Five trends business leaders don’t follow
Unconventional wisdom from some of the world’s best managers
Thierry Breton, CEO of French technology firm Atos, hasn’t sent an internal email since 2006. And, in 2011, he famously set out to make the company a zero-email operation in the name of productivity. That year, a poll of 300 Atos employees found they collectively processed over 85,000 emails in one week, with managers spending between five and 20 hours a week reading and writing messages.
Atos switched to a thread-based social network without notifications, and retrained 5,000 managers to encourage them to promote email-free work processes.
By the end of 2013, Atos’s internal email use was down by 60 per cent. Tellingly, in that same year, the business’s operating margin rose by one per cent, earnings per share rose by more than 50 per cent and administrative costs reduced by three per cent.
Boardroom negotiations are usually shrouded in secrecy: not so in Uber’s case. Meg Whitman, CEO of Hewlett Packard Enterprise, went on the record at least twice while being considered to replace Uber’s departing chief executive, Travis Kalanick, this year. In July, she tweeted: “Uber’s CEO will not be Meg Whitman.”
Four weeks later she told the Financial Times: “They asked what it would take to change my mind... I said [investment firm] Benchmark Capital and Travis needed to settle their lawsuits and the board needed to put in place a functioning governance structure.”
Her honesty was intended to quell “rumours that had become a distraction”. Hewlett Packard Enterprise shares rose five per cent after its third-quarter earnings call, when Whitman repeated her statements.
The open-plan office is dead: Twitter is busy building walls. Twitter’s vice president of Europe, Bruce Daisley, has revealed that its staff work in cubicles. “The truth is that offices, cubicles and little spaces were far better for our productivity and for getting your job done,” he says.
While open-plan offices are often cheaper and believed to foster teamwork, a survey by the University of Sydney found that 49 per cent of employees are dissatisfied with the noise levels in such offices, and up to 40 per cent are unhappy about the lack of visual privacy.
It’s no secret that media-entrepreneur-turned-wellbeing-advocate Arianna Huffington rejects long working hours. Now CEO of online lifestyle platform Thrive Global, her aim is to lead a culture shift away from stress and burnout.
She schedules time away from work each day, as well as each week. “Crucial to the job [of management] is clear-eyed decision-making and responding to a crisis with calmness instead of emotion. Science is clear that prioritising our wellbeing – getting enough sleep, making time to disconnect and recharge – helps us to do those things,” she says.
When Martin Seligman became head of the influential American Psychological Association in 1998, he ushered in a new era of ‘positive psychology’ – the scientific study of what makes life most worth living.
Cue multiple studies on boosting satisfaction in the workplace.
Burn them, says philosopher Alain de Botton. Instead, we should recognise that grief is not incidental, but a fundamental aspect of existence. “The greatest part of our suffering at work and elsewhere is brought about by our hopes for health, happiness and success,” he says. “This can make our bad moods and annoyances a source of frustration and anxiety.”
He recommends businesses extend their emotional range to manage employees in other moods. “We will be ready to offer loyalty to those who don’t feel aggressively compelled to deny our melancholy,” he explains.
“We need [leaders] who accept that our careers and productivity are not dependent on an endless show of optimism and good cheer. Pessimism can leave us happier than a false show of happiness.”