Wednesday, February 20, 2013

MQ

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

教宗辭職

教宗辭職真是大件事。全球新聞不斷播放,所有電視頻道都在評論,二十四小時不間斷。教宗為何要辭職,他在文告中已說清楚,是年老覺得力有不逮。但坊間傳聞不絕,說有苦衷,有陰謀,又有說因被起訴,要辭職來減低影響。亦有人自動出來辯護,說是明智選擇。

教宗是否可以辭職?任何工作都有完結的時刻,退休是自然現象。不能勝任工作就需要退位讓賢。世襲的國王亦有自動退位事件。總統元首都有任期,如果不勝任或有醜聞還會被迫下台。以現代管理來說,首長應要有能力領導,有能者當之是最佳選擇,民主選舉亦被認定是普世價值。但教宗選舉並不民主。教廷是封閉式組織,小圈子選舉,一點都不透明,所有選民都是由教宗任命,比香港特首的選委更差,和民主博愛概念相違背。但信眾都很包容,因為在宗教的傘下,信德打倒一切,有神指點的選舉當然可以超越普世價值。能者當之或勝任不勝任的原則不用費心。因此教宗從不辭職或退休。上一次發生於數百年前,起因是教廷分裂,教宗做不成。

教宗是否可以辭職?以宗教立場,教宗不是一份工,而是天主的代表,是宗教的象徵。第一位的教宗可以說是聖彼得,收了天堂的鎖匙。他可以辭職嗎?其實他正有此意。新約記載他三度否認認識耶穌,但結果都不能逃避責任。猶大亦是一個受害者,不少解釋說他是被選中為告密者,不可辭職。如果教宗不是一個職位,亦不是民選,而是由天主經樞機們的手來指派,那何來有辭職機制。歷來大家都認定教宗的任期在天主的手裡,多少教宗都是做到死,而死前不能工作的時段亦是已被安排的任期的一部份。所以現時B16辭職所引起的全世界震動可想而知。教宗辭職了對一些人來說是天主教辭職了,引發的信仰危機不容忽視。修補這個破壞的工作非常艱巨,可能無法完成。現時只能看看繼任的教宗是否有神奇的魅力可以扭轉乾坤。但最近的消息是教廷內的鬥爭白熱化,醜聞不絕,似乎需要幾代的教宗才能回復平靜。

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Plenitude

Plenitude
The New Economics of True Wealth
by Juliet B. Schor

plenitude

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

買居屋

香港人非常聰明,看到任何機會都不會放過。最近黃金機會是買居屋,包括房協的資助房屋。早前五千個免補地價白表二手居屋配額,有六萬份申請。近期房協推售置安心項目約一千個單位,亦收到近六萬份申請表,超額認購近六十倍。

居屋和置安心都是資助房屋,協助低收入家庭置業。地產價錢急速上升,一般中產家庭都覺得置業很困難。資助房屋比市價折讓三成,但價錢對低收入家庭來說仍然很高。不過看它們受歡迎的程度,卻和高昂的樓價不成正比。林本利博士近日有一篇文章指出這一個不合常理的現象。

房委居屋和房協置安心,說是房屋福利。但市民清楚知道它們是私有產業。幾十年前計劃推出時尚有買賣時限,但現時已可自由買賣。它們訂價時是市價的七成,即是買家可付出較少就可入市。賣出時是市價,內含需要補回的三成差價,最後是由買家支付,業主就可穩袋他投資那一部份的升幅。現時大家都看好樓市不會大跌。政府沒有好辦法亦沒有決心去刻意壓低樓價,樓市就算有調整到最後都會復原。居屋這類資產,就算不是短期炒賣,亦是中期必賺的投資。

雖然政府這一個以資助房屋作為私人樓宇供應的政策是否錯誤還要看房委將要做的政策檢討的結果,但起碼申請這一項福利還有入息和資產審查來把關。這給人的印象是買新居屋的得益者都是低收入人士。這雖然是一廂情願的想法,但居屋業權是歸於經資產審查而及格的人士。其他人如果借用其名義來投資而沒有業權似乎不太可行。但這個假設已被打破。去年十一月,終審法院在兩宗爭奪居屋業權的案件中,裁定家人之間夾錢買居屋的協議不受房屋條例限制,令一眾有份出錢但沒有在契約上記名的人士亦獲法律保障,擁有實質業權。這些案例表明日後市民申請購買資助房屋,只需要找一些符合資產和入息限制的成員出面申請,之後可再由其他人提供首期和供款,便可變相擁有單位的實質業權。這些安排可使不合資格的父母出資協助子女購買資助房屋;而中產的子女同樣可以出資協助父母購買資助房屋。一些在契約上沒有業權名分的人,可以擁有實質業權。這一個漏洞,使入息和資產上限變成一個笑話,資助房屋不能達到幫助低收入市民的目的,而變成炒賣樓房的工具。

