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Archive for the ‘development’ Category

Leadership Development Carnival – Super Bowl Pre-game Edition

Posted by Mark Bennett on February 5, 2012

For many in the US (and for some around the world as well), today will be occupied by watching the culminating clash of titans for this NFL season. If not that, it will be for the commercials (if they haven’t already been seen on the internet – so it goes with our “always on” society.)

It’s easy to be cynical about these contests what with all the spectacle, commercials, and money that is being poured out onto televisions in households and sports bars across the country. In a culture replete with excess, this event is often held up as a classic example.

However, what’s great is when the focus is on how each team plays and the leadership that is demonstrated. While the outcome of the game itself does make things more tangible by setting stakes to the contest, it’s watching the individual efforts, the coordinated efforts of the teams, and in particular, the leadership moments that can really make the game a richer experience. It doesn’t happen all the time and some games have felt quite “hollow” – something was missing. But when you see a coach, quarterback, receiver, or even a lineman make a leadership call, it adds value because we can ask ourselves would we do the same? Am I doing the same? It could be by setting an example through extraordinary effort, motivating the team when they are behind, monitoring over-optimism when they are ahead, etc. How well the team plays in the game as a unit is also testimony to countless acts of leadership throughout the season and the training that went before it.

What follows are over 20 ways you can find how to improve leadership in yourself, your team, and your organization. It’s a diverse collection, so not only are you likely to find something that hits on exactly an issue you are dealing with, but you might also find a new way of looking at things that changes things for the better. You also might discover a blog that you’ll want to subscribe to going forward.

We’d like to thank Dan McCarthy of Great Leadership for allowing us to host this month’s Leadership Development Carnival as well as for the great work he does to support this community. So without further ado, let’s take a look at the superb entries this month’s carnival holds:

Wally Bock presents Fundamental Advice for a Young Leader posted at Three Star Leadership, saying “Noah Lomax asked me for ‘fundamental advice’ for a young leader. Here’s my best shot.”

Anne Perschel presents Manager or Leader – Which One is More Important? posted at Germane Insights, providing a case study and a story of two men, one is seen as a leader, the other as a manager. Which one is more important?

Tanmay Vora presents Fostering Autonomy in a Team: 7 Lessons posted at QAspire. People do their best work when they are “intrinsically motivated” and one of the most important intrinsic motivator for people is autonomy in work. This post outlines 7 lessons learned in building a self organized team.

Jesse Lyn Stoner presents No More Boring Meetings, Please! posted at Jesse Lyn Stoner Blog. The purpose of a team meeting is to create and tap into the collective wisdom. Holding a meeting to share information is not a good reason to meet. This post lists 7 good reasons a team should meet and 3 tips to determine whether a meeting is necessary.

Mary C Schaefer presents 3 Things Great Leaders Know About Managing Change posted at Lead Change Group Blog. Mary reminds us to appreciate resistance to change and to give people adequate time, tools and resources to prepare for change in order to give our organization the best chances for success.

Sharlyn Lauby presents The Inevitable Shift from Jobs to Skills posted at HR Bartender. Superb post about what is perhaps the most important issue of our time across the globe.

David Zinger presents 8 Powerful Approaches to Create Meaningful Employee Engagement  posted at David Zinger Employee Engagement, providing an outline of how to weave meaning into work.

Lynn Dessert presents Have Performance Reviews run their course? posted at Elephants at Work, asking do Performance Reviews deliver their intent or has process gobbled them up?

Miki Saxon presents Ducks in a Row: Titles—Silly or Serious? posted at MAPping Company Success. It’s the report structure that moves new CXO titles from silly to serious.

Chris Edmonds presents Plot Your Path to Ethical Behavior posted at Driving Results Through Culture. His post was prompted by the World Economic Forum session in Davos, Switzerland last week. The founder, Klaus Schwab, was quoted as saying that the global economic crisis was prompted by excesses – and that the Davos session would focus on ethics and moral behaviors by economic and political leaders to serve society more fairly. His focus in the post is that ethical behavior starts with each of us, and by following a simple ethics check we can “hold our heads high” at the end of each interaction, each day.

Robyn McLeod presents 7 questions you must answer to strengthen your great idea posted at Thoughtful Leaders Blog. A client shares a set of powerful questions from the R&D world that will resonate with anyone who wants to get their great idea the attention it deserves.

