Here is an excerpt from another thoughtful and thought-provoking article written by Umair Haque for the Harvard Business Review blog. It is worth noting that Marcus Buckingham recently ranked Umair #1 among his favorite business bloggers. To read the complete article, check out the wealth of free resources, and sign up for a subscription to HBR email alerts, please click here.
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Try this thought experiment: Maybe America’s Great Stagnation isn’t happening because we’re failing — maybe it’s happening because we’re not.
To illustrate, consider the most straightforward example: Wall Street megabanks were propped up and lavishly resurrected, and your grandkids will likely still be paying the price — because they were too big to fail. But if you look closely, you might see those dynamics just about everywhere. Detroit, of course, received a de facto bailout, too, but that’s the tip of the iceberg: when you stop and think about it, the economy’s rife with subsidies, hidden and overt, to largely industrial-age stuff (the McMansions that were subsidized by Fannie and Freddie, the oil that’s subsidized by whomever’s going to clean up the sky should there be anyone left to do so, the McBurgers whose water, beef, and obesity are all loaded not just with calories, but with tons of agro-subsidies). And that’s just the economy. What about the polity — Congress? Rarely have more constituents been more disappointed with their so-called representatives — but the whole lumbering institution’s too entrenched and cronified to fail.
Hence, argue with me if you’d like, throw binders full of rosy forecasts from your favorite think tank straight at my forehead if you want, but I’d gently suggest: America just might be terminally deficient in terms of one of the fundamental drivers of 21st century competitiveness: what I call economies of failure. Just as economies of scale might be loosely said to competitively refer to, roughly speaking, the savings, investment, and ultimately returns that an organization realizes from greater output than its rivals, so economies of failure are the savings, investment, and returns an organization realizes from intentionally, consciously making greater mistakes than its rivals.
The unforgiving truth is that failure — the ability to fail gracefully, relentlessly, consistently — has never mattered more. In a world where volatility is punching past the outer limits, where global hypercompetition is reaching breakneck speed, where the most talented people won’t settle for humdrum routine and stifling busywork, where the velocity with which the self-organizing people formerly known as “consumers” can deconstruct your latest, greatest yawner of a hit down to the tiniest omission has gone terminal, where investors have their zombified eyes locked on the bottom line but rarely the prize, and last but very definitely not least, in a world where yesterday’s tired, threadbare conceptions and definitions of success are ever less resonant — well, in this world, those who can’t fail are likely to end up a little bit like America: stagnant, stuck, and struggling to redraw the boundaries of prosperity. A system that fails to fail lacks the capacity to evolve — much less to gain resilience, or, above all, wisdom.
Beancounters and bureaucrats, welcome to the 21st century: its time to get lethally serious about failing bigger cheaper. That’s my three-word definition of economies of failure. And the art of failure is being mastered by a new generation of radical innovators. To illustrate, consider the first half of my tiny definition: failing cheaper. It’s something that today’s venturescape is struggling and sweating to master. Silicon Valley’s latest buzzword is the “pivot,” geek-ese for “this isn’t working: let’s change it up.” And to make it happen, they’re learning to shed the red tape, meetings, managers, and memos that made industrial-age business such a dreary, dismal drag. If an ideal organization is a mechanism to attain economies, the venturescape’s luminary thinkers and investors, like Eric Ries and Fred Wilson, are reimagining it not merely for scale, as in “the ability to churn out a trillion of the same mass-produced widgets, at the lowest cost, with zero defects” — but as a lean, streamlined, nimble machine that can fail radically cheaper than ever before.
That’s nice, but it’s not enough. Failing cheaper is just half of the equation: failing bigger is the other. The Valley is learning to minimize the costs of failure — but what about maximizing the benefits? A dog chases his own tail, and so it too often is with those seeking economies of failure. Stripped-down organizations also seem to lose a sense of bigger purpose, of larger destiny — and end up focusing on tiny, me-too features instead. So while failing cheap is crucial, so is failing big: in the process of striving to change the world radically for the better.
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If I had to sum up the challenge, I’d put it like this. A decade into the 21st century, it has never been clearer that not letting yesterday’s institutions, products, services, “business models,” roles, tasks, assumptions, and beliefs fail — that our endemic, systemic failure to fail — is a titanic roadblock standing in the way of a more authentic, enduring prosperity.
The future’s not predicted — it’s created. So create it. Fail bigger cheaper.
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Umair Haque is Director of the Havas Media Lab and author of The New Capitalist Manifesto: Building a Disruptively Better Business. He also founded Bubblegeneration, an agenda-setting advisory boutique that shaped strategies across media and consumer industries. To check out more blog posts by Umair Haque, please click here.
“Mirror, mirror on the wall….”
Note: One of my passions in life is to help promote and (yes) celebrate business books that are “classics,” deserving far more attention than they currently receive. That is certainly true of StrengthsFinder 2.0.
You will probably find no head-snapping revelations in this book if you have already read Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman’s First, Break All the Rules and/or Buckingham and Donald O. Clifton’s Now, Discover Your Strengths (especially the latter). Nor does Tom Rath claim to offer any. Rather, this is a new and upgraded edition of the Gallup organization’s previous online test (StrengthsFinder 1.0) that enables those who take it to identify and measure their talents relative to “more than 5,000 new personalized Strengths Insights that we have discovered in recent years.”
