Developing stars and handling poor performers (HR Manager's Bookshelf)

Corporate MVPs • Accountability • 201 Ways to Turn any Employee into a Star Performer • Don’t Oil the Squeaky Wheel • Encouraging the Heart • The Set-up-to-Fail Syndrome

This roundup of six books looks at performance from a number of perspectives: how to cultivate and strengthen the organization’s top performers and highest potential people (Corporate MVPs) and how to foster increased levels of accountability (Accountability) through effective policies and management strategies. Two books offer catchy, quick reference ideas on dealing with performance challenges (201 Ways to Turn any Employee into a Star Performer and Don’t Oil the Squeaky Wheel). Insights on recognition and appreciation (Encouraging the Heart) and how to avoid causing people to fail (The Set-up-to-Fail Syndrome) round out these recent titles.

Corporate MVPs
By Margaret Butteriss and Bill Roiter
250 pages, Wiley (2004)
ISBN 0-470-83353-X
Available from Wiley Canada

Interviews with executives at organizations, including Honeywell International, Shoppers Drug Mart, Spencer Stuart, MIT and RBC Capital Markets, form the basis for this approach to managing MVPs (most valuable performers). The book explores their value, what distinguishes them from others and how they can best be managed, developed and encouraged to excel. The authors explain policies and strategies for identifying and treating MVPs differently from other talented employees, and that experienced business leaders believe that doing so “provides a live example for other employees of what the company values. It also demonstrates to the MVP that he or she is valued, which creates commitment, not extortion.”

Target readers are corporate leaders who “recognize that one of their most important jobs is to recruit, develop, and retain talented employees” and want to improve at:

•identifying and developing MVPs;

•protecting critical MVP assets;

•increasing the pool through recruitment;

•signing and integrating MVPs from outside; and

•recovering difficult MVPs (such as those with poor interpersonal skills or problematic egos).

There is advice for individuals on how to become an MVP and a specific section for HR professionals addressing talent assessment, development processes, recognition and rewards, as well as general HR policies and practices.

By Rob Lebow and Randy Spitzer
258 pages, Berrett-Koehler (2002)
ISBN 1-57675-183-X
Available from McGraw-Hill

This book tells the story of five strangers travelling on a train who share and learn about a “freedom-based” approach to building accountability among employees. “Rather than starting from the premise that employees are both evil-intentioned and children in need of direction, Accountability introduces a choice that every organization and its leadership must ultimately make. The choice is simple. Do we create freedom-based workplaces or continue to implement control-based systems?”

This book will appeal to readers who want management thought in narrative form with characters and conversations, and believe that some of the following practices actually destroy, rather than build, accountability:

•traditional job descriptions;

•restrictive policies and procedures;

•performance reviews and forced ranking;

•internal competition; and

•incentive programs, recognition programs and pay-for-performance plans.

201 Ways to Turn any Employee into a Star Performer
By Casey Fitts Hawley
197 pages, McGraw Hill (2004)
ISBN 0-07-143370-8
Available from McGraw-Hill

This quick-reference book offers advice on how to replace harsh discipline with a positive, goal-oriented approach to:

•identify problems before they become serious;

•develop the art of constructive feedback;

•create goals for long-term excellent performance;

•help employees take an active role in their turnaround;

•understand which problems need to be managed;

•deal with defensive reactions from employees; and

•foster discussion in group conflict situations.

This guide can be used with performance reviews or as soon as a problem arises. It’s aimed at helping managers and supervisors deal with problem employees who are absent or tardy, unqualified, unproductive, unfocused, uncommunicative or shy, overpowering, unmotivated, angry, or those who behave inappropriately, mismanage priorities, experience burnout, or have personal problems or addictions. The format features short sections, examples and checklists for quick reference rather than cover-to-cover reading.

Don’t Oil the Squeaky Wheel
By Wolf Rinke
190 pages, McGraw Hill (2004)
ISBN 0-07-142993-X
Available from McGraw-Hill

The 20 “contrarian ways to improve your leadership effectiveness” outlined in this book include: “Don’t be proud,” “Don’t be tough,” “Don’t focus on the bottom line” and “Don’t have goals and objectives.” Other chapters include:

•management and leadership theories do not work;

•trust all people all the time; and

•knowledge is not power.

A short list of “smart steps” at the end of each chapter helps the reader put insights into action.

The practical and humorous tone of the book makes it digestible for managers looking for new ways to approach the people side of business. While the author debunks some management theories and sacred cows, the main value to the reader comes in the specific steps and guidelines offered. For example, the chapter entitled “Don’t prove yourself” stresses the benefit of talking less, listening more, praising predecessors and getting to know the organization’s culture when moving into a new position. “Don’t downsize” includes ideas for improving profitability, minimizing job cuts and avoiding future cuts.

Encouraging the Heart
By James Kouzes and Barry Posner
203 pages, Jossey Bass Pfeiffer (2003)
ISBN 0-7879-6463-8
Available from Wiley Canada

This leader’s guide to rewarding and recognizing others expands upon the authors’ milestone book The Leadership Challenge, which presents best practices in five areas of leadership effectiveness: model the way, inspire a shared vision, challenge the process, enable others to act and encourage the heart.

The book is built on seven essentials of encouraging:

•set clear standards;

•expect the best;

•pay attention;

•personalize recognition;

•tell the story;

•celebrate together; and

•set the example.

From the authors: “This is not a book about glad-handing, back-slapping, gold stars, and payoffs. It’s about the importance of linking rewards and appreciation to standards of excellence… it’s about ways to enhance your own ability in — and comfort with — recognizing and celebrating the achievements of others.”

An early chapter presents the “encouragement index” with 21 factors for scoring your own behaviour related to recognizing and encouraging others. The concluding chapter summarizes 150 ideas for encouraging the heart, grouped according to the seven essentials. The book will be helpful to managers or executives seeking insights and a thoughtful process for learning from practical discussion and examples, pointers for reflecting on their own style and approach, and seeking to find their own voice so that they can adopt recognition and encouragement behaviour in a natural and genuine way.

The Set-up-to-Fail Syndrome
By Jean-Francois Manzoni and Jean-Louis Barsoux
280 pages, Harvard Business School Press (2002)
ISBN 0-08784-949-0
At bookstores or

The authors, based at the French academic institution INSEAD, published an article in the Harvard Business Review (March-April 1998) called “The Set-up-to-Fail Syndrome: How Bosses Create Their Own Poor Performers.” This book expands on the theme with research showing that most leaders empower and encourage top performers, while micro-managing those they perceive as weaker performers, unintentionally stifling self-confidence and drive. Readers will find guidance on: recognizing this dynamic, taking steps to interrupt the downward performance cycle that results and avoiding it by managing work relationships in more constructive ways.

This book may be of interest if the following scenario sounds familiar: “An employee you manage slips up somehow: a missed deadline, a lost account or a weak presentation. You decide to oversee that person’s work more closely. After all, if your direct reports aren’t delivering, it’s your head that will roll. To further your frustration, the more you ‘help,’ the worse the employee’s performance becomes.” The book is aimed not only at the “boss from hell,” but also targets respected managers, CEOs, coaches or teachers who get caught up in the syndrome.

Ray Brillinger is a certified management consultant who works with clients on organizational change, HR strategy and performance improvement. He can be reached at (905) 547-8193 or [email protected].

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