This page is older archived content from an older version of the Emerald Publishing website.

As such, it may not display exactly as originally intended.

Emerald podcasts: enjoy Emerald content on the move!

We are now offering some of our management content as podcasts.

The podcasts available on this page are specially written by David Pollitt. They are drawn from reviews in the Emerald Management Reviews database.

Podcasts are provided as .mp3 files which you can play on your computer or upload to your mp3 player. No special software is required.

Left-click your chosen podcast link, then:

  • To play the file choose 'open' (Internet Explorer) or 'Open with' & click 'OK' (Firefox) when your browser prompts you.
  • To download the files to your computer choose 'save' (Internet Explorer) or 'Save to disc' (Firefox)

We value your feedback on this service. Please send any comments to [email protected]

View transcript

How strange is your organization?.

How strange is your organization?

Many organizations claim their workforce as their main competitive advantage, yet treat their employees in a similar way to those of their competitors. They base their recruitment procedures, wage rages, hours of work and other job conditions on industry norms. Consequently, little that the organization produces or does is particularly noteworthy from a customer’s point of view. Cable (Business Strategy Review, Spring 2008) argues that, to deliver a unique experience to customers, the workforce must be unusual, even ‘strange’.

Summarizing his book, Change to Strange, Cable contends that organizations should seek to develop a sustained competitive advantage by creating and delivering to customers something that is valuable, rare and hard to imitate. This depends on having a workforce that knows, and has confidence in, its special methods and goals.

Cable admits that building a strange workforce takes time and effort. It involves hiring strangely, training strangely and measuring performance strangely. He uses the example of the Lincoln Electric Company, a successful welding firm, which focuses on product innovation, guarantees lifetime employment, pays wages on the basis of quality products rather than time, and reinvests an unusually large percentage of its profits in annual bonuses.

Strange companies are rarely boring to work for. In this context – and many others – Werner-Hogg and Dunder-Mifflin would certainly be classified as strange. They are, respectively, the UK and US businesses at the heart of the TV comedy The Office.

The series relies for much of its humour on the insensitivity and political incorrectness revealed by its main characters – office managers Brent (in the UK series) and Michael (in the USA) – in their quest to be popular with the workforce. In a US episode named ‘Women’s Appreciation’, for example, Michael wonders why a flasher who exposed himself to Phyllis ‘did not choose one of the hotter women, like Pam or Karen from behind’. Tyler and Cohen (Gender, Work and Organization, March 2008) study the performance and parody of gender in The Office, concluding that the series critiques gendered norms through self-parody.

Brent and Michael are, of course, classic examples of ‘derailed’ executives who have been sidelined by their organizations. According to some estimates, up to a third of executives are derailed. Capretta et al. (Global Business and Organizational Excellence, March/April 2008) argue that derailed executives share common features – interpersonal-relationship problems, failure to build and lead a team, and inability to meet business objectives, or to adapt. More specific characteristics of failed executives include the illusion that they dominate their environments, excessive identification with the company, trying to have all the answers, eliminating other viewpoints, being obsessed with the company’s image, underestimating major obstacles, and relying on past remedies.

While most research focuses on the positive aspects of leadership, or the things that leaders do well, studies of derailment reveal how the dark side of personality can reduce morale, prompt employee disengagement and generally impede the smooth running of an organization.

For examples of the damage that a single individual can cause to operational effectiveness, look no further than Werner-Hogg and Dunder-Mifflin. Does a Brent or a Michael lurk among your lower-tier executives?