national surveys of engagement can indeed rise to the occasion when it counts, thereby proving that they have it in them after all;  and c)  Canada has to be one of the friendliest places in the world!

Let me know what your travels tell you about worker engagement…I’d love to hear about it!

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Last year when I visited BMW headquarters in Munich, in preparation for the new book I was writing with Prof. Cary Cooper (and which has recently been released-see here), I did not expect to collect some information which really has significant meaning for British workers. Instead, while I knew I would be interviewing one of the very top executives at the company, and would gather useful information about the history, values and culture of BMW which could feed well into the book contents, I unexpectedly received a gem of a quote.

BMW is of course a world leader in luxury automobiles and a powerhouse in motorcycles as well. Its namesake brand is the desire of many who wish to own great wheels, and its MINI and Rolls Royce brands, both manufactured in England, satisfy the needs of many others. The Hams Hall plant in the West Midlands of the UK is a supplier of four-cylinder engines for several of the BMW automobiles sold worldwide, as well as MINI.

Let me tell you about the interviewee: Harald Krüger is a member of the seven person Board of Management, which is headed by the CEO and runs the company worldwide. Herr Krüger is an interesting person, with an engineering background and at the time of our interview (summer 2011) was only 45 years old, the youngest member of the Board. Most of his career has been spent in BMW, with stints at the US plant in Spartanburg, South Carolina; in England at the Hams Hall engine factory; and in Munich. His job at the time of the interview (and still today for a very short period) is to head global personnel and industrial relations, which was the reason for my desire to talk to him: Harald Krüger has been the person at BMW with a day-to-day responsibility to think about and talk about the company’s culture, among many other things. He ensured that human resource decisions, seen within BMW as “among the key decisions we take,” reflect the powerful values that drive that culture (and which the book details at length). Herr Krüger recently took on additional responsibilities and will drop the personnel role when his replacement takes over shortly; in his new job he will head the motorcycle business worldwide, and be responsible for MINI and Rolls Royce. With this move, I think he could be the future CEO of the company when the current CEO reaches mandatory retirement age in 2016, which adds untold weight to what he has to say about just about everything. In fact the press is now calling him the “Crown Prince”, which makes sense after this recent promotion.

As we sat on top of the famous Vierzylinder HQ building (see picture above) which sits on a major city artery in Munich, and chatted about values, culture, temporary workers, the Crash of 2008 and many related issues in relation to BMW, I asked Herr Krüger to comment on how BMW’s culture varies around the world and whether the company identifies the best cultural values and practices from its far-flung operations for use elsewhere in its system; this question was the lead-in to his comments. Here is what he said about his time in the UK:

“I lived in the UK for three and half years in Oxford: I loved living there because people were so open to change. If you just explain why we need to change they have very little resistance. In the UK, I felt that if you give people the feeling that you have your whole heart in the matter and you are thinking in the right direction, with a clear vision, I felt I always had the trust of people there.”

Now let me ask you a question: if I took out the words “Oxford” and “UK”, would you automatically know that this is the location he is referring to, from everywhere BMW operates? I don’t think so. Its not fashionable lately to praise British workers in such a way and I was, quite honestly, both quite surprised and delighted that my fellow Brits were getting this boost by a person of this significance. If a possible future CEO thinks this way, will it affect expansion in the UK? Well why would it not, indeed it is already starting.  Is not flexibility and openness…..lack of resistance to change….. going to be a hallmark of what will be necessary in the brutal competitive markets which lie ahead? I think so.

In these times of doom and gloom, surely we need to hang on to some good news like this…..

(The High Engagement Work Culture: Balancing ME and WE was released worldwide by Palgrave-Macmillan on July 3rd, 2012)

For more information about this interview please contact me here.

Picture of Vierzylinder building is from: de.wikipedia.org

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Einstein in 1947: he had bigger things on his mind than banks and worker morale and engagement, but we can learn much from physics about current social challenges brought to us by the recent Crash.  (Photo source:  Wikipedia)

For some reason which many years of training and experience in psychology have failed to explain to me, my two beloved sisters each married genius level scientists.  It wasn’t that Dad was one, although he had a good government job and a side job as a spy catcher.  That was why I was never allowed to visit him at his office in London, and why, when I asked him what he had done that day at work he simply said “cloak and dagger”….but I digress.  Having two genius level scientists as brothers-in-law means that you don’t try to compete, you just find a way to take advantage of this built-in expertise whenever you can.

So occasionally there are huge benefits, and I just experienced one.  When you write business books, like I do, you can use one of those men as a source, you can leverage that insight which they have; and that’s what I did for the new book I just released (co-authored with my dear friend Cary Cooper).  I talked to John Enderby about how physics sees the financial system, which turned out to be a valuable thing to do, as it made crystal clear some issues like:

–how much can we regulate before we kill the goose that lays the golden eggs?

–are Crashes like what we have been through in 2008 inevitable?

Who would have thought that physics could give us answers to that, but it can…  Remember that physicists already work in many financial services companies:  no, not in your garden variety banks which just take deposits and then lend that money out for mortgages.  I am talking about the investment banks, crafty devils as they are, who take your deposits then work financial alchemy on them to turn them into vast profits (in good times) or almost bring down the world as we know it (in bad times).