Steve Roesler presents Where You Decide To Perform Matters posted at All Things Workplace. Everyone is talented in some way. Whether or not you are a star depends on where you choose to perform.

David Burkus presents The Least Important Question in Leadership posted at The Leader Lab. Won’t spoil it here – but the post is really about the question behind that question. Curious now?

Dan McCarthy presents A Performance Management Model posted at Great Leadership. Dan has developed A Performance Management Model as a follow-up to his recent “Are You Managing or Just Nagging?” post. Check it out and see which quadrant you’re spending time in: Managing, Avoiding, Nagging, or taking a well deserved Vacation.

Jane Perdue presents 5 reasons it’s OK to say “no” posted at LeadBIG. Telling people “no” doesn’t make you unlikable. Failing to say “no” when it’s appropriate to do so makes you a doormat. And the really ugly kicker here is that saying “yes” doesn’t necessarily make you likeable.

Nick McCormick presents Hiring People that Fit Your Culture posted at Joe and Wanda on Management. The key to hiring good people is to hire those that embody the unique attitudinal characteristics of your organization.

Anna Farmery presents Why Predictions Are Not Just For Christmas! posted at The Engaging Brand. Leadership is not about predicting what will happen; it’s about being prepared for what might happen, which means being open to diverse opinions on that very topic.

Jennifer V. Miller presents 7 Questions That Help Conversations Move Forward posted at The People Equation. If you are having the same conversations over and over with your employees, you’re probably having the wrong conversation. Here are seven ways to get unstuck from the “conversational mud”.

Guy Farmer presents If You Don’t Have Something Nice to Say… posted at Unconventional Training. Many leaders miss a golden opportunity to lead more effectively when they don’t communicate in a nice way.

Chase Dumont presents What is Leadership? The Definitive Answer posted at Chase Dumont, Rainmaker. Rulers, philosophers, and corporate middle managers have been defining and redefining leadership for millennia. In this post, Chase outlines 8 keys to leadership, with concrete examples to arm you with an unbeatable – and practical – understanding of how to lead.

Mary Jo Asmus presents 20 Things To Stop Waiting For posted at Mary Jo Asmus. A checklist of actions leaders do to create positive change.

Scott Eblin presents Is Being the Go-To Person Holding You Back? posted at Next Level Blog. Being the go to person is a great thing for leaders to be until it’s not. In this post, Scott Eblin offers tips and a video coaching segment for leaders who want to shift from being the go to person to someone who build teams of go to people.

Erin Schreyer presents A Loss for the Broncos, A Win for Tebow’s Leadership posted at Leadership. Life. Legacy. Whatever your opinion on his beliefs and the way he shows them, Tebow demonstrates 4 solid characteristics of leadership that are worth reflecting on.

Photo by fPat

Posted in carnival, development, leadership | 11 Comments »

Be empathetic towards your experienced workforce

Posted by Anadi Upadhyaya on October 1, 2011

Do you believe that your experienced workforce is contributing to the best of their ability, with clarity of purpose, and no action is required from your side to get them better?

You might already have an answer in your mind as you read on. We put a lot of energy, time and resources in planning, how to bring new employees on board (and it is very much required), but when it comes to our experienced workforce (I mean home grown), things go much differently and are often not well-planned.

As your experienced workforce has grown in the organization and you (as a manager) might be comfortable with them, they should neither be soft targets for your tough decisions nor should enjoy any undue advantages.

Simple things which will always be relevant and significant for experienced workforce includes:

We vs. I check: If you want your experienced workforce to contribute to the team’s success, you need to look at their contribution with a fresh perspective. You should not use old parameters and results to evaluate their contribution. If you really want them to be your asset and not the liability, a periodic check is required to ensure that they still value “We more than “I”.

Unambiguous communication“Can you get it done, you know how I want things to be?” You might have heard or delivered this communication quite often but it does not have a clear message.  Just because you believe that experienced workforce understand you better, doesn’t mean that the clear communication is not required. It is required for everyone in the organization and experienced workforce is no exception.

Appraisal: Performance appraisals are as critical for your experienced workforce as for any other employee. You should continue to use it as a tool to provide constructive feedback as well as to set mutually agreed upon objectives.

