Time to be grateful? Or pro-active?

Indeed, these are interesting times. Many say it’s a time to be grateful that the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania reduced its financial support by “only 18%” –as opposed to 54% that was originally proposed. Also, it’s time to be glad that the collective bargaining agreement that governs the employment relations between faculty and coaches has not been re-negotiated; what can we expect when the first move by the faculty negotiators was to offer –not even accept—a salary freeze for the next academic year! Time to be grateful that we have jobs, right? After all, unemployment has kept stubbornly above 9% in the past months! (For details, click here.)

But, before we accept this common wisdom, take whatever the Commonwealth and the union offer and resign ourselves to a new contract with salary raises that barely match inflation (if at all!), I suggest we check some of the assumptions behind all of this gratefulness we, faculty members should have.

First of all, while it’s true that national unemployment has remained at the highest level of the decade, I believe we should examine some evidence. Consider the graph in the following link (the Bureau of Labor Statistics will probably be changing it to the most current figures as time goes by):


This figure also clearly ties to us, as faculty, in a number of ways. First, it clearly shows that what we do as teachers has significant economic (as well as cultural and intellectual) value for our students and our state --and we need to remember that and remind others of it. Moreover, this figure demonstrates that, for individuals with faculty-level qualifications, the average unemployment rate in 2010 can be as low as 1.9% for doctoral degree holders or as high as 4.0 for colleagues with only a master’s. It turns out that all those years in school, student loans, etc. do pay off!

Now, before you conclude that I’m suggesting we should all pack up and find jobs in private universities –since our state government is evidently uninterested in continuing to support rural higher education—, I will acknowledge that faculty mobility is not high, especially once one has achieved tenure. Instead, we have to be proactive in these difficult times.

I believe we must start by looking after our own basic needs. Trying to do “more with less” –or even “the same!’’—may be not only insulting, but also dangerous to our health. I already see some colleagues taking on increased workloads as a result of frozen hiring, coupled with recent retirements, smaller budgets for temporary positions, student workers, etc. Burnout may be right around the corner if we don’t take appropriate measures (see Ms. Scholar's column for suggestions clicking here).

Next, our professional development and commitment to research cannot stop! Unless there is a sudden change of heart in Harrisburg, it is quite likely that this is only the first of four, perhaps eight years of reductions in state support for our schools. We must continue to grow professionally. We also need to continue using and honing the rarest and potentially most valuable of our skills, the ability to do research. Not only do publications improve our individual résumés and collective reputation, they might be one of the strongest ways in which we differentiate our university from organizations that charge lower fees but simply cannot offer students what we can when we stay current in our fields. If our skills and reputation take a hit in the next few years, we will be unable to convince the shrinking student population that our university is worth attending, or find alternate sources of employment, should the need arise.

I am sure there are other ways to be proactive in these difficult times. If we work together to be proactive, we can be grateful to each other. I hope we do inspire and help each other find ways in which we will not only survive but thrive during these interesting times.

…my new “Ba-B-JHR”!

Many times I’ve heard authors talk about their latest publication as “their baby” –in fact, I have used this metaphor several times, especially when I show the results of my efforts with colleagues or friends, after months of thinking, writing, analyzing, submitting manuscripts and responding to reviewers and editors.  Well, a few days ago, I received my newest “baby,” the “ba-BJHR” or Business Journal of Hispanic Research, first issue of its fifth volume, and I can hardly wait for opportunities to talk about it!

The funny thing is that I only wrote one page in this issue.  But I can tell you that I spent many more hours, energy and effort as Editor-in-Chief of this issue than I have for many other publications, even those in which I am single or first author.  Coordinating the efforts of twenty-six highly qualified individuals who so conscientiously wrote their manuscripts to be scrutinized by our editorial boards –another forty, highly qualified, well known individuals from industry and academia—and several ad-hoc reviewers is an experience in interdependence that I had never had before.  I sure hope that many conscientious managers and researchers will agree with us that this issue is full of helpful, relevant advice, distilled through rigorous methodologies.

I believe that this is one of the clearest ways in which NSHMBA distinguishes itself from other organizations that only have a yearly event or two to serve their stakeholders! And this is one that creates a tangible legacy for generations to come!

