S. Kenneth Kannappan, 41
Present life: CEO of Plantronics, a $400-million maker of telephone headsets based in Santa Cruz, Calif.
Former life: In the summer of 1978, after he graduated from high school, Kannappan worked for an electronics-repair shop in Northbrook, Ill. "It was $3.50 an hour. There was very poor ventilation. But at the time, jobs were not plentiful. Lining up summer work was difficult," he says.
Lessons learned: "It was more of an example of how not to manage," Kannappan says. "For example, when repairing something, we all took supplies from the same supply bin, and when we were done repairing, we all put our finished products in the same 'finished' bin. So there was no individual accountability for using supplies or performing quickly. People in general were not motivated to work to the maximum level that they could."
Kannappan attributes that lack of motivation to management's failure to communicate. "There was no explanation of the company's goals and how everyone's efforts fit in. The job was simply about obtaining income. Employees never came to management with suggestions on how processes could improve, and management didn't ask.
"The way I believe you motivate people is to make it clear not only what goals the company is trying to achieve but also why the goals are important to society. Our products, for example, help people drive safely while talking on mobile phones. That's a societal benefit we want our people to under- stand," he says.
Kannappan constantly canvasses his workforce of 2,400 for suggestions. Feedback from employee-satisfaction surveys led to changes in his company's vision-care policy, retirement plan, and training budget. The company also conducts monthly town-hall meetings at its 19 offices and holds a summertime management conference. At one such conference, "we talked about the best and worst managers we'd ever had," says the CEO. "The worst ones generally were the ones who monitor all the time. The better ones just communicate to employees a clear and exciting goal, point the way, and let them run."
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