…measuring time

Regardless of how we think of time –as a divine invention, human convention, or something else-, there is something fascinating in certain numbers that by themselves create milestones and call us to certain behaviors. For example, reaching years that end in zero somehow inspire journalists, commentators and many others to think about the greatest achievements of the decade or make predictions not just about the coming year but about the next ten years.

Why seven days a week?
But how did society conclude that there should be seven days in a week? Why not eight or six or any other number? Those of us in Western-influenced civilizations would probably attribute this to the story of creation in Genesis (the first book of the Bible and of the Torah); and the Muslims’ Qur’an also describes creation in six days and one dedicated to rest. Still, some sources suggest that Babylonian, Persian and Chinese calendars had seven-day weeks that predate the most ancient vestiges of Jewish civilization.

Some attempts to change the way time is measured include the French Revolutionaries in the 18th and 19th Centuries (1793 to 1805 and then the Paris Commune in 1871) and the USSR between 1929 and 1940. The former was a 10-day week that attempted to reject Christianity while neglecting any consideration of how the French would like working for nine days before having a day to rest! The Soviet attempt to reject Western customs also failed, even though their calendar had a rest day after five work days –after experimenting with only four work days followed by a rest day between 1929 and 1931. Inefficiency, lack of popular support, and other reasons converged to a return to the seven-day calendar.

Still, other cultures have used different lengths for their weeks. A Wikipedia entry documents weeks from three to twenty days, defined by peoples around the world, including some from currently Hispanic areas like the Basque, the Mayans and the Aztecs.

Why 24 hours, 60 minutes or 60 seconds?
Even more intriguing to me is how we currently have 24 hours in a day, each composed by 60 minutes, which in turn have 60 seconds each. A credible explanation suggests that “sexagesimal” systems are based on the multiplication of the twelve phalanxes that our four fingers have (not counting the thumb), times the five fingers in the other hand. Just like the decimal system is allegedly based upon ten fingers from both hands, ancient civilizations would use their fingers to keep track of the number of units they were trading or keeping track of. Alternatively –or complementarily--, there are twelve lunar cycles in a year. An added benefit that enhances this number is that both 60 and 24 are divisible by various numbers, making it easy to split hours, minutes, or days in halves, thirds, fourths, sixths, etc.

Again, the French revolutionaries tried to change civilization by defining a new clock for which the day was divided in ten hours of a hundred minutes of a hundred seconds, yielding 100,000 seconds per day. Having received my basic education and two university degrees outside the British metric system, these attempts make sense in my mind. Dividing multiples of ten is easier to my mind than using other factors. However, these arrangements did not last long.

What if things were different?
It’s hard to imagine what our world would be if we were using another time measurement paradigm. It is possible that nothing would be that different since we still have to customize time to our own professional needs. For example, lawyers, accountants, psychologists, career coaches, music teachers, and so on may use 15, 30, 60 minute intervals for a basic session in which they are able to meaningfully interact with their clients. Ultimately (or, should I say ideally!), the task is what determines the time needed but some standard measure is often needed to be able to make an adequate diagnosis and provide an adequate service.

Have you come across a profession or a service with an unusually short or long billing cycle? What is the “outstanding event of your decade”? What do you expect to be the “outstanding event” for the next one?

Let me know your thoughts or comments on my facebook profile or via email to drolivaslujan_at_gmail.com.

To learn more:
The site: http://www.webexhibits.org/calendars describes a variety of ways to measure time. It is one of ten fascinating “WebExhibits” of an interactive, online museum.

http://www.horology-stuff.com/time/24hours.html gives interesting explanations to why we have 24 hours in a day.

…counting blessings

It’s that time of the year again…! By the time you read this, hopefully the stats for Black Friday have presaged a better shopping season than last year’s, supporting the economic recovery that we have been expecting and very much need. Yes, the stock market has been rallying with a strength not seen in years and unemployment figures improved just before Thanksgiving, but the two-digit statistic of this “trailing indicator” (meaning that it usually improves only after other indicators like industrial production or retail sales do) is still a major cause of concern –especially when we can identify faces in our family or circles of friends that can be counted among those unemployed!

Yes, for many of us, this is a season to be jolly, as our families have a roof above their heads and the little ones –as well as the older ones—will be receiving clothes, toys, candy, and so many other seasonal treats. When our industries are doing well –or, at least our organizations—our year-end celebrations are a must; the past few months demonstrate how easily the winds may change and, for one, I feel grateful that Education has been enjoying record enrollments, even in the face of exponential rising of tuition fees, a fact that underscores the need for organizations like NSHMBA!

But this is also a time for solidarity. To the extent that those around us are in need, this is an exceptionally fitting time to help. We know that every year there are people in need and our human, gregarious nature calls us to be there for those who are having a bad time –economically, psychologically, or in any other aspects. Still, I would argue that this year is different. With over 10% unemployment and uncertainty in business and political reforms, this year it is easier to find needs to cover!

Things we can do
Of course, the most obvious, perhaps easiest way to help is to give donations to charities, to churches, synagogues, mosques, and many other non-profits that can always use an extra dollar to further their mission. Again, this year might be a more urgent year to offer monetary help, as many non-profits are reporting that donations are down this year, and demand for their services has increased. But you know where I’m going, don’t you?

An even better, and probably more rewarding way to help is volunteering; by giving some of your precious time. Your company might have volunteering programs –let me know if you’ve used them recently!