Let me share with you how this journal is different from other business publications.  First and foremost, most of the authors are highly trained individuals: you will notice in its index and Contributors section that all have finished graduate school and most –over 80%--have doctorates.  Secondly, there are five sections in this journal, three of them written mainly for the thoughtful manager who wants her or his practice to stay away from fads and “intellectual snake oil” –the Executive Articles, Summaries, and Book Reviews—and the other two sections –the Academic or Scholarly Articles and the Research in Progress—are written mainly for business scientists and researchers, who report their work in a more technical fashion.  All the content is intended to document how Hispanics in business have different sets of circumstances than the rest of our society, and provide information that will not just be rigorously distilled, but also highly usable.  Lastly, while the BJHR, like most journals, is distributed through libraries and electronic databases, it is also sent directly to NSHMBA’s sponsors and partners, both academic and industrial; to chapter presidents and to subscribers.  This increases the chances that it will be read and used actively, not just found occasionally.


Have you ever noticed how some blue-collar workers seem to be more stressed than others?  Dr. Carol Howard and her co-authors from Oklahoma City University and from the U. of Tennessee -Knoxville surveyed not just workers but also their supervisors to examine whether ethnical matches made any difference on job stress and burnout.  They found measurable differences in stress levels, on burnout and on intent to turnover, but Hispanics appeared to be more vulnerable to ethnic mismatches than their Anglo counterparts; for that reason, they recommend a focus on job design for Anglo workers and on perceived ethnic fit for Hispanic workers.  But don’t take my word for it; read the full article on pp. 54-71 so you can draw your own conclusions!

You might also have noticed that some organizations have Diversity Management initiatives that are readily accepted, whereas other organizations struggle to find support for them, even among the employees that are expected to benefit.  Dr. Richard Herrera from Texas A&M in Texarkana and his collaborators from Our Lady of the Lake and UT-Dallas have been able to find empirical support for a number of relationships that link cultural descriptors with leadership preferences and ratings of diversity management.  Among their recommendations, Human Resource and other managers of people might do well by promoting a collectivistic rather than individualistic culture to increase the acceptability of their diversity practices.  Again, I invite you to read the full report on pp. 72-85.

Now, if you have been following the debates over illegal immigration and how the local and state debates may impact businesses –hey, your business might have experienced some of these concerns!—you will be interested in a case study that Dr. Mark D’Antonio and his colleagues from Northern Virginia Community College wrote.  This review of the legal precedents and justification for Affirmative Action programs, not just for compliance but from a competitive advantage perspective will put you –or your trainees—in the driver’s seat.  In addition to the case printed on pp. 86-97, there is a full set of teaching notes available from the Managing Editor of the BJHR; they are free for qualified instructors with a current subscription to the BJHR, but others who are not so close to NSHMBA may also purchase the teaching notes in electronic or print form.

Our Executive sections include articles on entrepreneurs and services offered to them, on academy-business collaborations and academic inequality, a couple of summaries that address differences on Hispanics’ happiness and job-related stress levels, in addition to two reviews of highly relevant books.  From well-known to recently minted academics from universities like Indiana, Tulane, UT-San Antonio, Saint Xavier, Quinnipiac, Marymount, and Clarion are present in these articles.

And, did I mention that NSHMBA Premier and Executive members have online access to the electronic version of the journal included as a benefit of their membership?  All you need to do is login to the NSHMBA site and continue your professional development through reading and internalizing the information in this multi-disciplinary effort by businesspersons and academics.  As always, I look forward to hearing from you via email or through my social networking pages (please remember to let me know that you’re a fellow NSHMBA member if you send me a connection request).

¡Hasta la próxima!

Mexico's Taj Mahal

Love is definitely a many-splendored thing...

In the 17th Century, from 1632 through about 1653, the emperor Shah Jahan built what we now consider one of the wonders of the world, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  Tradition says that he built this gorgeous building as a mausoleum to his third wife, Mumtaz Mahal, who died while giving birth to their 14th child.  In preparing for this writing, I couldn't help but admire the beauty of this monument (click here for a great picture of the Taj Mahal in Wikimedia Commons).

