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5 Questions for Ari Kiev Patience in Face of Crisis

May 11, 2009
For nearly 17 years, Ari Kiev was the in-house psychiatrist for multibillion-dollar hedge fund SAC Capital. While Kiev’s work, including seven books along with one currently in progress, has focused on hedge fund management, his insights could easily be embraced by executives looking for ways to improve the performance of employees. Kiev spoke with Workforce Management staff writer Jeremy Smerd about the lessons he has learned.

Workforce Management: How do you manage morale during these uncertain economic times?

Ari Kiev: One conversation is, let’s compare what’s going on now to the past. And to what extent can you frame [what’s going on now] in terms of being time-limited. So that you know you need to slow down, lower your expectations. Being able to sit on your hands is a virtue that takes many, many years to learn. But that may be what you have to do. It’s important to encourage people to be more philosophical, to be more patient.

WM: What advice can you give to managers who are trying to get the best out of their employees?

Kiev: There’s no single formula. You are really trying to listen to each individual in terms of their uniqueness and what it is that they are doing that is compatible with producing the kind of results you want. Keep notes on yourself. Observe your own level of anxiety. Each person has his own idiosyncratic ways of making decisions in the face of stress.

WM: What do you tell employees who aren’t adapting to the economy’s new and often unpleasant realities?

Kiev: You have to be a team player. It’s a natural inclination of human beings to take more risk in situations that aren’t working than to take risk in situations that are working. So the inclination is to hold on to losers and not to add to winners. Being able to know when to cut, know when to fold—it’s hard to do, one of the toughest things. And one of the first things people should learn.

WM: When the market tanked last fall, some workers, including hedge fund managers, killed themselves. What could employers have done to manage that crisis better?

Kiev: You have to do a psychological post-mortem and determine what clues people missed. What are the warning signs? What processes can you put in place to recognize who’s hurting and crying for help early on. It’s possible that there are other factors in his life. A supervisor could have been more burdensome, problematic or critical than what was warranted given the psychological vulnerability of the person who ultimately killed himself.

WM: What have you learned about managing people?

Kiev: Patience; tolerance; a sense that it’s very hard to change people. You are better helping people become more familiar with their strengths than focusing on their weaknesses.

Workforce Management, April 20, 2009, p. 8 -- Subscribe Now!