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Cultivating Employees' Abilities
Business Journal

Cultivating Employees' Abilities

There are other assets to a firm that can help boost productivity and quality

by Verapong Paditporn and Divya Verma

In recent speeches, [Thailand's] Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra has been urging industrialists to improve productivity and quality to sharpen their edge amid increasingly tough global competition.

This is a tough challenge for most Thai companies.

The first solution that comes to mind is investing in new technology and machinery. Yet only financially strong firms can compete on technology.

Another solution is to harness the potential of our human resources to achieve an increase in productivity and quality that is both sustainable and hard to copy by competitors.

Three years ago, we discovered that the credibility of senior management and the organisation is largely driven by the quality of their relationships with their supervisors.

Our research brought out 12 differentiating dimensions between great and ordinary workplaces; seven of these drive improvements in productivity and quality.

Great managers set expectations. Expectations are the milestones we use to measure our progress and, within the workplace, mark the pathways that guide us toward achievement.

Great managers define the right outcomes first, and then let each person find his or her own route toward those outcomes. This approach allows the individual to grow via the discovery of his or her "path of least resistance."

It appreciates and values differences between employee styles and lets people capitalise on their strengths to achieve their fullest potential as well as encourage responsibility.

Give the opportunity to do best. The task of the best managers is to clearly define the talents needed for each role, and then choose the right person for that role. A manager's job is not to make people develop talents they do not have, but to identify and utilise their existing talents to their full potential, and give them an "opportunity to do what they do best every day."

Genuinely care. Gallup finds that great managers possess identifiable talents or recurring patterns of thought, feelings and behaviours. These managers find a true sense of satisfaction when their staff develop their skills and succeed, even if the employees' success surpasses that of the manager. They genuinely care about the people they work with.

Encourage opinions. Great places to work are those where employees' opinions count, encourage great ideas to flow and be heard, and then processed and refined.

Not all ideas will be successfully implemented, but the process of refining ideas is still wonderfully productive -- it builds employees' confidence in the firm and shows that their efforts can make the firm better.

Great managers never ask employees for their opinions and then do the opposite without a clear explanation.

Explain the company's mission. Great workplaces give their employees a sense of purpose, help them feel they belong, and enable them to make a difference.

Every individual has a unique sense of purpose, and individuals find different meanings in similar situations.

Great managers continually strive to help individuals understand how the firm's purpose/mission directly relates to individual duties.

Keep employees doing quality work. Often, the definition of quality sets the tone of a workplace culture. If quality is defined as the absence of defects or mistakes, we indirectly encourage employees to cover up mistakes or problems quickly.

Great managers realise that human beings make mistakes, and can learn from correcting them. In healthy workplaces, staff are being challenged to improve their product or service by defining "quality" as the process of recognising and solving problems.

A problem can also bring out a greater sense of teamwork. Employees who are committed to doing quality work know that a problem can improve team cohesiveness. They use the power of the team not only to overcome the crisis, but also to correct the process to avoid future problems.

Encourage learning and growth. Every day, great managers face the challenge of creating a culture that is open to new ideas and lets employees explore possible implications of those ideas without fear of rejection or retribution.

For employees, the creation of a culture receptive to new ideas also involves significant belief and trust in their managers and teams. A company's future is dependent on the learning and growth of the employees who are closest to the action.

Great managers, employees and teams are rarely quite satisfied with current ways of doing things. They always feel a slight tension about finding better, more efficient ways to work. Great managers always encourage their staff to "learn and grow."

This article was originally published in the Bangkok Post on July 2, 2003. Reprinted with permission.

Verapong Paditporn was a Partner of Gallup in Bangkok, Thailand.
Divya Verma is a Consultant for Gallup in Bangkok, Thailand.

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