Political Skill/Power Test

People like to do self-assessments.  However, people also tend to believe they are “above average” on most positive qualities—the so-called “above average effect.”  Consequently, I recommend not only assessing yourself but also getting people you work with to provide their evaluations.  And assessments are only useful if you are going to act on the data—so work on weaknesses to improve yourself. 

Why Do Cars Have Better Insurance Than People?

With our recent auto insurance renewal came the standard paperwork, including the “Auto Body Repair Consumer Bill of Rights” required by California.  If you are in an accident and your car is damaged, by state law, a consumer can select any auto body repair shop and “the insurance company shall not require the repairs to be done at a specific…shop.”  But if you are in an accident and you are damaged, you can be required to use doctors in either your preferred provider or health maintenance plan.  You are unlikely to “be informed about where to report suspected fraud,” nor are you going to get an estimate for the costs of fixing you.  Sure, you’re thinking, people are a lot more complicated than cars, and that is undoubtedly true.  But it is also interesting that you have more consumer rights to get your car fixed than you do your body.

Learning versus Punishment and Accountability

People seem to love to exact retribution on those who screw up—it satisfies some primitive sense of justice.  For instance, research in experimental economics shows that people will voluntarily give up resources to punish others who have acted unfairly or inappropriately, even though such behavior costs those doing it and even in circumstances where there is going to be no future interaction to be affected by the signal sent through the punishment. In other words, people will mete out retribution even when such behavior is economically irrational.

Let’s Get “Health” Back Into Healthcare

Recently I was teaching in a Sutter Health leadership development program when the nice Sacramento State professor who organizes the program fainted while asking me a question.  With lots of caring, compassionate doctors in the room, soon an ambulance was on its way so he could be checked out.  Fortunately, nothing serious, but he needed to go to a hospital for evaluation.  And then, the “discussion:”  what insurance did he have, which hospitals accepted which insurance, could he use a Sutter facility—in short, precisely the health-irrelevant discussion that health systems and their clients must engage in everyday given our current screwed up system.

The New Generation & Power

Over the years it has gotten more challenging to teach organizational power and politics to my Stanford students.  Acquiring power means getting ahead, and they now grow up in a world that seemingly eschews competition.  A student last year told me she had quit her swim team and instead played water polo because at swim meets, everyone got a ribbon no matter where they finished.

Labor Market Flexibility: Repetition Doesn’t Make It True

Every day the newspapers are filled with the conventional wisdom about the current European economic crisis.  Besides problems with large, persistent governmental budget deficits, commentators typically emphasize the issue of economic growth.  The argument is that growth and increases in productivity are the best way to solve not only the budget issues but also to increase country competitiveness and employee well-being.  And virtually every article, regardless of the political leanings of its source, makes the same claim:  a great way to encourage economic growth and higher levels of employment is to deregulate the labor market so that employees in Europe have about the same protections as they do in the U.S.—basically zero.  This labor market flexibility will supposedly reduce unemployment, stimulate the creation of more permanent jobs, and make Europe more competitive.

Some Comments on Spain

This May, for the fifth year in a row, we visited IESE, the Spanish business school in Barcelona.  It was an interesting time to be in Spain or in Europe, for that matter, with the economic crisis and the high unemployment.  But as is often the case, things are more nuanced on the ground that what is presented in the media.

First of all, some travel trips.  Many tourists go to Barcelona, fewer to Madrid.  I think that’s a mistake.  Madrid has the royal palace, some amazing museums, beautiful hotels, and in my opinion, has less traffic congestion than Barcelona making it easier to get around.  It doesn’t have the sea, but unless you are going to the beach (this May was quite cold in any event), I’m not sure that makes such a difference.

BA, BA, Why Have You Foresaken Me?

Earlier this month I flew to Barcelona for my annual sojourn at Spanish Business school IESE.  I came over on British Airways which has, in my view, the best business class seats to Europe and reasonably good service, at least when the airline is not having labor troubles.  Unfortunately travelling, as everyone knows, has recently become an adventure, what with the Icelandic volcano coupled with the customary airport hassles we have all come to expect.

Why Do We Care More About Fish—and Milk Jugs—Than We Do People?

Wal-Mart is seriously committed to environmental sustainability, both as a company and throughout its supply chain.  It boasts of a redesigned milk jug that saves delivery trips and reduces cost.  Meanwhile, studies show that the company pays less than other retailers and, as a consequence, its employees make greater use of public health and welfare programs.  Water supplies in California have been curtailed so that there will be enough flow in rivers to permit salmon to spawn, and when fish get killed going through the generating turbines in dams, there is pressure to do something.  While there are environmental impact reports required for construction projects to avoid endangering habitats and ensuring, to the extent possible, environmental sustainability, companies can lay people off with just some notification—no “human impact” analyses required.

Stop the Airline Merger Mania

Here we go again.  Last week United Airlines apparently re-started consideration of a merger with U.S. Air—something contemplated a few years ago.  As usual, the media largely parroted the “explanation” for airline mergers—economies of scale, the fact that airlines continue to lose money, and the idea that by combining operations, things would improve.