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How to succeed in the movie industry

“Be smart, committed, hardworking – and nice”

Pictures of Meryl Streep have been appearing in the London newspapers.  She was in the city filming her latest role as an influential British woman.  This time she is starring as Emmeline Pankhurst in the new movie ‘Suffragette’ about the struggle for women’s suffrage in Great Britain in the early 20th century.  Hopefully the movie will raise awareness amongst young people in particular of the struggle to bring the vote to everyone.

The film is being produced by Alison Owen who has just given the latest Olive Till Memorial lecture at the Department of Media and Communications, Goldsmiths College, University of London. As she shared her experiences in the film and TV industries, Alison also spoke about how much the industry has changed for women since she began producing music videos in the 1980s.

Just as there are many kinds of managers, so there are many types of film producer.  They can do ‘pretty much nothing’ or ‘pretty much everything’.  The role can include the financial aspects, the team building and/or the creative process itself.  Alison’s preferred way of working is collaborative, working with directors particularly at script stage.  She loves – and looks for – good writing.

Key lessons from a successful producer

  • Be courteous – Alison read every script submitted to her and responded – this is what got her noticed early on in her career
  • Understand what elements you enjoy about your job – taking a project from A-Z is what interests Alison, so these are the projects she looks for
  • She loves the creative, collaborative aspects of her role, especially at script stage
  • Be passionate, emotional AND practical.  She is looking for her own visceral, emotional response to a project.  She wants to see women’s lives reflected on screen.  But projects have to ‘work’ in other ways
  • She measures the success of her projects three ways:
    • Did the project succeed financially?
    • Was it an artistic success?
    • Did the project achieve what she set out to do?
  • You can recover from the worst of events.
    • In 2004, changes to UK tax regulations meant pulling the plug very late on a project called Tulip Fever.  200 people were made redundant.  Alison wrote about the project at the time in a national newspaper.   The film is ‘back on’.

Alison’s CV

Her works include The Other Boleyn Girl, the Oscar-nominated Elizabeth, Shaun of the Dead and Saving Mr Banks as well as television series including Case Histories and Dancing on the Edge.  For a full filmography, see IMDB.

Flexible working arrangements and the talent pool

New technologies and working practices should mean that many people can work at a time, and from a location, of their choosing.  But what is the real picture?

Catalyst has been conducting a longitudinal study of ‘high potential’ graduates of leading business schools in Asia, Canada, Europe and the US.  The study sets out to assess career values, goals and expectations and to explore strategies for managing work and family life.

Its latest report explores flexible work arrangements (FWA) and sets out to discover how these arrangements impact the careers of men and women.

Flexible work arrangements include:

  • Compressed work weeks
  • Flexible start and finish times
  • Flexitime
  • Job sharing
  • Reduced time/part time working
  • Telecommuting

The report finds that 81% of respondents are currently working for an organisation that offers some form of FWA, with little difference between organisational type or size.

Key findings

The report finds a correlation between high career aspirations and access to FWAs: 90% of the ‘high potentials’ who had access to FWAs said they aspired to senior executive level roles.  This number drops to 77% in workplaces with no flexible working arrangements.  The gap is even wider for female respondents.  Women in these workplaces were much more likely to ‘downsize’ their career aspirations.

  • At least half of respondents stated that FWAs are very or extremely important.  Women were more likely to say this.
  • Women were more likely to report using telecommuting frequently or very frequently (39%) than men (29%)

The report concludes that ‘face time’, where employees are seen to be working, is still important in many organisations.

Maximising the talent pool

Offering flexible working to employees allows organisations to maximise the talent pool amongst its employees.  Both men and women are more likely to aspire to top roles within organisations that do offer flexible working.  If organisations want to be employers of choice for top talent then they should strive to develop a culture that trusts employees to deliver, irrespective of the amount of ‘face-time’ they put in.

More information.

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Managing information risk – European business must do better

European companies are improving when it comes to managing information risk, but they must do even better.

PWC and Iron Mountain have published their 2013 Risk Maturity Index, exploring attitudes to information risk and examples of best practice in mid-sized businesses in six countries in Europe (France, Germany, Hungary, Netherlands, Spain and UK*).  Their findings suggest there has been some improvement in attitudes to information risk, but that there is still a long way to go.  Middle sized (250-2,500 employees) European companies are ‘ill equipped’ to navigate the complex information landscape.

