Management Lessons from The Prince

I was reading several accounts about Marissa Mayer’s decision to discontinue Yahoo’s working remotely for many Yahoo employees. Her decision to discontinue this policy has caused a bit of a firestorm in the high-tech arena. Some see it as another indication of Yahoo’s decline. Those supposedly in the know feel that allow employees to work from home allows them to be more creative, and productive. But, that depends on whom you talk to and what recent study on telecommuting you’ve read. The employees of Yahoo who have been working remotely are not happy and they are complaining about the unfairness of the decision.

Overall, Yahoo is facing a series of problems, failing revenues for the past three years, six CEO’s in as many years, and complaints about those who work remotely are taking advantage of the system. After reading several articles about Mayer’s decision, I started thumbing through my copy of The Prince by Nicclò Machiavelli, I know what you’re, thinking, Machiavelli the avatar for manipulation and evil, who believed the end justifies the means. How could anything he wrote be applicable to working from home? Before you cast him aside, consider that many have taken much of what he has written out of context or they misapplied his writings. If you spend, some time reading and reflecting on what he wrote you would find he has some valuable insights on a number of situations.

Consider this, “A ruler mustn’t worry about being labeled cruel when it’s a question of keeping his subjects loyal and united; using a little exemplary severity, he will prove more compassionate than the leader whose excessive compassion leads to public disorder, muggings and murder.”

 Put aside the latter part of the quote and consider the first part and replace ruler with leader. No doubt, those employees who will no longer be working from home feel this is a cruel and sever decision. But as Machiavelli said, a leader mustn’t worry about being labeled cruel when it’s a question of keeping his people loyal and united. Yahoo had no formal arrangement on working from home. Without a structured arrangement for working at home, one is subject to anything goes. This will cause problems as indicated by people complaining remote working milking the system.

Then there are the critics who are chirping that she will lose their talented employees with her decision to curtail working from home, saying that Yahoo can’t figure out how to collaborate remotely. Let’s say there is some truth in that statement, so what people leave for all types or reason talented or not. If she doesn’t turn, the company around it won’t matter as Yahoo will be forced to do some wholesale downsizing and with the type of cuts they may be forced to make everyone will be on the chopping block regardless of their talent level.

What Mayer is doing may well “prove more compassionate than the leader whose excessive compassion leads to public disorder, muggings and murder.” No one is implying that people are being mugged or murdered, but there is clearly disorder among the troops. Many at Yahoo welcomed the elimination of working from home citing instances of people abusing the system, slacking off and people not being available and working on non-Yahoo projects. Mayer’s decision to end Yahoo’s work from home program and bring people back face to face at corporate may just lead to long term benefits down the line. This change handled correctly, could benefice for the company overall.

Mayer has a mess on her hands, and she can’t worry about what the business media is saying or writing about her decision to eliminate working from home at Yahoo. In the overall scheme of things, this decision is just one of many that she will be making as she struggles to turn Yahoo around. Machiavelli wrote, “a sensible man will base his power on what he controls, not on what others have freedom to choose.” Mayer has to focus on what she needs to do to turn Yahoo around not on what the nattering nabobs of negativity are saying about her decision to eliminate working from home.

If she wants to be successful at Yahoo, taking few points from Nicclò Machiavelli’s The Prince might help her along her management path. Because if she doesn’t get Yahoo back to being productive, they will be looking for CEO number seven.

© Timothy A. Wilson 2013. All Rights Reserved

Can You Handle Someone Smarter Than Yourself?

Can you trust? As a leader, manager, can you trust people who are smarter than you are? As a leader can you, be comfortable with the words of Mike Lamach current CEO of Ingersoll- Rand;

“It’s important to surround yourself with people smarter than yourself. That’s tough for many people. A lot of people worry smart people will steal the spotlight. But the opposite thing happens when you build talented teams. They’ll become your advocate, particularly when you don’t micromanage them.”

Is it in your nature to have people around you who are smarter as part of your team or do you have individuals who think everything you say is correct? As Lamach points out it’s important to have a team of individuals who aren’t afraid to voice their opinions. The fact they are smarter helps as it allows you to entertain other points of view and avail yourself of the best possible opportunities to a successful outcome.

For far too many executives, the idea of employing individuals who are in possession of superior skills then themselves is an anathema to them. They fear being overshadowed by their subordinates. This is faulty thinking. The manager or leader who is unafraid of having individuals on her team that are smarter than she, will enjoy success more frequently than her counterparts who hire people just like them in every way. As Lamach said, as long as you don’t micromanage them they will become advocates.

By encouraging members of your team to speak openly and freely along with asking questions and listening patiently, you’re setting the stage for advancement, for yourself and members of your team. By trusting your team, they will in turn reciprocate and support you.

This starts with you not being afraid of having people who are smarter than you are as members of your team. It means you have to have confidence in your own abilities and aren’t afraid that you’ll be outshined by members of your team. It means you will have to trust them.

Which brings us back to our opening question, can you trust?

© Timothy A. Wilson 2011. All Rights Reserved

Knowing When to Quit

Four years ago, Justine Henin left the game of tennis. A game she excelled at and loved playing. People who played her knew her as a fierce competitor. So many were surprised when she announced her retirement at the rip old age of 25. The reason she gave for leaving she no longer felt she was at the top of her game. She was losing games she should have won. She stated that she lacked the confidence to continue playing. No longer believing she could continue to compete at a competitive level, she decided to leave the game on a high note. That took courage.

