Human resource insight

The 9th Human Resources Symposium, held by KPMG on February 16 and 17, will have an additional attraction for human capital managers and executives: The keynote speaker, along with David Mattson, will be Jeffrey Pfeffer PhD, professor of organizational behavior at Stanford University, California. Coming to Greece for the first time next month, this leading authority in organizational behavior will offer insight from his long experience as a scientist, professor and author. «If a manager wishes to achieve different results then he should act in a different way permanently and systematically. This needs a change in mentality, but managers have not realized it,» Pfeffer has observed. He is partial to exposing «fake truths» and reversing widely held perceptions that operate as compulsory guidelines and practices for corporations to perform better and achieve success. Such perceptions usually concern specific business practices, such as reward mechanisms and effective management systems. Pfeffer makes it clear that «if the underlying perceptions you have about these issues are correct, then you have gold in your hands; but if they prove wrong then you’d better prepare for problems…» The academic’s main suggestion is for human resources officials, saying that their interventions should first concern top-level executives, who ought to realize the extent to which their organizing performance is affected by their preferred ways of thinking. He says that as a first step «they should sit managers down and try to make them reveal their perceptions.» As a stereotypical perception he mentions that «the reduction of salaries leads to lower general costs and therefore to greater financial stability and profits.» A second step would be to assess the extent to which such a perception could be correct. He cites the example of United Airlines, which applied the equation «low salaries equals lower costs» and failed: The result was staff departures while disillusioned employees undermined the corporation, creating problems with clients. «Many things we take for granted are today proved wrong,» he notes, «as in the idea that when employees are held responsible for losses then efficiency improves.» The rejection of widely accepted perceptions or digressions from the conventional way of thinking are often very difficult and require great courage. This phase is the crucial third step for Pfeffer, which he describes using the example of the natural food chain Whole Foods: The firm, instead of applying the well-known «I bring prices down and increase my client base,» gave in to the perception that people increasingly ask for and pay more for quality in their nutrition. As a result, in summer 2004 this strategy brought its shareholders returns of over 330 percent. The author of «The Human Equation: Building Profits by Putting People First» writes that the old saying that «people are our most precious capital» holds true today more than ever. Even if many leaders believe in its strategic importance, only a few adopt it within corporations. He states that profits will emerge from the human domain only through the uninterrupted attention of the management, «which becomes the biggest obstacle to failure» and the allocation of time which is rare among leaders. The new role of leaders is not to make most business or even strategic decisions, nor fret about economic planning and restructuring; their key decisions are those with an impact on choice, encouragement and development of people. «It may sound strange, wanting the manager to be the personnel leader and culture former. But this is exactly what you find in corporations which have really reaped benefits from their people,» concludes Pfeffer. For further information on the symposium, contact Ms Alexandra Georgiadou on 210.606.2100 or e-mail [email protected].

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