Data points

Published September 26, 2022
A solar-powered train was built by Soshanguve technical high school students in Soshanguve township in the northern suburbs of Pretoria. A group of 20 teens have invented South Africa’s first fully solar-powered train as, for the past few years, students in the South African township have watched in frustration as their parents failed to use trains for daily commutes to work amid a crippling energy crisis.—AFP
A solar-powered train was built by Soshanguve technical high school students in Soshanguve township in the northern suburbs of Pretoria. A group of 20 teens have invented South Africa’s first fully solar-powered train as, for the past few years, students in the South African township have watched in frustration as their parents failed to use trains for daily commutes to work amid a crippling energy crisis.—AFP

A cycle of under-representation

Diverse boards representing a broader range of experience may be better able to quickly navigate volatile business environments and unexpected disruptions, such as a global pandemic. Recent data found a positive correlation between the diversity of S&P 500 boards and revenue growth during the pandemic. Yet, despite increased board refreshment — the addition of new directors to ensure that the board has the necessary expertise and breadth of perspective — many companies still struggle to appoint directors who are women, people of colour, or members of other underrepresented groups. Our interviews with board directors revealed that corporations go through the motions of refreshment but ultimately accomplish little, replacing an outgoing director with someone similar. The independence of the board’s nominating committee is often compromised by substantial CEO influence over the process as well. The result is the persistence of the very problem that refreshment is supposed to solve: board directors with the same narrow demographic profile (White and male) and the same limited expertise.

(Adapted from “Meet The New Board — Same As The Old Board,” by Cynthia E. Clark and Jill A. Brown, published on August 15, 2022, by MIT Sloan Management Review)

Manners at work

Because of pandemic rust, a generational shift or something else, the working world is getting ruder, many say. At least, that’s how it feels to the self-appointed etiquette police among their co-workers and business associates. Hiring managers lament that job candidates skip cover letters whenever possible, seldom follow up on interviews with thank-you notes and can’t be counted on to show up once they’ve accepted offers. Job seekers, for their part, complain that computers screen those cover letters, anyway, and that too few recruiters are considerate enough to send rejection letters, leaving hopefuls to wonder for weeks about where they stand with potential employers. Many workers, particularly younger ones, claim they aren’t interested in bonding with colleagues and act accordingly. Happy hour? Hard pass. That’s not so much about being cold or uncivil as it is about maintaining a private life away from work. Those mourning the supposed decline of business etiquette blame the pandemic, a tight labour market, Gen Z and the internet.

(Adapted from “What The #@$! Happened To our Manners At Work?” by Callum Borchers, published on September 8, 2022, by The Wall Street Journal)

The cost of toxic work culture

Research shows that people are 10 times more likely to quit their jobs today because of toxic work cultures, rather than subpar compensation or work-life balance. To build healthy, cohesive work cultures, it’s important that managers make their teams feel seen, heard, appreciated, and supported. 1)Managers should stop and ask their teams what they need to deliver on their goals. They should also learn about their team’s fears and insecurities, and be courageous enough to talk about their own. 2) If managers exclusively focus on what needs to get done, they’ll make the mistake of asking people to perform tasks beyond their competency. 3) Managers who connect the work of employees to the broader purpose and mission of the company are more likely to retain and motivate employees. Through one-on-one conversations, managers can help their team members see the larger context of their roles.

(Adapted from “How to Protect Your Team From a Toxic Work Culture,” by John Baird and Edward Sullivan, published by HBR Ascend)

Gujrati dreams

The project is fantastical: a $19bn investment into semiconductor and display-panel sectors, with the creation of 100,000 jobs in a state with little experience in technology manufacturing. If voters and taxpayers in India’s northwestern Gujarat state are excited about this “landmark investment” they ought to read up on recent Wisconsin history. The US state bought into a similar pipe dream in 2017 when then-President Donald Trump teamed up with then-Governor Scott Walker to lure Foxconn, whose Taipei-listed flagship is Hon Hai. The Taiwanese company said it’d invest $10bn and hire 13,000 workers. Wisconsin never hit its targets. And neither will Gujarat. What’s playing out today in India is eerily similar to what happened in the US Midwest five years ago, but this time the people and government of Gujarat have no excuse for not being aware of what’s likely to unravel. Americans were told clearly that the project in Mount Pleasant didn’t make sense. But still, they went ahead.

(Adapted from “Wisconsin Is Coming To India And Not In A Good Way,” by Tim Culpan published on September 16, 2022, by Bloomberg)

Published in Dawn, The Business and Finance Weekly, September 26th, 2022

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