"Read odd stuff. Look anywhere for ideas." Tom Peters
In keeping with Tom's latest eBook, People First!, we're highlighting a Cool Friend who wrote the book on Talent. Ed Michaels was part of a McKinsey & Co. group who studied the practices of 20 companies that excelled at finding and keeping talented employees. The study resulted in a 2001 book outlining the findings, and Ed Michaels was a coauthor of that book, The War for Talent. Tom's chosen to bring the topic up for discussion a decade later, so it might be a good time to take a look at this Cool Friends interview. You'll find some still useful insights.
Tom's new eBook, People First!, is at the iTunes store now. The subject is Talent. It's all about treating your employees like customers. Good for them, good for your bottom line.
Tom's newest ebook is now available! You Matter to Me is a very visual adaptation of the piece he wrote called Acknowledgement. We all need to know that the work we're doing is making a difference, and that someone sees that. This isn't about fawning all over the people who work for you or with you. It can be as simple as noticing someone's effort and acknowledging it. Here's how Tom sums it up:
It is to say, simply, that in any context, personal or professional, there is no greater gift to the person or persons with whom you are engaged than heartfelt (as well as headfelt) acknowledgement of their contributions and fundamental human worth; moreover, said acknowledgement almost invariably leads to greater commitment and better-served clientele and a happier bottom line.
Playing around with my favorite theme:
It all starts with you putting people FIRST ...
You take care of the people.
The people take care of the service.
The service takes care of the customer.
The customer takes care of the profit.
The profit takes care of the re-investment.
The re-investment takes care of the re-invention.
The re-invention takes care of the future.
(And at every step the only measure is EXCELLENCE.)
Here's video number 51 from The Little BIG Things Video Series. According to Tom, "If you understand the 3 H's, you you don't need to understand anything else about business success."
You can find the video in the right column of the front page of tompeters.com or you can watch the video on YouTube. [Time: 1 minute, 24 seconds] You can also download a PDF transcript of the video's content: Leadership: The 3 H's.
It's time for two new sections in The Little BIG Things Synopsis Series. The next two sections in The Little BIG Things: 163 Ways to Pursue Excellence are titled "Talent" and "People." Both sections cover the insanely important subject of the people on your team. Tom challenges us to focus on them by reminding us that "only Excited People can excite customers over the long haul" and bluntly asking, "Whose development you have contributed to—Directly & Profoundly—in the last 24 months?" Take some time to think about your people as the new year approaches.
You can download free pdfs of those sections from The Little BIG Things Synopsis Series* by clicking below:
*The Synopsis Series is an adaptation that gives you a taste of the BIG idea in each of the 163 Little BIG Things. More information on the book can be found on this page. The Synopsis Series as released thus far can be found here.
In video number 46 from The Little BIG Things Video Series, Tom explains that you don't have to be exact, but your project team should resemble the market it serves or something is very wrong.
You can find the video in the right column of the front page of tompeters.com or you can watch the video on YouTube. [Time: 2 minutes, 21 seconds] You can also download a PDF transcript of the video's content: Leadership: The Squint Test.
[Our guest blogger is Madeleine McGrath, Managing Director of the Tom Peters Company.]
During summer 2010, we (Tom Peters Company) were sensing that among our clients that had survived the worst of the recession, the mood was becoming more buoyant. Our customer base tends to be more forward-thinking and adventurous than the norm, and is often a bellwether of new trends. We therefore decided to find out what this group was seeing ahead, and if there were lessons for other leaders.
Our recent survey involved a select group of clients located in 29 countries and 6 continents. Overall, we found they, particularly those in the private sector, are indeed ready to put the past behind them. One respondent summed it up this way: "We've been in survival mode and it has hurt our growth. We need to focus on the future and stop the survival mentality. But how?"
We used our Excellence Auditâ„¢ survey to identify the development priorities that participants now see as important. A sign that recovery is on the way was that the prior focus on cost and systems has been overshadowed by a realization that Leadership is now the key element for attention.
Managers in our sample realize that it is time to pay attention to the people that have brought them through the recession. "Now that the economy is on the up, we need to step back the pressure, to work on the experiences of clients and workers, and to use technology to help us to do that."
According to our customers, leaders must devote attention to two action areas in our Excellence Audit, above all others.
1. Find, deploy, encourage, and protect intra-preneurs, groundbreakers, and champions of change.
2. Get actively involved in the talent management process - strategy, tactics, and implementation!
Our survey participants know the value of focusing on their people, but realize they have been distracted:
"This is an area that has taken a back-seat to execution as we weather the current economic storm."
"Too often people engage in conducting the tasks we are assigned and forget about developing their people."
If you are looking for more ideas about how to develop a leadership action plan in these areas, see Tom's Working Master Slideset Part 3: Talent. More information about the Excellence Audit and how it can help you create your own improvement agenda can be found here. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for information about the Research Project Findings.
Our longtime friends at HSM put on their annual World Business Forum in New York last week. Tom has spoken at this event in the past and this year they invited us to attend via the Blogger's Hub, a special section monitoring the event.
The roster of speakers was impressive, to say the least. To name but a few: Al Gore, Jack Welch, A.G. Lafley, Joseph Stiglitz, Steve Levitt, Jim Collins, James Cameron, and Charlene Li. The presentations ran the gamut from economics to innovation, but there was no lack of commonality of message with what Tom has been espousing for decades. So what were the major themes and takeaways of the event?
The first day of the event seemed to have an underlying theme of talent. Jim Collins, author of Good to Great, asked, "How many key seats are on your bus? How many have you filled with the right people?" Carlos Brito, CEO of Anheuser-Busch InBev, offered the equation, "Great people = Great companies." He advocated for creating a culture of owners, avoiding the "don't be gentle, it's a rental" mindset (you'd do things in a rental car you wouldn't dream of in one you own). Jack Welch, former CEO of GE, put it simply and definitively: "You get the best players, you win."
Welch went on to say that "you have to create entrepreneurial innovators within your business." Renee Mauborgne, coauthor of Blue Ocean Strategy, went a bit more deeply into this argument. She said, "The more we benchmark, the more we become like the competition." And that certainly isn't going to inspire game-changing innovation. She emphasized the importance of shifting your focus from day to day productivity into creativity and thinking about the future. As A.G. Lafley, former CEO of Procter & Gamble said, "Great innovators constantly disrupt themselves."
Lafley encouraged the audience to cocreate products with their customers. Charlene Li, coauthor of Groundswell, gave a specific example of how Starbucks cocreated a new customer experience (self-serve drip coffee) using social media, and despite the failure of the feature, strengthened customer relationships by including them in the process, start to finish. Steve Levitt, coauthor of Freakonomics, also highlighted the importance of experimenting. "'I don't know' is the least common phrase in business today. ...Try to utter that phrase at least once a day." But he cautioned to not forget to measure the results of your experiments, as this happens all too often.
Spending two days watching such an impressive lineup of speakers provides ample opportunity for comparison and critique. What makes for the most compelling speech? Whenever Tom is asked for advice regarding speeches, he never fails to mention the importance of storytelling. Joseph Grenny, coauthor of Influencer, spoke of this outright. Cool Friend Martin Lindstrom showed the power of brand storytelling. The slides that speech-veteran former Vice President Al Gore used were almost completely text-free and only served to enhance his case for action against the devastating effects of global warming. James Cameron, director of Avatar and Titanic, described his journeys in storytelling and the techniques he used to make stories come to life. But it was a survivor of a plane crash in the Andes, Nando Parrado, that captured the audience's full attention and garnered the only standing ovation when he took us on his incredible journey, providing a compelling reminder of what really matters in life.
Tom frequently asks, "If not Excellence, what?" Several of the speakers shared this message of aspiration. Vijay Govindarajan of the Tuck School of Business and Renee Mauborgne presented clear arguments for lifting your focus from the daily churn so that you can take the essential step of plotting strategy for the future. Carlos Brito used the example of a high jump when discussing leadership. He said you must set the bar high, because like athletes training for the high jump who only just make it over the bar, people will only jump as high as is required to achieve the goal. And to leave you with the words of the last speaker of the World Business Forum 2010, James Cameron said, "The biggest risk is not to be bold."