Keep the fire alive: Past performance is no guarantee of future results. Your experienced workforce needs to prove their worth as well and need to keep fire alive in their belly to perform better. It is likely that they might have developed a “comfort zone”, but you need to create a challenging environment which can help them to step out of their comfort zone and perform better.

Last but not the least, be empathetic towards your experienced workforce as you need to understand their changing perspective to keep them at their best.

Posted in development, leadership, management | 4 Comments »

If you want to improve Leadership, read these posts

Posted by Mark Bennett on August 7, 2011

So let’s start from the succinct definition, via Seth Godin, of Leadership as: “the ability to create positive change.”  Well, the last few weeks have been exceptionally disappointing then, if you were looking for leadership from figures in power, both public and private.

What can we do? We can be resilient and work at developing leadership, for which Dan McCarthy’s Leadership Development Carnival, this month hosted by the inimitable Jason Seiden, has itself demonstrated that very definition.

Jason has assembled an excellent collection of over 40 posts submitted from a wide variety of sources, all towards the goal of helping you build leadership and be a better leader. He read each one and has written a brief introduction to each to help you focus on the ones that could best assist you.

That’s still a lot of posts to digest, and while they are all excellent (I read them all as well), I’ve selected a few that struck me as being especially insightful, new in perspective, or inspiring. If you’d like, start with these, and then continue on with the rest. I normally try to get to five, but these ten stood out:

1. Adi Gaskell’s Is your chief exec suffering from the God Complex? | Chartered Management Institute. This applies to all leaders at all levels, so don’t let the title trigger the cynic in you (i.e. “Show me one who doesn’t!”) The excellent Tim Harford’s TED talk applies to each and every one of us –  gods only exist if they have worshippers. You already know how much importance I put on the “how” of thinking vs. the “what.” This supports that notion (although it needs to be tested, if you get my drift.)

2. Jason Seiden’s 4 Ways to Become a More Emotionally Mature Leader. Our emotions influence our thinking to an extent more than we’d care to admit and we’re less able to shut them off than we’d care to admit as well. The good news is that it’s okay; it’s more about understanding our emotions and how to handle their influence that really matters. In the end, it will enrich our lives as well as those of others.

3. Linda Fisher Thornton’s Ethical Leadership Context. The effort in thinking the ethical context is key here. It’s so easy to just say, “Profit” or “Shareholder Value” are all that matter, but that’s the God Complex again, claiming in the face of the incredible complexity of today’s world that There is Only One Answer and I Know It.

4. S. Chris Edmonds’ The Five Disciplines of Servant Leadership. The word “Servant” is a turn-off for many, which is too bad. These principles are key if a leader wants to see positive change actually happen.

5. Miki Saxon’s Ducks In a Row: Who Cares? A classic example of one of Jason’s favorite (and my) cognitive biases – the Fundamental Attribution Error (i.e. Self-Deception, etc.) “It’s them, not me.” The God Complex has its roots in this as well.

6. Amy Wilson’s Why Business Leaders Should Conduct Talent Reviews. An excellent, concrete example of really creating (and achieving) positive change through a practical tool that should be used more frequently in organizations.

7. Michael Cardus’s Yearly Performance Reviews SUCK! Managers Can Change That. Another example of creating positive change by simply viewing differently what is frequently a loathed process.

8. Dan McCarthy’s Which Change Model Should You Pick? Solid, practical advice on which of the many change models available you should consider in order to enact positive change.

9. Michael Lee Stallard’s Starbucks’ CEO’s Broken Heart. A seriously moving example of how leaders can accept our emotional nature in a mature way and as a result, be honest and true to ourselves and others.

10. Bret L. Simmons’ The Most Important Social Business Metrics. Of course, I had to include this post in that it helps you focus on what measures you need to keep an eye on if you are looking to see if your social business efforts are creating positive change.