In a quite different time and latitude, I felt privileged to visit the Museo Soumaya a few weeks ago.  Built as a memorial to Soumaya Domit, Carlos Slim's late wife, I realized that one might need a full week to truly admire the panoply of works collected by Mr. Slim.  I had already heard of his impressive collection, but walking around the museum to be exposed to art ranging several centuries and cultures was quite an experience.

Popular or classic; Mexican, European, Asian; pre-Hispanic, colonial, or modern; sculptures, paintings, and reliefs; sacred and profane, are just a few of the labels that may be applied to the wealth of large and small pieces that are currently open to the public in a Southern neighborhood of Mexico City.  Da Vinci, Toulouse-Lautrec, Picasso, Dalí, Rivera, Renoir, and Van Gogh are some of the most famous authors whose work can be admired by anyone willing to spend some time in this mausoleum.  Along some of these pieces, we find paintings and other works whose authors have been lost, but the products of their talents have not.  And we can even find out about several Mexican artists who never reached the status that Rivera or Kahlo have recently been given, but their creativity was diffused throughout the nation, if not the world, albeit at a different scale.
Clearly, my comparing the Soumaya Museum with the Taj Mahal may be considered far fetched in more than way.  In addition, I don't consider myself an art critic; even if I worked for a couple of years in a museum (Monterrey's Centro Cultural Alfa, another so-called vanity or industrial philanthropy museum), my work and my studies have always been centered around computers, businesses and international matters.  Still, whenever I travel, I try to give myself an opportunity to visit museums or attend local performances.  I would hardly be called a connoisseur, but I am grateful that I have enjoyed collections in Mexico, the US, Canada, Spain, Greece, Egypt, Italy, France, the UK, Thailand, Indonesia, and a few other places that I don't have in the top of my mind right now.

Other individuals, obviously more qualified to review museums published their opinions earlier this year, when this place opened its doors.  To illustrate, the Wall Street Journal offers what I would consider a balanced --if at times snobbish--article, while critics writing for the LA Times did not hide their disappointment.  For you, who might not have a trip to Mexico City scheduled in the short time, I would recommend visiting the Soumaya museum's website, and decide for yourself whether a day (or more!) is worth your time.

I, for one, thoroughly enjoyed my visit.  I am not positive that my 14-year old son and my 12-year old daughter were as impressed as I was.  But I definitely hope that they will now be able to associate some of these works with the names that they might read about in their history or art classes.  I also hope that one day, they will be able to recognize in this museum, one of the most notorious philanthropic actions of a man who is both admired and criticized in their lifetimes: Carlos Slim has been identified as the richest man in the world for a few years now, and he has achieved this status in an economy that is characterized by its lesser development and blatant, if not painful inequalities. 

This might be one of the largest gifts he has offered to the city that has given him fame and fortune.  Few individuals will ever have the ability to give free access to anyone with time and interest to a collection this massive, this diverse, this impressive.  Carlos Slim has done it --and I hope this is not the last time we learn about ways in which he gives back to a country that cannot afford to focus exclusively on basic needs or on the success of its teenage (U-17 or under 17) football players.

To learn more:

...system overload

If computers could feel, I think they would have empathy for me these days... After six weeks visiting family and friends in Mexico, we came back home to the final stretch of my summer course on Business, Society and Corporate (Mis)Conduct, and now I have a couple of research deadlines looming in the very short run...

So, if you were interested in my latest blog regarding sports, labor strikes, conferences, trips, or any other of the themes I often write about, I am sorry that I have not been able to sit down and write things down.  I will tell you that I do have a couple of themes coming up very soon: one on Mexico's Taj Mahal and another on "frenemies."  I hope you'll enjoy them, though I must first finish up my papers so I can tighten my writing and publish them here in a few weeks.

In the meantime, I hope you are having a great summer!!!

¡Hasta la próxima!

...family trip

Summer is almost here!  Well, not really here in North Western Pennsylvania; we had snowflakes in April and even the first days in May were gloomy and cold.  Fortunately, most years are not as cold as this one (knock on wood!); at least they haven’t, in the five-plus years since I accepted my Professor position in Clarion.  My recollection is that we’d usually have several days in the mid-60s (degrees Fahrenheit) in April, but this year, we’ve had only an occasional day or two reaching the upper 50s. Why isn’t the global warming thinking locally?

