../Morning Post
Posted April 11, 2011

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Guest Column

Longevity and the General Manager
By Norm Spitzig

Why is it that relatively few general managers can work-and succeed-in the same company for a long period of time, while the majority cannot and do not? Conversely, why is it that a good number of businesses, given their history, tradition, culture and/or governance structure, cannot keep-or choose not to keep-a general manager who has the talent, temperament and desire to successfully manage their operation for a long period of time? This issue is clearly one that, properly understood, can be of significant value to businesses of all types and sizes as well as the many general managers who operate them.

Adam has worked for four different companies over the past decade. While all of his employers would readily agree that he is a talented, hard working and caring employee, Adam clearly hasn't yet found that right career "fit." Why not? Who bears the responsibility in this matter? Adam or his employers? Clearly, a successful long-term career match is a dual-edged sword, requiring substantive contributions on BOTH the employee's and the employer's part.

What, to begin, are the core characteristics that successful long-term general managers consistently bring their employers?

1. They have the "basics." Their integrity is unimpeachable, they have mastered the core competencies associated with their profession (particularly in the financial arena) and they have an inherent and ongoing desire to make people happy. They are enthusiastic and positive in their attitude, and their management style and temperament fits the businesses where they work.

2. They understand that their job is to give their owners and bosses what they want - not what they think they should have. At the end of the day, it is company owners who, with appropriate input from their employees, determine the mission, vision, business plans, products and services that the business will offer. If the general manager substantially disagrees, he can-and probably should-work elsewhere.

3. They know the fundamental importance of genuinely respecting the people they work for and with. If the general manager doesn't really like and respect the bosses to whom he reports, the staff with whom he or she interacts, and the customers the company serves, it will show-and with surprising speed. Their place of employment is more than "just a job" for long-tenured general managers.

4. They understand the political nature of their job. While successful long-term general managers don't "play politics," neither are they so naïve to ignore the fact that every workplace, to some degree, is a politically charged environment. Sometimes even the best general managers have to call in a chip or two, methodically earned over years of solid performance, to survive the "rogue" boss who is attempting to lead the company in a direction that most everyone else does not want to go.

5. They have ties to, and love for, their local community. Long-term general managers genuinely enjoy and embrace the part of the world in which they choose to work. Those who don't much like cold weather are unlikely to be happy having their professional career based in Minneapolis.

Conversely, what do employers wanting to keep their general managers happy and productive for decades bring to the table?

1. Genuine authority to affect positive, meaningful change. A competent general manager thrives on the opportunity to manage in a manner commensurate with his unique personality, educational background, and professional experience-consistent, of course, with the mission, vision, goals, values and financial imperatives of the company. No true professional wants to be a puppet.

2. A compensation package commensurate with the position, performance and industry standards. Essential to retaining a quality general manager over the long run is a fair salary and benefit package, one that equals-or, better yet, measurably exceeds-the competition. Even in challenging economic times-no, especially in them-quality general managers will more likely remain loyal when the compensation is right.

3. The opportunity for professional advancement and additional responsibilities. Talented, caring general managers truly savor the opportunity to increase the scope and challenge of their work. A top general manager without such opportunities will, over time, look elsewhere to satisfy his or her professional requirements.

4. Sufficient time and opportunity for appropriate community and leisure activities. Studies over the past several decades have consistently confirmed that employees who have interesting, fulfilling personal lives and who take the time to appropriately "give back" to their local communities are measurably more productive during their time on the job. In such situations, the general manager "wins," as do the companies for which he or she work.

5. Ongoing professional development. Despite the occasional company owner/boss who thinks that their general manager participating in professional development programs is a "waste of time and money," successful long-term general managers are constantly seeking to learn new ideas and provide cutting edge services for their customers. Good employers recognize this fact, and fund their general managers' professional development programs accordingly.

In summary, consistent, competent and ethical behavior leads to mutual confidence and trust among company owners and general managers. Confidence and trust, in turn, lead to increased managerial authority and autonomy for general managers as well as increased productivity for the companies that employ them. The net result is a paradigm "win-win" situation: a more enjoyable, more successful and significantly longer tenure for general managers and a more efficient and profitable workplace for company owners and directors.

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