“Mad Men” is my day job, part I: Portability, or why Joan needs that money

June 26th, 2014

I mentioned earlier that “Mad Men” is basically the audio-visual supplement to my day job as a researcher at Harvard Business School. My boss, Boris Groysberg, primarily studies high achievers at professional-service firms. He’s particularly interested in how women advance in male-dominated environments.

You can see the relevance.


Dawn and Joan gaze in disgust and consternation at the face of the patriarchy (not shown).

Joan Harris has made some stunning advances, both professional and personal, this season. She handed over her administrative duties to the super-efficient Dawn, and promoted herself to “account man” with the support of Jim Cutler and Ken Cosgrove. (Joan’s whole process of becoming an account rep is a classroom-worthy case study of the importance and boundaries of relationships in the business world. Before she re-invented herself, Joan made sure she had support from above–a senior partner and the head of accounts backing her play–as well as someone to fill the role she was trying to step out of. Though not stated overtly, it’s clear that one of the reasons Joan chooses Dawn to succeed her as office manager is that, as one of only two or three African-American secretaries at the agency, Dawn isn’t looking for girlfriends in the secretarial pool or a husband in the executive suites. She focuses on doing excellent work and keeps herself aloof. Joan knows Dawn will be fair and stick to policy rather than doing favors and bending rules for her friends.)

Because of her professional rise, and greater honesty and warmth in her personal life, many critics have found it strange that Joan is also increasingly money-hungry and still deeply resentful of Don for keeping the firm from going public last season. This is where Boris’s work comes in.

Boris writes about portability: the extent to which a worker can move around in the labor market without losing value. You know who is portable in “Mad Men”? Don Draper, that’s who. Don’s power at Sterling Cooper Whatever MacGuffin Foo is based on the fact that any other agency would hire him in a heartbeat. He has a clear portfolio of accomplishments and the nature of his work is such that it can be done anywhere. Give him a file box of product research, a pad and pen, and Don Draper is ready for action.

You know who is not portable? Joan Harris. Joan has tremendous company-specific human capital: She knows everything about SC&P’s operations, clients, vulnerabilities, future projections. She has a deep understanding of the psychology of the people she works with. She has off-the-books leverage over name partner Roger Sterling.

If she moved to another firm, she would lose all of that. If she even could move to another firm. It’s doubtful she could take any clients with her if she did–she’s a new account rep and no one is especially loyal to her yet. While women are breaking into creative, client work is overwhelmingly male-dominated–as are most of the client businesses themselves–and Joan would be faced with the depressing, overwhelming task of making men take her seriously all over again if she were to try to start somewhere new. She could easily get a job as office manager elsewhere, but that would be a step down. Joan spent 16 years building her career at SC&P, and that work simply won’t transfer elsewhere.

This is why Joan so desperately wants the cash that a buyout–or a public offering, like Don blew up–represents. She’s a queen in her little kingdom of SC&P–a second-floor office! a 5% partnership!–but if anything happens to that little kingdom, and plenty has already, she goes back to being Head Secretary and Dirty-Joke Target at some other shop on Madison Avenue. Unlike Don, and even Peggy, she won’t have other agencies offering her comparable or better jobs. And unlike Roger, Jim, and the rest of the male partners, she doesn’t have any wealth to tide her over.

This is why she wants the buyout, and why she’s still so very angry at Don for spiking the public offering. Don has two forms of security: job portability and wealth. Joan knows–although she hasn’t found a b-school professor to give her the words for it yet–that she doesn’t have the former. It’s no wonder, as a single mother in the 1960s, that she’s so bound and determined to get herself the latter.

A thought before the weekend

September 23rd, 2011

From the Facebook of Nelson Mendez.

More on beating procrastination

August 12th, 2011

So there’s a necessary task that only you can do, and you are capable of doing it. Except you keep putting it off until tomorrow — whether “it” is getting back to the gym, writing thank-you notes for wedding presents, getting past the second chapter of your novel, or filling out your annual employee evaluations. Some tips for beating a procrastination habit:

1. Find meaning in your task. People are most likely to procrastinate on work that they find meaningless. I wrote last month about how going to the gym had finally started to feel worthwhile, that running in place and picking things up and putting them down had come to seem like a good use of my time. (This is a good technique for academic procrastination, obviously.)

