Wednesday, February 20, 2013


You may have heard the fiction about a nurse reporting on the wishes of dying patients, that many people regretted that they spent too much time on work but too little on family and friends.  It is the underlying thought of work-life balance: Don't work too hard and play more.  This is not the true picture.  Many people did find joy and satisfaction in their work, and regretted not having worked sufficiently hard.  Many of them are in the creative fields such as music, arts, literature and science.  Managers are more likely not finding satisfaction in work, perhaps of the supportive role they play.  The main difference between these behaviour could be the meaning of work to them.  Mckinsey Quarterly recently reported on the Meaning Quotient of Work MQ which may shed some light.

Many researches have been conducted on why some employees could perform better than others.  This field of management started in the last two hundred years targeting on division of labour, specialization, group dynamics, motivation, and behavioural approaches.  The latest discovery is the meaning of work to the employees.  The more they could find meaning to their work, the better performance could be achieved.

In surveying the essential elements which are required for good performance, scientists found many of them which fell into three categories.  The first set of elements includes role clarity, understanding of objectives, access to knowledge and resources.  These are the rational elements and are conveniently know as Intellectual Quotient IQ.  When the IQ of an environment is low, the energy of the employees is misdirected and conflicting.

Another set of elements includes factors related to the quality of interactions among employees.  They are the baseline of trust and respect, constructive conflict, a sense of humour, a feeling of comradeship and the ability to collaborate effectively.  These create an emotionally safe environment to pursue goals.  This is termed the Emotional Quotient EQ.  When the EQ of the environment is low, employee energy dissipates in the form of office politics, ego management and passive-aggressive avoidance of tough issues.

While IQ and EQ are essential for the creation of conditions for peak performance, they are far from sufficient.  The third set of elements is described as involving high stakes, excitement, challenge, something that the individual feels matter, will make a difference, and hasn't been done before.  This set of elements is termed the Meaning Quotient MQ of work.  When the MQ of an environment is low, employees put less energy into their work and see it as "just a job" that gives them nothing more than a salary.

Researchers understood the enormous loss of opportunity cost when meaning is missing in the workplace.  Executives being surveyed noticed a difference of five times between peak performance and average performance in a high IQ, high EQ and high MQ environment.  It is estimated that a modest increase of twenty percent in productivity could be achieved if MQ could be maintained.  Moreover, when asked about the bottlenecks to peak performance in their organizations, more than 90% of executives chose MQ-related issues.  IQ tool kit is readily observable and is well taught in business schools; EQ tool kit is relatively well understood owing to the popularization of the concept in the 90s.  But the MQ tool kit is different and is still lacking.

From recent researches, a number of specific and practical tools that leaders use are identified.  They are communication, quality feedback, job flexibility and empowerment.  McKinsey recommends a few practical and actionable techniques.  Among them, three examples are found to be useful and easily adoptable.

Strategy No. 1: Tell five stories at once.
Typically, organizational leaders tell two types of stories to inspire their teams.  The first is the Turnaround story of dramatical change in order to survive.  The second is the From Good to Great story to become the leader of the industry.  The problem with both stories is that they only centre on the company.  They may inspire some but not all employees.  There are four other sources which could give individuals a sense of meaning and a sense of ability to have an impact on the society, the customer, the working team and themselves.  Stories about making a better society and building a better community; making the life of customers easier by providing superior service; a caring environment and sense of beloging in a team and the opportunity for personal development and empowerment.

Surveys of thousands of employees show that the split of those inspired by the stories is roughly equal.  It appears that these five sources are a universal human phenomenon.  The implication for leaders seeking to create high-MQ environments is that a turnaround or a good-to-great story will strike a motivational chord with only 20 percent of the workforce. The same goes for a change the world vision or appeals to individuals on a personal level. The way to unleash MQ-related organizational energy is to tell all five stories at once.

Strategy No. 2: Let employees write their own lottery ticket.
A truth about human nature: When we choose for ourselves, we are far more committed to the outcome.  People are more committed when they could write their own lottery ticket.  Although it may not be possible to let all employees decide their own direction, it can be done by augmenting the story telling with asking about the story.  Some companies ask their employees on how to make a difference, what improvement idea they have, when did they last get coaching from the boss, and who is the enemy.  The motivational effect of this approach has been noted to increase the meaning of work.