Finally, our own Sri Subramanian has written a series of five superb posts that focus on the particular needs/challenges of technical folks who are looking to develop themselves as leaders. Her guidance is geared to the technologist’s typical pitfalls, mindset, etc. but they still apply in many ways to the broader populace. These posts have received huge accolades, so check them out, especially if you have had challenges in the technical leadership area (a very common circumstance):

·         Technical Leadership – An Introduction

·         Technical Leadership – The First Transition

·         Technical Leadership – The Leadership Transition

·         Technical Leadership – Impacting The Customer Experience

·         Technical Leadership: The Technologist

Posted in carnival, development, leadership | 5 Comments »

Love yourself: love your self-assessment

Posted by Justin Field on June 27, 2011

Hey, it’s performance review time, and your manager has asked you to complete your self-assessment.  Are you filled with dread?  Don’t know where tostart?  Don’t know what to write?  Well, here are my personal tips to help you out.

As HR practitioners, we often assume that employees simply know how to do a performance review and how to go about completing their self-assessment.  But, my informal research tells me that people don’t really know what to do, unless they’ve seen a good model performance review, or, they’ve had the benefit of coaching in the art of performance reviews.

Step 1:  Start the hunt
Review your performance dimensions so you know what you need to hunt for.  What are your job competencies embedded in your performance review?  What were your performance objectives?  Are there any other elements that you would like to highlight?

Step 2:  Hunt for the good, the bad and the ugly
There are three elements that I find personally useful here.

  1. Scan your sent email from the last year and see if you can remind yourself of the big projects that you worked on over the past 12 months.  The cognitive bias of recency means that you’ll only remember recent achievements (in the past three to six months) so take some time to remind yourself of the good stuff you did right at the beginning of the performance year.  Pay particular attention to congratulatory emails from others — they have high value in the performance review cycle.
  2. Your performance system may have a journal or notes feature, or, you may have been super-organised and collected little nuggets of achievements and accomplishments in a Word document or a paper file.  Open up your performance notes and remind yourself of all the good (and sometimes the stupid or bad) things that you did.
  3. Use your workplace systems to get good numeric or quantitative evidence that will support your achievements.  For example, I often teach webcasts, and I send out an online evaluation survey after each event.  So I can easily review all the events that I produced, and work out the average satisfaction score for each event.  Another example:  one of my roles is to answer questions from the HR group about the performance cycle and our performance management system.  I centralised all these questions into an online forum, so I can count how many questions were posted, and how long it took me to reply to questions.

Step 3:  Write up your results
If you managed to find plenty of evidence during your hunt, then you’ll find it easy to write up your comments for each performance dimension.  For your competencies, you’ll need to use evidence to call out the behaviours that demonstrate proficiency in that competency.  For example, for a competency such as Presentation Skills, you may write something like:

I presented twice at our staff meeting on the use of social networking tools for learning within our division.  I also posted several blog posts on this topic on our internal team blog.  Four comments on the blog showed that my peers in China and Hong Kong valued this information.  For the last presentation I did, I scored 86% satisfaction from participants.

For your performance objectives, you need to include a blend of qualitative and quantitative evidence.  For example, for a performance objective around building relationships with customers, you may write something like:

For the Carlton Company, I arranged a visit to the CVC in California.  I clarified the purpose and target outcomes with the customer’s Vice President, and shaped the agenda in California to address this, collaborating with Product Development and Marketing.  Later, I arranged four visits to existing customers in Australia and New Zealand (Westpac, Qantas, Air New Zealand, NBN Company).  As an outcome, Carlton signed a new deal worth $1.2 million.

In essence, you need to be as specific as you can, and give good evidence to support your achievements.  Sometimes employees tell me that they feel that they are running out of achievements, so they end up repeating themselves.  A little bit of repetition is okay, but don’t use the same example for every single competency and performance objective — you’ll end up sounding one-dimensional, and one achievement does not illustrate a trend, which is what we are trying to illustrate in our performance reviews.

So, best wishes for your self-assessment.  Do leave me a comment if you find these tips useful (or, useless!).

Posted in cognitive bias, communication, development, engagement, performance, productivity | Tagged: , , , , | 2 Comments »

Check out June’s Leadership Development Posts

Posted by Mark Bennett on June 7, 2011

The June 2011 Leadership Development Carnival is up. This month, it’s hosted by Jennifer Miller, at her blog The People Equation. Jennifer has assembled over 35 posts and has included a brief description of each to help you zero in on the ones that interest you the most.

Some notable posts include:

This Leadership Development Carnival offers a terrific opportunity for you to get a great sample of a variety of perspectives, thinking, and just plain good writing. It can also save you time by bringing them all together into one post. And who knows? Maybe you’ll discover a great blog you never heard of before.