2. Or don’t. Maybe you’re putting off something that really is meaningless, like the week’s TPS reports, but you still have to do it. Don’t insult your own intelligence by trying to find the Tao of Paperwork. Either find a way to work through them with frequent rewards and distractions, or else play an efficiency game to make the task at least marginally challenging. Roald Dahl used to play “shaving golf,” and try to completely shave his face in as few strokes as possible. There was a lovely scene in last season’s “Mad Men” in which Don recounts how he used to write assigned essays in English class to the exact minimal word requirements — five paragraphs, fifty words each.

And there are times, also, when we procrastinate because the task has too much meaning. Starting our novel. Applying to graduate school. Pricing condos. The trick here is often to fool yourself into doing your work while pretending that you aren’t. You aren’t planning to move, you’re just going to open houses with a friend as a lark. I do this with my writing, often. Despite years of experience, I can still get spooked sometimes when I sit down “to write.” So I’ve developed a way of taking notes, and then gradually expanding and reordering them until whatever I’m working on is done. So I go right from “Note Taking” to “Editing” without ever stopping at that anxiety-producing station called “Writing.”

3. Build in rewards. If there is no way to find a task inherently rewarding (or at least, not sufficiently so), sweeten the pot. Take a sauna after your workout. Take a break for Words with Friends after each five exams you grade. Head to a coffee shop and enjoy people-watching and pastry along with your paperwork.

The trick here is to attach the reward to the task, so that the entire experience becomes more pleasant, and you’ll condition yourself to regard the task as less aversive in the future. If you impose a strict “first we write our thank-you notes, then we get to go play,” you’re reinforcing the notion that writing thank-you notes is a nasty chore. When possible, find some way to reward yourself during the task.

4. Other people are not necessarily a reward. A lot of the advice on avoiding procrastination revolves around making the task a more social one: joining a writers’ group, getting a workout partner, and so on. This is good advice, but it conflates two things: other people as a source of accountability and help, and social interaction as a reward.

For some people, that conflation doesn’t matter. But if you are in the minority of introverts, which I know many of my readers are, being with other people is not necessarily a reward. Even if you are extroverted, the people who can give you the most useful advice, and to whom you feel most accountable, may not be the people whose company you find most rewarding.

So if the writers’ group or workout partner isn’t working for you, figure out why. Maybe they’re fun but soft, and don’t hold you accountable. Or maybe they are great at keeping you motivated and providing advice, but the relationships feel more like part of the task than something intrinsically enjoyable.

Holy procrastinating pigeons!

August 11th, 2011

Some thoughts on procrastination, from my notes for yesterday’s show:

Pigeons procrastinate. This puts the phenomenon in perspective, for me. Maybe for some people it’s a deep psychoanalytic conflict that leads them to put things off, but pigeons do it too. Procrastination might not be all that complex, and it’s definitely natural. In fact, one thing that came up over and over again as I was looking at the research is that the people who beat procrastination are the ones who acknowledge that it’s a genuine temptation that can’t simply be willed away. You aren’t going to be a better person tomorrow. So what are you going to do today that will make tomorrow-you do the right thing?

If you find that you procrastinate a lot, here are some questions to ask:

1. How’s your health? One simple reason that people put off ’till tomorrow is because they do not have the physical or mental energy today. If procrastination is a real problem for you, take a look at your health and schedule first. Are you getting enough sleep? Do you exercise and eat well? Do you have any chronic conditions, mild or severe, that affect your energy level and need to be managed?

2. Do you really want to do the thing you’re putting off? Generally, we procrastinate on tasks that we don’t like doing. Which then leads to the subversive question that grownups get to ask themselves: Do I actually have to do this? Is the task you are postponing really necessary in the first place? If it is, are you the only person who can do it? Or can you outsource it?

