17 Jul 2012

Managing smart people

How do you get the most from smart people? Tell us below. Innovation is an important aim for most businesses. Achieving it requires a number of things, not least expertise. Where this expertise often resides, of course, is within the people that comprise a business. Managing smart people well is therefore a vital part of creating a fertile environment for innovation. However, writing in the Harvard Business Review, Rob Goffee and Gareth Jones argue that clever people can be difficult to manage. They are “scornful of the language of hierarchy” and “expect instant access to higher-ups”. They have a “low boredom threshold” and “won’t thank you for leading them well.” This is a fairly negative view, and one many would disagree with (certainly here at Brennan IT). Goffee and Jones do however make some interesting points on how businesses can get the most from clever people. These include: Reducing their administrative overheads Goffee and Jones point out that, at a newspaper, the editor will let their star investigative reporter skip editorial meetings so that they have more time to put their skills to work. Maintain diversity of ideas To get the most from smart employees, it’s important to create structures that encourage innovative thinking. Making sure that ideas live and die on their own merits and don’t fall prey to hierarchy or other rigid processes is important if clever employees are to thrive. Making it safe to fail For each successful product, say Goffee and Jones, many others might fail. Make sure to understand that failure is often part of success. Allowing personal projects The often cited example is Google allowing their staff to purse their own interests for a certain period of time each week – something which reportedly led to Gmail. But in the history of innovation, ‘personal project time’ goes further back than Google (think universities, for example). In any case, allowing project time is way that businesses can keep their smartest staff creative and engaged. How important are clever people to your company? How are they best managed for the benefit of all? Comment below.