Added benefits, documented in The Health Benefits of Volunteering, a report by the Corporation for National and Community Service (http://www.nationalservice.gov/) include greater life satisfaction, lower depression rates, longer lives, and better physical health. The report even goes as far as to suggest that volunteering leads to stronger communities and better public health at the state level! States like NV, NY, LA and FL, where the 2006 volunteer rate was below 20% had much greater heart disease rates and mortality rates than states like MN, UT and NE, where the volunteer rate is about 40% or higher. While the evidence offered is not bullet proof –they use regression analyses, which are not appropriate to determine causality by themselves—the point is well taken: volunteer 100 or more hours per year and you may see your own health improve, in addition to witnessing the improvements in those you helped.

Sometimes your family also needs your “spare time” (by the way, you know it simply won’t happen if you try to do this only during the time you have left, right?). This season gives us a perfect excuse to visit the relatives that we have not met for a while! Whether they are in a different country or just across the street, why don’t you try to take advantage of the opportunity to reconnect, to remember the old times and prepare for the next ones?

As always, I look forward to your thoughts or reactions on my facebook profile or via email to drolivaslujan (at) gmail.com. ...and Merry Christmas! Happy Hanukkah! Happy Kwanzaa! I hope that your worst moments in 2010 are like the best of 2009!!!

Is the ball on your court?

I know; it is not easy…! Your job is demanding enough, you probably wish you were spending more time with your family or friends already, yet I am asking you to get even more involved on your professional outreach…

Well, for what it is worth, let me tell you that I have found more rewards than I ever expected! As a Professor at Clarion University of Pennsylvania, in 2006 I became the Advisor to our local SHRM Student Chapter; also, I joined the Global SHRM Special Expertise Panel in mid-2008. Serving in these positions does not have any immediate tangible benefits like monetary compensation or even opportunities for other paid projects. In fact, meetings with the students are often held late at night, once they’re done with classes. Also, I have interrupted family vacations to join panel teleconferences, and my tiny budget is hit hard after attending SHRM activities at the national level, in spite of the cost breaks that are sometimes offered to volunteers.

Why go through all the trouble, then? Wouldn’t it be much easier to just do my work and stay home? Well, I have taken very seriously the criticism that many academics are out of touch with practice. These opportunities help me find a meaningful context in which I can actually come out of the ivory tower; I can learn what is going on in industry from folks that have achieved pretty high levels as well as help them with my research, and I can help others that are just starting their HR careers get excited about jobs that greatly benefit their companies and our society. These are, after all, some of the reasons why I became a business researcher and instructor to begin with.

But I often feel that the complementary criticism should also be taken just as seriously: that many in industry neglect their responsibility to help the profession evolve, or help those who are in earlier stages of their career. Attending PHRA events gives me hope that there are many individuals who have taken these responsibilities seriously and invest a great deal of energy to make a difference in the profession. But the proportion of volunteers compared to the size of the membership shows that the more involved are a very small minority.

Perhaps you are one of these members who have been actively working on behalf of the profession, serving as an officer, chairing a committee, inviting others to join the association, etc. Or maybe you have approached your alma mater or a nearby university and told students about your job, about how your work as an HR manager improves and protects your company and even society at large.

If that is the case, congratulations! You know how needed and useful your efforts are! But if it isn’t, shall we play? I think the ball is in your court!

NOTE:  The article above was submitted to Perspectives, a publication of the Pittsburgh HR Association (www.pittsburghhra.org).

…cultural differences

This column could be so much longer… and yet so interesting, in spite of focusing only on surface differences in a popular communications medium like film! And the fact that I’m writing it might actually make it less interesting than it could be, if I wasn’t such a nerdy academic… perhaps a funny writer would make it more readable, but it probably doesn’t matter because if you have read other columns of mine and you’re still reading this, I’m probably not so bad after all…

See? There’s the first of those cultural differences that those of us who live in two (or more!) cultures often have to endure. Self-deprecation is so atypical of individualistic cultures like the one we live in! And not only are we living in the USA, one of the most individualistic nations of all, but also we chose to major in or dedicate ourselves to Business! Putting ourselves down in front of others –let alone in a publication with national distribution—is not a good idea! Yet, growing up in a Hispanic family, with all of its traditions and religious norms, is a major influence that shows up when we least expect it, when we don’t need it, when we wish it had not.

Business negotiations, hiring interviews, even simpler social events –which we know can lead to work-related projects!—are some of those contexts in which we might wish we had not said publicly that “we didn’t think you were the best” for the job, that so-and-so can do a better job (even if you didn’t think so to begin with, but that’s the “polite” thing to do, according to our upbringing, right? ...can you hear Mom or Dad telling you, “Don’t blow your own horn! If you’re good, people will notice and there’s no need for you to tell anyone…”? Well, somehow this doesn’t seem to happen in reality…!). So, we undermine ourselves so often, in spite of the business training, against our friends’ or mentors’ advice, at odds with what we know is best for our company or for our career…

Two films, two cultures

Well, the diatribe above came right after I saw a charming French film called Je vais te manquer (“I will miss you”), at the time that my neighbor in the plane was watching He’s just not that into you. Interestingly, both films have a similar theme: the lives of several people intertwine, showing us love, life, encounters, separations, even sickness and death.

It was interesting for me to see how many brands had excellent exposure in the US film (you know… product placement!), whereas the French one had all the company names (even some that would have been quite “natural” to show, like signs in buildings or at the airport) blurred, in an evidently manufactured way.