My family and I are looking forward to a few weeks visiting my wife’s relatives in Cuernavaca, Mexico.  We haven’t been there in almost four years and last January we found an airfare we couldn’t resist.  The Aztec Emperors’ summer residence used to be in this city, and later, Spanish conqueror, Hernan Cortez’s palace as well. 

Cortez's palace behind my daughter and me
The city’s nickname is “the city of eternal spring” though I am not sure we’ll find temperature in the 90s very springy.  In fact, after the first few days in Cuernavaca, I feel as if we were in Phoenix (AZ) or Monterrey (Mexico), where surpassing the 100s is not at all unusual.

Still, visiting with our extended family, tasting flavors that we haven’t had for years, and just experiencing the sounds, sights, and scents that at one point used to be so familiar, is a wonderful way to start a much needed summer “break.”  I feel that I have to surround this word in quotation marks, as I am traveling with books, computers and a “To-Do” list that is longer than usual. 

But I really cannot complain; there aren’t many professions that offer the flexibility and autonomy that a University Professor has.  Add telecommunications to the mix and all we need is a bit of discipline and systematic task controls to be able to keep on teaching from anywhere in the world.  Indeed, in the past few years, I have offered segments of my summer courses from Germany, Spain, and Brazil, in addition to different states within the USA.  It may take more front-loaded time and organization, but for students and instructors, this is a great trade-off –again, as long as there is a modicum of self-control and method.

I have often wondered why it is that I just cannot enjoy a full summer break like common “wisdom” suggests that academics do.  It may be that I feel an obligation toward my profession and toward my field; I know that once the semester starts, my research will take a second priority, relative to my students and the urgency of committees and other service obligations.  It may also be that I don’t remember seeing my father completely disconnect from his occupation as a bookkeeper; or I might be trying to instill a strong work ethic in my children and my students through providing samples of behavior I find desirable.  On the other hand, those who know me close enough know that I enjoy my work more than I perhaps should!  I would probably be bored if I didn’t have enough things to do, things I find valuable and helpful for my professional stakeholders.

But I digress.  I am finally ready to share these thoughts with you, after several days researching and navigating the options that broadband internet service providers offer here in Mexico.  As I described in a previous column, finding open wireless connections is much easier in the US than in many other countries –though various restaurants –not always the same brands, I must warn you—seem to be offering this service in an effort to attract and keep customers satisfied.  In addition to that, I am still surprised by the high cost of electronics, vehicles and some food; by the wonderful service attitude that many service providers have; and by the customary kissing and hugging that so strongly distinguish Latin cultures.

I sure hope you also have a chance to visit family and friends during the summer that’s about to start.  It’s also a good time to remember why it is that we work, and what the best use of the resources that we are earning is!

As always, I'd like to invite your thoughts on this; your suggestions, comments or reactions via email or on my facebook page are very much appreciated!  (Don’t forget to let me know that you’re a fellow NSHMBA member so I can honor your friend request.)

¡Hasta la próxima!

...diffused attention

This is one of those months… I feel pulled in so many different directions, yet compelled to fulfill my obligations. 

The semester is about to reach its stress peak –which makes me realize that if I don’t get a column out this month, the following month will be much harder!  The first issue of The Business Journal of Hispanic Research that I have been editing is about to go to press, and some days I feel overwhelmed by the sheer amount of information I have had to read and reply to.  The kids’ activities are also reaching their apex, between science fairs, artistic festivals, sport tournaments, and my own chosen hobbies / “participant observation” research studies are both a way to release tension and a source of momentary strain.  I guess I do live an interesting life!

I have found various potential inspirations for this month’s column, but it seems that I will only describe a few now for future development.  For starters, I have thought of expanding columns that appeared to “work well” in the past.  An example is the blog in which I wrote about leadership in music; I received a few interesting reactions both electronically and face-to-face.  Also, since I continue to teach Leadership to our graduate students and I have had recent opportunities to participate and observe musical groups, more ideas on how theory and practice relate to or can be applied in these fascinating contexts.