Sebastian Junger, best known for The Perfect Storm, now gives us War, based on harrowing months in which he was embedded in an American platoon in Afghanistan. Consider this, from the Economist review:
"Mr Junger ... is in awe of his fellows' fighting skills and acceptance of, sometimes, appalling danger. ... The main reason, Mr Junger observes and numerous studies have confirmed, is love. The Americans in the Korengal, heroes by the standards of any warrior culture, are not especially religious or patriotic. They show little interest in the war overall or allegiance to the army at large. ... Rather, with passionate intensity, they fight for each other. 'What the Army sociologists, with their clipboards and their questions and their meta-analyses slowly came to understand was that courage was love,' Mr Junger writes. 'In war, neither could exist without the other.'"
I believe these findings go back at least to sociological studies in the U.S. Army in World War II. That is, it is a commonplace. In the context of this Blog and its aims and prejudices, it is one more, perhaps the ultimate, confirmation of ... RELATIONSHIPS ARE EVERYTHING!
Susan and I and four close friends just returned from a week-long tramp among rainforests, cloudforests, etc., in amazing Costa Rica. Birds! Plants! Animals! (Even I can out-race a three-toed sloth.) Our guide! The families who made lunches for us and invited us into their homes! Market day in San Jose! Rice and beans! Beans and rice! All fabulous!
And years from now I'll mostly remember ... Priscilla!
Priscilla was our driver.
Priscilla was our Mom!
Priscilla was a brilliant driver on truly awful roads in CR's booniest of boondocks.
Priscilla ranks in the Top 10 in the "God's best smile" category.
Priscilla figured out after half a day that a Diet Coke and I should not ever be far apart.
(There was ALWAYS a Diet Coke waiting for me.)
(WHERE THE HELL DID SHE GET THE DIET COKES?)
I had trouble on several occasions.
(It was VERY hot and VERY VERY humid.)
(I hate heat.)
(I really hate humidity.)
Priscilla always had a folding chair placed in the shade exactly when I needed it when I got back from the trail.
(Such chairs appeared mystically at exactly the right moment.)
I sweat like a demon; when I changed T-shirts (often) she always hung the wet one up—and once she even somehow found a dryer while we were out on a couple hour walk, and the last shirt was dried and ready when I'd soaked through my backup.
Priscilla has the cutest Grandkids you could imagine.
(We saw the pics, not the kids. Alas.)
Priscilla did the same for all six of us.
Priscilla has the best attitude of the 6,000,000,000+ people on earth.
(And that's a guarantee.)
(And Priscilla has been doing this for 20 years without letup.)
(And some groups are good.)
(And some groups are bad.)
(And some groups are very bad.)
(I hope we were pretty good, though I have no way of knowing.)
Does your organization have a Priscilla?
Do you look for "Priscilla-ism" in virtually all employees, especially those with customer contact?
Do you understand that the "bottom" of the organization is really the "top" of the organization when it comes to details of execution and perception of "We-care-ism"?
(Our guide, Jimmy, was only a hair's breadth behind Priscilla. Priscilla and Jimmy were more important to the "Costa Rica trip" than Costa Rica was!)
(Read an interview yesterday in the New York Times with Kip Tindell, the CEO of the Container Store. He gets this Big Time. That's why a boring retailer was the #1 "best company to work for," per Fortune, a couple of years ago.)
The latest in Tom's Little BIG Things video series is "Don't Use Standardized Forms." You can watch the video on YouTube to see Tom present his case that you should be choosing and assessing your talent like an NFL team or a Symphony Orchestra. Those groups would never use a standardized assessment vehicle, and Tom contends that neither should you.
[Our guest blogger is Valarie Willis. Find out more about Val here.]
We have known for years that the focus should be on talent and not jobs. I was intrigued as I read this article today in the New York Times telling people to think of their careers like a business.
Even people inside organizations today should view their work and career as if they owned them. How differently would we act if we approached our work with an entrepreneurial spirit? Would you go after new skills, would you promote yourself more, would you find new projects to associate yourself with?
Talent is still key, work doesn't get done without the right talent in place. Today, however, the way organizations obtain the talent they need is changing. Talent will be brought in for projects, short and long term, and then released, and the cycle will start all over again. People who keep their skills up to date, watch the market for future skill needs, and adapt will survive. Some companies have cut personnel too deep and will be looking for the right talent to bring onboard.
So, now would be a great time to think about how you differentiate yourself in the market when your only opportunity to "interview" may be via one of the social networking media. I recently hired someone from the Elance site to do some IT work for me. I never met them in person—our entire relationship was Web based. From this site, you can put out a request for proposal on what you need done, people bid on the job, and you have your pick of great talent. You can even see the feedback and ratings from others that they have worked for, so it is in the best interest of talent to do excellent work. What if your company put up a public rating scale, how would you fare? How would you rate others on your project team?
It is certainly something to think about as we strive to manage our careers and do our absolute best work.
"Exuberance is an abounding, ebullient, effervescent emotion. It is kinetic and unrestrained, joyful, irrepressible. It is not happiness, though they share a border. It is, instead, at its core, a more restless, billowing state. Certainly it is no lulling state of contentment: exuberance leaps, bubbles and overflows, propels its energy through troop and tribe. It spreads upward and outward like pollen toted by dancing bees, and in this carrying ideas are moved and actions taken. Yet exuberance and joy are fragile matter. Bubbles burst; a wince of disapproval can cut dead a whistle or abort a cartwheel. The exuberant move above the horizon, exposed and vulnerable."—Exuberance: The Passion for Life, by Kay Redfield Jamison, Johns Hopkins Professor of Psychiatry
Julia Child changed, no, redefined, the American kitchen, American cooking, American life. A housewife of a State Department operative in Paris, she fell in love.
She fell in love with Paris.
She fell in love with Parisians.
She fell in love with French ingredients.
And French chefs.
And French food.
And she made many, many of us fall in love with all those things, too.
(And we never looked back.)
"Julie and Julia," the movie, is a love story.
To watch the movie was, for me, to fall in love with Julia Child.
To fall in love with Julia was easy.
How could you fail to fall in love with her?
You watched her shriek with unabashed delight as she fondled a pepper or shallot or mushroom in a tiny Parisian grocer's shop—and you marveled as you watched the French shopkeeper, doubtless no instinctive lover of Americans with their questionable grasp of the language (Julia was no linguist), fall in love with Julia's raw, unadulterated Exuberance.
The movie was Exuberance defined.
A, dare I say, perfect picture of the unregulated-unregulatable Power of Exuberance to make the world wobble on its axis.
(NB: Friends of the "real" Julia, to the person, agree that Meryl Streep's continuously "over the top" effervescence was, hard to believe as it may be, Julia pitch perfect!)
The movie was also Excellence defined. Julia's Book #1, Mastering the Art of French Cooking, merits the use of the word "mastering," defines the term "mastery." Ms. Child brought to the party, along with her off-the-shelf exuberance, only one prime attribute, of which she delightedly informs us at the start: She loved to eat!
From that love of food ingested came her years-long journey to mastery. She haunted the food shops of Paris and learned the ins and outs of the ingredients themselves. Fighting an oppressive, "males only" culture, she graduated from Le Cordon Bleu cooking school; the skeptical master joined the ranks of those fallen victim to JC's exuberance, and her pit bull+ tenacity. She then engaged in a tireless and ceaseless and pothole-strewn Long March to cookbook publication by Alfred Knopf—prior rejection slips and last-minute publisher jiltings were almost too numerous to bear, even for the casual viewer of the movie.
But the story—including the unreported years following the first book in which more books followed, the TV show blossomed and America and its kitchens and pantries succumbed to Julia's thrall—is, in the end, a story of Exuberance.
Julia did indeed master French cooking. But it was her pleasure therein (joy, effervescence, etc—see the epigraph at the top of this post) per se, captured in her prose style and in front of the TV camera, that conquered America. Her delight became our delight. Her sunniness became our sunniness. Her self-effacement in the kitchen as she booted another grounder (flipped an omelet out of the pan and onto the floor) became our license to play. It was ... EJ/Experience Julia ... we bought into as much as or many, many times more than the accuracy or novelty of the recipes she presented.
