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Working Today: a glossary

As work changes, so do the words that we use to describe what's happening to us. Fo instance, you used to be laid off, which meant there wasn't enough work to go around. Now, you're downsized, which means there's the same amount of work, only you won't be doing it. But downsize, an active verb that's affected millions of Amercians, is not to be found in most dictionaries-or spell checks for that matter. Like downsize, there's a whole parade of terms you best arm yourself with before braving today's changing workplace. The guide below was put together with help from: The Witch Doctors by John Micklethwait and Adrian Wooldridge; Fad Surfing in the Boardroom by Eileen Shapiro; and interviews with Tom Pawlak, Towers Perrin and Harry Bernard, Colton Bernard.

360 degrees of Evaluation or Multi Source Assessment: It stands apart from traditional, top-down reviews by seeking the evaluations of not just an employees' superior, but his or her peers, subordinates and sometimes clients as well. Authors John Micklethwait and Adrian Wooldridge of The Witch Doctors call it a "quasi-Maoist device." Scott Adams says it's an opportunity to threaten your boss with "mutually assured destruction." The process is actually about 17 years old, but is just now gaining favor.

Ability to deal with 'Ambiguity': A skill often required to be a competent manager in the '90s. The workplace is in a state of rapid change and managers have to be willing to adapt to gray areas. This can often be a disguise for a lack of strategy. When mid-level managers question what the vision is and whether there is a plan, senior managers will say you just can't handle ambiguity, which are code words for you're rocking the boat.

Business-process reengineering: An attempt to break an organization down into its component parts and then put them together again to create a new machine. That means asking what the machine is expected to do in the first place -- in the jargon, what the "processes" are supposed to achieve. In a typical reengineering project, 10 to 20 young consultants descend on a company, draw up maps of process flows, propose ripping up old accounting procedures. They then suggest that people from different departments work together in one team (with a good portion of them losing their jobs.) Rather than focusing on what comes out of the machine at the end, a reengineered company's edge comes from its efficiency.

Competency Based Pay or Skills Based Pay: When pay is based on the knowledge skills needed to do the job. It tends to be characteristics rather than skills you learn in school.

Contingent work: The term was coined in the 80s to describe a lot of different work arrangements -- not just temps. It includes independent contractors, on-call workers, many part-time workers, leased workers, and day laborers or "just in time workers." It's a growing trend in which more and more people are working on a temporary basis with no benefits or job security. The number of people in the U.S. who are unemployed, self-employed, or on short-term contracts is currently about 35 percent. In a 1994 cover story entitled "The End of the Job," Fortune said, "What is disappearing is not just a certain number of jobs in certain industries or jobs in some parts of the country or even jobs in America as a whole. What is disappearing is the very thing itself: the job. That much sought after, much maligned social entity, is vanishing like a species that has outlived its evolutionary time."

Core competencies: The idea is for companies to identify and organize around what they do best. Corporate strategy is based not on products or markets, but on competencies that give a company access to several markets and are difficult for competitors to imitate.

Distributed work: Work activity conducted by groups or teams in different places.

Downsized: Or right sized, de-layer, flatten the organization, separated, severed, laid off, unassigned, and proactively outplaced. In 1996, AT&T announced 40,000 "redundancies." Despite a panic about "corporate anorexia," some American companies have recently introduced a practice known as "pruning" -- cutting the workforce regularly in order to promote the health of those who survive.

Dress Down Day or Casual Business Wear: The trend toward more casual wear in the work place started about five years ago in response to lighter work loads on Friday and people working more at home, and in cubicles. It's an attempt to improve morale. In workplaces that welcome casual wear there may be recognition that getting the job done right is more important than what you wear. It does raise issues about what is appropriate work attire.

Drucker, Peter: The father of modern management and universally considered the top management guru. He is one of the few thinkers from any discipline who can claim to have changed the world: he is the inventor of privatization, the apostle of a new class of "knowledge" workers, and the champion of management as a serious intellectual discipline. Drucker showed how GM's decentralized structure enabled it to respond to challenges such as the transition from war to peace. He is well know for the concepts of "empowering" workers or "creating the self-governing plant community. In 1959, Drucker coined the phrase knowledge worker (ie, the worker's whose value lies in what he has in his head not in what he can do with his hands.)