Of course, there were many similarities between both films. Several scenes were so badly overacted (I know, I am no critic and probably I would have made the scene worst, but I did not need to be a connoisseur to feel that some segments were so contrived!). And, of course, there were some discrepancies you would expect in the cars, the music, the dialogues, the places, some clothing items, norms about relationships, etc.

Another major difference is that the US film had only young and pretty people as its main characters. On the other hand, the main characters in the French flick ran the gamut from a young child to three older individuals, from a Senegalese immigrant to a racist officer, and many of them looked quite common! I am not saying that Hollywood’s product did not have its share of African American, Asian, gay, and other token characters. And the French film also had some diversity that looked superficial, perhaps compliance-oriented. Still, the demographic differences shown in Je vais… “felt” more authentic; you know what I mean?

Five airports, many cultures

Unfortunately, those were not the only cultural differences I experienced during this trip between Clarion (PA) and Vaasa (Finland). You see, I went through five airports and the corresponding flights and stopover periods during approximately twenty-two hours. I have to admit that I enjoyed the generous service offered by non-US airlines, wishing the food and drink in our domestic flights weren’t as stingy as they currently are. In addition, I don’t think I can ever get over the wide diversity of dressing, languages, and people one can see in major European hubs like CDG in Paris. But I also felt increasingly bothered by some differences that I didn’t think would. For example, people from some non-Western nations were chewing their food loudly, without closing their mouths. Or a family with two very young girls who, in less than 45 minutes, spilled soda on the floor –and surrounding travelers—and left cookie crumbs on my coat. I guess it’s payback from the times my kids have cried on airplanes because they were not aware that jetlag would make them so uncomfortable. But, is it really too much to expect people to cover their mouths while coughing or sneezing? –especially while the H1N1 virus still seems to be a significant health threat in our world…!  It's easy to get crabby when you're jet lagged! 

Your turn…

What do you think? Would you mind posting your thoughts about the cultural differences that are most salient to you? I know there are hundreds of movies but, if you have seen these two, would you mind sharing your thoughts with me?

¡Hasta la próxima!

…repetition –luxury or necessity?

Somehow, it had become easy for me to look down on repetition. Visiting manufacturing plants or observing jobs that are not so high in the prestige scale made it hard for me to appreciate the importance of repetition in developing expertise. In classrooms, workshops, and offices, work that is complex, wide-ranging and varied tends to be associated with higher levels of cognitive complexity, education, pay, status, and so on. Rarely do we have a chance in organizations to appreciate the importance of repetition. Sometimes, we might even think it is a luxury we cannot afford!

Remember your coursework that included quality management? Or, if you haven’t yet taken Operations Management or a related course, you will soon read that “re-doing things is waste”! Even the dictionary tells us that “repetitive” is a synonym of “boring, dull, monotonous, tedious, tiresome, and uninteresting.” Not exactly what we would consider graduate level work, right? At least not in the School of Business…

But that is perhaps a major difference between a graduate program in Business and another in, say, Fine Arts or Health Sciences, where students have to practice, practice, practice, before they are allowed to pass from the basic to the advanced stages, much less graduate.

A Lesson from my Children

For the past four or so years, I have been taking my children to music classes (not at the graduate, but basic level) and to martial arts classes. I guess I had forgotten how I learned to play the guitar, and all the time I spent in front of the piano...

Well, before my body’s catabolism clearly beats its anabolism (i.e., before I get much older!), I decided it was time to join them at the gym (actually, dojang, is the Korean word for it). After about fifteen weeks of repeating specific sets of movements –or “forms”—I hope to get my first promotion and receive my first colored belt in a week or two.

In addition, I have been realizing how my children’s musical abilities have improved by virtue of reiteration. I do not even want to remember how the violin sounded whey they were starting “twinkle, twinkle, little star…,” but now it is hard to be humble when they play some classical selections, in arrangements suitable for their age! This has made me wonder… When do managers have chances to get better at work, if most managerial work is not repetitive? Moreover, how difficult it is to appreciate the necessity to do many times the same thing before we can truly master it! Is repetition at work truly a luxury, or is it a necessity?

Well, Parts of Managerial Work Are Repetitive...

Before I start receiving a flurry of email or comments on my facebook profile for ignoring how some managerial work actually involves reiteration, I should include an example or two. Some HR managers have to interview dozens –if not hundreds—of candidates before their companies’ line managers interview or consider those applicants in the hiring process. Also, it is true that MBAs with Accounting or Finance specializations include generating relatively similar reports every quarter, end-of-year, or other term. In Marketing, some colleagues go through well-established seasons of heavy advertising, promotions, distribution, etc. every year. Clearly, going over such cycles every so often, gives them an opportunity to learn and execute their jobs in an increasingly effective fashion. Perhaps your work includes some of this?

In Higher Education, we also run through well-defined periods of time (a.k.a. semesters, quarters, terms, etc.) that require repetition and afford learning opportunities, not just for students, but also for instructors, administrators, etc. Of course, there is the need to renew and update courses and procedures every semester, but individuals that do it too often, end up never consolidating their work in a manner that truly benefits their students or other clients.

What do you think? Do you feel that your work gives you enough repetition so that you can get better at it? Perhaps your work is one in which reiteration is actually a luxury that you cannot afford. Would you mind sharing your thoughts on this matter? You can send me your comments or reflections via email to drolivaslujan_at_gmail.com or by posting a comment on my facebook profile (I am also test-driving twitter -@drolivas is my username). I look forward to hearing from you.