It was a helluva movie.
And a helluva message.
(Hats off, too, to Julie Powell as played brilliantly by Amy Adams. Julie's own Relentless Pursuit of Excellence—producing all 524 recipes in Julia C's first book in the space of a year, and recording it all at her Blog—was damn near as impressive as her mentor's.)
I came to the movie with a 35-year-old appreciation of Ms Child, an almost equally long obeisance to Ms Streep's acting skills, and a demonstrated 30-year Search for Excellence under my belt. But the movie sent me scurrying back to Kay Redfield Jamison's book—and reminded me of the Power of Exuberance Unbound, of the Power of Exuberance Unbound and the Spirit of One Person to, literally, change the world.
As a practical matter:
I urge you-beg you-command you to inform your HR department today that Attribute #1 in the hiring of anyone in any job, non-technical or technical, shall hereinafter and forevermore be enthusiasm, effervescence—exuberance. And that goes triple or more when it comes to any and all promotions.
[This entry is from guest blogger Darci Riesenhuber, a former Tom Peters Company colleague who has reinvented herself as a Reputation Agent.]
Remember the days when, during a job interview, you were asked questions like "If you were a car, what kind of car would you be?" or "Tell me how you would handle an upset customer?" Companies started to question whether the answers to such hypothetical questions were helpful in predicting successful job performance.
To reduce subjectivity and increase predictability of job success, companies have adopted a behavioral-based interviewing approach. In essence, behavioral-based interviews assume that past behavior predicts future behavior. The predictability comes from posing statements or questions to the candidate phrased something like: "Tell me about a time when you led a virtual project team—what were the outcomes?"
I question the validity of this approach. Why? Because if you are basing your hiring decision on someone's past experiences, aren't you disregarding their capacity to learn and be good at things they have yet to try?
Had the manager, who ultimately hired me for my first training position, asked me the question, "Tell me about a time when you had a difficult participant in one of your classes. How did you handle it?" I could not have given an answer, having, at that point, no experience at all. Had he used the behavioral interviewing approach, would I have gotten the job? I doubt it. However, my inability to respond effectively to that question was certainly no indication of my ability to do the job.
So I ask: Is basing the hiring decision on someone's past experiences the best way to predict future success? Isn't it possible that someone who has no experience leading a virtual team can be great at it? Perhaps even better than someone who has?
Lately I have been hearing a more positive message from executives in their communications to their employees, the business press, and business analysts. Whether the message is the familiar "we've turned the corner" or the milder "the worst is behind us," the intent is to signal that a better tomorrow looms. But does it? And what does it look like?
The question I have been asking my clients now is whether the strategies they put in place to deal with the economic downturn have made their organizations more capable of producing excellence as they move forward? Most respond that the emphasis on lean structure and cost control were necessary adjustments that made their companies "more fit" for the future. Certainly the cost reductions have had a positive impact on margins, but I wonder how long this can be sustained? I suggest that there are a number of areas ripe for scrutiny to determine if they will, in fact, lead the business to a better place once that corner has been turned.
First, the increased scrutiny on spending may have some unintended, and unmeasured, consequences. I wonder about the speed of execution when new checkpoints are added into a process. New layers of managerial waste and delays may eat up the apparent savings in cost reduction in time to market. Also, it may be sending a message to the management that executive leadership has little confidence in their business savvy, undermining their potential contributions. It may be time to loosen up the controls a bit.
Second, I have seen some pretty good talent leave organizations because the new, leaner management structure doesn't seem to have the upward mobility they want. A more fluid project approach to work might be the ticket here. Top talent demands work that matters!
Third, oddly enough, executives may have to prove their competence to the workforce—who paid some prices in the downturn. Many executives have been using the "economy" as the reason for poor performance, but my coffee chats with their employees lead me to believe that the rank and file aren't totally buying that. It is important that the road forward is seen as doable by the employees in an organization, and that these workers believe that the current executive team can lead them to success.
And last, I might suggest that it is a good time to focus a little less energy on Wall Street analysts, and a little more on employees and customers. I continue to marvel at how much executive time is focused on pleasing the analysts. Yes, they need attention paid to them, but long-term success is more dependent upon employee and customer satisfaction. And that means switching the focus to them.
A friend is going on a tough deployment for the U.S. Army. He is incredibly well trained. What's he doing? Training and training. And then training.
I acknowledge the Army situation is about life and death. But it is also a "profession."
Why does the Army, from recruit to general, train and train—but, mostly, the private sector does a smidgeon of individual training and virtually no unit training, let alone combined unit training?
(What would happen, for example, if you were a retail store owner, and were open one less day than normal each week—and devoted that full day you were closed, with full staff, yes, once a week, to training of various imaginative—and boring—sorts?)
I really hate the following phrase: "the only thing you need to know." Hence, I want to talk to you about ... the only thing you need to know.
The formulation that follows came from a speech I gave in Shanghai a couple of weeks ago. I was part of a program that included consultants, economists, etc. For better or for worse, I stuck to character and began by trashing ... consultants and economists. I said, "In the next several hours you will hear many prescriptions for dealing with today's shaky times—and preparing for China's future. Many of those prescriptions will involve the role of the government in the economy, the sort of help that big firms and smaller firms need. Despite my rather snide remarks, I will in fact find many of the suggestions on the money—figuratively and literally."
I meant every word of it.
But then I added that my role was to simplify—to boldly, and perhaps foolheartedly, assert that there was only One Thing that mattered in the long run to the health of the enterprise—and, indeed, the economy as a whole.
The quality of the work force.
(And, perhaps 1.5, the devotion of the leadership to developing that work force to the utmost extent of its talents and prospective talents.)
I said "there is only one 'winning formula.'"
People who are 100%, everybody, no exceptions, Receptionist to EVP R&D:
Fearless (unfailingly encouraged to try new things).
Focused themselves, even when fresh caught, on the growth of others
Passionate about their work, their mates, and their customers.
Open (fanatic about sharing).
Committed to EXCELLENCE in everything they do.
And, in turn, that demands 100% "servant leaders," to shamelessly steal from Robert Greenleaf, who are 100% devoted—as Priority & Job #1—to developing people, in good times or bad—100% of people—who are:
Fearless (unfailingly encouraged to try new things).
Focused themselves, even when fresh caught, on the growth of others
Passionate about their work, their mates, and their customers.
Open (fanatic about sharing).
Committed to EXCELLENCE in everything they do.
I explained that, in my opinion:
This applies throughout the world—in America and Brazil and Lithuania and Estonia and Korea. And in China, as it pursues a future obviously more and more dependent on incorporating intellectual capital into its economic portfolio (already China bridles at being assigned a role as "the world's workshop").
This applies to 100% of people in the workforce. As in a football team or symphony, there are no "bit players."
This applies in every industry and every pricepoint strategy therein. In Brazil, Magazine Luiza, the country's Wal*Mart, is invariably near the top of the "Best Companies to Work For" list, just as Wegmans, the regional grocer, and the Container Store are at the head of the pack, peers of Google and Amgen, on the American "Best" list.
This applies to companies of all sizes—from microscopic to humongous.
This applies in good times—and especially bad times. Engaged workers and an unwavering Commitment to EXCELLENCE will not make problems in the market evaporate, but they, nonetheless, represent the best chance of weathering the storm and coming out stronger on the back end.
Strategy is important.
Systems are important.
Financing is important.
But this is ... The Only Thing You Need to Know.
I'd bet my life on it.
(I guess I have.)
Is it an unrealistic ideal in the current business climate?
Yet another survey on employee engagement (available with registration) was published in December last year, by YouGov commissioned by Engage Group). Polling 23,600 directors, managers, and employees, they found that employee engagement is seen as one of the top three factors that drive an organisation's success (it ranks higher than strategy) and 75% of board members believe that it improves bottom-line performance. In these times, when the news is full of redundancies (layoffs), re-organisations, and failing businesses, Iâ€™m not sure if employee engagement is high on the business agenda.
