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.

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.

The end of teamwork as we know it?

8 10 2010

It is with great relief that I note the demise of teamwork as an unquestionable good.

I had better say that again: the secret is out, teamwork is not, in and of itself, a fundamental principle of the universe. Don’t get me wrong – I am personally wired in such a way that I really enjoy working as part of a team. And there are some tasks where teamworking is the best way of getting the best work done. But not always!

Books like Why Work Sucks and Speed Lead are challenging the enormous waste of time which is imposed by organisations assuming that every job requires a team to do it. The latter makes a useful distinction between a team and a workgroup, where members of the latter often complete a stage in a task and then pass it on to the next member of the workgroup. So yes, Person A and Person B need to have a conversation at the handover point; that isn’t the same as making them sit through a three hour meeting every week to listen to other people describing handovers in which they have no immediate interest.

If we could lose unnecessary teamwork, we might get some excitement back about the power of the team when it is genuinely the best way to get things done!

The CEO, the Goldfish and the water

20 09 2010

When I was first doing a lot of work around international management and cross-cultural working, a phrase that often cropped up was “your own culture is like water to a Goldfish – you can’t see it until you are out of it”.

Something similar affects CEOs and other organisational leaders with respect to their own perspectives. Leaders at this level, especially entrepreneurial ones, often express things in quite visceral ways: “I don’t know what is wrong with what you are saying – I just know it is wrong”. Many times this “instinctive” response may be “right on the money”; other times it can be problematic or even dangerous. For example…

One reason organisations crash and burn just at the point where long-term success and dominance seems a certainty is that too many senior hiring decisions come down to the CEO’s instinct, rather than objective data; and the problem with that is that CEOs who don’t fully understand their own perspectives – the  invisible bowl of water in which they swim – too often hire people who reflect exactly the same set of perspectives. What was once the magic ingredient of success becomes the deadly potion of disaster. Perhaps surprisingly, the CEO’s unique mix of gifting and perspective may only fully function for the good of the organisation when it IS unique, and she or he is surrounded by people with different and complementary perspectives.

How to build such a team is a valid and non-trivial question. But the first step is for the CEO to actually see and understand the “water” around them – the perspectives through which they view the world. That shouldn’t lead to them discounting their perspective on things – far from it – but it will allow them to frame what they are seeing correctly. And it doesn’t have to be complex.

For example, “I think such and such, but then I am always projecting us 10 years into the future; you are much more operational in your perpective than I am, so tell me again why you think this will cause us problems in Q3 this year.” Or “I think this opportunity is too good to pass up, but you are our systems thinker, so help me understand why this might affect other things we have committed to doing.”

But how do you see the water when you are a Goldfish? You just need a perspective that analyses the water and then puts it in context for you. OS4Talent can do that for CEOs – without anyone needing to get wet!

Social Coping Mechanisms and the Reluctant Manager

13 09 2010

Most of us have had the experience of presenting a brilliant opportunity to a highly-regarded performer (whether manager or technical specialist), only to have them – inexplicably – turn the opportunity down. Often they don’t even pretend to give it consideration. We are left feeling half-witted and possibly inclined to reevaluate their intelligence in the same direction. What is going on?

There are a number of possible drivers for this kind of behaviour, but just to mention one: social coping mechanisms.

Beneath all the professional skill and interpersonal confidence or warmth, other things are going on in all of us. Some people – typically the generally optimistic, glass-half-full kind of people – have plentiful inner resources for coping with difficult situations, novelty and so on. As a result, they tend to be positive about flux in their social networks (not talking specifically about Web2.0 and Facebook here – I mean the people with whom they interact personally on a day to day basis). New people come, old people go – that’s fine. By extension, you can offer them an exciting new opportunity on a different floor, or a different country, and that is fine for them; they will leave one set of relationships behind and form new ones. And all the while they will cope with the stressful aspects of life by means of their inner reserves.

There are other people – the glass is 125ml of unfiltered tap-water type realists who, while not quite as gong ho as the first group, get through life by recognising some of it is tough and they just need to deal with it. They may not embrace change in social setting quite so readily but if a move is the right thing to do, off they go.

Which brings us to the third group, which may include that person who turned you down on the plum assignment without even the courtesy of reflection. Somewhat more inclined to see the half-emptiness of the glass, these are people for whom their immediate social context, including friends, close colleagues and other regular relationships, is the key element in their ability (and unconscious strategy) to cope with stress and the vicissitudes of life. Does this make them less good people or poorer performers? No, not at all; and in the example I suggested at the start of this blog, the whole point is that they are often top performers, ripe for a promotion or other strategic move. So what then?

Simply this: don’t expect that everyone will see a “great opportunity” the way you do. If you recognise that this factor – “if I move I lose my social network and then what happens to me” – may be in play (and it can be measured very accurately if you prefer science to guesswork), then you will have to think creatively if you want to see this person move up or across the organisation. Is there some way they can take their current team (or key peers) with them? Can they do the new role based out of the same location as at present, or even the same office? Endless possibilities.

But don’t compound an error by writing that star performer off.