¡Hasta la próxima!

…business advice in Spanish sayings

Have you ever been at work, perhaps listening to a presentation or talking with a coworker when an old proverb suddenly comes to mind, somehow capturing the essence of what is being said? Now, depending on your fluency level in Spanish (or any other language!), chances are that the saying is in such language, connecting you to family, places, coursework you took, or in some way bridging you to a culture that is important to you from an intellectual, emotional, or other standpoint. I find those moments fascinating…!

Remember for example your classes in Strategy, Marketing or Industrial Economics; “First mover advantage” is often mentioned as a strong correlate of success for new product development. You probably have heard “Al que madruga, Dios lo ayuda” (“The early bird gets the worm”). This saying’s relevance for business can hardly be questioned –though I remember arguments to the contrary in some new industries such as Internet book retailers or social networking sites; for example, neither Amazon nor facebook were the first companies to be launched, but currently they seem to be the most successful.

How about “El hábito no hace al monje” (“the garb doesn’t make the monk”)? I remember Human Resources, Marketing and Cognitive Psychology readings that talk about the power –and danger!—of first impressions. This and many other sayings make me think about the wisdom of our great-grandparents. Clearly, before we had schools or formal training programs, dichos (sayings) have provided an effective vehicle to transmit valuable information within a society and between generations.

Still, the value of modern education and of scientific research also becomes apparent when we consider that some old proverbs are reflective of beliefs that do not pass the test of science. Consider “Árbol que crece torcido, jamás su tronco endereza” (“crooked trees will never straighten their trunk”); an English parallel for this saying is “old dogs don’t learn new tricks.” Well, Education research does show that age is no obstacle for learning when we are motivated and have no strong impairment to stop us!

Or, on the other hand, “Más sabe el diablo por viejo que por diablo” (“Because of his age, the Devil knows more than because of being the Devil”) suggests that experience –or old age, at least—trumps cognitive endowments, motivation or other features. There is ample evidence showing that, within certain contexts –track and field sports come to mind—experience or age is important, but not as crucial as an appropriate set of muscles, training, and perhaps some luck. In fact, at the organizational level of analysis, company age often dampens creativity and may work against the firms’ ability to innovate.

What do you think? Have you come across any old sayings –in Spanish or another language—that offer sound (or less than!) advice for managers or businesspersons? My closest business partner–and wife—and I have been compiling a collection of sayings and how they stack up on the face of the available scientific evidence in Management for a future publication. We might also present a paper on this topic in Minneapolis, at this year’s NSHMBA Academic meeting that runs in parallel with the Annual Conference and Job Expo. Would you be interested in participating too?

If you send me a saying (or more!) and how you have applied it at work via email to drolivaslujan_at_gmail.com or facebook (I’m also test-driving twitter -@drolivas is my username), we will acknowledge your help. We are particularly interested in sayings from all Spanish speaking regions, and we are more familiar with Northern and Central Mexico. Look forward to hearing from you!

¡Hasta la próxima!

...multiple commitments

Is it possible to be committed to two opposite units? For example, can employees feel identified with both their union and their management? What about headquarters and a branch office? Or to more than one country? And what types of commitments are those?

The answer to these questions is intriguing at many levels and for many audiences! Corporations, unions, headquarters, subsidiaries, even countries are at some time or another pitted against each other and loyalty from individuals from these places is often questioned by “the other side.” The answer seems to be a categorical “yes,” though, as is for many other topics in business, “it depends.”

Yes, even though there is great potential for conflict between unions and companies, it is possible for workers to feel attached to and interested in remaining members of both organizations. Yes, it is also possible for people to be loyal to apparently opposing foci of commitment such as headquarters and branch offices, even when their interests may be at odds, as in the case of a divestiture or other tough choices that often have to be taken in business. And YES, it is possible for people who have reasons to feel as part of two (and even more) countries to be patriotic about both. My guess is that many NSHMBA members –and their families--have experienced the latter in a very personal manner.

Of course, when expectations (the “psychological contract” that is created inside individuals' minds) are not met by one of these entities, it is not hard for the corresponding attachment to dwindle. For example, employees who feel “taken” by management or perceive that unions’ dues are not worth the services received from them, are more likely to detach themselves from that focus of their commitment.

Also importantly, there are at least two distinct types of commitment empirically documented by work psychologists: affective and continuance -or calculative. Affective commitment deals with the feelings of identification with and attachment toward an organization, manager, workgroup, etc. This is the type of commitment that we, as managers want to elicit in our coworkers and associates, as it seems to relate to a more cohesive and pleasant work climate, as well as to a more satisfied workforce. Continuance commitment, on the other hand, is more of a cost-benefit analysis that individuals sometimes keep in their mind to assess whether there are alternatives to their current employment. In the first case, employees are committed because they “feel good” to be associated to their workplace, while in the latter case they are committed because they do not perceive a desirable alternative, a situation that may breed cynicism, disengagement, and other unwelcome circumstances.

A meta-analysis –a “study of studies” see Johnson et al. (1999)—analyzed 31 studies with over twenty-two thousand employees in seven countries. Their findings include the existence of commitment toward both union and company, but cultural work values and industrial relation systems on those nations made a difference!

If you are interested in the scientific evidence for this theme -I am sure many of my colleagues would be interested in a research project on this topic, or simply for your own, professional development--, I have added a few references at the end of this column. Also, you may want to read some of the studies that were generated on this topic; all you have to do is search the term “dual commitment” or “dual allegiance” on a scholarly database, and you will find a wide variety of articles that dealt with this puzzle.