3. Do you know how to do the thing you’re putting off? If the task must be done and you are the only one who can do it, do you know how? I don’t mean do you know what the finished state ought to look like — I mean do you know how to start, and how to get from that starting point to the end? A couple of months ago I answered a question from a woman who got writers’ block about thank-you notes. (I suspect a not-insignificant percent of late and or never-sent TYNs are the result of bad nerves more than bad manners.) I wrote, in part:

You can get over your gratitudinal perfectionism. Develop a formula for thank you notes, and then don’t overthink it. Your friends and relatives aren’t dissecting your missive as if it were some long-lost Rosicrucian manuscript in a Dan Brown novel. Here’s the recipe I use: The first sentence is an “I” statement about the gift (“I’m sitting here wrapped up in the afghan you knitted me,” “I just returned from spending my gift certificate at Williams-Sonoma”). In the second sentence, I thank the giver — and I don’t worry about sounding cliched, because the fact is there are only so many ways to say “thank you.” One or two more sentences compliment the giver and express love, support, and/or hopes of seeing each other in person soon.

If you don’t know how to get started in the task you are postponing, ask for help.

4. Is procrastination rewarded? This is primarily about workplace procrastination. What kind of task-management style makes sense in your workplace? Does getting your work done punctually mean that you have less stress, and more time to create a first-rate product? Or does it mean that your idea gets hung up for everyone else to take potshots at? Does your boss take deadlines seriously, or are extensions routinely granted? Is the nature of the work relatively predictable, so that work can be planned in advance, or are there constant interruptions and emergencies?

Maybe you feel that you are procrastinating, but in fact you are managing your work in a rational way given the parameters of your job. If this is the case, think about how you’d like to manage your work (keeping in mind that you’re not going to be a better person tomorrow!) and whether the environment you are in supports the work style you’d like to have. If it doesn’t, that isn’t a dealbreaker — just something you have to be conscious of. When I was writing my dissertation I was also working four days a week at a job that rewarded putting things off until the last minute (because if you didn’t, your work would be subject to endless revisions). I had to be disciplined about not letting my “good” work procrastination habits become bad study procrastination habits.

So let’s say you are physically and mentally fit to do your task, which is necessary and can only be done by you, and that you know how and have no rational reason to procrastinate. Then what? I’ll do another post later on tips for avoiding procrastination.

Theater ethics

June 17th, 2011

No Twitter feed this week, as I’ve not been in a tweeting state of mind. However, take a look at this wonderful “Code of Ethics for the Theater,” circa 1945 (brought to my attention by Alison Klejna of Central Square Theater). We should all have such a sense of honor and teamwork and dignity in and about our workplaces:

Since I respect the theatre in which I work, I shall do my best to keep it looking clean, orderly and attractive regardless of whether I am specifically assigned to such work or not.

I shall handle stage properties and costumes with care for I know they are part of the tools of my trade and are a vital part of the physical production.

I shall follow rules of courtesy, deportment and common decency applicable in all walks of life (and especially in a business in close contact with the public) when I am in the theatre, and I shall observe the rules and regulations of any specific theatre where I work.

I shall never lose my enthusiasm for theatre because of disappointments.

This list, adjusted for the industry, is also excellent advice for those going into their first jobs. Who wouldn’t want a co-worker who followed the advice above?

The week in foot-in-mouth

February 18th, 2011

This week has been notable for two amazing career/personal meltdowns: that of journalism professor Nir Rosen, who wrote a series of offensive tweets about Lara Logan, the reporter who was assaulted in Egypt; and that of public information officer Aeron Haworth, who — okay, it’s complicated. Read the article. Point is, he said a lot of things on the internet that he really, really shouldn’t have.

Bad judgment doesn’t usually surprise me. These two cases do, though. Can these men, who are professional communicators, seriously not know that the internet isn’t private? And that nothing on it ever goes away?

Truly, I do not understand.

Friday’s a wrap

February 18th, 2011

Boston had an unexpected break of springlike weather yesterday, which lightened spirits region-wide and also gave at least a handful of people I know, myself included, debilitating allergy/sinus attacks. Oh, joy. (I’m better but still coffee-powered today.) I don’t DO style when I’m sinusy. More outfit pix next week!