Key findings of the study

  • Awareness of the importance of information risk management is growing
  • The average number of data breaches is growing 50% per year
  • 36% of companies are keeping all of their data ‘just in case’
  • Only 45% of companies have an information risk strategy
  • 42% of those surveyed are worried about the security of their company’s stored data
  • Only 25% consider their employees to be a serious threat to information security
  • 45% do not monitor employee social media use

National differences

Companies in the Netherlands performed better than in any other country.  They were more likely to have strategies and plans in place to deal with BYOD and minor data ‘mishaps’. They were also much more likely to have a corporate risk register.  Alongside companies in France, Dutch businesses were most likely to treat information risk at board level.

Hungary takes second place in the Risk Maturity Index.  Over the last 12 months, businesses have focused on raising employees’ awareness of information risk issues and providing relevant training.

Spanish companies lag behind those in other countries and are least likely to provide guidelines to employees or to have key security measures in place.

Best practice

  •  Information management and risk must be a board level issue
  • Information audits – identify what you have, where it is stored and how it is classified
  • Operate a policy of ‘controlled trust’

*600 senior managers were interviewed in mid-sized businesses in the six countries.

The White Paper is free to download from Iron Mountain.

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Enlightened enterprise – the Etsy economy

The CEO of Etsy believes business should be conducted as if people and place matter.

Etsy is an online global marketplace and community of 900,000 creative people around the world.  The focus is on handmade, artisan and vintage crafts and goods.  Etsy is now a $1billion company – 96.5% of the sales revenues are retained by the producers.  Etsy’s success is dependent on the success of its community.

It’s easy to see the harm that commercial activity can have on the world – environmental damage, the human tragedies of factory fires, child labour and poverty.  But Chad Dickerson, CEO of Etsy is an optimist.  He believes that people centred business can be profitable and create social good.  On an individual level, the success of microbusinesses on the Etsy platform means that hundreds of thousands of individuals are making a living doing something they love, working flexibly, and integrating family life with work.  They are making a life, not just a living.

The power of community

There are self-organised Etsy communities all around the globe.  Groups of people come together in cities, towns and across borders to trade tips, collaborate, support each other and join forces to buy supplies.  In Italy, a community decided they wanted Etsy’s site to be available in Italian.  Working with Etsy, the community co-created an Italian site in a couple of weeks and this process is being replicated in other countries.

In Rockford Illinois the Mayor tweeted about the potential value of an ‘Etsy economy’ for the economically challenged town.  Within 24 hours, Dickerson had replied to the Mayor and the local Etsy community had also made contact.  Working with other local community leaders, a curriculum has been created to help local people develop and run successful Etsy businesses.  Existing human capital and knowledge have been leveraged in a new way and an online community became a ‘real-world’ team.

Making human-centred business work

It’s easy to say you are a human-centred, values driven organisation but how do you measure it?  Etsy joined the growing B-Corporation movement which provides an independent assessment of how business measure up as forces for social good.  Businesses are measured on everything from their provisions for workers (Etsy has conducted a happiness audit of its employees) to their environmental impact.  Etsy barely made the grade – yet Dickerson celebrates this.  The process has identified deficiencies and has helped them set a challenging target – to move from the barely scraped pass-mark of 80% to 100% in two years.

Chad Dickerson was speaking at the RSA in London.

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BYOD – latest trends and predictions

Two new reports on the impact of BYOD on business and individuals have appeared this month.

BYOD strategies enable employees to use their own devices to access data and enterprise applications. Although security issues still cause concern for many organisations, BYOD can improve employee satisfaction, encourage innovation and reduce organisational costs.

Gartner’s latest report on the Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) phenomenon reveals continued growth in the trend.  Gartner surveyed global Chief Information Officers asking them about their attitudes to the provision of mobile devices for employees.

Key findings 

  • BYOD most prevalent in medium-sized organisations (2,500–5000 employees)
  • US companies are twice as likely as European companies to allow BYOD
  • By 2016 38% of companies will not provide mobile devices to employees
  • Full employee reimbursement for costs will decline

With the likely decrease of organisations subsidising the purchase of devices, Gartner says that organisations need to ensure employees are given guidelines on the best possible devices for work.  When it comes to phones, employers should not subsidise the purchase of the device but should contribute to the service plan.

Employee time savings

Meanwhile, Cisco has published a report on the value of BYOD to companies in six countries (Brazil, China, Germany, India, the UK and the US).  Of the companies surveyed, 89% are already allowing BYOD.  According to Cisco, employees estimate they are saving an average of 37 minutes of productive work a week, although the figures for different countries vary wildly (81 minutes per week for the US; 4 minutes per week in Germany).