What do you think? Do you ever worry about how committed your employees (or your employer!) will be "when the rubber meets the road"? Do you find as ridiculous as I do all those commentators that try to pit Hispanics against main stream America? Feel free to post your comment on my facebook page or send me an email.

¡Hasta la próxima!

To learn more:

  • Gregersen, H.B. & Black, J.S. (1992). Antecedents to commitment to a parent company and a foreign operation. Academy of Management Journal, 35 (1), 65-90.
  • Hoff, T.J. (2001). Exploring dual commitment among physician executives in managed care. Journal of Healthcare Management, 46 (2), 91-109.
  • Johnson, W.R.; Johnson, G.J.; & Patterson, C.R. (1999). Moderators of the relationship between company and union commitment: a meta-analysis. Journal of Psychology, 133 (11), 85-103.
  • Liden, R.C.; Wayne, S.J.; Kraimer, M.L.; & Sparrowe, R.T. (2003). The dual commitments of contingent workers: An examination of contingents' commitment to the agency and the organization. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 24 (5), 609-625.

…panhandling for charity

“I am panhandling!!!”

I don’t think the first person had left me speaking to the air when I realized it... All those years in college, books and articles authored, speeches and conferences in exotic places around the world, a half-decent salary, and here I am, a Full University Professor, asking for shoppers’ spare change! Should I just have sent a check instead of signing up for two hours of “canhandling” (my friends and I actually were using cans, not pans)? “This is going to be much longer than I ever thought,” I said to myself...

And indeed, the first few times I was ignored or rejected by a passerby’s grumble or some other non-verbal show of disgust, I felt that I was wasting my time and embarrassing myself. Of course, a couple of students and colleagues were surprised to see me asking for donations! I was not the only “canhandler” outside one of our local big-box retailers volunteering for our local chapter of “The Arc -Pennsylvania” (the acronym means “Advocacy and Resources for Citizens with cognitive, intellectual, and developmental disabilities” and it’s part of a national organization for disabled individuals). But the thought that so many people were behaving toward me like I had undoubtedly behaved toward other fund-raising individuals in the past was not a very comforting one. Even the cute plastic rulers we were giving away made no effect on the shoppers who were too busy to even hear what I had to say!

“Well, if I volunteered to two hours of begging for a worthy cause, I better get some results!” I thought. I started by shortening the “elevator pitch” I first had used. Heck, the attention span I was being given lasted less than an elevator doors closing! “Would you consider making a donation to The Arc, an association of disabled citizens...” evolved into “Can you give some change to help disabled persons?” At last, people started paying attention to what I was saying!

Then I started seeking visual contact with my prospective donors, thanking them for their attention and smiling even if they did not give any money. Some coins, a few bills started trickling into my can. I also started giving away the rulers to shoppers that were entering the store, and quite a few of them would deposit their spare change in my can when they left the store.

I also encountered a few people that were so jaded –or simply were having a bad day; who knows? A few questioned my motives. Did I work for The Arc? (No...) How much was I getting in return for my time? (Zero!) Did I have a job? (Yes, one of the most desirable jobs you can find!) Did I have a disabled family member? (No, but I have seen what a blessing -and a challenge--they can be to families that do.)

Then, other individuals’ generosity truly touched my heart. Some did not mind taking out a larger bill or two, and often they were not the best dressed or best groomed; in fact, several seemed to be in need of money as well. Others told me how The Arc had made such a difference in their lives by providing much needed services to their loved ones. But the one that got my eyes wet was a teenager with an obvious disability who heard my pitch and beat her parents to her own purse, almost falling to the ground in the attempt. I believe that her disability was not so strong that she could not understand and empathize with others; she also realized that she could help others by helping me with her own resources... and she did, happily and earnestly, even putting herself in danger!

Honestly, these persons made me realize what a difference it can make in other people’s lives to just give a few coins or bills. They helped me re-experience first-hand the hope that collective action can provide on behalf of those who need us. I have known this for so long but it had been a long time since I had actually done something that would make me feel it so strongly. I even have students who take my “Business, Society and Corporate Conduct” course choose and report on a Service Learning experience of their own choice! I do this so they get “outside their comfort zones” and better empathize with those whose needs are much greater than ours. This experience helped me realize that there is much more value in this than we can describe with words.

It might go without saying, but serving others through your local chapter of NSHMBA can also be a source of most valuable experiences. There is incredible value in helping those that are earlier in their careers, or in helping those that are transitioning in their careers. Get more involved! You might learn more about yourself than you ever thought!

What do you think? Would you like to share a similar experience? Have you been in touch with organizations like The Arc that benefit others that are disadvantaged? Send me your thoughts or suggestions via email (drolivaslujan_at_gmail.com), facebook, or LinkedIn.

¡Hasta la próxima!

...writing for "the bottom line"

"How do you get so many ideas to write about?" Every now and then I am asked this question, especially at events such as NSHMBA's or by my students who know about this or other publications I write.

I thought I would share some of my ''secrets" with you this month. They're not rocket science but if they help you publish an article or two, I'll feel very satisfied. Besides, you might have noticed on NSHMBA's webpage that your articles are always welcome!

1) Define the purpose of your piece. Probably the first thing a writer has to do is make an explicit choice as to what she or he wants to say. Do you want to share an experience you've had? Or a lesson learned that could be helpful to others? Persuade readers about your views? Call them to action? Some articles can have multiple purposes, but they tend to be easier to write -and read!- when you have one primary purpose and maybe one or two secondary ones.