I believe it should be; the constant changes in these potentially traumatic business conditions are forcing businesses to constantly review and change how they organise themselves to be more innovative, productive, and customer-focused—in both the products they make and the services they offer. Becoming innovative and productive relies on having the right people engaged with what the organisation is aiming to deliver; with the capability and freedom to anticipate and respond to changing market requirements. These times are uncertain; engaged employees are more likely to not only cope with the changes, but also to contribute to how the business can survive (and maybe thrive).
It seems to me that, although we must pay attention to those people who are losing their jobs, we must also pay attention to the people who are staying in the business. Even before the current economic conditions hit, we found it difficult to "engage" employees; surveys reveal that only about one-fourth of the workforce is engaged and about the same amount are actively disengaged.
In my work I have seen pockets of excellence where employee engagement seems to be occurring, and many places where it is obviously not! I have been asking questions about what is happening where engagement is prevalent. A pattern appears to be taking shape in the responses I get; engagement is more likely to occur when managers purposefully include, and share power with, people within the organisation, co-creating a way of working together with their teams. There is a sense that the diverse range of people within the workplace community (not just the managers and leaders) are involved in, and feel accountable for, finding the solutions that are right for them, the business, and the future.
Is employee engagement seen as a priority in your organisation? And, if it is, how are you going about creating an environment that encourages engaged employees?
[Ruth Smith is a consultant working with Tom Peters Company in the UK (you guessed that from her spelling), and she's contributing to the blog for the first time. Welcome, Ruth!—CM]
As we approach the new year, there is a big uncertainty looming everywhere. For a large majority of people, the uncertainty is about their job. Is it safe? In other words, will they have a job or not?
I think the real question should be "Is someone really employable in the new economy or not?" but that's a topic for another discussion.
This is a quick exercise to do a status check on the "safety" of your job. The questionnaire is in no way complete. The focus is to make you think beyond the "job responsibilities" outlined in your offer letter.
Note: Not all questions are relevant for people at all levels.
1. Is your job core to what the company stands for?
When there is a crisis, an organization tends to drop non-core and adjacent activities. The approach will be to play to their strengths to survive and thrive. If your job does not contribute to the strengths of the organization, you have to quickly re-invent yourself so that it does align with the company core purpose. If what you bring aligns with the strengths of the company, the follow-up question is "how much capacity are you adding to the company?"
2. What will the company/department lose by eliminating your job?
Please note that the question is not, "What will the company gain by keeping you in that job?"
During a crisis, avoiding threats (rather than going after opportunities) will take center stage. If there is no significant threat, there is no big safety net for the job. Even when you are in a strategic R&D project, look at what this R&D project will mean to the company. If you are not happy with the answer, it's time to re-think, re-invent, and re-act.
3. Who is borrowing the brand power?
Is your department proud of you because of your personal brand? OR
Are you proud of the brand of your department?
The answer should ideally be: Both
4. What is the assessment of your "value" in the eyes of the stakeholders?
If the answer is vague, such as "A lot" or "Significant," you have to re-visit the topic. Can you quantify your value in some measure, and is that value justifiable?
5. Is your job "offshorable?"
If your job can be moved offshore, then chances are it will be—in some form or fashion. In other words, you have to question yourself about whether you are doing commodity work. If you are doing work that a machine can do or someone in another country can do for a smaller fee, the chances of those moves may be very high. The thing is that you may not have control of your job if you are engaged in commodity work.
6. Do you care as if it's your own?
If you don't care about your product as if it's your own, you can't expect the company to do that (about you) either. When you care as if it's your own, the passion is clear. Passionate people win—all the time. In troubled times, an organization needs passionate people to keep the place alive. And, the thing about passion and caring is that you can't fake them.
7. Can you handle office politics well?
OK, you may not like office politics, but if you are working in an office, you better learn to deal with it. All else being equal, someone who knows how to deal with office politics will always come out a winner.
8. What is the cost of maintaining you?
There is the cost that you can measure (money, overhead, etc.) and there is the cost that is "real"—which includes, but is not limited to, the emotional cost of dealing with you everyday. For example, if you like to whine a lot, you increase your cost of maintenance. In troubled times, if your real cost to the company is significantly higher than the measurable costs, you are in trouble.
9. Are you likeable?
Unless you work for NASA, you don't have to be a rocket scientist. In tough times (and probably all times) a combination of 7 out of 10 on skills and 9 out of 10 on attitude is preferred to the other way around. If you are not likeable, it will hurt you in ways you would never imagine. People don't always make rational decisions, but they will definitely rationalize it after they have made the decision. So, people may not dismiss you because you are not likeable, but they will find a way to justify why they dismiss you beyond the likeability factor.
[Thanks to Cool Friend Raj Setty for providing us all with these questions for self-examination. Raj works with entrepreneurs to bring ideas to life and spread their adoption. You can learn more about him at www.rajeshsetty.com or follow him on his blog, Life Beyond Code, or on Twitter @UpbeatNow.]
In the last week or so, I came across an old Rolling Stone article (28 June 2007) about The Police—the '80s rock band that recently completed a $358-million reunion tour. In the article, drummer Stewart Copeland was singing the praises of Sting, the lead singer who originally broke up the group in 1984 (at the height of their glory) to begin his mega-successful solo career. But, instead of being resentful of the superstar status Sting had achieved on his own, Copeland actually took pride in it because—as he explained—he was the one who discovered Sting back in 1976. "Sting's my guy! I found him. I'm proud of him. When they shouted his name at shows, I was like, 'Yeah, that's my guy.'" Copeland, you see, identified himself as a talent scout, not just as a drummer or a band member. That way Sting's accomplishments became his accomplishments. This struck me as instructive to organizational leaders who, if they choose to, can take pride in their ability to identify—as well as develop and promote—talent.
It brought me back to a consulting session I did with a VP years ago in which I was helping him evaluate his senior management team. I suggested he list which departments the "frontline leaders" were emerging from, to see if there was a pattern worth noting. (These young dent-makers without title were easy to spot. They were taking command of cross-functional WOW! Projects—exciting, big-impact, bottom-up, break-the-rules endeavors that were producing tangible results for the operation.) Interestingly, a disproportionately large number of these frontline leaders came from departments run by two very people-focused leaders, who LOVED to spot and develop talent. In fact, like Stewart Copeland, they took special pride in the blossoming of particular individuals under their watch. It struck me at the time that one way to evaluate a manager's performance is by simply tallying the number of leaders who are sprouting up in that person's purview. (After all, it's a quantitative result.) Yes, of course it's an imprecise measurement, but if managers have up-and-coming leaders popping up like shoots all around them, they're likely to be doing something right.
I've been recommending this simple "leadership measurement" ever since.
In this 3 minute video (captured by our friends at Skillsoft), Tom makes the case for hiring for passion over experience. He says, as he and Bob Waterman argued in In Search of Excellence, the numbers are the soft stuff and the truly hard stuff is "passion, energy, values, character, enthusiasm."
One of our commenters, Chetan Dhruve, suggested that we include the transcripts from the videos. We've added them to the previous video posts as well. Here's the transcript for this video in PDF form: Passion!
I am mesmerized by Black Swans. We must live day to day, year to year, gettin' on with getting' on. Surprises aplenty are not so few and not so far between—and we've mostly learned how to cope and at least muddle through.
In fact, we can't live life, personal or professional, awaiting a Black Swan to alight on our pond. Still, one may-probably will do so—and our response-behavior will, as Mr Taleb claims, determine our life's course.
Well if we can't plan for it, and we can't let it distract us 24 hours a day every day, what can we do?
Beats me, is mostly my response.
But I have fallen deeply in love with a word that may be of use ... Resilience.
To deal with the absurdly unlikely, we can find resilient people and shape our organization to be more or less able to respond to a knockout blow—right out of left field.
Below (and in a Special Presentation attached), you'll find some musings (exactly the right word) on the idea of resilience. These are raw, "key words" really, meant to do no more than get you moving on this topic—which I heartily suggest.
Possible Attributes of Resilient People:
Inner calm (Buddhist-like?); think Tiger Woods
High self-knowledge ("comfortable in own skin")
Breadth of experience—drove a cab, worked construction, ran Alaska tours ... not just a variety of assignments in a traditional career progression.
