What managers should do – a few thoughts about practical wisdom

 I have to admit that after seeing so many recommendations about it around the web I was really eager to see Barry Schwartz’s talk at TED. They say that high expectations beget disappointment. Well, this maybe a good example of an expectation. This is one of the most inspiring and appealing speeches I have seen.

The speech contains so many themes that are worthy of a discussion that I can develop a whole blog around them. However, I will only elaborate on one of them and let you think of the rest. Listening to Barry talk about the fact that some janitors describe their jobs differently than the formal job description that entails a only a list of what he must clean, by talking about the way they interact with people, reminded me what Markus Buckingham talks about in “First, breaking all the rules” about how great manager treat their employees. If I try to summarise both of their ideas and incorporate my own it will sound something like this:

  • 1. Find the right people – people have different talents. Many times, in order to be great at a job – yes, even that of a janitor – you need more than the basic skills for actually doing the job. In this case, a janitor in a hospital needs empathy. How many hiring for janitors include that in their list of demands? But it is true in many other jobs. There is always the extra passion or talent that transforms good employees to great ones. Find a candidate with such a passion or talent and your chances of hiring a great employee increases.
  • 2. Let them to the job – people work differently. They produce the same outcomes differently. Don’t interfere. Don’t make up rules. Maybe, as Barry says, don’t even create incentives (I am not sure I totally agree with that one). Don’t try to make them do the job the way you would have done it. Give them the intellectual and mental space to work it on their own. Provide support and training but don’t create rules about the specific job. If phase one was done correctly, they will find the way to produce the outcomes you required.
  • 3. Actively look for results – this seems like an obvious stage, but it is not. And when I talk about results, I don’t mean only if the job is done, but how is it done; what is the joy the employee derives from doing it; what are the ripple effects of his work. You can’t do that by looking only on the products. You have to talk to the employee. You have to walk around in his area. You have to assess his work from different perspectives.
  • 4. Replace or retain – if someone is not fit for the job, if the only results you see at level three are the “formal” ones, than it is wiser to let go. Off course, this should not be done lightly and not before you are absolutely sure that there is no match. But it is better to lead an employee to directions where he can produce those results. Where he can put his “practical wisdom” that Barry talks about in his speech for good use. Because as I said in point one, each of us has different “practical wisdom” or talent. On the other hand, those who do create result should be recognized. Or as Barry calls it: “celebrate moral exemplars“. This is the guy you want to spend most of your time with. This is the guy, you want to learn and frame step one according to. This is the one you should try to do everything to retain, because these are the people who truly excel and drive your organization forward.



19 Responses to “What managers should do – a few thoughts about practical wisdom”

  1. What Managers Should Do - A Few Thoughts About Practical Wisdom | DelhiPlanet Says:

    […] Note: This article has been reproduced with explicit permission from the author. Check the original post here. […]

  2. Practical implications of the “Paradox of Choice” « The Comparative Advantage Says:

    […] few weeks ago I wrote about Barry Schwartz’s inspiring talk about practical wisdom. After I relaxed from that amazing talk, I searched for more of his talks on TED and yesterday I […]

  3. Are automation and checklists the only answer for the problem of microdecisions? « The Comparative Advantage Says:

    […] 2. Chose the right people. People who have the ability to make the right decisions as a matter of intuition. I would refer you to the talk about “Practical Wisdom” by Barry Schwartz and the discussion of it in my blog. […]

  4. What will your employees do when you leave for a vacation? « The Comparative Advantage Says:

    […] great managers focus on the setting and explaining the right desired outcomes and let the people do their jobs in the best they can. But, even this outcome perspective about management does not come without […]

  5. Isn’t it time we stop with trying to create rules? « The Comparative Advantage Says:

    […] resoanted with me. I am not suprised given my writing on outcome management and the fact that this is what I wrote a few months back as one of my lessons from Barry Schwartz’s talk at […]

  6. Best posts on The Comparative Advantage for 2009 (and a little more) « The Comparative Advantage Says:

    […] What managers should do – a few thoughts about practical wisdom […]

  7. More on stopping with the rules « The Comparative Advantage Says:

    […] A few days ago I wrote about the lesson I learned from visiting the Taj Mahal Palace & Tower Hotel in Mumbai – we need to stop trying and create rules for employees. I quoted something I wrote after watching  Barry Schwartz’s talk at TED: […]

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