Motivated People Can Do A Lot without Money, but Money without People Won't Do Anything – Professor Janet Kyle on Principles of Managing People

After decades of experience managing people across diverse industries in numerous countries, Professor Janet Kyle urges her students never to forget the importance of bringing out every individual’s talents in pursuit of a common mission.

“A lot of students think financial capital is most important for getting an organization to achieve its goals,” Kyle said in an interview. “However, I would argue that well-organized and motivated people can do a lot without money, but money without people won’t do anything.”

Professor Kyle’s course, Strategic Human Resources Management, goes beyond the niche role of human resources professionals; it is a course about how to unlock an organization’s potential through its employees.

“The course is not just about the realities of payroll and benefits; it’s about becoming a people manager,” Kyle says. “Students aspiring to be first-time managers need a framework that applies to any project in any sector – private, nonprofit, or government.”

Students learn to find and bring together people with the right skills, define roles that fit their strengths and the organization’s needs, and align them around a clear objective. They also learn about the critical role of motivation, engagement, values and culture in the context of key employment laws.

With this as a backdrop, the course focuses on how to manage employees throughout their employment life cycle: from sourcing candidates to interviewing, giving feedback, evaluating and rewarding. This includes discussions of “difficult conversations,” referring to the emotional and conflictive situations managers and employees often avoid out of fear.

Real-life applications through case studies

To help students apply the various themes, frameworks, and tools introduced in the course, Kyle assigns case studies that demonstrate how real people confront real problems in real organizations.  

“You can read about how to ride a bike, but the first time you get on the bike, you’ll end up on your knees. To really learn, you have to put theory into practice,” Kyle said.

Students produce rigorous, evidence-based analyses of the cases. Kyle urges them to reflect on how they would have reacted in the given situation and to imagine the counterfactual: what would have happened if one element of the case had gone differently?

These conversations lead to rich group discussions that bring in students’ perspectives from a broad array of cultures, countries of origin, educational experiences, and professional paths.

“The diversity of the class makes discussions really fascinating, especially when people let down their guard and share their perspectives openly,” said Kyle. “It’s also more realistic: differences in values, experiences, cultures, and norms will be a reality no matter where they work.”

Modeling professional behavior in the classroom

Professor Kyle encourages her students to treat the classroom as they would a professional workplace, and she manages the class in a way that models the principles taught in the course.

“If you are going to work hard in this course, I should work equally hard. If I require you to be organized, then I also have to be organized.  If I want you to be engaged and motivated, then I also have to be engaged and motivated – that is the message I send my students from day one,” said Professor Kyle.

Just as managers need to build trust with their teams, Kyle explained, teachers need to have integrity with their students by setting clear expectations, being transparent, and giving fair evaluations and consistent, detailed feedback on assignments.

Kyle collects the first assignment before the semester begins: a short essay in which students reflect on where they have been, where they are now, and where they hope to go.

“It helps me keep the course relevant to students’ professional goals,” Kyle said.

Students are expected to reciprocate by pushing themselves to perform as they would in the workplace: Kyle is a tough grader with high standards of punctuality, participation, and quality of work.

“Getting things done on time is life. You need to be professional in both the workplace and the classroom,” Kyle said.

A flair for organizational change

Kyle’s course draws on her firsthand knowledge of organizational change and effectiveness.

Early in her career, she managed JP Morgan’s emerging market strategy in Eastern Europe and helped the firm found a new e-business at the intersection of financial services, ecommerce, and equity investment – all of which involved aligning diverse stakeholders and leading organizational change.

Kyle later became a NYC Teaching Fellow and has since transitioned into consulting for educational programs and nonprofits in the youth development sector.

One of her greatest accomplishments was re-structuring the people management process at a failing charter school, enabling it to turn around performance within a 18 months, deeply impacting the lives of hundreds of students.

“What I enjoy the most are things that have to be changed or fixed,” she said. “I like to take the macro down to the micro, to take big ideas and then ask: how do we make this happen?”

When she isn’t teaching, Professor Kyle is an avid traveler, hiker and a self-described “wannabe yogi”. On a free day you can find her with her dog, Sally, in the park and preparing a home-cooked meal with good friends and good wine.

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