2) Make an 'appointment with yourself' to write.
Whether you are writing a 600-word column like this, a longer essay or an opinion piece, a book or a dissertation, you need to give yourself some time in front of your word processor. I know some individuals who prefer a notepad or a typewriter, but the medium is not as important as the fact of allocating a good block of uninterrupted time, far away from TV, telephones, and other distractions, including email or your web browser.

2) Write early, write often.
Another suggestion I have read from very productive writers is to start your workday writing, before anyone else in your household is up. I have never been able to follow this particular advice, but I have noticed that the earlier in the day I start writing an article -as opposed to first checking email or attending meetings--, the more likely I will be able to express my thoughts clearly and get more writing done.

3) Carry a notepad at all times.
Inspiration for articles does not always come at a regularly scheduled time. I borrowed this practice from a fellow MBA student several years ago, but now I use my PDA to jot down a few ideas that I later finish on a more robust word processor. Corrections, editions and improvements are now easier, in addition to not wasting time while I wait for a service or for the kids to finish one of their lessons.

4) Have a friend proofread your piece.
It's easy to get 'tunnel vision' when you're writing. To increase the chances that your article will come across as you desire, have a friend, colleague, or family member read and comment. After he or she tells you what they understood, ask questions that help you refine the piece. For example, you might want to ask whether the tone is as interesting, funny, technical, useful, relevant, or any other characteristic that is important to you. Connect with the first suggestion, above!

5) Rewrite with moderation. There's as much foolishness in believing that the first draft is perfect and not susceptible to improvement as there is in postponing its submission after five different versions have been received acceptably by your proofreaders. Give yourself a deadline or set up a defined number of versions you'll go through and send it!

6) So, how do you get so many ideas to write about? Well, I guess 'one at the time,'... There are some months when I struggle to find ideas and others that I get two columns started. But I try to be ready to grab them when they come by using some of the advice above. Finally,...

7) Enjoy reading your piece in print! Chances are that you'll benefit from adding your publication to your vita. If you are ever interested in teaching a class in a school of business or community college or in writing for a magazine or a newspaper, the more short columns you have written -or longer articles-, the better!

8) Your suggestions? As always, please send me your thoughts to my email address, drolivaslujan_at_gmail.com. I will gladly summarize and post them in the near future! And remember, Michael Beachum, at NSHMBA’s headquarters is permanently looking forward to members’ submission!

...why we work!

The past couple of weekends have been among the least productive of the year. I could not finish reviewing the papers I expected to or begin to outline the grant proposals I have to submit if I want to get funds for summer research. I could not even get this column started by the 20th of the month, so that I could send it to Michael Beachum, at NSHMBA's headquarters, for its publication in this issue of the bottom line!

The 'problem' (not really, as you will soon find out) was that my oldest son decided about a year ago that he wanted to participate in a Spelling Bee contest, after witnessing last year's local event and watching similar tournaments on TV and movies. About five months ago, he received this year's study guide and memorized it in its entirety. He won the regional tournament in February -beating about 15 nearby school champions in the process--, and last Saturday he won 5th place, out of 108 participants in the Western Pennsylvania contest.

Of course, trying to be the productive professional that I consider myself, I took my laptop and several papers to the state-level event but did not even open the darn briefcase. I was more nervous than my son was and, by the end of the event, I could not even begin to describe how proud I was to see this 11-year old showcasing his knowledge before dozens of parents, relatives and all other top spellers from our side of the state. Though he did not win the first place –which would have implied an expenses-paid trip to Washington, DC to represent the Pittsburgh area at the National level—I was incredibly pleased to see that he was the top-placed 6th grader, as all the other top-five winners were in the 7th or 8th grade.

The following weekend I did not even bother to carry laptop or papers with me. My older daughter participated for the second time in our local Junior Music Festival in three events, and obtained top grades on each of her tests! Again, I spent a significant portion of the weekend talking to other nervous parents who were hoping that their kids would not notice how thrilled, jumpy, yet full of pride we were to see them reaching such impressive milestones in their intellectual growth. Needless to say, I have started worrying about my productivity as my younger kids reach the ages that these older siblings currently have! Well, not really; as long as they keep showing an honest effort to work hard and do their best during these benchmarking events, I think that the entire family will be finding the ways to coordinate and ensure that they have these opportunities to shine and grow.

And that is ultimately the thought that came to my mind when I was getting ready to write this month’s column. A topic that I consider quite interesting as a management researcher is the interactions between family and work roles, often portrayed in the literature as an interface that is prone to conflict. Quite often, my colleagues write in journal articles about the spillover effects between work and family, and the few publications that include Hispanic samples emphasize the high priority that family has for Latinos. We certainly have no monopoly on placing family above any other worldly endeavors, but some of those publications –including popular media outlets—seem to suggest that placing family as the top priority in our lives may have a detrimental effect on career advancement and related outcomes.

Of course, there are many exemplars who challenge this notion. The image of many distinguished NSHMBA members who, in addition to having top positions in their companies, dedicate incredibly long hours of volunteerism to NSHMBA and to other endeavors comes to my mind, often attending the Hispanic Executive Summit or the National Conference and Job Expo along with their spouses and children (you know who they are)! And we don’t have to work too hard to find top managers and other high-level individuals who have sometimes large families (four or more children) and successful marriages along with extremely successful professional careers.