Making it work

Organisations need to ensure their workforce has the right skills, backed up by mobile and BYOD company strategies and guidelines.

See original Gartner press release.  See the Cisco report.

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Dealing with mission impossible – a publishing case study

The American Geophysical Union (AGU) disseminates scientific information in the interdisciplinary fields of geophysics.  With over 60,000 members worldwide, the AGU publishes books, research journals, newspapers and other scientific periodicals.

In 2012 the AGU announced a publishing partnership with Wiley.  And in September 2012 Freddie Quek, Director of Engineering for Wiley, was given four months to integrate the AGU content onto a single Wiley platform.  He shared his story of coping with this ‘mission impossible’ with delegates at the Association of Subscription Agents conference in London.

Targets

By 2nd January 2013

  • Start revenue earning
  • Ensure systems ready to support entire content chain
  • Ensure system works in a familiar way for all AGU customers
  • Give AGU customers access to all licensed content

Challenges

  • 17 systems to check
  • Non-standard content formats (one publication had no page numbers; one journal had seven parts – three of which had sub-parts)
  • Over 700 special sections of content
  • What to do about unique identifiers; new ISSNs required
  • Unknown unknowns!
  • Ensuring discoverability
  • Development to start before all requirement were clear

What worked

  • Creation of a 60 day plan
  • Number one priority across the organisation – 52 people on the team
  • Sense of commitment, urgency and importance of the project
  • Rapid decision making at all levels
  • Team effort by everyone and a can-do attitude
  • Strong business lead and close cooperation

Lessons learned

  • Focus on people over process
  • Embrace the challenge
  • Break some rules
  • Be brave
  • Use your best people

Many of us will be asked to take on ‘impossible missions’ at work.  Freddie’s best advice?  Deal with it!

Entrepreneurship in Europe and beyond

The European Commission (EC) believes that entrepreneurship is a key enabler in improving Europe’s performance in economic reform, social cohesion and employment.  The promotion of entrepreneurship and self-employment in included in the EC’s 2020 strategy.

The Commission is focusing on encouraging unemployed people to start their own businesses and supporting social entrepreneurs.  It has been studying the development of entrepreneurship in Europe for over ten years and the results of the latest survey reveal the current situation in the EU and beyond – including 13 non-EU countries including Brazil, India and Russia.

Key findings

Attitudes to self-employment

  • 58% of EU residents would prefer to be an employee
  • 37% favour self-employment (down from 45% in 2009)
  • Self-employment is generally more popular with non-EU respondents.  In particular, there are high levels of people in favour of self-employment in Brazil (63%) and Turkey (82%)
  • Reasons for stating self-employment is not feasible include
    • The current economic climate
    • Lack of capital
    • Lack of skills
    • Risk of failure
    • Family commitments
    • 23% of EU respondents have started a business or are thinking about doing so

Why be self-employed?

  • Self-fulfillment, personal independence and freedom to choose the time and place of work are all popular reasons for EU respondents to consider self-employment.

Factors in choosing self-employment

  • Having an appropriate business idea (87%)
  • Having access to financial resources
  • Contact with an appropriate business partner (68%) and having a role model (62%)
  • Dissatisfaction with previous work situation (55%)
  • Fewer respondents are concerned about bankruptcy (43% down 6% since 2009) and irregular income (33% down from 39% in 2009)

Attitudes to entrepreneurs

  • 87% of EU respondents believe entrepreneurs are job creators
  • 79% believe they create beneficial products and services
  • 57% believe they take advantage of other people’s work
  • 52% would rather work for a family business, with 48% citing a stronger commitment to the community

The full report is available here.

Improving employee engagement

The quality and level of employee engagement can have a direct impact on the financial and operational performance of organisations.  In an open letter (reported in the Financial Times) leaders of some of the UK’s largest companies are calling on business leaders to ‘engage for success’.

Meanwhile, in an extensive global survey of 32,000 people working in 29 countries around the world, Towers Watson sets out to uncover the current status of employee engagement and to give organisational leaders important insights into the key elements of the work environment that can help shape employee behaviour and performance in positive ways.  The report calls for a revised definition of employee engagement – sustainable engagement – which answers the complexities facing 21st century organisations.

Sustainable employee engagement

Employee engagement matters.  Highly engaged employees have lower levels of absenteeism, are more productive at work and are less likely to leave their employers.