Another inspiration comes from some of the texts I have been reading recently.  I can’t help but feel critical sometimes and occasionally in agreement with a number of articles, books, even internet pages that I come across with.  To illustrate, I recently read an article that was targeted toward lawyers and their “typical” writing style and tone (if such a style truly existed), but I found that some of the recommendations might be useful to me and my fellow business researchers.  I hope I have internalized some of these suggestions to the point of using them right now, but I certainly cannot guarantee it.  Using “checklists” seems to be one of the best technologies –in the broadest sense of the word—that our civilization has developed, yet their simplicity can sometimes make us underestimate their potential; writing this helps me realize that I should be using them more often!

Some ideas feel less intellectual, and hopefully more fun.  If you have read the previous columns, you probably have realized that my children’s activities often provide ideas –and waiting while they work, time!—to share with you in this column. One of these months I will offer you an adaptation of that old television program “Kids Say the Darndest Things” or some other idea that hopefully will illustrate an interesting lesson based on something they did or said.  Well, I guess some of these fun ideas can also be pretty intellectual after all!  We’ll see…

I would be remiss if I didn’t ask you, my three faithful readers, what do you think?  Is there a particular topic that you would like to discuss?  As it might be evident from my status updates, some columns generate much more attention than others.  I try hard to link every one of these pieces to the business disciplines that I am most familiar with, but I do wonder every now and then –especially since I blogged about customer service v. self-expression—if I should more actively look for your interests and preferences.

As always, I'd like to invite your thoughts on this; your suggestions, comments or reactions via email or on my facebook page are very much appreciated!

¡Hasta la próxima!

…Customer Service or Self-Expression?

Have you ever noticed how some organizations or service providers' names and slogans seem to be focused on their customers while others seem to be an outlet for their owners’ self-expression?

The basic argument is this: the idea that organizations are supposed to serve their customers before anything else became an essential business notion sometime at the end of the 20th Century. A logical consequence was that everything related to the firm –including its identifiers—ought to also contribute toward the mission of customer satisfaction.

The mantra of “The Customer is King” was repeated over and over, to emphasize that organizations of any size exist only to serve –if not exceed!—their customers’ needs. Their satisfaction became at some point and for many organizations –universities and other educational institutions included—the major criterion against which every part of the organization was to be measured and its existence justified. For many re-engineering interventions in the 1990s, the extent to which any department or sub-process contributed to customer satisfaction became the main standard to justify its continuation or explore outsourcing or other options.

This line of thought entered into the names and sometimes even slogans of companies offering certain products or services. For example, I just saw a coupon offered by Pizza Roma, a small parlor whose main line of business is… well, Italian food (Italian-American, some of my purist gourmet friends would say)!! Browsing the newspaper, I also found several “X” Auto Rental, “Y” Health PlanBank of Z” and waiting for my daughter at her most recent orthodontist appointment, I noticed that Reader’s Digest and American Cheerleader were among the magazines available in the waiting room. Their line of business is quite evident from just reading the company –or product—name.

On the other hand, there are many businesses whose name suggests that they are a means to their founder’s self-expression. For example, I am typing this column in a Hewlett-Packard netbook; many other large firms seem to have been similarly named after their founders or early owners, like Dell, Matsushita, Ford, or Barnes & Noble. Clearly, this is not a characteristic of their industries, as we also have IBM (which at some point meant International Business Machines), General Electric (the poster company for a diversified company, which you know sells much more than electric appliances), General Motors, or Amazon.

Here the question often is to what extent is the company interested in its customer’s “share of mind”? When the name of the firm is not a direct reference to what it may offer, memorable and meaningful slogans are often needed. Take the example of Sam Walton’s retailing giant, Wal*Mart. At this point in time it’s hard to find a person who doesn’t know what you can find there, but their long time slogan of Always Low Prices has been a very meaningful promise for their target market.