Of course, I don’t mean to suggest that the balancing act is easy to execute, and my own research suggests that our female counterparts frequently have an even more challenging set of expectations to manage because of custom, tradition, and other strong societal forces. But meeting the business leaders –male or female—who are able to play this game successfully is not just satisfactory but very inspiring!

So, this month I decided to take a break from writing about purely-business issues, about the fact that the economy is going down the tubes and about how reminiscent of Latin America’s lost decade the recent handling of GM’s problems by our new micro-managing national administration is. I decided to focus on one of the ultimate reasons why I –and I know that I am not alone—spend some weekends and nights at the office, making sure that my organization and its stakeholders are well-served and their expectations exceeded. Even if you currently have no children (after all, many of our fellow NSHMBA members are in the earliest stages of their family formation process) I know that you can relate: the ultimate reason why we work is NOT so much our career progression or individual wealth. A more essential motivation for many of us is to make it possible for those around us –particularly those that carry the same last name—to also grow and transcend. Right?

What do you think? Please post or send me your thoughts and comments on this blog: http://drolivaslujan.blogspot.com/ or via email to: drolivaslujan@gmail.com. I look forward to hearing –or reading—from you!

¡Hasta la próxima!

...Difficult Times

This is not an easy moment for me to write this column. Not only am I in the middle of the semester, busy with the usual class preparation, grading, coordinating, and serving in multiple committees, but also I have been feeling somewhat inadequate when I interact with my practitioner friends and acquaintances.

Essentially, the driving fact appears to be that the Education industry hums to a different beat than the rest of the economy. This might actually be good news for organizations like NSHMBA, as many graduate business programs are expecting an influx of students who might find themselves furloughed or downsized, or simply are redirecting their careers. It is not unlikely that the supply side of our annual conference and job expo will see more growth in the near future -let's hope that the demand continues to grow as it has until last year

As a Professor of Management, I have already started to see more students in my classrooms. Also, during the past few months, I have been chairing a search committee to hire two new colleagues (a very rare occurrence as several departments, including mine, had been declined hiring even one position the previous year). This has meant reviewing and scoring a few dozen applications, resumes, transcripts, letters of recommendation, etc. All of that in preparation for telephone interviews with about ten "short-listed" candidates, and then setting up interviewing schedules for five finalists, working in coordination with a search committee. As I write these thoughts, one job offer has been extended, another one is being processed, and I have my fingers crossed that the negotiations will be prompt and successful so that my colleagues and I are better able to serve our constituents this Fall semester. If any of the offers are declined, I will have to go back to the pool of applicants and see whether others are not just qualified and fit with the department's needs, but also whether they have not yet accepted an offer from another Business School!

I am not trying to portray the Education world as "a bed of roses," in cheerful expansion. I am fully aware that there are several universities that have frozen their hiring plans for a future semester due to the revenue cuts that are expected as a result of the recession (for a few examples, see: Chronicle of Higher Education article on academic hiring freezes). But the fact of the matter is that, while we, educators have no access to seven-figure salaries, ESOPs, well-funded expense accounts, or the first-class treatment that many of our former students had grown used to until last year, neither are we as likely to experience aggressive "right-sizing" as corporate America has in the past few months (knock on wood!).

Simultaneously, I have been serving in several committees within and outside the university (most of the time it's both a pleasure and a career responsibility). One of my service opportunities is within the Society for Human Resource Management's Global Expert Panel, through which I share some of my expertise and obtain a great deal of "intelligence" from the field. It is becoming increasingly apparent to me that even strong companies are facing budget cuts, deferred capital investments, and similar measures designed to weather the economic storm that we are currently navigating. I have felt somewhat inadequate sharing with fellow panelists the good news that are happening in my career or on my neck of the woods. Just imagine sharing that I am getting ready to give a seminar in Argentina or that I just got a workshop accepted for the most important academic conference for Management researchers or that last year I made about seven presentations in cities in three countries, while several of the panelists have seen their travel budgets slashed and one or two have signaled that they are exploring opportunities in other organizations.

As Sgt. Maj. Velazquez expressed in his January column for the bottom line (see p. 2), perhaps this is the "kick in the pants" that our society needed to wake up from "our self-induced greed coma." I agree that we must keep our spirits up even in the face of uncertainty and poor economic prospects. Ultimately, it is what we do within our circle of influence what matters for those around us.

We definitely are "living in interesting times," as the allegedly Chinese curse says...! Please feel free to email me (drolivaslujan_at_gmail.com) or post your thoughts online clicking the link below.

¡Hasta la próxima!

Set-up costs

Do you hate “set-up costs” as much as I do?  You know… the time, effort, and sometimes even money that we have to “pay up front” when we are getting started on a particular course of action; for example, when you want to use a new software program, when you have to provide an introduction for a new employee, when you have to learn a new procedure, etc. 

Well, I may be exaggerating a bit.  Quite often, there is no small amount of excitement in unpacking and learning something like a new gadget, an upgrade to a useful piece of software, even the learning that goes into starting a new job or transferring location or companies.  There are some set-up costs that we not just accept willfully but actually embrace and look forward to it! 

Well, these days I feel that I have been feeling more of the former than the latter. 

You see, even though the economy has shrank 3.8% in October-December (Q4 in 2008) –after growing by only +0.6% the previous year and +4.9% in 2006), my school, as many others that have been experiencing growth even in the face of a shrinking college population, is in high need of qualified instructors for a variety of positions, in particular Finance, Information Systems, Human Resource Management, Marketing, and several other business specializations.

