5 Business Cultural Changes From the 70’s to 2017

The past decade has noted a great deal of writing and discussion on the importance of culture in the workplace.  Just what is corporate culture?  It is has been described as the values, beliefs, principles, and norms of a business organization.  Others have broken down business culture into the areas of retention; work flow processes; and customer satisfaction.

It has been my experience that in an organization or business culture is complex entity.  It is also my observation that cultural is not particularly well understood and that changes to it often take time.

Having said that a recent meeting with a business associate during which we discussed work culture from the 70’s to the present time brought several noticeable changes to light.  Following are the highlights we noted.

  1. Behaviour in Business Customer Service

Working in customer service in the 70’sand 80’s for a telecommunications companies for example was largely a manual process.  Bills were generated by mainframe computers and sent to a customer.  Service representatives spent time addressing customer who called in with concerns over bills.  Typically each desk was equipped with an ashtray and smoking was permitted at your desk.

Cigarette breaks were common.  Extended lunches were okay.  An alcoholic beverage over lunch was not uncommon.  Work spaces were often open with little if any privacy.

Fast forward to 2017 and most workplaces monitor employees time quite stringently.  Extended or extra breaks for smoking are not permitted.  The days of smoking in an office or any building for that matter are long gone.  Consumption of alcoholic beverages during lunch breaks is no longer an acceptable practice.

Work spaces in some businesses remain open.  Others have cubicles allowing for a modicum of privacy.  For many private offices for managers and executives are no longer found.  Instead meeting rooms are utilized and booked for group meetings and private discussions.

  1. Technology

Mainframe systems and punch cards dominated larger corporations in the 70’s.  Smaller businesses relied on manual records.  The introduction of personal computers in the 80’s made a huge difference to workplace efficiency and streamlining of every area from administration to customer service to the supply chain areas.

Today most employees have a computer of some description, and often a smart phone for their use.  Technology dominates the workplace and automation is everywhere from robots to voice recognition software.  Connection to mobile devices is 24/7 and many people live their lives quite openly in an online world.

  1. Business Dress

In the 70’s and 80’s the standard dress for the men was a dress shirt, tie, sports jacket, dress slacks, dress shoes, or a full suit.  Women were typically dressed in dresses or suits, hose, and heels even if they worked in the steno pool.

With the explosion of technology in the 90’s the dress standards for men and women became casual.  Individuals working for tech companies showed up in jeans, tee shirts, and sneakers.

Today some corporate businesses still maintain a more rigid dress standard.  However, it is typical for even bank employees to have casual Friday’s where so called dressier blue jeans may be worn.  There are certainly dress standards in place for most businesses.  They are greatly relaxed from bygone decades with men not required to wear a suit and tie on most days.  Women are free to go to the office without the mandatory hose and heels.

  1. Hours of Work

Hours of business operation in the 70’s and 80’s were typically 9 – 5.  Banks were not open before 9 AM and in some cases 10. Retail hours of operation did not usually include evening or Sunday shopping.  Most employees were expected to be at work at 9 AM and stay until 5 PM.

Somewhere along the way (I first recall this being prevalent in the late 80’s) the hours of work were extended with employees expected to start at 8 AM and work until 5 PM.  Managers were expected to work as required and if that meant no breaks for lunch or coffee so be it.

Today with emphasis on 24/7 connectivity workers and managers alike seem to be expected to respond to queries from the workplace at any given time.  The emphasis on connection at all times has not necessarily resulted in an increase in productivity.  Employees today are highly monitored and workplaces are not as relaxed as they once were.

  1. Gender Specific Roles

In the 70’s and 80’s women were breaking into areas that were once the purview of men.  Women working in prisons as guards, as fire fighters, and as police officers are just some examples of areas where women were becoming more visible.  Men as nurses rather than orderlies were becoming more common place.  Women in executive roles other than HR were also more prevalent.

Fast forward to 2017 and the area that continues to be a common issue is one of pay equity for men and women.  It is a values dilemma that businesses have yet to conquer.  Women remain under represented at the executive level within business.  They are also under represented in the political arena.


Each of the areas mentioned has undergone tremendous culture change over the past 40 years.  Most of the changes have been welcome and have enhanced business operations.  The thorny issues of productivity and gender equity pay remain outstanding.  I wonder if it will take another 40 years for these to change for the better.


Marie-Helene Sakowski

To engage Marie-Helene’s business services contact her at info@effectiveplacement.com

Managing versus Leading

At one of the places I was recently working in I was searching for management level training to engage employees identified as having the potential to move into leadership roles.  During the search I found a plethora of training programs for leaders and a shortage of training programs or workshops for managers.