My webmistress also migrated and propagated and rehosted and all kinds of things to the site yesterday, none of which I fully understand, but I trust her. As you can see, we’re trying to adjust the main page a bit to make it look a little less like a kitschy diner. May I ask, if any of you know of blogs that you think are particularly well-designed, leave a link in comments? I’m not an expert at this by any means.

And during Wednesday’s chat, I promised Tempest that I would dig around to see what guidelines were out there for job hunting while employed. Most of what I found was utter common sense (don’t use your work e-mail!) or that kind of advice that tells you what to do without saying how (don’t let your boss find out!) or that assumes ideal circumstances that won’t exist for a lot of people (take a personal day for interviews — do these HR advice-givers know that American workers get less paid time off than workers of nearly any other industrialized nation?). I hate that kind of advice, don’t you?

Anyway, here’s one article that talks about how to keep your boss from finding out. And here’s a nine-minute, somewhat rambling, but ultimately very good video that talks about how to frame and think through the strategy and self-presentation of job-hunting while employed.

Good luck, Tempest!

Bad boss week!

February 14th, 2011

And the theme for this week is … bad bosses!

No, my boss (at my Harvard Business School job) is great. However, lots of people have not-so-great bosses. And, interestingly, there’s not a lot of research done on that topic. There’s a classic Harvard Business Review article on “Managing Your Boss,” but that’s about it.

So my (nice) boss has decided that we should start looking into this.* And, as luck would have it, I’m going to do an interview for WBZ on the topic on Friday. Which means I’ve got a bit of reading and thinking to do! And I always do the thinking bit better with you all to help me. What makes a good boss? A bad boss? Have you ever successfully “managed” your boss? How? What’s the best advice you’d give to someone stuck with a difficult boss?

*The fun part is this: there’s another project I’d rather work on first. So I need to persuade my boss to let me do that. Which isn’t going to be easy, because I know how he is when he’s excited about an idea. So, if I can successfully manage my boss … then I won’t have to write about how to manage bosses! Also, “boss” is one of those words that becomes meaningless with repetition very quickly.

Who should it be?

February 3rd, 2011

Steve Carell is leaving “The Office,” and according to rumor, the top candidates for Michael’s position are Dwight, Andy, and Darryl. Look, I … I have to. This is a perfect little business case study. You could remove some of the grosser absurdities of the characters and teach this baby in a classroom: The underperforming boss of a fairly solid, stable team is leaving. Do you replace him from within or bring on an outsider? If you replace him from within, whom do you choose: the highest achiever, who is disliked by most of his coworkers; the popular and pedigreed underachiever; or the recently promoted, but high-potential, former production worker?

See? When it’s not just the “the idiot’s leaving, do we replace him with the Amish Klingon beet farmer, the Cornell falsetto, or the black dude with the Kindle,” it actually sounds like something worth thinking about, doesn’t it?

All of them have their plusses and minuses.

Dwight can clearly sell, which will give him credibility even if he isn’t liked. And it may be the case that for an company that’s having to fight to stay alive in its sector, the bottom line is that employees want someone who will keep the doors open and the lights on. People do tend to prefer authoritarian leaders in hard and uncertain times. While Dwight’s poor interpersonal skills would have made him a bad manager during boom times, he might be a surprisingly good “war president.”

Andy is an incompetent salesman; even a warehouse worker or two has outsold him. However, he has a Cornell degree, making him by far the most on-paper qualified, and has a network of alumni and former coworkers at high-profile (now defunct) corporations to draw on. He is well-liked in the office, and is quick to take good advice when it is offered.

Darryl, the former warehouse foreman, was recently promoted to administration. He has little formal education but is intelligent and hardworking, and committed to self-improvement. He also has a strong sense of organizational dynamics, and has been known to advise people much higher up in the organization to their benefit. He is respected and well-liked both in the warehouse and in the office.

Whom would you promote and why?