"Employability:" What does a company owe it's workers? Management theory has proposed a number of answers, ranging from "nothing except a good pay packet" to "employability" to "a stake in the company." There are still a fair number of companies that reap the rewards from offering workers secure employment. For instance, before a jobs-for-life pledge was introduced at Range Rover factory in the early 1990s, barely 11 percent of the employees bothered to enter an annual "suggestions" competition because they were worried that improved efficiency might cost them their jobs: afterward the proportion rose to 84 percent. When IBM's director of employee relations announced in the mid-1990s that "unconditional lifetime employment is no longer the name of the game; instead it's lifelong employability," he believed it was better to tell workers the truth than to offer them a job for life and leave them unprepared for any other employment. Apple's John Sculley offered staff a "new Loyalty" pledge, saying Apple can't promise jobs for life, but that you will be constantly learning and challenged, and better positioned in the local or global labor market.

Empowerment: Some management thinkers now believe all the focus on leadership was wrong because it undermined the concept of empowerment.

Today's best managers, the theory goes, must step back and allow their workers to assume alternating roles as leaders in teams. Sounds like a recycled idea? It probably is. "High involvement" for example is only the latest iteration of "empowerment," which in turn was just another name for an older notion. Empowerment is one of the biggest waves of fad-surfing. It's often packaged under the labels of "employee involvement programs" or "employee satisfaction programs." Yet in an increasing number of cases, the pronouncements and programs aimed at building an empowered workforce leave both employees and their managers cynical, angry, and thoroughly demoralized.

Flatter Organization: To make lives better and work more effective, some companies are creating self-managed work teams. By moving away from a hierarchical "top-down" structure to a "flatter" organization, they are giving people at lower levels more power. It means someone will lose their job. It cuts out a lot of layers in decision making to increase the ability to act more quickly.

Income patch: To work many different jobs to make ends meet.

Japanese style of management: The general air is of competitive collaboration, with each worker team vying to be the most efficient. Worker inspired innovations are encouraged and are spread throughout the company.

At Toyota workers have only about an hour's worth of inventory at hand. A constant flow of traffic -- bicycles, small trucks, and even unmanned carts, deliver material to workers so can get whatever they need without keeping huge supplies of spares. Management puts an unusual amount of emphasis on the workers' comfort. Robots do the back breaking work of lifting rather than the skilled work of welding. Cars are suspended above the ground so that the workers can insert parts without bending down. Japan maintains a system of lifetime employment.

Knowledge worker: (See Peter Drucker) An employee who provides information services. A very popular concept these days even though Drucker discussed it in 1959. Now the term is used by temp agency personnel to convince workers that they are better off when they can constantly re-sell themselves for different jobs and projects.

Management consultants: The global consultancy market is now worth around $40 billion ($15 billion in the US), and employs upwards of 100,000 people. It is estimated that management consultancies' fee income will double by the turn of the century. While client companies downsize, consultancies merrily upsize as they absorb their customer's discarded functions.

Open book management: Workers are encouraged to develop an understanding and have input into how the company's finances are managed, which in turn gives them a greater stake in making the company succeed.

Outsourcing: Services are contracted out to other companies. It's great for consultants, but bad for people in the industry where it's happening

Painted Walls: In recent years, there's even been a trend to paint workplace walls pale and softer colors that make people feel better. Gray and bilge green are to be avoided.

Peters, Tom: When most people hear the term "management guru," they think of Tom Peters. He launched, led and defined the current management guru boom. He cranks out books, videos, articles and a newsletter. His books include In Search of Excellence, and Liberation Management: Necessary Disorganization for the Nanosecond Nineties, The Tom Peters Seminar: Crazy Times Call for Crazy Organizations, Liberation Management and the Pursuit of Wow and Thriving on Chaos. Critics says his often flippant comments are little more than sound bites. He has undergone his own transformation from a cheerleader of what's right with the best of Big Business to a champion of small to midsize companies and an outspoken critic of the status quo. The change results from his belief that smaller operations are easier to manage and they tend to be more responsive to customers.

Predictive Validity: Staffing is based on who a person is rather than what they are doing. It assumes people with certain personality traits will be more successful.

Reengineering: The term for a fundamental rethinking and radical redesign of a business system. It urges an overhaul of job designs, organizational structures and management systems and that work should be organized around outcomes, not tasks or functions. The first major article written by Michael Hammer in 1990 was entitled, "Reengineering Work: Don't Automate, Obliterate." In 1993, Hammer and James Campy wrote "Reengineering the Corporation." In 1995, Hammer wrote "The Reengineering Revolution" and explained how management screwed up reengineering. Now there are signs of a backlash -- of reengineering revisionists questioning how easy the theory is to put into practice complaining about "corporate anorexia" and "dumbsizing," and preaching the virtues of "growth," "trust," and "loyalty."