Programs for leaders included community base training, post-secondary courses, and workshops.  Management training was less evident and tended to focus on supervisory roles within manufacturing related areas.

Given that good management is essential to the running of a business it begs the question where do managers go for the exposure and mentoring required to move up the ranks of the organization.  Traditional mentoring may provide a partial solution.  Mentors may or may not have knowledge or experience of other industries and may have a narrow point of view as to what works best.  In other words those who are mentored by individuals within their own organization may only receive a small piece of what good management looks like.

Leadership training on the other hand is part and parcel of training many programs, workshops, and community based programs.  It is well and good to develop leadership.  The truth is though businesses tend to require more followers than leaders.

The question arising is why the emphasis on leading over managing?  Management is a cornerstone of a sustainable business even in the world in which we live in where change, flexibility, and volatility are the norm.

It is a good question and one that requires reflection and contemplation.  The management of business is paramount.  Having people with a strong grounding in the business as leaders is also vital.  It would seem that the scale of emphasising one over the other must be realigned or balanced.

Training facilities and post-secondary institutions often scramble to provide training programs for  current or perceived business needs.  It would seem that the identification of a lack of leadership over the past decade or two has brought about the focus on the need for leading.  It is my suggestion that managing be put back on the training agenda and quickly.

In today’s world good managing is as essential as good leading.  Take a look around your workplace to identify where the gaps lie in terms of the overall functioning of the business.  Is it leading or managing?  Are there enough followers or too many pseudo leaders?  Are managers in evidence or have they been made redundant?  Lastly where are you in the spectrum of managing and leading?


Marie-Helene Sakowski, Business Consultant SME’s, info@effectiveplacement.com


10 Leadership Competencies

Following a recent article on managerial competences it seemed prudent to address leadership. Once again the market place is full of competency and behavioral assessments that assist leaders in discovering their core strengths.

  1. Social Intelligence

A working definition here includes sensitivity to social situations and the ability to function effectively in a wide variety of social situations.  Leaders who are surrounded by a variety of people with diverse backgrounds and who manager to engage these people in conversation have this trait.

  1. Interpersonal Skills

The phrase “soft skills” is representative of having interpersonal skills.  Traits include active listening, as well as, public speaking skills

  1. Emotional Intelligence

Having emotional intelligence includes paying attention to nonverbal cues of others.  Leaders who are adept at expressing emotions appropriately while paying attention to others are displaying EI.

  1. Prudence

Prudence is being able to see others’ perspectives.  It also involves being open to the points of view of others.  Requesting and considering the input of others demonstrates this trait.

  1. Courage

A second cardinal virtue is “Fortitude,” or courage. When you are able to take calculated risks, stand up for your beliefs, and take action to do the right thing that is a demonstration of courage.  Standing firm in your principles takes courage especially in the face of opposition or criticism.

  1. Conflict Management

Solving inner or personal conflicts is equally as important as becoming involved with employees or managers in conflict. Working with those in conflict to develop collaborative and synergistic solutions is paramount.

  1. Decision Making

Leaders understand when to make a decision, when to consult with the larger team, and when to bring others into the decision making process.  Perhaps the most crucial trait in decision making is the knowledge bred from experience when it is the right time to step back and let others decide.

  1. Political Skills

An effective leader is a good political player, who understands the dynamics involved, and is able to put in place processes to keep the organizational dynamics stable.

  1. Influence Skills

As a leader having mastery in terms of influencing others is necessary. The skills developed in the social and interpersonal areas serve leaders well in exercising this trait equitably

  1. Area Competence

In today’s business world team members may have more relevant knowledge and expertise than leaders. However it is still important that as a leader you add to the competency level of the enterprise.

The list presented is far from exhaustive.  It also builds on having core soft skills in place.  On review which competencies are your strong suits?  From that, which are the ones that can be improved upon?  Lastly what would add or take away from the list?

Marie-Helene Sakowski, Business Consultant SME’s, info@effectiveplacement.com



10 Competencies for Managers

The market place is full of competency and behavioral assessments that assist managers in discovering their core strengths.  The list below is a sampling.  On review which competencies are your strong suits?  From that, which are the ones that can be improved upon?  Lastly what would add or take away from the list?

