The Wall Street Journal

Learn To Like Your Job

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As vice president of a Los Angeles film-production company in the 1980s, Ronald Kaufman had nearly everything that he'd ever wanted in a job -- great pay, friendly co-workers and interesting work coordinating product placements in films. Unfortunately, he hated the job.

"The owner of the company was a master at intimidation and would scream at everybody. An hour later, he would be a great guy. It made everybody unhappy to be there," says Mr. Kaufman, now an executive coach.

But he knew he wouldn't earn the same salary elsewhere, so Mr. Kaufman committed himself to making his situation work. "You can't really change people's nature, so I changed how I responded to him. I learned to align with his demands, instead of questioning them, and that made my 8½ years at the company so much easier."

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When A Career Veers Off Track

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Mid-career derailment can happen any time, but in today's economy there is no room for complacency. With job opportunities harder than ever to find, it's a particularly rough time to be fired or demoted or to hit a career plateau. You can reduce your risk for derailment by paying attention to your value and effectiveness and by focusing on interpersonal skills, adaptability, team leadership and bottom-line results.

Based on the Center for Creative Leadership's ongoing study of executive derailment with clients around the world, here are 10 ways to avoid these pitfalls:

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HSBC Asia Chief Peter Wong Keeps It Simple

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by Duncan Mavin
March 14, 2011

Just days ago HSBC Holdings PLC said earnings for 2010 doubled from a year earlier, to $13.2 billion, with Asia accounting for almost two-thirds of the profit. But Peter Wong, the bank's chief executive for Asia Pacific, is keen to stress the importance of cost control and measured growth.

"During a high-growth mode, we need to watch out for complacency, and not to grow the cost base in a very free way," says the 59-year-old Mr. Wong, whose 31-year banking career also involved stints at Citibank and Standard Chartered. "Right now, there's inflation in assets, in wages and food. So how do I make sure costs don't get out of whack?"

His cautious message echoes that of the new man in charge at HSBC globally, Stuart Gulliver, who said last month that rising costs at the bank were "unacceptable."

Still, HSBC has come out of the financial crisis in better shape than many of its competitors, and as head of the bank's Asian business, Mr. Wong is tasked with delivering rising profits in one of its fastest-growing regions. He spoke to Duncan Mavin in Hong Kong to explain how. The following interview has been edited.

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Google Asia Boss Searches for Local Style

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Google's president, Japan and Asia-Pacific operations, talks about the challenges in managing an Internet firm in Asia

by Yun-Hee Kim
March 21, 2011

After Google Inc.'s run-ins with the Chinese government over censorship last year, when its Chinese search engine was rerouted to Hong Kong, the Internet-search giant says it is committed to expanding its footprint in the Asia-Pacific region. Earlier this year, the company announced it will hire more than 500 employees in Asia. In January, it also announced plans to open an office in Kuala Lumpur, its first new office in Asia in four years. The Mountain View, Calif-based company set up offices in Singapore and Korea in 2007. But challenges remain as the company tries to expand in a region where there are strong local competitors.

Earlier this month, The Wall Street Journal's Yun-Hee Kim spoke with Google's Daniel Alegre, president, Japan and Asia-Pacific operations, to talk about the company's strategy, as well as the trends and challenges in managing an Internet firm in Asia. The following is an edited version of the interview.

WSJ: What are the key challenges in managing a foreign Internet company in Asia?

Mr. Alegre: We're an American company where English is the predominant language that we speak at headquarters. When we entered markets like China, Japan and Korea, we found that a number of the truly talented people who could join the company actually didn't speak English. We've changed our policy in those markets so that we do hire people that meet our hiring criteria in terms of strong academics, strong industry background but we no longer make it a necessity for them to speak English. We need to be more locally relevant in terms of the way we approach the talent pool from a language perspective to ensure we have the best in each market. Another challenge is keeping local traditions because we want people to realize that even though we are a global company, we are locally receptive to their nuances and their cultures.

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Leadership Styles

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Adapted from “The Wall Street Journal Guide to Management” by Alan Murray, published by Harper Business.

Leadership is less about your needs, and more about the needs of the people and the organization you are leading. Leadership styles are not something to be tried on like so many suits, to see which fits. Rather, they should be adapted to the particular demands of the situation, the particular requirements of the people involved and the particular challenges facing the organization.

In the book “Primal Leadership,” Daniel Goleman, who popularized the notion of “Emotional Intelligence,” describes six different styles of leadership. The most effective leaders can move among these styles, adopting the one that meets the needs of the moment. They can all become part of the leader’s repertoire.

Visionary. This style is most appropriate when an organization needs a new direction. Its goal is to move people towards a new set of shared dreams. “Visionary leaders articulate where a group is going, but not how it will get there – setting people free to innovate, experiment, take calculated risks,” write Mr. Goleman and his coauthors.

Coaching. This one-on-one style focuses on developing individuals, showing them how to improve their performance, and helping to connect their goals to the goals of the organization. Coaching works best, Mr. Goleman writes, “with employees who show initiative and want more professional development.” But it can backfire if it’s perceived as “micromanaging” an employee, and undermines his or her self-confidence.

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What are Alternatives to Layoffs?

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Before laying off employees, consider how much layoffs will cost your company in the long run. On top of paying severance, alienating employees and risking litigation, the morale hit may hurt productivity among survivors. Plus, when business improves, you’ll be saddled with the cost of recruiting and training new employees.

Here are some alternatives to layoffs:

Ask employees for ideas. Solicit suggestions from staff about how to cut costs and improve productivity. Even if what you save doesn’t meet your shortfall expectations, getting employees involved can ease insecurity and promote solidarity.

