In this new year post, I’m counting down 10 business tips as seen through the eyes and ears of punk rock. A kind of “Business Top of the Pops” but without the DJ. No need to pogo whilst reading these unless you must. Punk refers to brevity, simplicity and purity of thought in business. For more on all this, ping me a note with PUNK in the title to claim your new year’s gift – a copy of my micro book – Punk Rock People Management.
# 10 – What do you want from life? – The Tubes
THE PUNK BUSINESS POINT – The Tubes’ revolting anthem on happiness in life and work, coming out of observations on their fans opulent lifestyle in San Francisco, points out that consumption per se does not lead to happiness. So, rewards given without there being some basic desire for the reward are worthless. We did not need The Tubes or the happiness movement to tell us this. All we had to do was to look carefully at Herzberg’s Two Factor Theory of Satisfiers and Dissatisfiers. Somehow The Tubes’ message is more potent. If you are not familiar with the song, listen to the rant at the end of this piece. In more recent times, Radiohead did something similar with “Fitter Happier”.
# 9 – Blank Generation – Richard Hell and the Voidoids
THE PUNK BUSINESS POINT – This is perhaps the first and only time that Punk Rock and HR Guru Gary Hamel will find unity … Hamel recently said that “HR must help kill bureaucracy and encourage greater innovation within organistions“. Why? That comes down to the ‘blank generation’, aka people who are actively disengaged from work. We don’t need engagement taskforces to know this – it’s punk rock common sense. Less obvious is how to achieve that innnovation in HR, which, after all, is usually part of the risk reduction part of the enterprise. I spent a third of my life working on scientific innovation and quite a bit of time watching people wringing their hands about innovation on the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development Council and frankly, I don’t see innovation as a core HR competence.
# 8 – Oh bondage, up yours – X-Ray Spex
THE PUNK BUSINESS POINT – Poly Styrene’s point was really all about female empowerment or girl power. This applies just as much to the guys. As Poly says “Bind me tie me, Chain me to the wall, I wanna be a slave to you all, Oh bondage up yours“. Simply put, if you want to get extra performance out of people, stop controlling every last detail of people’s performance through lengthy job descriptions, KPI’s, SMART goals for everything, yada, yada …
# 7 – Public Image – Public Image Ltd
THE PUNK BUSINESS POINT – “You never listen to a word that I said, you only see me for the clothes that I wear” Do we look past people’s appearance towards their knowledge, skills and attitudes in interviews, appraisals etc? After all, it’s those things we desperately want rather than an illusion. In an age where virtually everything is choreographed at work, remember that Steve Jobs would probably have failed an interview at Apple.
# 6 – What do I get? – The Buzzcocks
THE PUNK BUSINESS POINT – We know well enough from Frederick Herzberg and The Buzzcocks that pay is a ‘dissatisifier’. In other words, if you double people’s pay, they won’t work twice as hard for twice as long. Take away their pay and you know all about it if it is perceived as being out of balance with the effort as Starbucks are just about to discover. Pay people well enough, but don’t just focus on pay as the reward for work. This reinforces the conversation about ‘What do I get?’ After all RNR stands for Reward AND Recognition, not just Rock’n’Roll.
# 5 – Two Tribes – Frankie Goes to Hollywood
THE PUNK BUSINESS POINT – The Bard of Barking, Billy Bragg, may not have been an employment lawyer, but he may have contributed more to our understanding of collective bargaining than all the employment law authors in the world if they were laid end to end, via his song ‘There is power in a union’. Frankie goes to Hollywood also reminded us of the classic pluralist assumption within classical thinking on unions in their 80’s anthem “Two Tribes”. OK, Frankie are not punks I know, but they conveyed the spirit of punk rock through their music.
Punk Rock HR offers us three chords on unions:
- See unions as an advantage in a pluralist workplace due to the money and time they can save you if you get the relationship right.
- Focus on interests rather than positions if you are to do collective bargaining well.
- See negotiations from all viewpoints so that you can be most effective in reaching a solution. It is what pre-punk Scandinavians Abba would have called “Knowing me, knowing you”.
# 4 – Happy House – Siouxsie and the Banshees
THE PUNK BUSINESS POINT – Siouxsie Sioux’s deeply ironic lyric flags up the problem with the ‘happiness movement’. She commented that “Happy House” contrasts the illusion of family bliss, where everyone smiles, has blond hair, has all-day sunshine, eats butter without fat, with the realities of life – depression, wife beating and so on. Grim stuff for a pop song! The happiness movement also seems to operate under the illusion that we are all becoming more self-actualised and self-driven, when the data seems to suggest that people are less happy than they were 50 years ago, even though we are considerably richer. Since work is a huge part of life, the implication is that we should design jobs and work which are fulfilling.
# 3 – Smash it up – The Damned
THE PUNK BUSINESS POINT – Disruptive innovation inside companies takes considerable effort. Sometimes it’s necessary to destroy the status quo to make way for new practices. Smashing up existing organisational structures and cultures may look like vandalism, but given the permanence of cultures, sometimes it is the only way to make space for the new.
# 2 – What a Waste – Ian Dury
THE PUNK BUSINESS POINT – “What a waste”, like “Sex and Drugs and Rock’n’Roll”, was a song about being in a job that makes you happy. Perhaps all that is needed to create a high performance workplace is to develop the HR habit of finding out what turns people on and ensuring that the work gives them these outcomes.
In some cases, as Dury points out, this does not have to be Chief Executive or Vice President of HR, it could simply involve becoming “the ticket man at Fulham Broadway Station”.
# 1 – Teenage Kicks – The Undertones
THE PUNK BUSINESS POINT – When I asked Professor Adrian Furnham earlier this year to identify out some factors that make for an agile innovative company, his first point was to ensure that youth has a voice in the affairs of the company. Youth brings ideas that are untrammelled by experience, as long as people feel able to voice those ideas. The smart HR person gives a voice to youthful and other naïve inputs to company strategy.
Send your suggestions for other punk rock songs with a business message by commenting on this blog. Order your copy of Punk Rock People Management by mailing me with PUNK in the title. Also available on Amazon Kindle and as a hard copy full colour book. Coming very soon now, the new book – The Music of Business – Here’s a quote: This book is a great tool for people in business. Harvey Goldsmith CBE
Punk Rocker Picture by Lindsay Wakelin Photography
About the Blogger: Peter Cook leads The Academy of Rock – Keynote events with a difference and Human Dynamics – Business and organisation development, training and coaching. Contact via firstname.lastname@example.org