Robbins, Anthony: A school janitor turned "peak performance coach" makes $50 million a year from his seminars. His clients include Bill Clinton, Andre Agassi, and the Princess of Wales. Meditation and chanting, argues Robbins, can be used to unlock the creative capacities of the "right brain." His seminars attract thousands of people and are a cross between an evangelical sermon and a magical extravaganza. The high point comes when some members of the audience walk barefoot across thousands of burning coals, protected by nothing other than the power of positive thinking.

Scientific Management: Frederick Taylor, the father of stopwatch-based "scientific management," was the first recognizable management guru. Taylor was an engineer, who invented carbon-steel machine tools. He believed that there was a single best method of organizing work, and that this method could be discovered through a detailed study of the time and motion involved in doing each job. The principles at the heart of scientific management is that you break jobs down into their simplest parts; select the most suitable workers to fit the available jobs; turn those workers into specialists, each an expert in his own appointed task; arrange these specialized jobs along an assembly line; and design the right package of incentives (including bonuses and prizes) to ensure that the workers did indeed work.

Sloan, Alfred: Alfred Sloan, who took over as president of General Motors in 1923, did fro management what Henry Ford had done for labor -- turn it into a reliable, efficient, machinelike process. He invented the modern multidivisional firm, in which businesses are divided into a set of semiautonomous operating units, each responsible for maintaining the market and each having its division heads reporting to a group headquarters in charge of setting long-term strategy and allocating capital. Although the Sloanist firm was decentralized, there was a rigid (and formal) command-and-control system. And there was even a professional class of managers to run it -- the people that sociologist once dismissed as "organization men" and that commentators now remember with growing nostalgia.

For the past 30 years, the Sloanist model has been under attack.

Smith, Adam: In The Wealth of Nations (1776), Smith advocated a system of production based on employee specialization and economies of scale. His famous observation is that a group of pin makers who each concentrate on a particular part of the task can make more pins than a group in which each worker makes the whole pin. Industrialists such as Henry Ford and Alfred Sloan perfected this system, building assembly lines and splitting workers into different departmental fiefs. Mass production always had its downside, leaving many workers bored and alienated.

Telecommute: To work from home. The "SOHO" (single-operator home office) is a growing movement. One in three American homes already has a computer; some 40 percent of these have modems. Virtually every salesman or woman has a portable telephone. Many studies show productivity improves when people work at home. Telecommuting is hardly a new trend. Companies as big as Disney and Ford both started as home-based businesses. Mostly management consultants, writers, etc. tend to work at home. But, it doesn't appear that any kind of worker can work at home. A telecommunity is where citizens integrate work, education and civic action electronically.

Total Quality Management: After WW II, W. Edwards Deming, pioneered "total-quality management." Precursor to reengineering. The focus is on the customer. Great importance is placed on checking quality and reducing defects and getting products and services right the first time rather than waiting for them to be finished before checking for errors as compared to speed being them most important consideration. It's a more egalitarian system. It drives fear out of the workplace. Opposes pay for performance. It is the Japanese style of management, which everyone was looking at to figure out what made the Japanese so successful. By the early 1990s Western manufacturers were imitating those methods and beginning to see improvements in customer satisfaction and employee morale. TQM is now considered old fashioned. The "total-quality" movement indirectly promoted learning by encouraging workers to monitor their own progress and solve their own problems, rather than simply defer to managers.

"Virtual office" "workplace without walls" "company without boundaries" "non-territorial offices" "hoteling": terms that refer to companies that depends largely on electronic mail, videophone and telephone conferences to unite it far-flung workforce. "Long term hotelers" need "long term reservations." Small, fast changing amoebae-like organizations that come together to get a job done then break up and to reconfigure in a different form around another project.

Visioning: was popular in the late 80s to create a united corporate purpose to provide direction for a company. George Bush referred to it as "the vision thing." One way of "actualizing" the profound commitment from the top is for a corporate leader to talk, feel, lead and enact the vision. A "mission statement" comes out of the visioning process. Mission statements are used as a way to communicate a company's vision of itself and its future.

Virtually every firm now has a mission statement that purports to articulate its view of the future. And increasing number of companies assembly "vision task forces."


Livelyhood's first one-hour special, "Shift Change," aired on PBS in fall 1997. For information on how to order the show, call 510-268-WORK.

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