Sense of, "Ah, my moment" (e.g., Giuliani)
Lover of modestly controlled chaos (bored amidst calm—e.g., FDR)
Reach out effortlessly to a wide variety of people (in general and on the fly)
Known for integrity, in the sense of "straight shooter"
Hires resilient people per se in key positions! (All senior leadership roles?)
Sense of humor
Empathy ("I feel your pain")
"Cruelty" (Must make tough decisions instantaneously, without looking back; not "confident," but overwhelming sense of urgency to press ahead)
Decisive, but not rigid
Strong individual, equally strong team player
Understands the chain of command—and evades it as necessary
Comfortable being challenged by thinkers, but a strong "doer" bias overall
A person of Hope (religious or "religious-like"?)
Not necessarily: ex-college quarterback with a history of comebacks (Why: All within the rules, within the context of that which has been practiced)
Better(??): Ocean sailboat racer; ER doc; public health doc; astronaut; combat experience; hostage negotiator; survived in hopeless circumstances through guile and grit; seeks "independent duty"
Tests: Have the lights "unexpectedly" go out during an employment interview, followed by fire alarm, etc; focus on resilience per se in reference checks
Possible Attributes of Resilient Organizations:
Hire resilient folks at all levels and in all functions—explicit about so doing
Promote resilience—explicit about so doing
Decentralization!!!!!!!!! (organization structure, physical configuration, systems)
Shadow "emergency organization"—ready to roll
Very serious "War gaming" (better than nothing—unless it leads to false confidence)
Culture of (1) self-starting, (2) caring and respect, (3) Execution is Priority #1, (4) Accountability-responsibility—100% of folks
Culture of Resilience (as de jure explicit "plank" of organizational values set)
Talk it up!! (but in terms of "growth opportunity"—not fear mongering)
MBWA—e.g., great, intimate communication all the time about everything
Transparency (all in the know, none in the dark)
Excellent equipment (But ...)
Training >>>>> Equipment
Ability to get by for (quite) a while without IS-IT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Test whole org in uncomfortable situations
Promote an unusually high share of mavericks
Diversity per se!!!!!!!!!!!
Here's another in our Skillsoft video series. This time Tom describes discovering Cool Friend Matthew Kelly's book, The Dream Manager. Watch the video (length is 3 minutes, 16 seconds) for Tom's take on engagement and what a leader's role is when it comes to the dreams of their talent.
[If you'd like a PDF transcript of this video, you can download it here: The Dream Manager]
On April 30th, Tom spoke from a studio in Watertown, MA for the Skillsoft Leadership Development Channel that was broadcast out to about 10,000 people. At the end of the hour-long talk, Tom was asked to record some short videos on various topics. And then Tom added a couple of his own. The folks at Skillsoft have been kind enough to let us use these videos at tompeters.com. The first one is called Organizational Excellence (length is just under 3 minutes) in which Tom says that "fundamentally the brand is the talent." And that the best way to serve your external customer is to be sure to serve your internal customers, your employees, first. By happenstance, this topic coincides with the slide set Tom published today called "The Customer Comes Second."
This is the first of eight videos ranging from "Organizational Excellence" to "Yes, You are in Sales!" We'll be posting these sporadically over the next week or two, whenever we think you may need a jolt of inspiration. Hope you enjoy them.
[If you'd like a PDF transcript of this video, you can download it here: Organizational Excellence]
Jan Gunnarsson and Olle Blohm, in Hostmanship: The Art of Making People Feel Welcome, write:
"The path to a hostmanship culture paradoxically does not go through the guest. In fact it wouldn't be totally wrong to say that the guest has nothing to do with it. True hostmanship leaders focus on their employees. What drives them is finding the right people and getting them to love their work and see it as a passion. ... The guest comes into the picture only when you are ready to ask, 'Would you prefer to stay at a hotel where the staff love their work or where management has made customers its highest priority?'"
"We went through the hotel and made a 'consideration renovation.' Instead of redoing bathrooms, dining rooms, and guest rooms, we gave employees new uniforms, bought flowers and fruit, and changed colors. Our focus was totally on the staff. They were the ones we wanted to make happy. We wanted them to wake up every morning excited about a new day at work."
Works for me.
At a client meeting this week, I was taken aback when he deliberately chose to describe the current economic outlook in the UK with the word "depression." I have become used to talking to colleagues and clients alike about the coming recession, but a depression is entirely a different matter. I've never lived through one of those! This client is the CEO of a financial services group and extremely well connected in UK banking circles. If he's thinking and talking this way, so, too, I bet, are the heads of many other sizeable financial institutions.
Our conversation moved on to what the best strategies were for both our businesses to successfully navigate through the testing times that lie ahead. What could he do, and did we have anything different to offer that might help him to do it better or more quickly? You won't be surprised that most of the "common sense" stuff we began to discuss, in nautical parlance at least, focused on "lightening the ship, battening down the hatches, and hoping to be amongst those who survived the storm." But we're the Tom Peters Company, dammit!
Back in 1990, Tom released a brilliantly counterintuitive video called "Recession as Opportunity—smart moves for tough times!" Its core message for those dark days was that "smart people should redouble their attention to improving product quality and service excellence." This was a good place to start and changed the tone of our conversation. We then talked about the importance of engaging peoples' hearts and minds, and especially so in tough times. Everyone on the payroll has to do work that is worth their wages. How to make "the work matter" to people. Creating a context where people can do the best work of their lives. Spreading messages of doom and gloom all round the patch certainly won't do that.
I left the session feeling quite pleased with my contribution to the debate. I might have helped my client to get past his personal malaise and into some "uncommon sense" areas where he could deploy his considerable leadership talent to potential competitive advantage. But I came back to earth with a bump today when I read the current Annual Review and Summary from HBOS plc (a competitor of my client), and found this comment prominent in CEO Andy Hornby's remarks: "As we face the unprecedented financial turmoil in global markets, our focus on colleague [talent] development has never been more important. Our ability to execute our strategy within these tough markets relies on engaging with, and motivating, our colleagues to deliver consistently outstanding performance."
Perhaps the common sense stuff came at the end of the discussion, and not at the start? Does anyone have any stories of people who are already making smart moves for tough times?
Is your company adequately prepared to meet your company goals and objectives this year? In a recent article in Training magazine, this issue was discussed. Many senior leaders are concerned that they aren't hiring the right people and that the existing talent may not be ready to perform as needed.
I found it interesting that the majority of senior leaders (92%) rank hiring the right talent as important. I totally agree that hiring the right people is critical to the essence of business, but I also believe that there is a gap when it comes to retaining the people that are hired. Equal attention must be given to existing staff.
Can you recall how excited you were your first day on the job and how exhilarating you thought things would be? Do you still feel that way now? Are you doing work that truly engages you, are you sufficiently challenged to tap into all your talents, and do you feel that your opinions and ideas are valued?
The culture that organizations create has everything to do with how people feel in the organization. Time, money, and effort can be spent hiring the right person, but if the same amount of energy is not put into creating and sustain the right culture, it is like playing a slot machine—you waste a lot of money trying to get a few wins. I agree with this statement in the article: "To successfully address senior management's concerns, human resources leadership needs to embrace its strategic role as an executive partner, and define and execute a holistic human capital management strategy that builds a superior corporate culture based on performance and accountability." I would add that not only must HR be strategic and holistic, but senior and mid-level managers must be, as well.
We know that at the heart of any organization, regardless of its size or type of business, is the talent within it. I have been in many organizations and talked with people at all levels, and I can see the untapped potential that so many organizations are missing. Taking talent for granted and not providing tools and opportunities are a recipe for disaster. Most talented people just have to be given challenges that stretch their potential, a support net that helps them to bounce back from adversity, and a leader who cares. Hiring the best is step one, retaining the best is step two.
I am curious—how does your organization retain the right people? Do you think that your organization is as focused on retention as they are on hiring? Let me know!
The management of high performing creative-types is certainly on the agenda for many of my clients. Who else can we rely on to come up with the next breakthrough idea in our organisations, but our high performing "talent"? But, as Lucy Kellaway in London's Financial Times recently wrote, there is an important balance to be struck in dealing with such folks.
There is something almost mystical about real talent, whether it be artistic, scientific, sporting, or creative, but as Lucy points out in her article, adulation and excessive appreciation alone can result in the creation of a monster. We end up with someone who feels able to make excessive demands, without any resulting requirement for performance improvement!