Strategy No. 3: Use small, unexpected rewards to motivate.
When business objectives are linked to compensation, the motivation to drive for results is rarely enhanced meaningfully.  Most compensation plans emphasize financial metrics whose results depend on many variables which are beyond the control of individuals.  Leaders of organizations that could instill meaning use other powerful methods.  Some companies gave all employees a bottle of champagne for Christmas, with a card thanking them on the participation in a project.  A CEO sent the spouses of the team members handwritten thank-you letters.  Some managers might dismiss these as token gestures.  But as a leader put it: Nothing else can quite substitute for a few well-chosen, well-timed, sincere words of praise.  They are free and worth a fortune.

Of the three Qs that would likely generate good performance, business leaders frequently said that MQ is the hardest to get right.  Given the enormous benefits for injecting meaning into people's work lives, taking the time to implement strategies of those mentioned above is among the most important investments a leader can make.

Monday, February 18, 2013





Thursday, February 7, 2013


The New Economics of True Wealth
by Juliet B. Schor


I came across this book by serendipity.  I found it in a second hand bookshop.  The owner must have found it unworthy of keeping.  I was just curious of the title; plenitude could mean a lot of different things.  The cost was only $20.  A hard cover book could at least be used as bookend.

The author Juliet Schor is an economist and an environmentalist.  Her emphasis is on environmental sustainability.  Being a Professor of Sociology at Boston College now, she taught economics at Harvard University a few years ago.

Plenitude was first raised by Aristotle in 300BC.  It asserted that everything that could happen would happen eventually.  In this book, it refers to something more.  Schor proposed that we should go back to basic, that we actually already have all that is needed.  Sustainability is simple as we only need to explore ourselves for resources.  As she is an economist, she brought this concept a step further and proposed that plenitude as an economy would mean we should reshape the entire economy by freeing individuals to strive for and support themselves.

The book is full of the idealistic principle of the environmentalists: everything from a thrifty lifestyle, rural living, self production of food, anti-consumerism, low carbon, recycling waste, etc.  Her vision is to extend all these to the entire economy, break down large corporations, work from home.  The basic tone is more leisure and less work.

The line of thought of the entire concept could be summarized in three steps.  The first one is the present economic problems.  Three facts are exploited.  Fact 1: The world economy is on a decline.  This is something all economists agree.  Raw materials are getting scarce and expensive, production is low, debts are high and the ecology is deteriorating.  Fact 2: Unemployment is on the rise.  As technology progresses, more unskilled jobs are lost.  Even skilled labour is in surplus as the world is going into a recession.  More people are unable to get a job, and many are unable to get a full time job.  Fact 3: Growth strategy is destroying the planet.  The present economic strategy to maintain prosperity is to grow continuously.  We are reaching the limit of the capacity for growth, and the exploitation of natural resources for growth is detrimental to the environment.

Riding on these universally accepted problems, Schor offers the plenitude solution as the second step.  All methods are the liberal responses to the economic problems.  First, shift out of the work-and-spend cycle.  In short, salary for work is not important.  No work no spending and focus on other values.  Second, diversify.  Earn income from different sources, including self-reliance DIY, small businesses and trading of services.  Third, small scale, de-centralized, ecologically oriented businesses.

The third step is a plenitude economy with alternative sources of wealth.  The four pillars of such economy are: 1. Time; people could work part time, sharing a job between many employees.  This could solve the unemployment problem.  People then devote the spare time on recreation, leisure and other life activities.  2. High-tech self-provisioning; people could reduce reliance on the market by meeting basic needs with high-technology in growing food, producing energy, building home themselves.  3. Consuming differently; sharing expensive items and making careful purchases of long-lasting goods.  4. Connection; building local economic interdependence by trading services, sharing assets, and relying on each other in good, as well as hard times.