As consultants, we can learn from this example. How many times have we advise clients to keep working with an employee who is not performing, advising them to have the employee identify their strengths and weakness and to work the weaknesses. Perhaps you’ve suggested coaching for the individual, believing that this direct attention will help solve the non-performance problem. Maybe you’ve used an assessment tool to determine work styles or observable behavior. You might have recommended one or several of these but at the end of the day the fact remains the same. The employee is still not performing at an acceptable level for the group.

With all our data, knowledge and supposed wisdom, we might have missed asking our client one simple question, does the employee still love the work they do? We need to consider that just maybe; the employee has lost interest in what they do. There’s nothing left for them to accomplish in job, the challenge no longer exists, and they are just going through the motions. And their current behavior is becoming disruptive to the company.

Too many mangers stay in jobs they don’t like far too long to their determent and to those around them. Their lack of performance is a drag on them and the rest of the management team, and the longer it goes on the deeper the resentment grows toward the individual to the point that the team’s overall performance takes a big hit.

As consultant we are brought in to coach these individuals with minimal effect. Instead of coaching perhaps, we should ask both parties if it wouldn’t be better for all if the individual just left at the top of their game. Not everyone is fixable.

At times providing a means for a graceful exit is the best solution for all involved.

© Timothy A. Wilson 2012. All Rights Reserved

Who Owns The Leadership and Development Process?

Who owns the leadership development process for the company? I mean who is the ultimate person responsible for ensuring that you’re recruiting, hiring, and retaining talent for your company. I would not be surprise if some said Human Resources or others said the CEO. Those who selected the CEO are half right. Ensuring the recruitment and retention of key talent is a shared responsibility between the CEO and his board. Human Resources are responsible for developing and administering a reasonable process that assists the CEO and Board in ensuring that Leadership Development takes place.

“Forget capital, strategy, R&D. In today’s fast-paced, global economy, the most important criteria for success may well be a robust, active process for identifying, developing, and retaining leaders three or more levels below the CEO.”

As companies move in the direction of expanding their operations overseas, they have an ever increasing requirement for talented managers throughout the ranks of the company. Thus, the need to make sure they have a process in place for identifying, developing, and keeping leaders in their companies. Boards of Directors have the responsibility of holding their CEO’s accountable. For making sure there is exists a pipeline of talented and capable individuals who can make the upward transition positively and not in an abortive manner such as experienced at Dell Computers or Starbucks, where the CEO’s whose return were necessary to bring the companies out of the doldrums and shore up failing stock prices.

Our experience has shown that well defined strategies, and superbly designed products are useless, without talented people to implement the strategy and manufacture, sell the product, and manage the processes required to get it all done. It’s incumbent on the CEO to make sure they have well designed and developed workforce plan that allows for strong recruiting and provides an intractable path for retention of talented employees at all levels of their organization. If this means that, they have to become personally involved in the leadership training great. What better way for the CEO to know the strengths and weaknesses of their talent pool.

So when considering what the CEO’s can do to develop leaders in their organizations? I feel there are three key areas:

  1. Working with their BOD to determine what and how they are going to measure potential new leaders in the company. How they are going to educate and train them so they are successful in moving the company forward even if that means doing things differently.
  2. Demanding that their Human Resource Function provides a process by which they (the HR department) are constantly on the lookout for talent individuals that will bring value to the company, helping those employees who are no longer motivated or who do not have the skills needed for the job leave.
  3. Be actively involved in the education and training of those identified as potential future leaders. Do this by teaching some of the leadership classes, also having members of your senior management staff engage in coaching and teaching as well. The following quote supports what we are saying:

“First, people have to have the right experiences. Second, they need some kind of mechanism to process those experiences. And third, they have to have the inclination to learn.” – Tom Saporito CEO RHR

By involving the board and focusing HR on results, oriented leadership development is how a CEO can truly develop leaders.

© Timothy A. Wilson 2012. All Rights Reserved

The Management Skill of Fair, Firm, and Consistency

Managing in today’s environment is difficult. So much is asked and little is given. Those who are not managers but individual contributors are constantly being asked to do more with less, or take on more work than they have time for, and if they push back, are greeted with the words, “be glad you have a job.” I’m of the opinion most individuals would rather hear, “thank you” and know that their manager is treating them in a fair, firm and consistent manner. The most difficult job for any manager is encapsulated in three words, fair, firm, and consistent.

What one individual deems as fairness is seen as special or preferential treatment by another. Firmness in a manager is often construed as rigidness and unyielding. What makes both fairness and firmness workable is consistency. The manager who is consistent with their decisions will be viewed as person with integrity and will have the respect of the individuals they manage.

Fair, firm, and consistent is such a simple concept, so why do so many managers find it so allusive? Perhaps the lack of good examples they could emulate, who understood the concept. You see what makes advice work, is being able to see individuals at work who are exemplars of the desired behavior. If a manager desires to understand why they get inconsistent performance from their staff, perhaps they should examine how they are performing.

Fair, firm and consistent are the foundation that allows you to: define outcomes for people, outline and convey the performance you want from them, explain the competencies they will need to develop, and provide the development opportunities needed to achieve them.

As a manager, if you’re fair, firm and consistent you will develop and build a successful team that will be equipped to accomplish any task given to them.

So, when are you going to start your program of fair, firm and consistency?

© Timothy A. Wilson 2012. All Rights Reserved

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