A Response Essay to: Jeffrey Pfeffer’s The Real Keys to High Performance

-By Sarah S.

Most places I’ve worked the manager has spent more time in meetings, reading financial statements, motivating people to sell more, and looking at the bottom line.  In Jeffrey Pfeffer’s article The Real Keys to High Performance, he address’s this conventional wisdom that managers/leaders should be focusing on making strategy, seeking some technological edge, and worrying about the financial engineering, mergers and acquisitions and restructuring.  Instead Pfeffer suggests organizational success comes from managing people effectively than anything else.

Pfeffer says that there are three guiding principles that leaders should use to change their organizations focus to developing and apply employee’s knowledge and competences.  First, building trust by treating all people as though they can be trusted.  Whole Foods, shares its performance information with everyone.  According to Pfeffer, knowledge is power, and sharing information about the organization in turn shares power.

Second, leaders/managers need to encourage change by exposing their people to alternative models of management.  Southwest Airlines and Men’s Wearhouse are perfect examples of how some companies are changing how they treat their people and their business.  Pfeffer says doing things that break the old ways of organizing such as putting people in new roles to help break people’s old habits and assumptions.  This similar thinking of course reappeared a year later with First, Break all the Rules by Marcus Buckingham.  In comparison, Buckingham zooms in more on developing people and bringing out their talents, Pfeffer’s article focuses much more on the boarder since of the organization as a whole.

Last, leaders/managers need to make sure to measure the practices that constitute high-commitment management.  Most of the time management focuses on what has happened, but not on the organization’s present performance.  According to Pfeffer, if people are the most important asset, then retention and development should get as much attention as the financial statement.

The main take away from this article is that people are our most important asset.  With that being said, to achieve profits through people requires time and attention from leaders/managers.  My overall assessment is that this can be done, and more and more organizations are getting it done.  The problem is that there are still a lot of conventional wisdom thinkers out there.  These are the cavemen that invented the wheel and commonly says “Well now, let’s not reinvent the wheel” when their conventional wisdom is challenged.  When it comes down to it giving time and attention to your people can be compared to the time and attention that parents give to their babies.  In other countries the organizational system is set up for parents to be able to take time off in the event of a child.  Most European countries give up to 3 months paid time in the event of a child and over half of those countries allow the male the same about of time in order to be with the child and offer support.  US was ranked one of the lowest countries to provide flexibility with regard to sick leave, event of a child, or allowed vacation.  The next generation coming up in US is demanding more flexibility in their careers and the job market is going to have to find a way to deliver. My point is that until our organizational system changes and sets a new standard for what is important, the cavemen thinking will still exist.  And yes we do need to reinvent the wheel, more organizations need to start hiring leaders/managers that make decisions about recruiting, motivating and developing people rather than about strategy, financial engineering and restructuring.

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