Cut out the extras. Freeze additional hiring and cut bonuses, raises, unnecessary travel and overtime. Postpone non-vital equipment upgrades. Nix office perks like bottled water and seasonal office parties, or find cheaper alternatives.

Offer extra days of unpaid leave. Extra vacation time is something many employees will find agreeable, even if it’s unpaid.

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How to Change Your Organization's Culture

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Adapted in part from “The Wall Street Journal Guide to Management” by Alan Murray, published by Harper Business.

As a manager, you may have the power to change your organization’s policies with the stroke of a pen. And you may have the ability to hire, fire, promote and demote people with relatively little effort.

But changing an entrenched culture is the toughest task you will face. To do so, you must win the hearts and minds of the people you work with, and that takes both cunning and persuasion.

In their book “Blue Ocean Strategy,” W. Chan Kim and Renee Mauborgne cite four hurdles that face a manager trying to institute broad change in an organization. The first is cognitive – people must have some understanding of why the change in strategy or in culture is needed. The second is limited resources – inevitably, changing an organization will require shifting resources away from some areas and towards others. The third hurdle is motivation – ultimately, workers have to want to make the change. And the final hurdle is institutional politics. They quote one manager who complains: “In our organization, you get shot down before you stand up.”

To overcome those hurdles, they suggest a “tipping point” approach to management. First of all, recognizing you won’t be able to convert everyone at once, start with people who have disproportionate influence in the organization. Get them committed to the change, or, failing that, get them out. And once they are committed to change, shine a spotlight on their accomplishments, so others get the message.

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What is Blue Ocean Strategy?

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Adapted from “The Wall Street Journal Guide to Management” by Alan Murray, published by Harper Business.

The rapid pace of innovation and change in recent years has led scholars and executives to search for an approach to strategy that is more dynamic than Harvard Professor Michael Porter’s classic “five forces.” One of the most successful efforts to do so is the book “Blue Ocean Strategy,” by W. Chan Kim and Renee Mauborgne.

While avoiding use of Mr. Porter’s name, Mr. Kim and Ms. Mauborgne nevertheless attack him head on, arguing that the “five forces” analysis is a formula for remaining in “red oceans,” where the sharks compete mercilessly for the action. The key to exceptional business success, they say, is to redefine the terms of competition and move into the “blue ocean,” where you have the water to yourself. The goal of these strategies is not to beat the competition, but to make the competition irrelevant.

Among the examples they cite is Cirque du Soleil, the Canadian company that redefined the dynamics of a declining circus industry in the 1980s. Under conventional strategy analysis, the circus industry was a loser. Star performers had “supplier power” over the company. Alternative forms of entertainment, from sporting events to home entertainment systems, were relatively inexpensive and on the rise. Moreover, animal rights groups were putting increased pressure on circuses for their treatment of animals.

Cirque du Soleil eliminated the animals and reduced the importance of individual stars. It created a new form of entertainment that combined dance, music and athletic skill to appeal to an upscale adult audience that had abandoned the traditional circus.

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How to Set Goals for Employees

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Adapted from The Wall Street Journal Guide to Management” by Alan Murray, published by Harper Business.

What should we do? That is the first question the manager must answer. What is the mission of the organization I am managing? What is the strategy for accomplishing that mission? What are my goals for the future, consistent with strategy and mission? What are the overall goals for my team, and for each member of the team?

This may sound obvious. But it is remarkable how many managers never get to this basic question. They take their mission, strategy and goals as given – something that has been set by others. Perhaps it’s their boss, or their boss’s boss, or perhaps it’s just built into the situation or organization in which they work. These managers will spend their entire work life reacting – reacting to orders from above, reacting to pressures and problems from below, or simply reacting to the insistent demands of a busy workplace.

If all you do is react, you will fail as a manager. You may be good at solving problems that arise. You may be skilled at responding to the needs and requests of those you work for, or the people on your team. You may work long hours, be loved and respected by your employees, and be the very model of organizational efficiency. But you will not be an effective manager.

One of the most popular management books ever written is Stephen Covey’s “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” – a book that describes seven practices that will lead to success in either your personal or your professional life. Habit number one is simply this: be proactive. The very essence of being human, Mr. Covey writes, is self-awareness – the ability to think about, and ultimately make independent decisions about, your life. Your actions are not simply determined by “nature” – your genetic make-up, or by “nurture” – your upbringing, or by the environment in which you live and work. Rather they should reflect your ability to choose your own course. Effective people focus on being proactive, not reactive, and looking for the things they can do, rather than dwelling on those they can’t.

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How to Increase Workplace Diversity

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Promoting workplace diversity has many bottom line benefits. But you need to approach the hiring process holistically — retaining employees can be more difficult than recruitment. This is especially true for companies in less diverse regions where relocated minority employees may feel disconnected. You may need to take a more active role in helping them adjust to the culture at work as well as in their new communities.

First, identify what your needs are. Does your workforce resemble the communities that you operate in? Do they match the demographic that you serve or want to serve? If not, develop a hiring strategy to increase workforce diversity.

Talk to local organizations with community connections, including churches, cultural institutions and colleges. They can help you connect with candidates. You can also enlist help from nonprofits like the Urban League, the National Council of La Raza or from websites like diversityworking.com that offer searchable channels of minority job hunters. But don’t limit yourself to local chapters or schools. If you have something to offer out-of-area workers, expand your search to other cities, states or countries. The Internet makes it easy to cast a wide net.

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