Posted in carnival, development, leadership | Leave a Comment »

Check out these great leadership development posts

Posted by Mark Bennett on May 15, 2011

Dan McCarthy, the founder of the Leadership Development Carnival over at Great Leadership, has posted the May 1st edition of the carnival. Dan has assembled over 30 contributed posts on a huge range of Leadership topics and has also written a helpful, brief intro to each, so check it out.

Some notable posts include:

This Leadership Development Carnival offers a terrific opportunity for you to get a great sample of a variety of perspectives, thinking, and just plain good writing. It can also save you time by bringing them all together into one post. And who knows? Maybe you’ll discover a great blog you never heard of before.

Posted in carnival, development, leadership | Leave a Comment »

Paragons and Renegades

Posted by Ken Klaus on February 13, 2011

Recently I’ve been playing Mass Effect, a role-playing game (RPG) set in outer space.  (Feel free to insert your favorite Star Trek related nerd joke here.)  As with many of the sophisticated RPG options in the market today, the game is designed around a series of tasks, or quests, which get more difficult as the game progresses.  For me though, the actual game play – star ships, swordplay or sorcery – is not as interesting as the character development, the role part of the game.  Some of the RPG games I’ve played let you choose the moral disposition of your character, whether you want to be a good guy or a bad guy.  So from the beginning of the game your choices are determined by your role as the hero or the villain.  Accordingly your actions and personality are based on your predetermined nature.  However, some of the more sophisticated games, including Mass Effect, make your character’s nature a matter of nurture – meaning you become either moral or immoral based on the choices you make during the game.  In Mass Effect you develop either as a paragon or as a renegade.  But here is where the game and I started to have problems.

From the beginning I assumed each quest could be solved either “positively” (helping me develop as a paragon) or “negatively” (earning me points as a renegade).  So as the options were presented I made what I believed to be the “right” choice.  In some cases the “positive” and “negative” choices were clear.  But for some of the tasks there was only one choice to make and in almost every instance that choice was “negative” and earned me renegade points.  This not only frustrated me, it also made me question whether there was any point in trying to do “the right thing.”  I also thought it was unfair because in real life we always have more than one choice.  But do we really?  Are there times when “breaking the rules” is the only option?  The more I thought about it, the more I began to see that the game was playing fair – that there are times when the only way forward is to become a renegade.

But here be dragons my friends.  This is a slippery slope that can lead to all kinds of problems, not the least of which being chaos, anarchy and unemployment!  So the question seems to be, when is breaking the rules acceptable, even necessary, and when should it be avoided?  In his book The Way We Are, Allen Wheelis wrestles with this problem and suggests a way forward of sorts.

Does not all creativity originate in boundary violations, in breaking through to realms outside the old limits?  The completely moral life – that is, the meticulous observance of all of the rules – leads, for both the individual and the group, to a rigidity that falls increasingly at odds with a changing world.  Yet boundary violations, if reckless – reckless measurable, usually, only after the act and its consequences – destroy the individual and destroy the social order.  The individual becomes an outlaw, the group becomes a mob.

Creative change in a society issues from violations great enough to alter the social structure, but not so great as to bring it down altogether.  One wants a society of law that allows some laws to be ignored.  It is those violations we let stand that organize the ongoing transformation of social structure.  The observance of rules, with a wise measure of slippage, coupled with the violation of rules, with an ironic measure of prudence, creates flexibility, strengthens the group, and thereby creates the possibility of nonviolent change in the social order.

So the questions we need to consider then are first, whether the breaking of a rule is reckless, that is, does the risk – the potential consequences of our choice – outweigh the hoped for reward; and second, whether our violation of the rules also serves the interest of progress, meaning the way forward can only be achieved if the rules are broken?  I understand this is perhaps an overly simplified way to think about this problem and I’m not suggesting that the ends justify the means. Yet I do think that there are times when progress is utterly blocked by “the rules” – the business processes we’ve had in place “since the company was founded”; our multi-layered bureaucracies with their endless forms and approval chains; the “blockers” in the organization whose raison d’être is to obstruct, obfuscate, and aggravate.  In these instances I believe the judicious breaking of the rules is most definitely in order.  Understanding that the point is not to bring down the system (or your career), but to move the business forward – the end result being a stronger, more flexible organization.

