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HR Magazine, May 2005 - Books in Brief

   5/1/2005

HR Magazine, May 2005

Vol. 50, No. 5

The Bottom Line on Integrity; more.

The Bottom Line on Integrity
By Quinn McKay, Gibbs Smith, 2004, 173 pages
List price: $18.95, ISBN: 1-58685-380-5

Integrity begins by being honest about dishonesty,” Quinn McKay writes. In The Bottom Line on Integrity he dissects the ways all of us—both in and outside the office—often consider ourselves to be more honest than we really are.

McKay wants to give readers a practical approach to integrity, not a philosophy text, and he combines provocative questions about truthfulness with question-and-answer exercises you can use to test your own, your team’s or your organization’s attitudes toward real-life quandaries. McKay offers guidelines on how to use the book for individual study or group training.

Buzzwords such as “honesty” and “integrity” sprinkled in corporate brochures don’t make a company honest, and they may even stop people from thinking about the real meaning of integrity, says McKay, a consultant, coach and business professor. He lists a dozen principles to keep integrity at the forefront of the organization. Among his recommendations:

  • Recognize that pressure is “a major determinant of honesty.” Bosses’ influence, competitiveness and self-interest affect people’s level of honesty, and those pressures edge people toward crossing legal and even ethical lines. McKay says ways to counteract pressure include establishing systems that truly reward honesty and employing someone to oversee ethical and legal issues.
  • “Realize that everyone lives by two different ethical standards.” Personal ethics that dictate a person should never lie are not the same as “gaming ethics” that encourage dissimulation and deception in order to prevail in competition. You need to choose your organization’s set of standards for business behaviors and make those standards clear.
  • Develop skills that make personal integrity possible. McKay contends that just wanting to be honest doesn’t make you honest. You need to be able to determine truth and convey truth accurately—and such skills require conscious practice.
  • “Create a climate where wrongful acts can be reported.” In a culture where we are urged not to be tattletales, whistle-blowing can be dangerous to a career, a family’s economic survival or even the whistle-blower’s life. McKay urges creation of a corporate culture where whistle-blowing is acceptable, and he suggests steps to make that happen. He tells how one firm created a successful, respected “anonymous reporting” program.
  • “Allow that lying is sometimes the right thing to do.” Absolutes such as “Never tell a lie” just don’t work in reality, McKay says. There are justifications for lying, when the ends are good, such as when the truth would jeopardize a life or a major institution’s future. Companies need to recognize that platitudes about “all truth, all the time” aren’t realistic—and then companies should establish guidelines for instances in which lying in business is justified.

Management Skills
Edited by Tamara Keller and Rob Brandt, Jossey-Bass, 2005, 798 pages
List price: $25, ISBN: 0-7879-7341-6

From running an office day after day and working with virtual teams to pondering your aptitude for leadership and nurturing your own career, the essays in this collection cover multiple facets of the management landscape.

This hefty volume, from business and management book publisher Jossey-Bass, distills a host of management books into essays, grouped into six broad subject areas. All six deal with “the management of people,” the editors note. “The authors in this book agree that, at its core, management is a relationship.”

The editors have organized Management Skills so readers can dip into any section and read about broad management ideas or specific tips, as needed.

  • The section titled “What Makes a Great Manager?” opens with Bill George, advocate of “authentic leadership,” discussing how managers must find leadership styles consistent with their own personalities. Other essays look at how empowering others makes one a leader; how organizations are transforming the roles of their leaders; and how information, rather than authority, is becoming the real currency of leadership.
  • “Creating and Shaping the Work Environment” lays out “models, assessments and benchmarks” to improve personnel decisions and make change work. Essay topics include discovering hiring strategies to assess a candidate’s fit with the employer’s needs, examining the interview process and finding performance measures that make sense.
  • Essays in the “Communicating, Leading and Motivating People” section focus on “soft skills” that the authors say anyone can learn to be more successful at managing. Effective listening techniques, concrete practices to improve employee motivation and ways to communicate to employees how they’re really doing are covered. One essay looks at how mentoring and on-the-job learning motivate employees and improve performance.
  • “Getting the Work Done” describes how managers “roll up their sleeves and make things happen.” One piece gives ideas for making dreaded meetings more productive and even more enjoyable. Another essay provides tips for getting the resources you need from your organization. Getting results, negotiating and running your operation during times of crisis are other topics.
  • Ideas for “Leading Complex Organizational Processes” cover conflict-resolution skills, common problems with teams (and steps to solve those problems), and best practices for working with virtual teams.
  • “Sustaining the Great Manager” is a section for those who think seriously about their careers. One essay asks readers to “move from constant action to an appreciation of the power of reflection.” Another encourages leaders to keep asking what they’re really in business to do.

The One Thing You Need to Know
By Marcus Buckingham, Free Press, 2005, 304 pages
List price: $29.95, ISBN: 0-7432-6165-8

Managing and leading often are treated as if they’re interchangeable, notes researcher and consultant Marcus Buckingham. But managers and leaders who believe this are overlooking crucial differences between their roles—differences that could make them better leaders and managers.

Managers have to recognize their employees’ unique abilities and capitalize on them, Buckingham contends, while leaders’ mandate is the opposite: They have to “call upon what we all share,” find universal common denominators and focus on the future.

Great managers need to “discover what is unique about each person and capitalize on it,” nurturing employees’ particular strengths in ways that benefit the employer.

One discussion shows how a drugstore chain manager restructured jobs and departed from company procedures to make the most of employees’ strengths. For example, the employee who floundered with general instructions but thrived on specific tasks flourished when the manager dramatically rearranged the store’s usual procedures to put him in charge of keeping the entire store restocked and reshelved—something the manager had seen the employee excel at doing.