The report recommends that leaders focus on developing their own competencies, particularly ones which will help strengthen the connections between themselves and their employees.  Leadership competencies to develop include: global and cultural acumen; rapid decision making; risk leveraging and technological competence and high level, agile interpersonal skills.

A shared view of goals

Stress levels and a sense of alienation are inevitable if employees feel confused about what they should be doing.  Leaders should attempt to identify the cause of this gap in understanding.  Remedies include:

  • Ensuring managers can understand the link between business strategy and individual/departmental objectives – and are able to communicate these
  • Ensuring information is cascaded appropriately
  • Ensuring goals and performance are communicated clearly
  • Ensuring performance management processes are robust

Organisational policies must enable employees to live more balanced lives, manage their own workload and benefit from increased autonomy about how, where and when they work.

The report, Global Workforce Study 2012 – Engagement at Risk: driving strong performance in a volatile global environment is available free of charge here.

The only way is ethics

The Ethics Research Center (ERC) based in Arlington, Virginia, has just published its latest National Business Ethics Survey® (NBES) – the ‘barometer of workplace ethics’.  (You can download the full report, free of charge, here).

The current findings have taken the ERC by surprise – all the metrics have diverged from the patterns of previous years and some interesting mixed messages have emerged.  In particular, the ERC notes that two key influences stand out in the unusual shift in trends highlighted in the report:

The economy

The survey’s findings show that companies behave differently in economic hard times and that these behavioural changes are perceived by employees as ‘a heightened commitment to ethics’. More than four in 10 employees (42 percent) say their company has increased efforts to raise awareness about ethics.  Employees respond by adopting a higher standard of personal conduct.  While misconduct witnessed by US workers is at an historic low, reporting is at a near high.

Active social networkers in the workplace

Active social networkers are defined by the ERC as those who spend 30%+ of the working day engaged in social networking activity.  Key findings suggest members of this group have a distinctly different view of ‘ethics’ to those of ‘non-active’ colleagues.  They are more likely to report negative experiences in the workplace, and are more likely to experience pressure to compromise ethical standards.  At the same time, they are more tolerant of what others may consider ‘questionable’ activities.  For example, 42% of them stated it was acceptable to blog or tweet negatively about their employers, compared to just 6% of non-active social networkers.  46% felt it was acceptable to take company software home to use on a home computer (compared to just 7% of ‘others’).

Employers beware!

The report, which is sponsored by large businesses including BP and Walmart, suggests that employers may need to find new ways to work with new types of employees – those who may ignore social media policy but who are equally willing to whistleblow when they are unhappy with the organisation’s own ethical behaviour.  As ‘work’ and ‘life’ merge, it seems that some employees at least are setting their own ethical frameworks in the workplace – organisations ignore this group at their peril.

 

McKinsey’s ‘most read’ of 2011

The lull between Christmas and New Year is an excellent time to carry out some work-focused housekeeping duties.  I took the opportunity to spend a few hours reviewing my RSS feeds as well as many additional subscriptions to e-newsletters, daily updates, and press releases.  I took the time to consider which resources had provided real insight and impact in 2011.

One subscription that really did ‘keep on giving’ in 2011 was McKinsey Quarterly.  The latest quarterly update features links to the most popular articles of 2011.  Appearing in the top 10 list, and first published in January 2011, this article on recovering from information overload was discussed in this blog in February.  The popularity of the article suggests that there are many opportunities for information professionals to provide guidance to colleagues on managing information flows.

Some other key themes emerge in the top ten articles, pointing the way to what is exercising those leading teams and organisations.

Creativity – information overload is identified as something that can stifle creativity – but what can spark it?  In Sparking creativity in teams the authors review the latest research and present four techniques to improve creativity, including the use of analogies and creating constraints.  In Seven steps to better brainstorming the authors recommend the asking of better questions, as well as ensuring that the right people are ecouraged to to participate in the process.

Strategy – in Remapping your strategic mindset, the author describes how executives can benefit from better mental (‘rooted’) maps to help them identify opportunities and threats.  In The perils of bad strategy UCLA’s Richard Rumelt summarises the differences between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ strategies and helps readers identify examples of both, while Have you tested your strategy lately provides 10 tests to help executives ensure their strategies are ‘roadworthy’.

All of the top ten articles are well worth reading and McKinsey Quarterly remains on my ‘must read’ list for 2012.  Other subscriptions were not so lucky, but that’s another story!