Growing up I always enjoyed the game of checkers. It was easy to learn and easy to gain at least a modicum of mastery over the strategy involved in playing the game. It was basically a game of attrition. Take all of your opponents men and you win. Even if you played with a different version of the rules you could quickly adjust your strategy because all your pieces and the pieces of your opponent moved the same. I learned quickly, became quite good and lost very few times.
A younger brother introduced me to the game of chess. A game I had always shied away from because I felt it was too complicated, too difficult to learn, and took too long to gain any mastery over whatsoever. It was a game, not of attrition but strategy. You didn’t try to lay waste to your opponent’s forces you tried to outmaneuver them. The pieces were all different, they moved in strange ways, and it wasn’t as predictable. I learned the peices, learned the moves, practiced my play, gained some level of skill, and my brother refused to play me any more.
One of the early lessons I learned when I first entered the management arena was the need for the effective use of your human capital, your staff. It is key to the success of the manager, the employees, and the enterprise. To be an effective manager you need to maximize your human capital by using them to their maximum potential for which they were intended (hired for). Knowing their capabilities and limitations enables you to place them in positions where they are most likely to be effective and where you can protect from their limitations and thus use them efficiently and effectively to accomplish your goals. You can think of this in terms of a board game. Think chess or checkers.
In checkers all the pieces have the same value, move the same way, are all vulnerable the same way, are all limited in the same way … until they reach the back row of the opponent and are “crowned (promoted) to “kings” . At that time they take on new abilities and powers and are considered to be more valuable.
And so it is in the workplace. If an employee manages to run the gauntlet of his daily responsibilities, do it well, ward off the threats and attacks from his opponents in the workplace, he/she is eventually rewarded by some form of advancement or promotion and takes on more value. But the similarities end there. People are infinitely more complicated.
In chess all the pieces are not created equal. They have different values assigned to them. Some are worth more than others, some less than others. Their usefulness is determined by the ability they have to move, block, and threaten. The chess master knows how to use his pieces in ways that showcase their strengths and hide or minimize their weaknesses while accomplishing the goal of the game, the capture of the opponent’s king. The chess master uses his pieces in combination to complement their strengths and support their weaknesses in order to achieve the greatest effectiveness.
And again, so it is in the workplace. Each employee has a value relative to the cause/assignment/ goal of the manager but each employee’s value is different based on their skills, knowledge, abilities and attitude. No two employees are the same. Some may be very similar but no two are the same. It is the masterful manager that knows they cannot be used or treated in exactly the same way.
The manger is the chess master. He has to identify and know the relative value of each employee to the team, the department, and the organization. When making assignments consideration should be to the employees “value”. It is the manger’s responsibility to use people in accordance with their value in achieving the goals that have been set by him/her and the organization. Those with more value are used with care and forethought as to what their use will mean in movement toward the goal. Those with less “value” are used in a different way. Some may be used ploddingly; some may be “sacrificed” to protect the employees of greater value. But each needs to be used in accordance with their value to the objective whatever that may be. There is a lot of strategy involved in management and the game is not straightforward.
The challenge for the manager in acting as a chess master is to move the employees toward the goals he has set for them without having them feeling used or manipulated. The human element must never be overlooked. Again, people are infinitely more complicated than game pieces and cannot and should not be made to feel like pawns. The employee is not a wooden object but a human being and should be accorded a measure of respect and dignity. This can complicate the move toward accomplishing your objectives. The manager has no small task but it can be accomplished through careful planning, the maintaining of good relationships with the employees, and constant open communication. Some managers master this, others do not. Those who master the strategy involved in managing people while achieving their work objectives become masters at the game.