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Sunday, December 20, 2009

Looking for Talent?

Here is how Jeffrey Swartz, the president and C.E.O. of the Timberland Company, describes what he is looking for when hiring:

'Comfort with ambiguity is one thing and faith in a solution is another and a commitment to fight for a worthy outcome is the third.'

A Plea for the Return of the Collegial Style of Leadership

The Puritan Gift: Reclaiming the American Dream Amidst Global Financial Chaos may have escaped notice when first published in 2007 because of its unusual title, but this year’s paperback with a new preface by Russell Ackoff deserves rediscovery at this critical time.

“Puritan gift” refers to what the authors describe as the United States’ superb managerial culture as established by the descendants of the country’s early settlers. Those settlers sought to create God’s kingdom on earth in New England in the 17th century. As businessmen they also needed to earn a return on capital but saw no conflict between the two. Profit to them was the means to a greater end.

The Puritan gift, therefore, is that rare ability to create and manage organisations that serve a useful purpose in society. As the authors note, it later inspired the creation of a federal political culture that enabled 13 obscure colonies at the edge of the civilised world to transform themselves, with the passage of time, into a great power. This managerial culture was even successfully transplanted to Japan under the U.S. occupation after World War II and turned a poor country lacking natural resources into the second-richest in the world.

It was, the authors suggest, the United States’ gift to the world until sometime around 1970, when profit-and-loss accounting began to take priority, a time they describe as “the years that the locust ate.” It was then that the cult of the expert and the rise of the so-called professional manager shifted the focus of management to money as the measure that mattered, for self and organisation. The elevation of shareholder value as the main criterion of business success mistook the means for the ends, a classic category error for logicians, but a calamitous strategic mistake for leaders. This error was compounded when managerial reward was tied to share value.

The Puritan Gift is partly a history of American business, but it is also a lament for the decline of the collegial style of leadership that drove what the authors call the “great engines of growth and prosperity” and that was replaced by the “imperial” rule of the professional CEO in so many companies. It is a reminder of what made the U.S. great and a heartfelt plea for its recall.

Motivating Employees

Thirty-seven years ago Roy Vallee was stocking shelves at a small electronics distribution company in Los Angeles. That small firm has grown up to become Avnet, Inc., a Fortune 500 firm located in Phoenix, Arizona. Avnet is one of the largest distributors of electronic parts, enterprise computing and storage products, and embedded subsystems in the world. And Roy Vallee is the CEO and chairman of the board.

Vallee believes that to motivate your employees you need to stop trying to put fire in their belly and focus instead on practical details.

Most employees are already passionate about their jobs, Vallee says, so the best way to motivate them is simply to give them clear instructions and the tools they need to get the job done.

For more, listen to this radio interview with Vallee conducted by Professor Antony Peloso of the W.P. Carey School of Business: http://feeds.wpcareyonline.com/knowledge/wimpy/valleePlayer_120109.html