Thursday, June 4, 2009

Back to the Basics

I work in Munich. Not surprisingly, my colleagues are German. We're a small group so we often have lunch together in our favorite local restaurant, which happens to be Italian. Every month or so they publish a new menu and we dutifully select one of the specials, eat it, have an espresso, pay and walk back to work.

Today we had an Italian guest, a global IT consultant that came to discuss global payroll strategy. He used to manage IT for the United Nations and has a steady supply of stories and business insights. We took him to our Italian restaurant.

Without glancing at the menu he engaged with the waiter in Italian, asking him what he recommended. After several moments of consultation it was decided that lightly grilled fish with a side order of steamed vegetables would be the best choice.

I've spent time in Italy and know enough to follow Italian recommendations on food so I promptly ordered the same, even though I didn't understand much besides, 'fish.' Wine was also procured.

Naturally, it was delicious. 'Was that even on the menu?' I asked.

He smiled. 'I have no idea.' An expressive shrug to show that it was of no importance.

Waving his fork, he continued. 'It's all about people. You have to engage with people to get the best results. You have to talk to them.'

Yes, I thought. You have to engage with people if you want them to do their best for you. If you give people a form to fill out they will fill out the form, with varying degrees of enthusiasm or boredom. Nine times out of ten they will not bother to do more than fill out the form because that's what you asked them to do. If you want them to do more you have to ask them to do that, too, and pretty soon you have to tell people to dot every i and cross every t.

Sometimes the menu is just in the way.

Recently the
Compensation Cafe blogged about how processes can get in the way of people doing a good job. The actual credit goes to Steve Roesler at his All Things Workplace blog. The main idea is that most people want to do a good job but in too many cases it's the organization and processes that try to force them to work in a particular way that discourage engagement and prevent them from meeting their full potential.

I would say it like this: The best organizations let people play to their strengths.

My lunch companion also shared with me three rules for effective management, none of which had anything to do with organization or process:

'I tell my employees three things.

One: Be curious. If you aren't curious you will never stretch your potential.

Two: Don't be afraid to make mistakes.

Three: Don't work alone. Even if you do your best thinking on your own, come up for air and communicate. Share. Connect.'

Well. That beats filling out forms any day.


  1. I didn't know you had a second blog -- love it! And I didn't know what you do for a living -- love that too! I have SOOOO many opinions on the subject (it's amazing how working at Microsoft instigates that...), but I can't write about them on my blog because my co-workers and boss read it! Let's just say that I have a whole different philosophy about management than many with whom I work...


  2. I didn't know you had another blog! What is this blog about?

  3. It's about my deepest and most private feelings about human capital management.

  4. That's a great story. I didn't know you had two blogs either!

  5. that is the one lesson I hope to impart to my kid: dont' be afraid to make mistakes.

  6. Brilliant story and some very good advice!

  7. I knew you had this log, ecause I read your profile:)

  8. It's always good to make a personal connection! He definitely had some good advice.

    Shawna's Study Abroad

  9. I love German Italian restaurants! Great story. That guy really sounds like a 'connector'. It's awesome being around such people.


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