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The Bottom Line: Green Shoots and Re-Engagement

  • By Elizabeth Johns
  • Published: 2010-12-31

This story was excerpted from the December 2010 issue of Exchange.

People do matter. So reads the headline for the latest AFP Treasury Benchmarking Survey, which found that the best corporate treasury departments are distinguished by the caliber of professionals they employ, and by their continued on-the-job support for those professionals.

Based on the response to that headline, which was picked up by a wide range of news organizations, more than a few businesses may have forgotten this truth.

Time for a thunk on the head.

Writing for The Independent in November, entrepreneur John Demitz said in his Soapbox column, "It's an obvious point, and we've heard it many times before, yet we still fail to grasp just how much people matter." Demitz says that an environment that fosters good staff retention doesn't mean one in which staff are physically retained, but one in which staff are intellectually retained -- one where they are comfortable asking questions, saying "no" and hearing "no", too, from time to time.

If business commentators are to be believed, many of those great environments have been drying up -- largely due to the prolonged economic uncertainty.

Gill Corkindale, an executive coach in London, recently noted that the recession has caused some management best practices to go out the window. In a Harvard Business Review article entitled "Why Good People Skills Matter in a Recession," she quoted an out-of-control CFO as saying, "It's very simple. The recession is great for me because I can act exactly as I want -- I don't have to bother with complicated people management." In some ways, the recession has forced many companies to zero-in on core strengths, to their benefit. Unfortunately, the article also pointed to a general resurgence in arrogance.

As we look ahead, what happens when more than a few green shoots appear? Will companies then engage with their promising staff? Or have many businesses permanently reverted to the command-and-control model?

Curt Coffman, co-author of the book First Break All the Rules, has a special recipe for executives in times like these: Refocus on the employee. "Catch him doing things right," says Coffman. "Recognition is personally fulfilling, but even more, recognition communicates what an organization values, and it reinforces employee behaviors that reflect those values."

Elizabeth Johns is a managing director with AFP.  The Bottom Line column appears monthly on the last page of Exchange magazine.  See previous columns.

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