Buckingham liberally salts The One Thing You Need to Know with such case studies. He uses detailed interviews with managers and leaders about specific experiences, their decision-making processes and the results they got.

Buckingham says managers can use three “levers” to manage people more effectively. First, learn employees’ strengths and weaknesses. Second, find their triggers—the things that get them to work their best, whether it’s granting their request to work the graveyard shift or checking in with them regularly because they value seeing the boss come around. Third, uncover and adapt to employees’ particular learning styles.

Turning to leadership, Buckingham says the one thing every great leader knows is that he must “discover what is universal and capitalize on it.” Buckingham outlines how most people need security, community, clarity, authority and respect.

Leaders particularly have to bring clarity to their organization by asking key questions. They must ask who it is the organization serves (and Buckingham shows how retailers Tesco and Best Buy determined who their real audiences were). Leaders also must ask what the organization’s core strength is and focus on it—as Toyota focuses on reliability and Walgreens focuses on convenience.

A concluding section looks at sustained individual success, and Buckingham says that people who experience continued success know one thing: “Discover what you don’t like doing and stop doing it.”

Sustained success means “making the greatest possible impact over the longest period of time,” Buckingham adds. He looks at other authors’ prescriptions for success, such as using the right tactics or finding and fixing your own flaws, and comes down in favor of discovering and cultivating your particular strengths as the best way to change your working life.

The 7 Hidden Reasons Employees Leave
By Leigh Branham, AMACOM, 2005, 238 pages
List price: $24.95, ISBN: 0-8144-0851-6

About 90 percent of departing employees leave because of issues with their “job, manager, culture or work environment,” Leigh Branham reports, yet nearly 90 percent of managers believe that “employees leave and stay mostly for the money.”

The disconnect between managers’ perceptions and reality means that employers are losing people for reasons they’re not even recognizing, much less fixing.

Backed by information gleaned from more than 19,000 interviews with departing and current employees, Branham examines what drives people to leave, what makes some employees “disengage” and sleepwalk through work, and how employers can fight the flight with specific practices.

Branham, founder of consulting firm Keeping the People Inc., structures the chapters in The 7 Hidden Reasons Employees Leave for quick use: Each chapter opens with what research reveals about employees’ reasons for leaving, along with real-life comments and Branham’s quick list of root causes. The book contains lists of warning signs that employees may be dissatisfied, and it offers best practices for employers to use in trying to meet employees’ needs. In some instances Branham includes lists of what individual employees can do to get their needs met.

One appendix summarizes all the specific practices Branham suggests throughout the book, and another provides guidelines for successful exit interviews and turnover analysis.

So why do people really leave?

  • The job or workplace “was not as expected.” Managers misrepresent pay deals, hours aren’t as promised, training or promotions don’t come through. At their root, these complaints mean expectations aren’t met, Branham says.

    Employers should pay attention during job interviews to see if they discuss both sides’ expectations, if the interviewee asks questions, or if there is a very different workplace culture where the interviewee worked previously. These and other factors could lead to unspoken and unmet expectations.

    Practices for matching employers’ and employees’ expectations include hiring from among temps, interns, part-timers and others already familiar with the employer; using employee referrals; and ensuring that job descriptions are accurate. Allowing team members to interview candidates and letting candidates sample job experiences, perhaps through computer-based simulations, are also ways to narrow everyone’s expectations.

  • There’s a mismatch between the person and the job. Employees may not know their own strengths or what work fits them; managers may be in a hurry to hire and willing to take any warm body. The result can be employees who are bored and stressed. Fitting people and jobs means scouting constantly for talent, establishing a formal “talent forecasting process,” and using team, behavioral and multiple interviews.

  • There’s not enough feedback or coaching. The root problems are managers’ inattention to people they supervise, irregular or nonexistent feedback, criticism instead of praise, and other indicators that feedback isn’t valued or valuable. Practices to improve coaching and feedback include focusing it on new hires, setting up buddy or mentor programs with experienced employees, and holding managers accountable for feedback.

  • There are “too few growth and advancement opportunities.” Causes include barriers between departments, training focused only on employees’ current positions and lack of help for employees in defining career goals. Employers can provide employees with online self-assessment and career management tools and workshops, Branham says. Information on career paths and job requirements should be freely available, and the internal job posting system should be efficient and fair. Employers should “show preference for hiring from within.”

  • Employees feel “devalued and unrecognized.” Managers, fearing charges of favoritism or not knowing enough about an employee’s job to judge performance well, may balk at recognizing employees. But a manager should be aware that problems may arise if good employees are overdue for pay increases or are paid the same as poor performers, or if new recruits make more than experienced workers in similar jobs.

  • Employees suffer “stress from overwork and work-life imbalance.” Signs that this is a problem include employees who consistently work late, work through lunch, work sick, take work home, don’t take vacations or are always rushing to meet deadlines. Employees who recently experienced a family or personal crisis are at risk, too. Branham profiles three companies, all considered to be top-flight places to work, with emphasis on the employers’ attention to employees. These employers have one thing in common: “a philosophy of ‘give first, get second,’ ” Branham says. One practice intended to duplicate this type of work culture is increasing social opportunities to help employees bond.

  • There’s a loss of trust in top leaders. Greedy, isolated, unconcerned about workers—that’s how many employees see those at the top. In the post-Enron era, keeping worker trust in executives is vital.

Compiled by Leigh Rivenbark, a freelance writer and editor in Vienna, Va.

Inclusion of a book does not imply endorsement by SHRM or HR Magazine. 

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