The article made me think about the delicate balance that my singing teacher manages to pull off. She typically manages to leave me with the feeling that I am making progress, and sounding good, but that there is another level to which I should be aspiring. So I am generally left feeling energised and excited, but certainly not complacent. I think that many sporting regimes manage to pull off this approach through the persistent measurement of personal best performance.
What is it about our relationship with our talented professionals in our work organisations that can get in the way of pointing out where (even they!) can improve?
What is your best experience of being encouraged to stretch and develop your talent when there was no obvious need to do so?
I had a conversation with a friend who recently helped set up a new furniture retail store on behalf of his employer. It was a labor-intensive job that called for all-hands-on-deck. It required everyone to chip in and do things outside their "normal" job description, which could be cause for resistance by some. Fortunately, everyone eagerly jumped in. The point of the story, however, wasn't so much about their cooperation, as it was about the fun they had. They had music playing in the background, and some sang along, while others just joked and laughed. "It was so much fun," he said, "It didn't feel like work."
His story reminded me of a time when I was recording a web seminar with a friend/colleague. We were cuttin' up and havin' a good time, accentuating our Southern drawls and sharing "what if ... " stories. At the time, I commented that if anyone walked in on us, they would think we weren't working, because we were having too much fun.
Which leads me to this question:
Do people have the general opinion that work can't be fun? If you laugh too much at work, does it mean you aren't working hard enough? Google seems to think having fun is necessary. As a matter of fact, the title of this blog, "You Can Be Serious Without a Suit," is #9 on Google's list of "Ten things Google has found to be true." An excerpt from their website is as follows: Google's founders have often stated that the company is not serious about anything but search. They built a company around the idea that work should be challenging and the challenge should be fun. To that end, Google's culture is unlike any in corporate America, and it's not because of the ubiquitous lava lamps and large rubber balls, or the fact that the company's chef used to cook for the Grateful Dead. In the same way Google puts users first when it comes to our online service, Google Inc. puts employees first when it comes to daily life in all of our offices."
Do you think we (as a society) are conditioned to feel a sense of guilt when we have too much fun at work ... like if it feels good it must be bad? And, we certainly wouldn't want to get caught. We generally agree that engaged employees are more productive, right? Aren't employees who have fun more engaged? (I know this is another "which came first ... " scenario ... do engaged employees have more fun ... or are employees who have fun more engaged ... and, is there necessarily a direct correlation between employees' fun factor and their level of productivity???) What do you think? Should companies encourage fun? If so, could it get out of hand? Will we then have to establish "Fun Rules" or policies to ensure that people manage their fun appropriately? Would that just take all the fun out of it?
"There's no 'I' in TEAM, but there is a 'Me' if you look closely."—Ricky Gervais
At the risk of starting another sport blog-spat, I want to start by saying that I watched the English rugby team beat the French group and reflected on how often it is we see groups beaten, who, at least on paper, "shouldn't be." On the pitch, they are beaten by a team effort because they can't collaborate. My thought here is that, in the absence of a strong sense of collective aspiration, individualism kills collective effort, which, in turn, spoils the result. Is there any learning here for business leaders? We all talk the talk on the importance of good teamwork. But just how prevalent is it in our respective organisations?
We seem to live in an age of increasing comfort and selfishness. Most of us are fortunate enough to be hovering nearer the top of Maslow's hierarchy than the bottom. Yet we live in a society that seems to value celebrities more than teams. Prima donnas more than grafters. Individualism more than cooperative effort. The media try hard to turn team efforts into the individual virtuoso performances. Count how many post match/event interviews are spent with the interviewee shying away from the accolades and reminding the reporter that it was a team effort? Are we witnessing the sound-biting of performance? Is the neat icon/success package the only good story? Is great teamwork poor press?
It seems increasingly rare to find a true business "team." (Dys) functional reporting groups appear to be much more common. The more senior the group, the less likely they are to be collaborative. The old adage of "No one wins on a losing team" does not seem to be true in the boardroom.
What are the drivers of this willing acceptance of mediocrity? Do we trade results for an ego boost? Does a need for control force us to inhibit the threat of collaborative effort? Did we get to be senior managers for being individualistic? Will we only collaborate when there are more serious threats than most of us face every day? Will individual interest and greed always win ... ??? Investing in process and systems improvement feels more reassuringly tangible than investing in talent, it seems. An SAP R4 ERP system feels more likely to deliver ROI than "teamwork development." Even though the stats on ROI for ERP implementation are frightening, they are more tangible than the "soft" stuff.
Are managers just unaware how much better their organisations could be performing, so that they consequently fail to pay attention to the development of the team?
Should I buy SAP or invest in my team? Please give me some investment advice!
Fact is, and I'm not happy about this, I got into a bit of a verbal tussle with my client over some "word issues." It was a meeting of HR execs, and the topic was the, yes, the "war for talent." Now I've used the term—and God only knows I believe that in this age of "intellectual capital" top talent is arguably more important than ever. (Whoops, I actually think that's 86% bullshit; top talent has always been the difference—e.g., the quality of the sea captains in the Royal (British) Navy, circa 18th and 19th century, comes quickly to mind.) But I digress. The point is that the discussion at the meeting in question was warfare-ish to a significant degree—how to quickly nab the best people from the grasp of the competition, etc. I doubtless exaggerate, but to stick with the ancient Navy theme, it was like building tools to create the best Press Gangs for "recruiting" sailors from the pubs of Liverpool in 1790.
Well, I think that's all (98%) wrong. I contend that the bedrock of finding and keeping and co-creating with great folks is not about clever tools to induce prospective "thems" to "shop [live] with us," but a 99% internal effort to create such an exciting, spirited, entrepreneurial, diverse, humane "professional home" that people will be lining up by the gazillions (physically or electronically) to try and get a chance to come and live in our house and become what they'd never imagined they could become!
I.e., it's not an externally directed "war to snatch talent from the other guy" by "being more aggressive than the competition"—but an internally directed competition against ourselves (and our outrageously strong beliefs about people) in which we aim to create an unimaginably attractive workplace. Think Apple, BMW, Cirque du Soleil, Wegmans. And back to the Royal Navy, the Brits built a model of Excellence that had no parallels in its sphere in human history—it was a model about what could be that had never been before, and it was "the other guys" who were forced into the externally aimed "competitive," inferior, reactive, copyist mode.
"All this" led me to spend the day after the speech (while traveling to Sydney) creating and heavily (!) annotating a 36-slide Special Presentation, The Case for Internal Focus: "Brand Inside" Rules! For those of you bugging me to annotate more heavily, all yours—it was good fun, actually!
The need to upgrade talent can create heart-wrenching decisions for even the most battle-hardened executives and small business owners these days, especially the firing of long-standing employees or partners who may have been critical to the development of the business, but who now appear to stand in the way of progress. But how do you as an executive/owner deal with this?
Pete Best is a mini-case study of how NOT to deal with it—especially if you're a small business. 1) Break the news to the partner through a third party. 2) Don't explain the reasons why the partner is being fired. 3) Don't ever speak to him again (even 45 years later). In this case, the firing became all the more significant to the individual because the small business went on to become a billion-dollar revenue producer.
I had the chance to chat with Pete Best three weeks ago, and he showed surprising equanimity—he certainly did not consider himself a victim. "It's fine—I moved on," he said, cheerfully commenting on his life since the Beatles. After raising a family as a civil servant in England, he eventually returned to playing the drums and is currently touring North America with the Pete Best Band, a very capable rock & roll unit. But to this day he doesn't know why he was suddenly dropped by the Beatles and replaced by Ringo, a few weeks before they recorded their first hit in England, "Love Me Do," in 1962. Despite Pete's 3 years of performing with the Beatles in Hamburg and Liverpool—and being a critical component of their distinct "wall of sound" rock & roll brand at the time—John Lennon, George Harrison, and Paul McCartney never spoke to him again, despite numerous opportunities to do so. The reason for his firing, according to most accounts, is that EMI recording engineers and producer George Martin thought Pete couldn't cut it in the recording studio. But engineer Norman Hurricane Smith, who was present for the Beatles' EMI audition, was adamant in his denial when he spoke to me in March: "We thought Pete had trouble getting the right beat for one particular song, but that certainly wasn't grounds for replacing him in the band." (After all, many drummers—including Ringo himself—were replaced by "studio musicians" on particular records.) Many other reasons have been cited—including jealousy by other band members that Pete got the lion's share of teen adulation—but the truth in such matters becomes more elusive with time.
