Thursday, December 29, 2005

Words of Wisdom

The year end special edition of Knowledge@Wharton has some great interviews from the newsmakers of the Year. Some of my favorites are given below.

Good Managers Focus on Employees' Strengths, Not Weaknesses (Marcus Buckingham) speaks about the manager’s role in developing employee’s skill and competencies.

According to Buckingham, the best managers share one talent -- the ability to find, and then capitalize upon, their employees' unique traits. "The guiding principle is, 'How can I take this person's talent and turn it into performance?' That's the only way success is possible."

And yet not everyone has that knack, Buckingham said. If he has learned anything from his years spent interviewing the best minds of the business world, it is this: Truly great managers, and truly inspiring business leaders, are rarer than many think. "Some of you in this room may not have that talent," he said. "If not, management can become a thankless task."

Giving Employees What They Want: The Returns Are Huge (David Sirota, co-author of The Enthusiastic Employee: How Companies Profit by Giving Workers What They Want)

Sirota talks about the key factors which influences workers behaviour at work. He says managers should rely on common sense principles that allow workers to take pride in their work. He urges them to reject trendy, get-tough tactics that were promoted in the late 1990s, such as trimming staff even at healthy companies in order to improve shareholder value.

His views on what can managers do to boost enthusiasm .

First, provide security. Laying off people should be the last resort, not the first thing you do.

Second, where there are difficulties in getting work done, we talk about self-managed teams.

Recognition is also important. Employees do not have to be told that you love them, but you want to be appreciative of good work. It sounds very corny, but people are corny. People need this kind of feedback.

As for systems, we find the traditional merit pay systems with an appraisal and pay increase are quite negative. Workers feel no relation between what they do and their pay increase. A reward has to be felt as a reward. Research has verified a system such as 'gain sharing' in which a group of workers judges its performance over time.

AmEx's Ken Chenault Talks about Leadership, Integrity and Survival.

"It’s not the strongest or the most intelligent who survive, but those most adaptive to change. Over the past 10 years, the need for, and focus on, adaptability has accelerated."

A second key element of survival is leadership. "Many companies are struggling, and American Express is by no means perfect," said Chenault. "Any company, no matter how strong, is going to experience some difficulty. The question is, how do you develop leaders to manage in these times, how do you retain them and how do you excite them? That will be a continuing challenge for American Express and others."

Chenault believes that it's a lot easier to be a good leader in good times than in bad, but a reputation for leadership over the long term is established during times of change.

"Today, the stakes are incredibly high. The need for leaders to stand for something and act from principle is more important than ever. Things that were acceptable five or ten years ago will today cost you your career. You can make a few mistakes, not a lot ... a few. But if your people believe that you have the right values, they will tolerate a few mistakes. In fact, they will stay with you.

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