John Enderby gave me some terrific insights; but first let me give you a brief bio.  He was for a long time a Professor at Bristol University’s physics department, then later became the top physicist at Britain’s famed Royal Society, the so-called “physical secretary”. Now the RS is the place that when you sign the book of membership, you can look back earlier in that same book and see names like Isaac Newton and so on.  You’re in good company.  John was then knighted, so I tease him when I see him by pretending to kiss his ring (which he doesn’t have), or by asking him if he likes being ranked up with Mick Jagger, etc.  By the way, I got the ring kissing moves from Amadeus, when Mozart and everyone else had to make them with the Archbishop of Salzburg and the Emperor of Austria….

So I asked John how physics sees the financial system.  He simply said, its non linear, or chaotic.  As he pointed out, a bank in Italy or Spain can fail and the whole set of unpredictable consequences flows from that, many of them not at all good.  So what is to be done, I asked?  Well the answer lies in physics experiments when a chaotic system needs to be controlled, and you use “damping”…..in my terms that means you gradually turn the screws on the beast until it starts to yield.  But how far to go?  Well, as John pointed out, damping lessens the chaos and unpredictability of the system on which you are using it, but at a cost.  The cost is that, eventually, you stop the “growth”.  That’s right, you kill damn thing.  So what’s to be done?  Well, you “damp” it until you have a level of growth you can live with, so that you benefit from its effects in some way, then you sit back and resign yourself to the fact that you will always be exposed to its unpredictability.

As John told me, “we will always have “boom/bust” in the financial system unless we kill it off entirely”.  Since that is not an option, we had better get used to it.  We had also better be mindful that this capitalist system in which we live has given us an awful lot of the “growth” which John Enderby talked about, and we had better be careful not to “damp” it down into oblivion.  More boom/bust is on the way, folks…unless you long for a socialist paradise, in which case, go to the library and dust off an old copy of Animal Farm and 1984, to remind yourself of how far damping of the animal spirits of our capitalist system can go….and what the consequences of that can be.

This is the system we have, and as the new book says, lets not throw it away, lets improve it.  That is the challenge, even if we have to sail through choppy seas now and then as we face the inevitable boom/bust cycles.  The consequences for my chosen field of morale and engagement are significant.  More of that to come on these pages….

Now released worldwide (Print/Digital)

June 12th, 2012

Dear Colleagues and Friends:

 It is with absolute delight that I am able to announce to you the release of my second book, co-authored as was the first with my friend of over 40 years, Professor Cary Cooper.

The book is entitled The High Engagement Work Culture:  Balancing Me and We (publisher: Palgrave-Macmillan), and is a journey which begins with the Crash of 2008, asking an important question:

Can’t we find a better way of running this capitalist system of ours?

Cary and I think we can, and not through the heavy hand of regulation which threatens to maim or even kill the one system which has brought prosperity to the world; instead, we suggest that our organizations need to make the decision internally to re-orient themselves away from selfish goals and behavior that ignore the world outside their walls, while at the same time building internal cultures which will drive the engagement of their workers to new highs.  This in turn will, as our previous book demonstrated, drive their performance to new highs.

 This is not pie-in-the-sky, it is being lived by some of the very best organizations in the world, two of which we have featured in the book:  BMW and Whole Foods Market live and breathe these ideas on a daily basis and have the performance to prove their validity.  BMW was good enough to provide me with an exclusive and lengthy interview with management board member and worldwide head of MINI and Rolls Royce brands as well as all motorcycles, Harald Krüger.  As a possible future CEO of BMW (he is now featured increasingly in the press as “Crown Prince”), Herr Krüger’s comments in the book might make some news in the UK with his extremely favorable views on its workforce there! (working at Mini, Rolls Royce cars and an engine factory in the West Midlands of the UK

Balance is a key concept in the book.  Not just, as the subtitle suggests, between the demands of “me” and those of “we”, but also between aspects such as competition and cooperation.   If we don’t take care of the balance between individual initiative and the needs of broader society, for example, we might kill off the animal spirits which have given us Steve Jobs, Richard Branson, Sergey Brin, Bill Gates and so many other entrepreneurial geniuses.

As we struggle with austerity versus government stimulus, veering from one to the other to try and revive the fortunes of much of the developed world, Cary and I believe there is a third way:  a re-birth of our capitalist system based on the principles we detail in the book.  It is a vision which works not just for a few, but for everyone, a tide which can raise all boats.  It is working now in the very best organizations!   

As David MacLeod, head of the very influential UK task force which examined all aspects of worker engagement for the government in 2009, has said of the book:

…..(we) “have written an important book, at an important time, on an vital topic.”

I invite you to take a look at our ideas in the book and see if you agree. Please send me your feedback, I will be delighted to hear from you!

It is available on Amazon in the UK: http://amzn.to/Ltj5Df

From July 3rd it will be available in the US and other worldwide locations.  For example at Amazon.com:  http://amzn.to/LjRMdY

thank you, and enjoy the book,

David Bowles

LinkedIn profile/contact: http://www.linkedin.com/in/davidbowlesphd

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