  1. Action Oriented
  • Hard work is enjoyed;
  • Action oriented and full of energy for the things you see as challenging;
  • Acting with a minimum of planning is common;
  • Seizing more opportunities than others is customary for you.
  1. Dealing With Ambiguity
  • You can effectively cope with change;
  • Shifting gears frequently is comfortably;
  • Making a decision and acing without having the total picture is usual for you;
  • Leaving things incomplete before moving one is not unusual;
  • Comfortably managing risk and uncertainty is commonplace.
  1. Approachability
  • Typically you are easy to approach and talk with;
  • Extra effort is taken to put others at ease; c
  • Generally gracious and patient with the interpersonal anxieties of others;
  • Known for building rapport well.
  1. Business Acumen
  • Knows and understands how businesses work;
  • Has knowledge regarding current and possible future policies, practices, trends, and information affecting the business;
  • Has an accurate knowledge of the competition;
  • Has the ability to deploy strategies and tactics that work in the marketplace.
  1. Genuine Compassion
  • Cares about direct reports and has an interest in the work and non-work lives of direct reports;
  • Maintains sufficient information and knowledge about their concerns and questions to bring about change;
  • Monitors workloads and appreciates extra effort.
  1. Comfort Around Executives
  • Is comfortable in dealing with and addressing more senior managers;
  • Presenting to upper managers is done without undue tension and nervousness;
  • Understands how senior managers think and work;
  • Developed ability to determine the best way to get things done by speaking the language of the higher ups and responding to their needs.
  1. Command Skills
  • Relishes leading and takes unpopular stands if necessary;
  • Encouraging direct and tough debate but isn’t afraid to end and move on;
  • Provides and is looked to for direction in a crisis;
  • Faces adversity head on and is energized by tough challenges.
  1. Composure
  • Is cool under pressure and does not become defensive or irritated when times are tough;
  • Mature and can be counted on to hold things together during tough times;
  • Is not knocked off balance by the unexpected;
  • Does not show frustration when resisted or blocked;
  • Known to be a settling influence in a crisis.
  1. Managerial Courage
  • Says what needs to be said;
  • Provides current, direct, complete, and “actionable” positive and corrective feedback to others;
  • Let’s people know where they stand;
  • Faces up to people problems on any person or situation quickly and directly;
  • Is able to take negative action when necessary.
  1. Managing and Measuring Work
  • Clearly assigns responsibility for tasks and decisions;
  • Sets clear objectives and measures;
  • Monitors process, progress, and results;
  • Designs appropriate feedback loops into work.


Marie-Helene Sakowski, Business Consultant SME’s, info@effectiveplacement.com



5 Principles of Change Management

There are 4 aspects of structural change in business.  First the scale of the change does impact the whole of the business.  Secondly the magnitude of change does more than shake up the status quo.  Third the duration of the change lasts for a longer term period perhaps several years.  The fourth aspect is the strategic importance that the endeavor will have as far as the viability of the business is concerned.

The following principles serve as guidelines for engaging the entire business top to bottom in the process.

  1. Begin at the top of the business.

When the CEO and other members of the leadership team are uncertain, or ambivalent, about a change process the entire process is at risk.  To have downstream results the leadership needs to be on board with clear demonstration of being engaged to deliver the results required.

  1. Instill ownership.

It takes more than passive agreement or surface buy-in for change to happen and take hold.  People must be engaged in designing solutions.  Incentives and rewards are useful to emphasize and bolster the implementation of the new.

  1. Know the business culture.

When assumptions are made about values, beliefs, and behaviors there will surely be unplanned for resistance to what is being developed.  Once the elements of values, beliefs and behavior have been identified new models for working within each business and department may be put forward for initial discussion.  It is quite likely that the initial suggestions will be modified, or go through several iterations prior to achieving sufficient agreement for acceptance.

  1. Have a contingency plan.

Change programs seldom if ever go as planned.  Reactions to the process may be unexpected.  There may be changes to the leadership team midstream.   The ability to work with the business and keep communication lines open during periods of duress is essential.  Build some extra time in to deal with the unexpected.   Being flexible and prepared to address challenges is part and parcel of the process.

  1. Be specific with people.

Change is about people and process.  Be explicit with change managers and leaders as to how roles and functions are likely to be different.  Make certain that people are involved in the change process and have incentives in place to encourage their active participation.

These principles do not guarantee a smooth process.  They do however provide a solid basis from which to design, introduce, and implement plans and processes for the business.  Valuing the people involved is central to the success of the overall enterprise.

Marie-Helene Sakowski, Business Consultant SME’s, info@effectiveplacement.com