Archive for July, 2008

Outsourcing your life

In his runaway hit, The Four Hour Work Week, author Tim Ferriss features the story of AJ Jacobs, editor-at-large at Esquire magazine, who decided to “outsource his life”.  Jacobs writes:

It began a month ago. I was midway through The World Is Flat, the bestseller by Tom Friedman. I like Friedman, despite his puzzling decision to wear a mustache. His book is all about how outsourcing to India and China is not just for tech support and carmakers but is poised to transform every industry in America, from law to banking to accounting.

I don’t have a corporation; I don’t even have an up-to-date business card. I’m a writer and editor working from home, usually in my boxer shorts or, if I’m feeling formal, my penguin-themed pajama bottoms.

Then again, I think, why should Fortune 500 firms have all the fun? Why can’t I join in on the biggest business trend of the new century? Why can’t I outsource my low-end tasks? Why can’t I outsource my life?

Read on to find out why this trend is just the beginning, as employees work without the boss knowing it.

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I read it on the Internet, so it must be true…

The Whole Internet Truth

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Myths about employee motivation

Let’s clear up some myths about employee motivation.  I’ve found an excellent myth-debunking article by Dr Catherine McNamara.  Despite the important of the topic, several myths persist – especially among new managers and supervisors.

1. Myth #1 – “I can motivate people”
Not really – they have to motivate themselves. You can’t motivate people anymore than you can empower them. Employees have to motivate and empower themselves. However, you can set up an environment where they best motivate and empower themselves. The key is knowing how to set up the environment for each of your employees.

2. Myth #2 – “Money is a good motivator”
Not really. Certain things like money, a nice office and job security can help people from becoming less motivated, but they usually don’t help people to become more motivated. A key goal is to understand the motivations of each of your employees.

3. Myth #3 – “Fear is a damn good motivator”
Fear is a great motivator – for a very short time. That’s why a lot of yelling from the boss won’t seem to “light a spark under employees” for a very long time.

4. Myth #4 – “I know what motivates me, so I know what motivates my employees”
Not really. Different people are motivated by different things. I may be greatly motivated by earning time away from my job to spend more time my family. You might be motivated much more by recognition of a job well done. People are not motivated by the same things. Again, a key goal is to understand what motivates each of your employees.

5. Myth #5 – “Increased job satisfaction means increased job performance”
Research shows this isn’t necessarily true at all. Increased job satisfaction does not necessarily mean increased job performance. If the goals of the organization are not aligned with the goals of employees, then employees aren’t effectively working toward the mission of the organization.

6. Myth #6 – “I can’t comprehend employee motivation – it’s a science”
Nah. Not true. There are some very basic steps you can take that will go a long way toward supporting your employees to motivate themselves toward increased performance in their jobs. (Read more about these steps.)

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Sharpening the knowledge workers’ tool kit

I’ve just finished reading a very interesting article by Steve Hodgkinson, Director of research firm Ovum.  He observes that the tools of information sharing in the past have been poor.  “Most information is, in practice, stored in an ad hoc manner in thousands of computer hard drives and network folders, application databases and content repositories.  Why is it so?  Because we can.  Because we have equipped ourselves with the tools of personal expression.

“Everyone is a writer.  Everyone can create, name and store a document in an instant and send it by email.  It is easier to create afresh than to find and reuse pre-existing content.  The tools have empowered us to create documents with scant regard for the past (has this been done before or is anyone else working on this topic?) or the future (will anyone else need to find or use it tomorrow?). 

Hodgkinson argues that whereas the previous generation of tools were designed to support individual authoring and one-one exchanges such as email, the next generation is emerging to support collaboration. 

“These new tools make it easy and natural to share knowledge,” Hodgkinson says.  “New features, for example, include the ability to create a document in a shared repository, with many authors but only one authoritative version – a ‘Golden copy’ – searchable, secure and archived.  Not in a separate document management system that nobody actually uses… in the tools that all knowledge workers will use every day.”

His punch line is this: one of the key determinants of your ability to hire the best and brightest young employees in the near future may well be the quality of your knowledge worker tools and the culture of collaboration that they engender.

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Time management online

Managing Time Management

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Everyone’s an information worker

In an editorial written for BBC News late last year, Bill Gates argued that digital technology has transformed almost everyone into an information worker.

“That’s true for everyone from the retail store worker who uses a handheld scanner to track inventory to the chief executive who uses business intelligence software to analyse critical market trends,” he said.

This underscores a modern-day truism: a solid working knowledge of productivity software and other IT tools has become a basic foundation for success in virtually any career.

Gates also reminds us that a career in IT is not one where you are locked away in a dark room by yourself all day.  People skills are vital.

As Gates says “Software innovation, like almost every other kind of innovation, requires the ability to collaborate and share ideas with other people, and to sit down and talk with customers and get their feedback and understand their needs.”

Perhaps the most telling thing about Gates’ article on the BBC website is the feedback from readers, who hailed from everywhere from Cape Town to Rio de Janeiro, and from Germany to New Delhi.  They universally applauded digital technology from every corner of the globe.

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Are we just about beer, prawns and sunny beaches?

When IBM Chief Executive, Sam Palmisano, called on major corporations to become ‘globally integrated enterprises’, some companies believed it sounded the death knell of the twentieth century multinational.

While some historians trace the multinational back to the days of banking under the Knights Templar in 1135, the structure we know today emerged when nineteenth century firms set up sales offices abroad to gain access to local markets and resources, with big business establishing mini versions of itself across the globe. And for decades, it was a very successful model.

However, what looked like efficiency has become redundant. Multinationals simply replicated or duplicated their businesses in every country. Each multinational outpost developed its own models for distribution and supply chain optimisation, procurement and marketing.

And while these corporates traditionally built factories overseas, they tended to base high-end functions such as research and development in their home countries.

With technology dismantling geographical borders, the goal of world class and sustainable competitive advantage can no longer be achieved in isolation. Everything is connected, the barriers that once blocked the flow of work, capital and ideas is diminishing and work can move to the place where it is done best.

New model corporations, built on collaborative innovation, integrated production and outsourcing to specialists, are beginning to reshape geopolitics, trade, leadership, workforces and education. Big business has realised that a more integrated approach to organising business activity is inherently more profitable and benefits both developed and developing worlds.

Today, the globally integrated enterprise can locate functions anywhere in the world, based on the right cost, skills and environment. IBM now has more than 50,000 employees in India and plans for further expansion there. And while India is now IBM’s second largest operation outside America, head of procurement has moved from New York to Shenzen in China.

China and India are already moving up the value added chain. One study suggests that between 2000 and 2003 foreign firms built 60,000 manufacturing plants in China. While some of these factories are directed at the local Chinese market, others target the global market.

The shift from multinational corporation to globally integrated enterprise has meant the ‘where’ and ‘who’ of production have changed. In the past, companies usually produced goods close to the market that purchased them. Today, enterprises are spreading strategies, production capacity and management around the world in order to be close to markets and customers.

Dutch banks open savings accounts for customers in New Zealand. American radiologists send x-rays to Australia for interpretation. Customer service centres in India handle telephone billing enquiries for English customers. Around the globe, economic activity is embracing shared business and technology standards and plugging into a truly global systems of production.

Australian business leaders across the spectrum of industry – from technology to tourism and from mining to manufacturing – need to decide on our nation’s value proposition. Is Australia just about beer, prawns and sunny beaches or do we need a more sophisticated value proposition to compete on the world stage?

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