林博士舉出的例子,是有錢買樓無錢開飯的現象。第一,資助房屋在現時水平並不便宜,符合入息和資產上限資格的人士如果買了,供樓的款項會是很大的負擔,對其生活質素有很大影響。第二,政府現推出很多福利措施如長者生活津貼、復建居屋等。市民會想辦法符合申請資格,以求獲取政府福利。將會有人符合申領綜援和長者生活津貼的資格,又可申請購買資助房屋,形成雙重福利。

這個現象開始浮現至受人注意。在近期資助房屋申請中,有人填寫無入息。既然無入息,如何可以付出首期、辦理按揭和每月供款呢?政府應對頭痛的方法是只醫頭痛,考慮入息資產下限;即是將受資助階層再分為可供樓和不可供樓等級。其實沒有能力買居屋的人士仍要買居屋的真正原因是居屋有價,引致超出資格的人士仍想入市。家人互相協助買居屋並無不妥,起碼在政府有限的資助下仍可加一把力讓低收入人士可以安居。但當居屋可變成私人樓宇,買居屋的動機就變成炒賣投資掛帥而非用作資產保值以儲蓄來改善生活水平。房委的政策檢討會考慮應否限制資助房屋只可轉售給綠表白表申請者。且看結果如何。


Friday, February 1, 2013

服務劵

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
梁振英政府依循以往政府的做法,推出教育券、醫療券。這屬行政方便,可惜卻沒有考慮這些券背後的制度與政策意義。公共服務可以有兩種發展:一是公營化,由政府以不同的公營形式經營,另一是私有化,讓牟利的私營機構替代政府提供。前者的詬病是效率不如私營企業,後者的問題是私營機構有一個盈利取向。以政府公帑支付的代用券,無論是教育券或醫療券,可說是局部私有化;公帑支付的代用券購買的是私營機構提供的公共服務,其中必然包含利潤部分。政府把教育券和醫療券的公帑支出改為投入公營部門,實際的效益可能更大。"

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。

什麼叫做公共服務私有化?私有就不再是公共服務。我們可以更清楚的說,有一些市民需要的服務,政府要製定政策,由政府一手包辦,由公帑全數支付或只收回少量成本,是為公共服務。服務亦可以由私營自由市場提供,服務成本和服務水平由市場主導。一些基建和保安是前者,由政府壟斷。市民願意不願意都要納稅以支付成本。一些民生必需品如食物,房屋等,通常自由市場可以提供足夠服務;市民可以選擇,經營者公平競爭。亦有一些在其中間,政府不想全權負責,但自由市場又未能有效負擔,就做成私人壟斷或寡頭壟斷。在此政府有監管角色,需確保服務在公平原則下提供。還有一些四不像,多是由政府做成,即是服務由政府、自由市場、壟斷者同時提供。原則上是市民可以各取所需,喜歡那一樣有自由去選擇。但實情是混亂的市場有競爭又有反競爭,政府還可推卸提供公共服務的責任。民生服務是否應該是公共服務是一個政治選擇。很明顯的例子是食水和電力;各國有些是公營有些是私營。香港食水是公營而電力是私營。交通亦是一樣,很多國家有公營公共交通。

香港有十二年免費教育。理論上中小學教育由政府全部負責,有官立和資助學校。但政府卻仍鼓吹私立學校,教導另一種課程,說是給市民一個選擇。市民當然想有最佳教育;政府已是間接承認教育局定下的課程比私立學校差。那為何不改進課程呢?早前政府考慮推學劵制,讓教育資助跟學生走,更是想將教育由公共服務轉向私營服務。學劵現時在幼稚園推行,只可以說是十五年免費教育前期工作,更只是在金錢上補助低收入家庭幼兒教育費。這應該只是權宜之計,作過渡之用。將來所有幼稚園由政府全數資助,不收學費,幼稚園學劵就可以取消。

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。

間接一點的,交通津貼和長者交通優惠亦是服務劵的一種形式。但對低收入人士提供交通津貼和交通服務無關,只是在金錢上對生活的補貼。長者交通優惠較好,因為所有長者都可享受,但亦和交通服務無關。營運公司只需將補貼或政府資助列為成本和開支一部份。還有人指出優惠使長者使用公共交通次數增加,對交通服務做成額外壓力。

服務劵是一個以金錢為核心的政策。其不公平之處是人為地扭曲了市場。以服務劵方式將提供公共服務的責任推向私營市場會突顯資本主義市場的缺點,受害者是市民。我認為服務劵的作用只能是過渡性,讓政府可以有時間改善和擴充公共服務,是過程或手段而非目的。