If you ever have to deal with the firing of a partner or direct report, obviously you should communicate immediately and directly to the individual, and explain your reasoning in detail. And if you're the individual being terminated, you can aspire to display the grace and good spirit of Mr. Peter Best.
We hear all the time, "talent is important," "our people are important," or "our greatest assets are our people." We know that talent is the center of organizations. Without talented people, an organization will not be successful, can't grow, won't have great ideas, and will not be able to execute its strategy. Are we really appreciating and caring for the talent that makes things happen in organizations?
In a recent newsletter from the National Association of Women Business Owners, I read a report of a poll they'd done asking respondents what kind of praise was offered at their workplaces. Here are the results [newsletter is not available online—CM]:
28% said verbal.
2% said monetary.
3% said tangible rewards or incentives.
43% said a combination.
24% said praise isn't often awarded.
Though the sample was not statistically determined, this is a telling result. If we want higher levels of engagement from our talent, then 24% is an unacceptable number of workplaces where no recognition of good performance is customarily made. How hard can it be to acknowledge talent for work that is excellent? Could it be that in 24% of organizations polled, there is no excellent performance to be recognized? I wonder. What are your thoughts? Is excellent work recognized or rewarded in your organization?
Pres W and Pres L, the birthday duo, guided us to a sort of freedom and autonomy that the World had never seen before. Permit me to link that to the 22 January Fortune's annual cover story on "The 100 Best Companies to Work For." (I only read it upon return from NZ.)
The #1 spot went to Google—which is appropriate enough; they are attempting to innovate in organization-people practices as much as in the marketplace. But it was #s 3, 4, & 5 that caught my attention—Big Time. The likes of Google and last year's winner, Genentech, are pretty obvious "types"—at least in retrospect. But retail, which employs huge #s of folks in less than a Goldman Sachs-like pay bracket? Well, #3 was Wegmans (a previous #1), #4 was Container Store, and Whole Foods bagged the #5 slot.
Yes! Retail took 3 of the top 5 slots! Which means to me that "we the people" (not only "cool" Googlers and Genentechers, #2 this year), can find seriously Cool Places to Work in surprising places.
Hooray, say I!
(Also in the top 27: David Weekly Homes at #12—builders are not normally "great places to work"; Nugget Market as #13; Starbucks as #16; and REI, Recreational Equipment Inc., at #27. Thus, 7 of the top 27 in mundane, mass employment retail, are Top Dogs. As I said ... very, very nice.)
Presumably, the lesson here is obvious. No "excluded categories" in the world of Top Employers. (Incidentally, the research methodology behind these rankings is Top Drawer.)
Happy President's Day.
At one time it was the executive parking lot that was coveted, and over time, many organizations moved to open parking. A story appeared in the New York Times last week about Bob Nardelli, former CEO of Home Depot, and how he used to provide daily catered lunches for the company's officers on the executive floor, free, while the talent, aka "worker bees," ate in the cafeteria. This separation of leadership from the people who do the work is a fatal flaw for an organization. It sends the wrong message—it reeks of elitism. If we believe in our talent, if those we hire are people with brains, skills, and potential, why would we separate ourselves from them? Why wouldn't a leader see the advantages of getting to know the people who carry the brand of the organization and are vessels of great ideas? As Tom says, "If we would only bother to ask, the answers are on the front lines." Frank Blake, the new CEO of Home Depot, is quietly changing Nardelli's stance. The executives will take the elevator down to the cafeteria and eat with everyone else. I certainly hope that they don't all sit at one table and create a different kind of divide. Having lunch with associates is the best way to build a relationship, to get to know people, and to find out what is really going on in the "world" of your organization.
Apparently, the value of talent wasn't clear under the old regime at Home Depot. Older, experienced workers were "alienated," and Home Depot lost its edge on knowledgeable staff. It would appear that the ambition of the company got lost in the desire to make faster profit, the value of talent was lost in an attempt to save dollars, and, therefore, it should come as no surprise that the performance of the organization began to suffer.
As the New York Times wrote, "People who have met with [Mr. Blake] since he became chief executive, or have been briefed on these meetings, said he planned to improve the retail business by single-mindedly focusing on employee morale and customer service in the chain's 2,000 stores." Mr. Blake is going to focus on the talent and reset the ambition of Home Depot back to the basics of providing service and a great experience to shoppers. It's to be hoped that he can correct the talent problem, because until the talent can trust leadership and get on board with service as defining the brand again, any other changes won't matter much.
Some key questions to ponder: Are there any elitisms in your organization? What are your opinions on how leaders should interact with the talent of the organization? If you were an employee at Home Depot, what would it take for you to believe?
What comes to mind when you hear the word "talent"? A favourite musician or top fashion designer? Maybe the British football (soccer) icon David Beckham as he sets a new U.S. sports earnings record with his transfer to the L.A. Galaxy in what will be the swan song of his playing career?
Back in 1997, Tom boldly pronounced in The Circle of Innovation that "Everyone is a Michelangelo." But how many people who run businesses today really believe that, or more importantly, where can we see this thinking profitably in action?
In my experience, Frederick Taylor's Principles of Scientific Management still dominate most organisations. The senior managers I meet can all make great speeches on the need for innovation, but observably spend most of their time managing compliance. A recent conversation with a supermarket executive was illuminating. He was talking with a group of senior managers about how to get staff in their stores to be more willing to try out their new ideas. "They should try doing what they are told for a change," he quipped, "That would be something new round here!" Forced laughs all round.
In our high wage economies, exploiting the talent of our people is critical, and yet a small elite, maybe the output of our best universities or business schools, get the privilege of being treated as if they have "talent" when they join us. How many companies would have spotted the talent of an Eric Clapton, a Stella McCartney, or a David Beckham if they were lucky enough to have recruited them? How would their multi-million-dollar talents have blossomed in this so-called "Era of Talent"?
Quote: "If you've got 16 employees, at least two are turkeys."
(Quote source: Selling Power magazine, Special Edition 2007)
I recently read Marcus Buckingham's Now, Discover Your Strengths. I bought in to the idea that tapping into and developing an individual's innate talents is the way to go. He argues that training is ineffective if someone does not have a natural propensity to learn what it is you are trying to teach. However, someone could have an unrealized talent that, once discovered, can be developed through knowledge, education, and experience.
Well, if you've read the recent Fortune magazine (October 30, 2006) cover story, "What It Takes to Be Great," you know that recent research shows that "the lack of natural talent is irrelevant to great success." It all comes down to "practice and hard work."
On which side of this debate do you stand?
Been meaning to publish this for a while. If we are in an Age of Talent, then we can turn to guidance from arenas where the Big Idea of Talent has been standard fare for eons. Namely, the likes of the arts. I put together a single PPT slide called "A Few 'Talent Lessons' from the Arts." You'll find the content (pretty self-explanatory) below—and then another tiny Special Presentation. To wit:
Each person hired and developed and inspired and evaluated in unique ways (23 contributors = 23 unique contributions = 23 pathways = 23 distinct personalities = 23 sets of motivators)
"Peculiar" = Requisite (Each expected to make unique/"peculiar" contribution)
"Practice is cool" (Practice stars = Performance stars. See George Leonard's Mastery; Twyla Tharp's The Creative Habit)
Team and Individual "performance" equally cherished
Aspire to EXCELLENCE = Obvious (Excellence = Cool)
Talent = Brand = Duh
"The Project" rules
Emotional language Okay
"Bit players"? No! (All = Vital)
Standard = B.I.W. (Best. In. World.)
Different events = Different rosters (Duh.)
Needless (??) to say, the above is quite a few miles from standard HR practice.
Someone has posted a short clip of Tom from an HSM event called Sixty Second Insight. Tom talks about talent and how if you can still stand after your "performance," whatever it is, you haven't given it enough.