Acknowledging that we may need to play the renegade from time to time is not easy, especially for those of us who, by nature, are designed to play by the rules: We want to do the right thing for the right reasons.  We want to work for companies that value and respect their workers and treat them fairly.  And we want to believe that everyone else in the organization wants the same.  But if we are honest, we know things are not always this way; and if we can learn to make choices based on what we know, then we can also learn to accept that we may have to break the rules so that the world in which we live and work can evolve beyond what it is, to what we want it to be.  Building a bridge to span this gap is only possible when individuals, who are paragons by nature, can also learn to wisely nurture their inner renegade.

Posted in change, development, learning, risk, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , | 1 Comment »

A Gift, Improved

Posted by Mark Bennett on November 12, 2010

If you haven’t already, go directly to this story to read about an amazing and inspiring example of someone taking and refining a talent to the point that millions of people thought: savant, miracle, or cheat.

You’ll also discover a really good writer.

Hopefully, you’ve read the story now, but if you haven’t, the upshot is this: a contestant on Wheel of Fortune solved the (rather large) puzzle with only one letter. The real kicker is that she didn’t even need that letter, but the rules of the game forced that situation. What she had really done was solve the puzzle when the only thing up on the board was an apostrophe, during the turn of the previous contestant. When it became her turn, she already had beat the puzzle.

The talent angle is summed up by writer Chris Jones:

“Or Burke has a gift, and she improved it with study. She practiced. She found the little edges and secrets that make large-size success possible; she did every last bit of the math. She earned her way to her place behind the wheel, and then, on that fateful day, in that particular pattern of rectangles and lights, she saw all that she needed to beat it. “

What are you doing to continually develop and hone your talent and the talent of your team, so that when an opportunity presents itself, you also create a “miracle?”

Photo from Wikipedia

Posted in development | 2 Comments »

The Power of Developing Teams

Posted by Mark Bennett on August 21, 2010

Ravi and I had just been discussing the question of values and culture, when I saw Kris Dunn’s post on Which Managers Are Responsible for the Reality of Your Culture? All it Takes is One Question…

What I liked most was that Kris captured not only how managers and their behaviors are the real indicators of values and culture, but that perhaps the single most desirable value sought by employees is “they’re looking for managers who seem to care about development of their teams.”

This is a really powerful statement. Developing teams is key in two ways. First, developing people helps them find the meaning in their work. Done right, it links their passion to achieving the purpose the organization has laid out. Second, you are developing all the members of the team, which helps them see how, as each member brings their increasing knowledge and experience to the team as they develop, they in turn increase the knowledge of every other member of the team as well as that of the whole organization. But there’s a lot to making this happen.

But I Do Develop People!

First, the notion of developing individuals is seen as a risky proposition. If you invest in the development of someone and they leave, you’ve lost your investment. If they go to a competitor, it stings twice as much. Of course, your best people will leave if you don’t invest in their development, so what do you do? One thing that can help make the development investment create a tighter bond between the individual and the organization is to focus on things the individual is passionate about. In other words, rather than simply roll out a plain vanilla development plan, or throw a generic catalog at them, or stick them in programs or assignments that are tilted solely to what the organization needs, spend time to find what really makes them tick and help them create a plan (and a backup plan) that meets both party’s needs.

I know + You Know = We Know More

Second, the actual team aspect of development is often overlooked and that’s really a shame. This isn’t about everybody on the team getting the same development; it’s about how unique individual development and team development are intertwined and can amplify each other as well as create more cohesive teams. Instead of everybody getting the exact same development and thus very likely seeing others’ development as potential competition, each person brings their unique development experience into a truly collaborative team environment. That is, each person shares and exchanges their knowledge and what they’ve learned. This has multiple benefits – each person feels and is seen as a source of valuable knowledge and teaching to the other team members and everybody in total learns more than if they had all gone through the exact same development. It give them a greater sense of identity. What’s more, in the very act of sharing knowledge with their teammates, each person learns more about their subject because of the questions they get as well as their desire to teach it well.

We really believe in the positive impact these values have on organizational performance and it’s great to see the survey data back it up. Thanks for sharing with us, Kris!