In my department, this year I have been chairing the search committee that is looking for qualified candidates to staff a couple of positions needed for several years, but authorized only in the fall of 2008.  Evidently, we are not the only department in the University that is in dire need of qualified colleagues!

And chairing a search committee reminds me when, as a manager for a small department, I had to sift through dozens of applications to identify suitable candidates that I would feel suitable to interview and send to the Human Resources department for testing and all the related procedures.  Only this time I cannot make the decision by myself; I have to reach consensus with the other members of the committee and send a recommendation to the chairperson, who then must send it to the Dean, and so on until the President of the University signs the job offer and starts the salary negotiation.  Working for a public employer –as opposed to a private one—in a position that requires shared governance has a number of strong differences and this is definitely one of them.

The scientific side of my brain reminds me that group decisions –when handled appropriately, and I should be able to do so since I have a doctoral degree!—outperform individual decisions when the task is complex.  And sure enough, hiring a highly qualified person is a multi-dimensional decision that involves making judgment calls about the candidates’ potential to be outstanding teachers, researchers and colleagues.  This is the type of decision that could definitely be included in a textbook or in an exam with the confidence that all the signs point in the direction of preferring a group decision to an individual one.

But still, the interdependence required in setting up interview schedules that involve half-a-dozen people and bringing candidates from just about anywhere in the nation is not so much fun when the semester keeps going and deadlines for research papers also continue their pace.  The “set-up cost” of hiring in academia is quite high in both monetary and non-monetary resources.  It’s time to count my blessings, such as a very fulfilling job that might not have incredible end-of-the-year bonuses but is resilient simply because there is still a strong need to educate the next generations of managers.

What about yourself?  Do you find yourself inconvenienced by the set-up costs of hiring, starting a new venture, etc.?  Or do you enjoy the challenge of getting started on an activity that should soon reach a more stable state?  

Please send me an email (drolivaslujan_at_gmail.com) or post a comment with your thoughts in this blog (http://drolivaslujan.blogspot.com).

¡Hasta la próxima!

...déjà vu

This month I am visiting my grandparents' home state, Chihuahua. It has been several years since I last visited my extended family in Mexico and this year I found an airfare that was too good to resist. Besides, my wife and I are raising our kids in a bilingual manner, and there is no amount of schooling, TV watching or web-browsing in Spanish that can substitute for a few weeks immersed in using the language "live," especially when surrounded by the love of relatives and friends from old times.

As you may imagine (or experienced!), walking around the streets where my ancestors grew up -streets and roads I also have traveled several times throughout my life--, often gives the feeling that we know as "déjà vu." These French words literally mean "already seen" but the experience involves all senses, not just the sight. These days I have perceived the smell of a farm that reminds me of my grandfather milking his cows; I have enjoyed the flavor of "requesón," a fresh and creamy type of cheese that you simply cannot find in any modern supermarket, as it has to be consumed very shortly after it is produced. My skin, which is hardly used to the cold and dry Northeastern US winter weather, shows more moisture than I have felt since the warm summer days ended in Pennsylvania; and my ears listen to old jingles and songs that I used to know very well a few decades ago.

In Foreign Relations

In addition to the senses, my mind is also engaged by interesting recollections that might not be very scientific but help me make sense of recent events. For example, browsing some old magazines in the family library, I recalled how José López Portillo, Mexican president from 1976 through 1982 bragged about how his government would have to "manage abundance" (administrar la abundancia) -after Mexico's petroleum exports increased from $500 million in 1976 to $13 billion in 1981. During those "petrodollar-happy" years, López Portillo defied the United States' positions several times, including recognizing the "Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front" rebels in El Salvador as a legitimate political force, or ignoring the 1980 US-led boycott of the Moscow Summer Olympic games. Around the time he left office in 1982, however, oil prices had dropped from over $40 per barrel to less than $30. Other problems like hyper-inflation and excessive foreign debt also plagued the economy to the point that many investors started pulling their money and López Portillo nationalized all banks before he left office in tears, apologizing for having failed the country's poor.

If you can identify current strong men in some national economies that were boisterous a few months ago when the barrel of oil was nearing $150 per barrel and now that we are in the $40's have changed their discourse, you understand why I get the "déjà vu" feeling as I read these magazines.

In National Politics

Another set of readings for which I see very strong parallels involve the election of Vicente Fox in the year 2000, the first president of Mexico that was not from the PRI (Partido Revolucionario Institucional), the party that had been ruling the country since the 1920s. One of the major slogans was "¡Sí se puede!" (Yes, we can!) and the expectations for the new president were so high in 2000, at the beginning of the presidency, that many voters felt betrayed when their particular agenda items were not fulfilled as it was originally expected.

Again, I see so many parallels between the election of Barack Obama this year and Vicente Fox in 2000 that I would hope that somebody close to the President-elect is able to provide the advise needed to avoid many disappointments. Of course, just as with financial instruments, past performance is no guarantee of future earnings, and there certainly are many major differences among the countries and the actors. Still, paraphrasing Spanish-born, American philosopher and poet George Santayana, "Those who cannot learn from others' past are condemned to repeat it."

I certainly hope that this New Year brings along much better news than what we saw in the previous one. As always, I look forward to hearing from you via email (drolivaslujan@gmail.com) or through your comments to this blog (http://drolivaslujan.blogspot.com).

¡Hasta la próxima!