b-school, HRM, Management, MBA

Pfeffer’s thirteen practices for managing people

In these days of reviewing information, I came across a classic (yet again) and I thought I could share it with you, albeit in a summarised form. These are Jeffrey Pfeffer’s thirteen practices that any manager should take into account. Of course they express a certain point of view based in a set of assumptions, but even without their context is quite safe to assume that all of them are sound propositions. The following interpretation is, of course, only my interpretation.

Jeffrey Pfeffer is a professor of organisational behaviour at Stanford Graduate School of Business.

  1. Employment security because if you want commitment, make sure you’re sending the right signal, otherwise don’t expect people to be loyal to the company while their peers are being laid off. If long-term trust has to grow, it must have a solid basis.
  2. Selectivity in recruiting which is not only for the obvious reason that we need good employees, but also because people like to be in a restricted club, to belong into an elite. From high expectations high performance might grow, but not otherwise.
  3. High wages are a measure of how the organisation values its people. Given the fact that labour costs have diminished their share of total costs, it may still be possible to pay reasonable wages in many companies that have chosen not to do so. Let’s not forget that wages come in many shapes and sizes, and it’s not only money they entail but also recognition, fair treatment, or that extra help for personal circumstances. Or aren’t we asking the employees for that extra mile?
  4. The pay should be related to the company in the way of an incentive pay. It could be tied to benefit, or the economic value added in any unit. That way we have remuneration aligned with strategy and a lot of self correcting processes may happen all along the organisation.
  5. Employee ownership of shares is another way to align employees with shareholders, to transmit a long-view perspective throughout the organisation. In this sense it’s important to remark that employees will have a conservative approach with its shares, protecting the company from outsiders or standing in the way of market efficiency, that depends on the point of view applied.
  6. Information sharing is also important. Do you want employees to share the company’s concerns while being in the dark at the same time? It doesn’t sound reasonable to me… and probably at the same time our competitors, that also know a great deal about our (and their) business, already have the information.
  7. Participation and empowerment is a long forgotten one. We all talk about participation, but we do not actually put the measures in place to enable empowerment. Don’t treat people as dumb followers and then expect them to have initiative, to be entrepreneurs in the face of danger. They won’t.
  8. Self-managed teams mean that people will have to actually manage themselves, and thus will have to find the way to co-ordinate and monitor what’s happening. But don’t just leave them alone and blame them in case of danger, exerting even more pressure than what they have, try to help them instead.
  9. Training and skill development is also a tricky one. In order to enable workers to use their new abilities, the organisation needs to learn and evolve too. Don’t try to improve the skills of a mouse in a box but give it a nice maze instead. Align responsibilities with the development of the abilities needed, and then make both accountable.
  10. Variety can be boosted with cross-utilisation and cross-training, and variety can be another way to reward people and to help them learn. It also gives the company a chance to improve job design and job transitioning, which, if trained, can help easing the company’s pain when losing a talented employee.
  11. Symbolic egalitarism is one that could be argued against in many places as it might go against rewarding certain things (eliminating symbols will probably be resisted everywhere), but it also enables the organisation to increase the fluidity of its information: the sense of equality and community unites people, and united people talk more, think together and face the challenges united.
  12. Wage compression also relates to egalitarism. While it seems it might be against “high wages” it is not, because it’s referring to reducing the distance between the management elite and the rest of the organisation and will spread the feeling of common purpose. Thus, less energy will be spent to fight for individual privileges and more in the well-being of the whole company.
  13. Promotion from within is an additional reward that glues the organisation together and takes trust up to more senior levels of the organisation. People that come from the bottom of the ladder care about what they are managing, as opposite to seeing cold figures. On the other hand it can be argued that the zero based unemotional approach is also useful for an organisation as well as new practices brought by new entrants.
All these practices need to be put into perspective and to be coherent between each other. A long term perspective is needed, because short term gains could be achieved just going against all of them, but we’d pay a latter price for them. That means that some metrics must be developed, and measures taken, to be able to follow the results. Each one of them must be thoroughly designed because implementation is enormously complex. Ultimately, every organisation should ingrain the measures taken into its philosophy and culture, and that’s not an easy task. 

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