Photo by papalars

Posted in development, leadership, learning, management, passion, teams | 1 Comment »

A Lever That Won’t Break

Posted by Mark Bennett on June 29, 2010

The Power of Pull covers a lot of interesting ideas about new ways to look at business and work, but one thing it brought up that I thought was very insightful has to do with levers.

Levers are a very handy tool and we use them all the time without thinking very much about them. If you’ve used scissors, nail clippers, tweezers, a crowbar, a hammer, or a wrench, you’ve used a lever. You push, squeeze, or pull a lever and you can now lift something heavier, cut something tougher, or turn something tighter than you normally could.

Sometimes though, if you push, squeeze, or pull too hard trying to lift something too heavy or cut something too tough, the lever can break. Cut something tough with cheap scissors and they break. Try to lift too heavy a boulder with a cheap or rotting 2×4, and it snaps.

Levers in Business

Debt is a kind of lever for business – with some of your own money and by also taking on debt, you can control more assets than with just your money alone. If you’ve ever put money down on a mortgage you’ve used debt as a financial lever.*

So, businesses use debt as a lever to create more value than they would without the debt. Well, as we’ve seen during this recent economic crisis, financial levers can break, with some pretty nasty consequences.

What if there was another kind of lever we could apply in business that didn’t break? What if it actually became stronger the more you applied it?

The lever that won’t break is Talent. Talent can actually become stronger when it is applied to a challenge, provided the company knows how to turn that challenge into an opportunity for collaboration and development.

Talent is a lever when it collaborates to overcome the challenge. When your talent collaborates, people are gaining the benefits of each others’ knowledge and experience without having to “go it alone” and figure it all out themselves.

As a result, the company creates more value than if people didn’t collaborate. In addition, the collaboration results in more development of the talent than otherwise would have occurred without collaboration.

Collaboration and the “Why”

But the collaboration I’m talking about is not just things like simple process decomposition.  It’s more than just task breakdown, with people performing their particular piece so some larger thing gets done.

It’s also more than people or teams simply exchanging information about facts and figures, plans and forecasts, process steps, etc. – that isn’t what I’m talking about either. You can write that kind of knowledge down and most of the time someone can pick it up and use it without ever having met you or discussed it with you.

The knowledge we’re talking about is the deeper knowledge of “why” – why we are doing something, why something works better one way versus another, and why something is important to consider. This knowledge can only really be exchanged or shared through a deeper level of collaboration.**

Talent, when it collaborates at that deeper level to achieve a shared purpose, provides capability leverage. Because now your company delivers more real value from your employees collaborating than if they had worked alone.

To reiterate, Talent that collaborates is the company’s lever.

And this is a lever that won’t break.

———————————————————————————

* (Finance background) Financial leverage in a nutshell is the notion that you can reap larger returns on equity if you borrow at a lower interest rate than what your investment would return normally. You would borrow funds and you use those funds to increase assets (e.g. build a factory) or reduce outstanding equity (e.g. do a stock buyback.) In business, leverage, and its impact on return on equity (ROE), is represented by the (assets/equity) term in the famous Du Pont analysis equation:

(net income/equity) = (net income/sales) * (sales/assets) * (assets/equity)

You can see that increasing the ratio of assets to equity (by increasing debt), increases ROE (net income/equity).

So why not “leverage that sucker to the max”, you ask? That indeed is what financial institutions do – they are typically very highly leveraged. But what’s missing in the Du Pont equation is the notion of Risk. A company’s return on assets, i.e. (net income/assets) is never certain and if it falls below the interest rate far enough, long enough, or for debt levels large enough, the company can go under (i.e. the financial lever snaps.)

** (Epistemology background) This is the difference between “tacit knowledge” vs. “explicit knowledge.” “Tacit knowledge” is very hard to just write down and have somebody else just pick up and really “know” it. For example, designing complex machinery, riding a bike, or making that perfect soufflé all require things such as: time, teaching, practice, or mentoring. You often need a deep level of collaboration to transfer that  knowledge, or at least to make it happen faster. “Explicit knowledge” doesn’t need that collaboration nearly as much. For example, the elevation of Denver, the recommended torque for an engine bolt, and the process steps for turning on the air conditioner are all fairly straightforward facts or processes to communicate to others.

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