HBR’s 10 Must Reads on Managing People

imageThis book is a collection of articles from Harvard Business Review. It is one in a series of books that collect selected articles on specific topics. This one in the series is about different aspects of management. I am a hobby manager, being responsible for a small group of researchers. I thought this book would give me enough insight into management so I can do a decent job. I will provide a quick review of each of the articles and then write down my overall thoughts about this book.

Leadership That Gets Results- by Daniel Goleman

This article is actually about leadership. It argues that leadership styles are distinct and are used by various leaders. These styles are the following:

  • Coercive leaders demand immediate compliance.
  • Authoritative leaders mobilize people toward a vision.
  • Affiliative leaders create emotional bonds and harmony.
  • Democratic leaders build consensus through participation.
  • Pacesetting leaders expect excellence and self-direction.
  • And coaching leaders develop people for the future.

Each leadership style springs from different components of emotional intelligence. And good leaders combine the different styles depending on the situation. Good leaders also use the styles to deliberately influence the different factors of their organization using these styles (factors include flexibility, responsibility etc.). There is an overview table in the article that summarizes these effects and it can be a good place to look into when trying to remember what the article is about.

One More Time: How Do You Motivate Employees- by Fredrick Herzberg

This is a much cited article on what motivates people. It is a nice reading. What Herzberg finds out to have more effect are the following: Achievements, recognition, work itself, responsibility, advancement, growth. Herzberg also talks about hygiene vs. motivation. Salery and office are hygiene: they don’t motivate but can demotivate if not taken care of.

The Set-up-to-fail Syndrome- by J. F. Manzoni and J. L. Barsoux

It turns out that if you don’t like one of your people, your behavior towards that person will show it very clearly. In fact your behavior will make that person a worse performer than he/she really is:

“managers can unwittingly contribute to the deteriorating performance of competent subordinates, with what are intended to be corrective actions only serving to intensify the problem….Once the perceived low performers start to pick up the signals of their lower status in relation to peers, they often become less committed and begin to show less initiative. In other words, they act out the expectations of their boss.”

The way a leader behaves can be related to the actual way of communicating with the person, or the level of independence given to the subordinate. With “weaker performers” bosses tend to ask more specific questions about their tasks, get more involved in their tasks and often come up with decisions for them, and follow up more closely after decisions are made. Some of the advise provided by the authors:

The first step is for the boss to become aware of their existence and consider the possibility that s/he might be part of their dynamic. The second requires the boss to make a clear and focused intervention bringing into the open the uneasiness that has been developing in the relationship, discussing the main subordinate
performance issues identified by the boss and opening up for discussion the boss’s behavior.
In the longer term, prevention of such vicious circles is clearly the best option. Managers do not need to behave identically with all subordinates to avoid triggering vicious circles. They can be more directive with some subordinates than others, they can even monitor these subordinates more. They do need, however, to do so in a way that the subordinates interpret as supportive, caring and helpful. This is possible, we have seen it happen.

Saving Your Rookie Managers  from Themselves- by Carol A.Walker

This paper is about the fact that most managers come from some technical job they have been doing most of their life. When they become managers, they don’t go to any management school they just become managers. This happens too often where I work. You become a group leader, a project leader or else without getting formal education. Here are the top things such rookie managers should focus on:

  • Delegating
  • Getting Support from Above
  • Projecting Confidence
  • Focusing on the Big Picture
  • Giving Constructive Feedback

What great managers do- by Marcus Buckingham

This was the article that used one of the best metaphors I have seen to describe the difference between leadership and management. Leadership is like playing a game of checkers while management is like playing chess. As a leader you need to ignore differences and focus on similarities. In management you need to focus on differences among the people. Managers do the following:

  • Continuously tweak roles to capitalize on individual strengths.
  • Pull the triggers that activate employees’ strengths.
  • Tailor coaching to unique learning styles.

Fair Process: Managing in the Knowledge Economy- by W. Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne

This article discusses the importance of having a fair process. The article also describes how fair process is different from democratic processes in that the outcome of a fair process does not need to be what the majority wanted. It is important that people are involved in the process, get access to information that underlies the decisions, are able to provide their view of what they think, and be informed about the rationale behind decisions. This is what we all appreciate as human being, i.e. being respected and kept informed in a fair process.

The authors’ other hypothesis is that fair process is in particular important to knowledge workers. Knowledge workers work by innovating based on exchange of ideas. Exchange of ideas requires trust, which is built using fair processes.

Teaching Smart People How to Learn- by Chris Argyris

This is an eye-opening article. Its argument is that knowledge workers, especially those with very high competences, are not able to learn from their own failures. Or put differently, they don’t think they do anything wrong. Studies by Argyris has shown that as long as problems being discussed related to external factors, these experts are very good at finding solutions. But as soon as you start discussing problems related to their own behavior they become defensive:

Far from being a catalyst for real change, such feelings caused most to react defensively. They projected the blame for any problems away from themselves and onto what they said were unclear goals, insensitive and unfair leaders, and stupid clients.
In effect, the professionals asserted that they were helpless to act differently—not because of any limitations of their own but because of the limitations of others.

How (Un)ethical Are You?- by Mahzarin R. Banaji, Max H. Bazerman, and Dolly Chugh

This article is about the fact that even the most well-meaning person is at some points unethical. Therefore, assuming that one is inherently ethical is a dangerous thing. E.g. the four related sources of unintentional unethical decision making are commonly practiced in many companies: implicit forms of prejudice, bias that favors one’s own group, conflict of interest, and a tendency to overclaim credit. The article talks about Implicit Association Test (IAT) which is used to show these biases. Consider for instance the following quotes from the article:

Few people set out to exclude anyone through such acts of kindness. But when those in the majority or those in power allocate scarce resources (such as jobs, promotions, and mortgages) to people just like them, they effectively discriminate against those who are different from them.

implicit biases may exact costs by subtly excluding qualified people from the very organizations that seek their talents.

many studies show that the majority of people consider themselves above average on a host of measures, from intelligence to driving ability.

What list of names do you start with when considering whom to send to a training program, recommend for a new assignment, or nominate for a fast-track position?


The Discipline of Teams- by John R. Katzenbach and Douglas K. Smith

Paper on the differences between work groups and teams. Not read yet.

Managing your boss- by John J-. Gabarro and John P. Kotter

Not read yet.