Magazine article Management Today

Try a Finer Brushstroke

Magazine article Management Today

Try a Finer Brushstroke

Article excerpt

Not all your people are glossy high-flyers, so how do you keep the working majority fresh and bright, and tackle the dismal few who hold the firm back? John Morrish reports.

Managing talent is one thing, but how do you deal with those people who just don't come into that category? Flattering though it may be to refer to all your staff as your talent, it's a misuse of the word, popularised in show-business, where soft-soap is endemic. Talent is really an exceptional natural aptitude or ability. Not everyone in business life can demonstrate that; nor should they. Anna-Marie Detert, a senior consultant with HR specialists Towers Perrin, uses a musical metaphor. 'You can't have an orchestra full of soloists,' she says. 'The bulk of the people who make up the orchestra, more than 70%, are people who keep the business running.'

In any organisation, she says, 10%-15% of the workforce are likely to be outstanding performers. Another 5%-10% will present a serious problem. The rest will be working at an acceptable level, but many managers tend to neglect them. 'You need to keep these people around - you can't function without them. They are critical to your business.'

Not only do you need to retain such people - the magnolia majority -you need them to care about the organisation and commit themselves to its success. Research by Towers Perrin around the world unearthed the key factors that foster those attitudes. For British employees, the most important - even beyond the opportunity to acquire new skills and do challenging work - is the sense that senior management are interested in them. That comes when executives make themselves visible: visiting shops, factories and offices, walking and talking, or holding lunch-and- learn sessions where relatively junior staff can meet the CEO.

Grand gestures are rarely necessary: 'employee of the month' schemes died long ago through lack of interest. But paying attention to such routine matters as the parking arrangements or the office Christmas party is always appreciated. It doesn't always come easily. 'Some senior managers cannot find it in themselves to care about people,' admits Detert. 'But they can show it in their behaviour, and that's more meaningful.'

Motivation expert Shaun Belding, author of Winning with the Employee from Hell, agrees. 'The number one thing employees want is appreciation, a pat on the back and a thank-you-very-much. You don't have to fawn over people; you just have to say: 'That was really nice.' That will keep people going for a month. You can lay praise on people thicker than paint on an old cottage. I've never had anybody come up to me and say: 'I hate that guy, he says too many nice things about me'.'

People need clarity about their role in the workplace too. 'We have had years of management by objectives and target-setting, and these are all wonderful things,' says Doug Crawford of HR consultants Chiumento, whose research suggests that 16% of employees underperform. 'But for a lot of people there's still an ambiguity about what's expected of them. Quite often, we put people into a position and let them get on with it.'

If they have the right skills, on the other hand, they expect to be allowed to exercise them. …

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