Workplace etiquette chat

January 24th, 2011

As I may have mentioned, I did a chat last week for Harvard employees on workplace etiquette. It was fun, although people were much more reluctant to go into details on an employer-sponsored chat, which gave the questions a certain theoretical quality. At any rate, it was a lively and fun, and is now below the jump for your entertainment and edification.

Click to continue reading "Workplace etiquette chat"

Serendipity

October 11th, 2010

I was doing some library research on the work of David McClelland, and the following references popped up in succession:

A decent summary of the first season of “The Office,” if I remember correctly.

Today’s column

October 10th, 2010

… is online here.

UPDATE: One of the questions was about informational interviewing, specifically for college students, and Green Mountain Views wrote such a terrific followup comment that I wanted to make sure no one missed it:

Really good advice re informational interviewing. I’d add that the student should not see an informational interview as a job interview or expect any type of job to be available as a result of that interview. It is an opportunity to find out about a career, understand the particulars of the career path (qualifications, salary range) and to get referrals for additional interviews. It is also not meant to become a relationship, so it is good that the letter writer sees a student only once. I love Robin’s idea of writing up your advice and putting it in a handout. The main thing is to give the students an idea of what their next step would be: read a certain book, article, talk to another person, attend a professional meeting, join a student chapter of a professional organization…and so on. Informational interviewing should not lead to a continued relationship where you do job coaching or keep a file of resumes in case something opens up in your department.

The other thing I suspect is that some course or another requires a certain number of informational interviews and you are “easy pickings” because you are on campus. Part of what they are supposed to learn is how to make a cold contact and follow up, so you could also send them off with the email address of that colleague who always interrupts you or steps on your toes at professional meetings. Just kidding, but you can pass these students on to others.

Thanks, GMV!

Etiquette tip du jour

September 29th, 2010

From one of my most wonderfully cranky friends, as posted on Facebook:

Do your boss a favor, and forego the long, detailed description of each and every symptom you are suffering. Please also don’t fill her cube with the beleaguered exhalations of the afflicted, heavy with virus. Call or IM and GTFO.

Good call. I think my friend should write an etiquette book, too. She’s an extroverted misanthrope, whereas I am an introverted, um, pro-anthrope. We are the perfect yin/yang of social relations.

A calling and a job

August 10th, 2010

The New York Times published a thought-provoking op-ed a couple of days ago about burnout among the clergy:

But there’s a more fundamental problem that no amount of rest and relaxation can help solve: congregational pressure to forsake one’s highest calling.

The pastoral vocation is to help people grow spiritually, resist their lowest impulses and adopt higher, more compassionate ways. But churchgoers increasingly want pastors to soothe and entertain them. It’s apparent in the theater-style seating and giant projection screens in churches and in mission trips that involve more sightseeing than listening to the local people.

As a result, pastors are constantly forced to choose, as they work through congregants’ daily wish lists in their e-mail and voice mail, between paths of personal integrity and those that portend greater job security. As religion becomes a consumer experience, the clergy become more unhappy and unhealthy.

Surely, clergy are not the only people who are burned out not because they work too hard at their jobs, but because they cannot do their jobs to their own satisfaction. Teachers and writers who are under similar pressure to dumb down, cheer up, and keep it simple, stupid. Doctors who can’t spend more than 10 minutes with a patient because of insurance regulations.

People who have to ignore their calling in order to keep their job.

Out of emergency mode

May 4th, 2010

All of my Great Big Projects at Harvard wrapped up last week, and I’ve been catching up on the rest of my life, including sleep, ever since.

When you’re in the throes of a major project — at home or at the office — do you like to immerse yourself in it completely, or maintain some semblance of balance? In graduate school, when working on final papers or take-home exams, I would let papers pile up in my study, live on snack food and coffee, and generally get very wild-eyed about things. Gradually, I came to prefer a more balanced approach. Even when I was working on my dissertation, I would put away the papers at the end of the day and straighten up. And even on days when I’d be writing at home all day, I still bothered to brush my hair.

How are you? Do you like to plunge full in and re-emerge some days or weeks later, covered with insight, exhaustion, and Doritos crumbs? Or do you prefer, even when working hard, to try to live a somewhat balanced life?