At the end of the day, a healthy dose of promotion will overcome any lack of explicitness that a company or product name or slogan might have relative to what they offer. For a person who did not grow with these brands, who would guess what McDonald’s, Apple, Dior, or Google may sell? In contrast, we do not need a lot of thought to conjecture what products Burger King, MicroSoft, or Toys “R” Us provide. Now, combining the founder’s name –say, Schwab Advisor Services—, or the place of origin –as in Banco Santander—with an explicit reference to the product or service offered, might save thousands of dollars in promotional expense and stay in the public’s mind more easily. Something to keep in mind the next time you’re thinking about opening your own business!

What do you think? I'd like to know your opinion; your suggestions or comments are very much needed to make this column interesting for you, your chapter and your organizations!

¡Hasta la próxima!

…bullying at work

It might be the winter, some research I have been working on, or something else, but this month, I chose to write about a theme that is rather “dark” or unpleasant.

One of the groups in which I collaborate has been focused on increasing our understanding of workplace harassment, also known as “bullying” or “mobbing.”  It is unfortunate, but for many individuals, being pushed around, shoved and otherwise physically intimidated by peers (or others) is not a distant memory from middle school; it is a present reality that occasionally even makes it to the media headlines.  There are also subtler types of bullying, such as impossible deadlines or tasks, resource restrictions that make assignments unattainable for employees, and other kinds of actions that we might consider a “constructive discharge” when they are originated by the employer, or “relational aggression” when they come from individuals at similar –or even lower—hierarchical levels.

Regardless of its origin or whether the harassment is corporeal or purely emotional, employees who experience bullying simply cannot be as productive as those whose work experience is free from aggression.  In fact, there is evidence suggesting that intent to stay, engagement and commitment scores decrease significantly in individuals who are victims of these undesirable behaviors.

As you may imagine, there seem to be a number of differences among countries, industries, hierarchical levels, and other demographic descriptors.  A few studies have shown that in some countries, some degree of “assertiveness” –if not outright aggressiveness—is expected of supervisors in order to fulfill their expectations.  Other studies document how behaviors that are OK in some countries (say, hugging or commenting on a coworker’s attractiveness) may be considered out of line in others; a similar argument can be made about industries and even about regions within countries.

My colleagues and I have been surveying management professionals in about eighteen countries, and we have been analyzing the data to write and share our findings.  The multicultural nature of this group has helped me realize that there are strong differences in how countries approach this problem.  Several countries such as Australia, Canada and Norway, have legislation that attempt to reduce bullying, while the United States may be said to focus only on harassment that can be constructed as discriminatory of a protected class.  In other words, if the bullying behaviors can be linked to differences in sex, race, nation of origin, color, religion, pregnancy, disability status, or being over 40 years of age, there are legal provisions against it; but when there is no such link, our federal legislation offers no protection (though some states might).

Our studies have found interesting relationships between different cultural characteristics and a propensity to find bullying acceptable.  I know this might sound obvious, but it is one thing to have “a hunch” that something is happening, and a different thing to find tangible evidence to support it.  I have also found that there are several companies that offer consulting services to help organizations deal with these problems through education, assessments and other interventions.  Let me suggest that this might not only be an interesting topic for a course project (if you are currently studying your master’s degree), but also something worth implementing in your company.

What do you think?  Have you ever seen or had any of these experiences?  Are there any additional issues that we should take into account to understand this phenomenon? Or –even better—, to stop it or prevent it from occurring?  Please send me your comments via email to drolivaslujan@gmail.com or by posting a comment on my facebook profile.  I look forward to hearing from you!

¡Hasta la próxima!

To learn more on workplace bullying, check the following:

-    Einarsen, S.E., H. Hoel, D. Zapf, & C.L. Cooper (2003). Bullying and emotional abuse in the workplace. International perspectives in research and practice. London: Taylor & Francis.
-    Fox, S., & Spector, P., (2005). Counterproductive Work Behaviors. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.
-    Liu, C., Nauta, M. M., Spector, P. E., & Li, C. (2008). Direct and indirect conflicts at work in China and the US: A cross-cultural comparison. Work & Stress, 22(4), 295-313.
-    Loh, M.I., Restubog, S.D.L., & Zagenczyk, T.J. (2010). Consequences of workplace bullying on employee identification and satisfaction among Australians and Singaporeans: exploring the moderating role of power-distance. Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, 41, 236-252.