We (at the Tom Peters Company) have known for a long time that innovation is important and that companies must become more innovative if they are to survive. We also know that the talented people in an organization are capable of solving the most complex of business issues and are a wellspring of great ideas. As Tom has espoused, "All the answers to our problems are inside the front line staff, if we would only bother to ask them!" Well, in recent Gallup research, they studied the impact of employee engagement on the creation of innovative ideas. So, it should be of no surprise as to the results. Drumroll, please ......
When Gallup asked people to agree or not with this statement: " My current job brings out my most creative ideas," the responses based on levels of engagement are as follows:
Engaged Employees = 59% agree
Not Engaged Employees = 17% agree
Actively Disengaged Employees = 3% agree
See the report of the study here.
The more engaged employees are, the more they are able to generate creative ideas. How do we foster high levels of engagement? What keeps you engaged and what makes you disengaged?
I guess I shouldn't have been surprised. Warren Bennis and Pat Biederman wrote one of my favorite management-leadership books, Organizing Genius. Its topic-data is "great groups"—e.g., the Manhattan Project, Disney's 1st animation lab, Xerox's fabled Palo Alto Research Center. Warren shared with me a copy of a handwritten note he'd gotten from his great friend, Peter Drucker, when the book appeared. PD complimented Warren on the book, but challenged the choice of title. He wrote to Warren, as I recall (and I'm sure I've got this right), "It should have been 'organizing idiots.'"
I thought that rather revelatory, but it slipped into the recesses of my mind until last week when I was in Adelaide. To do my "Australia prep," I read several issues of their Management Today. There was an interview with Drucker, apparently one of the last before he died, in the magazine's Jan-Feb 2006 issue. PD was asked about the importance of management schools, to which he had contributed so much. Here's his take on their raison d'être: "The purpose of professional schools is to educate competent mediocrities."
His take, my double take. Did Drucker really have such a low, even malign, view of his fellow human beings? To be sure, he had personal experience with Nazis, and had closely observed Mao and Stalin. So skepticism is warranted—I carry around a wagonload of it myself.
Still, what the hell am I doing with my life? Working to develop "competent mediocrities" ("idiots")? While I may not believe in the likelihood of salvation to the extent that Billy Graham or Tony Robbins do, I get up in the morning—and travel to Australia for one day's work—because I enjoy (love!) hanging out with seminar participants wrestling with their lives and the whacky professional world we all inhabit in 2006.
Do I think they are all Einsteins? Of course not—I ain't either. Yet I do think we can aim higher, perhaps achieve some measure of Abe Maslow's "actualization"—and occasionally create enterprises of the Starbucks or Virgin variety that do indeed offer worthy challenges to their employees and "astound" their millions of customers with something special in the way of service rendered. (NB: I laugh at Dilbert—but openly decry Scott Adams' patent cynicism.)
There's a question I dearly want to ask former Girl Scout head Frances Hesselbein. PD repeatedly labeled her the best CEO in America, as I recall. And she in turn is a genuine devotee of his work. So, Ms H: Did you view your Girl Scouts as "mediocrities"—who you were presumably trying to improve? Somehow I doubt it. I own no rose-colored glasses—how could you if you read the papers these days? Nonetheless I love talking to cabbies and sewer crew guys (several on my street Sunday); I learn a ton. I also love—yes, LOVE—talking to young duos who own tanning salons, and middle managers in big companies. Quite simply, though no owner of those rose-colored glasses, I "get off on" people—considering them neither "idiots" nor "mediocrities." What about Drucker? And how did it influence his work, assuming that what's above is in any way representative?
I've often wondered why many organizational leaders don't get it about "workforce engagement." Some pay lip service to it but don't invest in it, while others simply discount it. I had a conversation with a Big Pharma executive a few years ago who thought "employee passion" was "fluff." He said his company focused on talent and bottom line results, period. (He couldn't see that a company with a reputation for having an engaged, inspired workforce MIGHT be a better talent magnet.) Meanwhile the latest Gallup survey shows that only 31% of employees are "actively engaged," 52% are "not engaged," and 17% (over 23 million U.S. workers!) are "actively disengaged."
For those who want data on the quantitative value of employee engagement, there's plenty of it. Gallup estimates that the lost productivity of the 17% "actively disengaged" employees costs the US economy $370 BILLION annually (not to mention the lost productivity of those 52% who are merely "not engaged").
Curt Coffman and Gabriel Gonzalez-Molina in Follow This Path reveal that business units in the top half of employee engagement (compared to those in the bottom half) have a higher success rate of: 86% in customer metrics; 70% in productivity; 70% in reducing turnover; 78% in safety metrics; and 44% in profitability.
And according to a 2004/2005 study by Watson Wyatt USA "the financial performance of organizations with highly favorable employee attitudes is typically nearly 4 times better than the financial performance of companies with poor employee attitudes."
There are plenty more studies to cite, but you get the picture. How come more business leaders don't?
I came across this factoid on workforce.com while gearing back up after Labor Day. The current expansion may be the first period of sustained economic growth since World War II that failed to bring an increase in real wages for most workers. The value of most workers' benefits is also failing to keep pace with inflation, government data show. Meanwhile, productivity rose 16.6 percent from 2000 to 2005, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. All of this means that most people are working more and making less.
I'd love to hear your comments on what you think this trend will lead to. For instance, I do see a potential resurgence in the labor movement as employees become weary of rising executive pay. My guess is that there will be serious organizing efforts in the middle management and supervisory levels. I also believe we may see greater shareholder activism and more scrutiny on wage and salary policies. What do you think? Will employees "fight back"? Is it the beginning of a new norm for the value of work? Will productivity continue to increase or are we near burnout stage?
(You may also want to take part in the poll on workforce.com.)
The technology tsunami is still in full force. The Cincinnati Enquirer reports in an article on July 31st that radio transmitters are revolutionizing how the water company reads your meter.
I can still recall when the meter man (yes, at the time there were only men) would knock on the door shouting, "Meter Man!" before using a key to let himself in. Later, the water companies positioned the meters outside your house, so then all they had to do was tramp across your lawn!
As one meter man put it in the article, he has worked for the water company for 16 years reading meters, but now he drives a van as a "field service representative." (Side Note: What he misses most is the exercise—I guess the job was pretty routine.) What he used to do is now done by low-frequency radio transmitters that can read in one hour what it used to take 20 people a day to do!
What the Greater Cincinnati Water Works did, and I applaud them, is to migrate people into new skills long before the conversion to the new technology was complete.
The other big thing that this meter man misses is the contact with people (especially the senior citizens), which raises the question, how do we stay socially connected in this highly technical era?
I always reply to the juvenile, "There's no 'I' in Team" with an equally juvenile, "But there is an 'I" in Win." In truth, I believe it is eminently possible and accurate to believe simultaneously in Team and I. (I'm in O'Hare as I write this ... think Bulls & Michael Jordan & Scottie Pippen & Dennis Rodman. A lotta "I" and a lotta Team ... and a lotta Championship Rings.) So if you're a "Team & I" person like me, I guess it's, "There is an 'I' and 'T' in Victory."
At any rate, the real point of this Post, I did find to read in today's USA Today sports section that in the NCAA tourney the nation's leading scorer has not been on the national championship team since ... 1952! (The occasion was yesterday's losses by both Duke and Gonzaga, who between them have the nation's #1 and #2 scorers.) (Whatever.)
Mr Altman won the lifetime achievement award at the Oscars last night. I loved this from his acceptance remarks, and I paraphrase: "The role of the Director is to create a space where the actor or actress can become more than they've ever been before." (Or, maybe: "dreamed of being." Better yet. I'll have to find a transcript.)
To me that's the essence of leadership—in any context.
From "WhatIveLearned," an Esquire interview with William Shatner:
"You have to create your life. You have to carve it, like a sculpture."
"We meet aliens every day who have something to give us. They come in the form of people with different opinions."
"Being an icon is overblown. Remember, an icon is moved by a mouse."
What we're talking about on the front page.
Before blogging became all the rage, Tom was posting book reviews and Observations (essentially early blog posts) to this site. You can find the archives below.
What we're talking about
on the front page.