Problem-solving versus … what?

15 09 2013

A minor epiphany, but a light has certainly gone on for me. It relates to the Birkman Life Style Grid (see model below) which we use in order to rapidly aggregate a lot of data in a single synoptic view.

Model of Birkman Life Style Grid

Over the years I have dealt with a number of teams who lie predominantly along the Red-Blue axis, but who are considerably weaker in the Green and Yellow Quadrants. I have tended to categorise these teams as Problem-Solvers, because that tends to be where they shine. Blue-oriented people frame Problems in creative and innovative new ways, and suggest new solutions to old problems; Red-oriented people get on with execution, now. By themselves, Blues have great ideas that never happen, and Reds do brilliantly well that which never should have been done at all. Together, we get great ideas, brilliantly executed. Hence, problem solvers.

So what about the other Axis? Greens and Yellows are potentially just as alien to each other as Blues and Reds. Greens seize opportunities and sell; Yellows set up systems and measure and analyse. They can drive each other mad, but what do you get if you combine them successfully?

Business. Green-Yellow is the Business Axis. Blue-Red is where your products and services come from. Green-Yellow gives you a business and keeps you in business. Haven’t looked at it for several years, but for example, Michael Gerber’s “The E-Myth Revisited” presents a true  business as a predictable repeatable process for producing money (Green-Yellow) and not a context for creatively doing (Blue Red).

Worth thinking about.


One man’s fish is another man’s poisson

26 11 2010

Working with a team this morning on perspective and how your perspective affects not just how you attempt to solve a problem, but especially how you will frame the problem in the first place.

The practical application for this team was around “completion”. As a client-focussed team with very “ideas and systems” orientation (Blue / Yellow Org Focus in Birkman terms), “completion” for them was a concept that, for them, revolved around “having the ideas and then handing them over in the form of a system set out in reports and manuals”.

From the client’s perspective – especially a client with a more Operational (Red) or Sales (Green) perspective this is of course somewhat deficient. For the Green perspective, completion is “you’ve had the idea and managed to get buy in from all my team, so that we are all running with your idea now”. For the Red perspective, completion is “whether or not any ideas are involved, has my business changed for the better? If not then the job isn’t finished…”

That may seem so obvious, stated in those terms, that you wonder how this could ever have become an issue. Of course it is all about what you can and can’t see without help. So, before you think the less of my client team, I wonder what perspectives you have that fail to synchronise with your clients’ expectations? It happens a lot more than you can… see!

25 yards of Team Building, please: changing how organisations buy assessments

18 10 2010

Talking to a friend and colleague from the US last week, he commented on the way large organisations buy assessments. Actually, the give away was the term “assessment buyers”… like “media buyer” or “office-supplies buyer”. Essentially the mindset seems to be almost along the lines of, “senior management expects us to use assessments, we buy x assessments per y personnel, check the box on the quarterly return, job done.”

Someone somewhere in the organisation is trying to accomplish something worthwhile with those assessments – better recruitment, better management of talent, building a team sorting out a workplace problem, whatever. They get to use whatever the assessment buyer buys (or specifies) for them. Fair enough, as far as it goes; that is how things work in a large organisation.

But here is the huge lost opportunity: a) why on earth is the assessment buyer treating the assessment of the company’s most valuable asset as it they were buying pencils and ignoring b) the opportunity to build over time a valuable map of the organisation’s talent and strengths? What do I mean?

Piecemeal assessment means that even if a great tool has been deployed to solve an important problem, that is the end of the story. A one-off purchase for a one-time return. Next time some or all of those people are involved in a situation where assessment needs to be used, either the same tool will be deployed again, or a new one; but either way, there will have been little if any value carried forward from the previous episode (except, usually, some increase in the employee cynicism triggered whenever there is a lack of joined up thinking: “here we go again”).

The positive alternative is to seek out and deploy a tool or suite of complementary tools which can be used across all situations (recruitment, appraisal, promotion, career development, coaching etc), and to keep coming back to the data collected already, both in the sense of “deploying once and using often per employee”; and in terms of watching trends over time, planning change programmes, post M&A integration, strategy, whatever. You won’t have a picture of your whole organisation the first time you deploy your selected tool or suite of tools for a 15-person team-building event; but you might be surprised how quickly you start seeing a map of your whole organisation come together, with key cultural or behavioural themes emerging. To senior management (remember them? we mentioned them in the first paragraph) that kind of data is solid gold. The mid-level manager achieves their immediate goal – but the whole organisation benefits as well.

Can you do this with every tool that is out there? Sadly not. Here is a short checklist of assessment properties you need to be looking for:

  • Stability of data over time for the individual (if the same person completing the assessment next week will come out significantly differently to how they did last week, forget it). 3-5 years plus should be a minimum if you intend to use this to build a picture of the organisation .
  • The tool needs to allow for accurate comparison between individuals. This may seem obvious, but very many of the well-known tools don’t do this.
  • Ideally, use a tool primarily designed for, and proven through, use in organisations. A tool developed for a PhD thesis, using a group of undergrad students as the survey sample, may not tell you something useful in an organisation setting.
  • Choose empirically-based assessments (i.e. based on research that establishes a relationship between actual behaviours and how people show up in the assessment) over theory-driven assessments (i.e. tools that categorise people according to a theoretical model) – unless you are prepared to stake your success on the particular theoretical construct involved.
  • Look for a report establishing reliability and validity for the instrument and check that it compares well to alternatives. And always ask yourself if you are seeing a great tool – or just great marketing.

Changing culture

26 08 2010

Every now and again I hear a new CEO say something like “my first task is to change the culture of this organisation”. My unspoken responses range from “good luck to you” to “probably your last task too!”

Don’t misunderstand me – a new CEO can do tremendous work changing some of the cultural assumptions in the organisation, as Lou Gerstner did when he switched of the OHP in his first staff meeting at IBM. His message: “from now on, you tell me what you have to say; don’t try hiding your lack of clarity with viewgraphs.”

The truth though is that changing culture takes a little longer than changing your clothes. That is because ultimately culture is a function of the suppositions, perceptions and learnt behaviours of the people concerned. If you really want to totally transform culture overnight you had better be ready to fire everyone in the organisation and install carefully selected replacements. Otherwise you need to budget significant time.

…And analysis. Because the question that often goes begging in these situations is “do I actually know what the culture is I am talking of changing?” And “is it the culture per se; or the way the culture handles its current circumstances – and its current leadership – that is really the issue?”

A little mapping and analysis can go a long way.