Rightly or wrongly, the book paints a gloomy and pessimistic picture of the world.  The problems at present are real and the world economy is experiencing a downturn.  However, we could never be sure whether it is a cyclical phenomenon and the world economy would rebound in a few years.  Natural resources are always in short supply, much depend on the ability of human to explore.  The way we now use a definite amount of resources may not be sustainable.  But we could not rule out that alternative materials, new ways of production of energy and new ways to use resources could sustain the world population much longer.

Part time work is now more common.  But it is not a lifestyle people happily choose.  Many are forced into semi-employment owing to the declining economy.  Should full time job openings become available, people will compete to get the job instead of voluntarily sharing a job among others so that they can work part time, receive less pay and be very happy in enjoying life.  Some types of work may be suitable for low participation, or work from home.  But most jobs would require dedicated effort to be done well.  A general mindset change of less reliance on work, thus less commitment to work, would just reduce productivity and also quality of goods and services.

With less engagement in work, people could have more free time.  Whether the free time would be used in leisure activities or life activities would depend on whether the reward of part time work is sufficient for sustenance.  Schor proposed a formula that with less pay and more time, free time could be gainfully employed in activities of self-reliance such as growing your own food, building your own house and providing necessary services by oneself.  We did this before in the Stone Age.  Whether this is still practical in the modern world is doubtful.  A self-reliance community is possible in the rural area with ample land, raw materials and water.  It may be difficult in a modern city.  People with free time but insufficient sustenance would simply go get a second part time job.

DIY household chore is a healthy hobby for many.  Fashionable leisure activities include home gardening for vegetable, home made bread, solar panels, woodwork and even home decoration and construction.  However, if individuals have to do all these themselves, there may not be enough free time for such complete set of DIY to support all the needs of a family.  Industrial revolution introduced mass production thus saving cost, time, effort and expertise in the wide varieties of production.  It would be nice if we could do some of these in free time.  But to do all these by ourselves would be like going back several centuries when farming was the overwhelming human activities.

Notwithstanding that, this beautiful, or horror, story could become true one day.  It would not be a happy substitute of the present day economy, but could be a relegation of human civilization by several hundred years by brute force.  In the unhappy event that a catastrophe destroys much of the economy, be it a major natural disaster, another world war, or unstoppable epidemic, we may need to go back to basic.  This would mean abandoning large cities and returning to rural life, which would accommodate only a small world population.

Sunday, February 3, 2013








Friday, February 1, 2013


政府要繼續推行教育券醫療券。 陳文鴻對此有點意見。可惜他只是延續棒打梁振英,對這個課題仍是搔不著癢處。且看他怎樣說:

"教育券醫療券背後    陳文鴻

教育劵 Education Voucher 的討論已久。參考各國做法的利弊,政府仍是把不定主意。結果試在幼稚園教育推行,但效果不佳。持續進修基金亦是專上教育的教育劵一種形式,但管理困難,不斷有濫用和作弊情形出現。這個課題相當困難;我曾數次嘗試在招聘面試中提出,但很多人連基本理解都未有。政府最近又推行長者醫療劵,目的只是資助長者看私家醫生。教育劵,或學劵,和其他服務劵的基本概念,和陳文鴻所說不大相同。



另一個醫療劵安排亦有同一矛盾。醫療服務是必需品,是所有政府都要提供的服務。但自古以來醫療服務有價,私人執業市場很大。政府原來的如意算盤是提供公共醫療服務給一般市民,私人執業醫生提供更方便的服務給可以負擔的階層。但現時的趨勢是政府在擴展公共醫療服務方面放慢腳步,驅使更多人向私營市場求取服務。現時醫療劵反映的就是這一個現象。對長者提供的公共醫療服務不足,以致要用醫療劵讓他們流向私營市場。但醫療劵銀碼卻有限,以致長者的醫療開支被迫增加了。現時構思的醫療保險更進一步,直接將責任推給私營醫療市場。政府舉出的一個理由是公共醫療開支日益增加至政府不能負擔。其實醫療開支是由市民負擔,是已出之物,問題是付出稅收還是付給醫生。私營服務有利潤因素,市民 總支出會更多而資源使用效率會更低。醫療劵只是在金錢補貼上作短效的支援,對服務水平有害無益。