Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Frogy Fear and Loathing in the Cubical

French workers need better managers. 
One of the benefits of being an MBA is that you get great deals on business magazines.  Over the last year, Business Week, Crain’s Chicago Business and the Economist have become sources of information and inspiration.   Plenty of times, I receive text book examples about how to run a business.  I also receive many more examples of how NOT to do business.  I find examples of failure to be much more instructive. 

Case in point came from the November 18th issue of the Economist.  In the weekly Schumpeter column, they pointed to the French Economy and how many people consider their workforce lazy and inept.   It made me feel bad for the French office worker.  Nothing is bigger demotivation than failure.

One could argue that France has been a case study in failure since the formation of the Vichy government over seventy years ago.  You do not hear discussion about French entrepreneurs outside the fashion industry.    Its politics are notoriously messy and riots throw into stark contrast the inability of the French economy to create jobs. 
The nation which gave us de Gaulle, Descartes, Pasture, and Sartre deserves a better reputation in the global economy.  I also believe that the French worker has been unfairly stereotyped. The grim reality pointed out by The Economist is that much of the poor performance of the French can be blamed squarely on how French businesses lead their organizations. 
Unlike firms in America or Germany, who attempt to cultivate leadership inside the firm, many French companies are led by people who get most of their experience from civil service or academia.  As explained in the article:
(snip)
“…too many big French companies rely on educational and governmental elites rather than promoting internally according to performance on the job. In the country’s many family firms, too, opportunity for promotion is limited for non-family members. This overall lack of upward mobility, argues Mr. Philippon, contributes largely to ordinary French cadres’ dissatisfaction with corporate life. A study of seven leading economies by TNS Sofres in 2007 showed that France is unique in that middle management as well as the lower-level workforce is largely disengaged from their companies.”
Since French workers have little if any chance to earn promotion or additional income because of this system, they just don’t try as hard.  French business laws also make it difficult to remove bad employees so you have the worst of all worlds for a business; bad management and workers with no incentive to work. 

I am not going to wag my finger shamefully at the French.  American business can be equally dysfunctional.  Still, it is clear to me that France offers a great example of what happens when credentials are given more value than experience and leadership.  The French worker deserves better than the French executive.
Until next time.