In business, there are several truths, traditions and other common idioms which are either no longer valid or which never served much purpose at all. In the spirit of positive change and moving away from “business as usual” (another cliché that ought to be on my hit list), let’s look at a few, and for each outdated, outmoded or incorrect cliché, I will offer an alternative.
Thinking outside the box.
I remember first hearing this one sometime in the 1990s and executives have held fast to it ever since. Business leadership all the way down to middle management espouses this directive as a way to encourage innovation among their teams. But what does it really mean, and is it really a valid way to proceed?
Think about it. There are many instances in which it’s not only acceptable, but advisable to think inside the box. Medicine, law and education come to mind. If you’re thinking outside the box, are you taking into consideration things like regulations, sales cycles and human psychology?
What would be better: calculated innovation. This says, “We need to do X, Y and Z but we’re going to find a more efficient, more effective way of doing it. Take, for example, the iPad. Similar tablet computers have been around for nearly 30 years, but Apple did their research and came up with a way to create something that, while not entirely new, used existing aesthetics, psychology and human computer interaction to its full advantage.
This is a concept touted by supervisors and other management staff in order to get them thinking about how to manage their employees in a way that will yield more, better and faster results with less disciplinary action. In short, employees need to know exactly what is expected of them, they need constant feedback and positive and negative reinforcement, and, like children, they will test your limits as their supervisor.
Now, let’s look a bit more closely at this. If you’re over the age of, say, 25, how much parenting are you going to want or need? Assuming your boss hired you because you were highly skilled in the area in which you do business, you shouldn’t need much supervision and certainly none of the same type of supervision that your parents no doubt gave you when you were growing up. As many of you know, outside the office, I am an actual parent. When I hear a term like “Business Parenting”, it makes me think of, well, parenting.
Parenting involves saying “no” a lot. When the kids are little, you say “No, you can’t do that”, “No, don’t touch that!”, “No, you will eat your dinner first!” and when they question why, the old fallback “Because I’m the mom” or “Because I said so!” often suffices. The problem is that, once the kids get a bit older – after 7 is the age of reason – the parents’ response needs to evolve. “No, you can’t watch more TV tonight because you need your sleep for school tomorrow”. That’s just explaining why not. Some parents do a great job of eventually empowering their offspring to make good decisions; others don’t.
If you’re a supervisor and you practice business parenting, are you simply a Dr No who stands in the way of your employees, or are you giving them concrete reasons for declining their requests?
What would be better: rather than embracing business parenting as a concept, how about business partnering? All the best bosses I’ve ever had have not only guided and taught their employees, but learned and accepted guidance from their staff. Think about it: oftentimes, the employees have as much if not more technical know-how than the boss. This kind of relationship creates more efficient, more empowered employees and smarter, more efficient bosses. Win-win!
The IT Guy.
As a country, we’ve evolved gender roles quite a bit since the end of World War II. My husband is a teacher, and my doctor is a woman, and when I tell people this, they don’t blink. When, on the other hand, I tell people that I work in the information technology field, a lot of times their eyes glaze over, they ask “Doing what?” or they quickly change the subject. Why is that?
According to SESTAT (the Scientists and Engineers Statistical Data System), nearly 30% of the IT workforce is women. These are technology generalists and specialists who perform a variety of functions, such as network engineering, hardware integration, software engineering and, what I do, web design and development.
Now, I was talking with a coworker last week and joked that, because my last name is Guy, I literally am the Web Guy. He laughed, but it got me thinking: why is it nearly always assumed that the IT guy is a man?
I’ve worked in a male-dominated field for almost all my career, and have known many great female it “guys”. These women are smart, savvy, and personable while retaining their femininity. And maybe that’s part of the problem. When you think of a computer scientist, what image comes to mind? Do you envision a guy with subpar social skills, hunkered in a corner, maybe eating Cheetos and pulling a ballpoint pen out of his pocket protector as he sneers at your ignorance of the systems? Or would a woman in, say, a skirt and heels, snacking on raw almonds and checking to see that her son got on the bus just before running a meeting also fit the image of an IT professional in your mind?
What would be better: you’d never refer to a doctor as a “hospital guy” so why refer to an IT professional as an “IT guy”? Making a tweak to the label and using the phrase “IT pro” or, even better, “knowledge worker” or “knowledge professional” would go a ways towards changing the face of this important occupation.
Fellow Toastmasters and honored guests, let’s resolve to make a change – today! – to move away from the clichés I just highlighted and to be more thoughtful in our speech, as well as in our work lives.