In Rath’s two previously published books, How Full Is Your Bucket? co-authored with Donald O. Clifton and Vital Friends, he shares his own reactions to an abundance of research data that reveal the importance of two separate but related forces that have profound impact on the workplace: getting strengths in alignment with work to be done and then developing them even more with strategic delegation and close supervision.
What we have in this book, Strengths Finder 2.0, is a wealth of new research material that Rath examines with exceptional precision and uncommon eloquence. I strongly encourage each reader to take full advantage of the self-diagnostic opportunities that both Rath and the Gallup organization generously offer. Of course, once various exercises are completed, a significant challenge remains: to take effective and productive action to apply what has been learned. It is helpful to be aware of what Jeffrey Pfeffer and Robert I. Sutton so aptly characterize as the “knowing-doing” and “doing-knowing” gaps. It is also helpful to recall Peter Drucker’s observation more than 40 years ago: “There is surely nothing quite so useless as doing with great efficiency what should not be done at all.”
Presumably Rath agrees that, more often than not, the Yoda is right: “Do or do not. There is no try.”
Yes, You Can Make Performance Reviews Worthwhile
….and less odious for all parties. The key is to concentrate first and foremost on employees’ strengths.
Here is an excerpt from an article written by Rick Wartzman for Bloomberg Businessweek magazine’s “The Drucker Difference” series (April 8, 2011). To read the complete article, check out other resources, and obtain subscription information, please click here.
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A few weeks ago, the head of the federal Office of Personnel Management took on what for many people is the bane of organizational life: performance reviews.
When it comes to setting employee standards, giving appraisals, and rating and compensating people, the processes now in place across the government “have dehumanized management to a degree that we can no longer ignore,” the office’s director, John Berry, declared in a speech delivered at a major interagency conference.
Peter Drucker saw this problem long ago, and not just in the public sector. “For a superior to focus on weakness, as our appraisals require him to do, destroys the integrity of his relationship with his subordinates,” Drucker wrote in his 1967 classic The Effective Executive.
For Drucker, in fact, assessing an employee’s performance should always begin with someone’s strengths, not with his or her weaknesses—an emphasis picked up decades later by Marcus Buckingham, Gallup’s Tom Rath, and others. “The effective executive makes strength productive,” Drucker asserted. “He knows that one cannot build on weakness.”
And yet most traditional appraisal systems, Drucker explained, are based on the work of clinical psychologists. “The clinician is a therapist trained to heal the sick,” Drucker noted. “He is legitimately concerned with what is wrong, rather than what is right, with the patient.”
Behind the Murky Vail
This week’s threat of a government shutdown aside, the federal performance-management system is full of idiosyncrasies, including a civil service bureaucracy that largely rewards longevity in a job. Most companies don’t have to deal with such strictures or the messy politics often associated with them. But one frustration common to many enterprises—whether a business, government operation, or nonprofit—is the lack of transparency and consistency that people sense when they are evaluated.
“For many employees, performance standards are too unclear and subjective,” Berry said. “And then you don’t fully know what’s expected of you or how you’re doing.” Among the reforms Berry is calling for the government to implement are detailed yardsticks that are “objective, aligned to agency mission and goals,” and have true “employee buy-in.”
Drucker certainly would have agreed with this approach. “One can measure the performance of a man only against specific performance expectations,” he wrote, adding that the best kind of review begins with a statement of the key contributions expected from the employee, along with a record of how he or she has fulfilled these particular goals.
A Series of Questions
But Drucker didn’t stop there. After analyzing how the worker has (or hasn’t) met these objectives, the ideal appraisal in Drucker’s eyes would ask a handful of questions, the first three of which would zero in on an individual’s strengths: What has he or she done well? What, therefore, is he or she likely to do well in the future? What new knowledge or skills must he or she acquire in order to coax the full benefit from his or her strengths?
It is only the next set of questions that veers in a different direction: If I had a son or daughter, would I be willing to have him or her work under or alongside this person? If yes, why? If no, why not?
That’s the entire form, top to bottom. “This appraisal actually takes a much more critical look … than the usual procedure does,” Drucker wrote. But it concentrates on what people naturally do well and should do even more of. At the same time, it positions weaknesses so they are “seen as limitations to the full use” of an employee’s talents, not as deficiencies that one needs to obsess over.
For all of his attention on the positive over the negative, Drucker was no softie regarding staff. He believed that employers should make every job as “demanding and big” as possible. That’s because it’s only when jobs challenge people that their full strengths emerge, he said. And only if there’s scope will “any strength that is relevant to the task … produce significant results.”
[To read the complete article, check out other resources, and obtain subscription information, please click here.]
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Rick Wartzman is executive director of the Drucker Institute at Claremont Graduate University. He spent the first 20 years of his career as a reporter, editor, and columnist for The Wall Street Journal and Los Angeles Times. His most recent book, Obscene in the Extreme: The Burning and Banning of John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath, was published by PublicAffairs in September 2008.
I am grateful to Marcus Buckingham for calling my attention to Bob Woodcock and the material he posts at his website.
Here is an excerpt from a recent and excellent article that suggests the quality of Woodcock’s reasoning and writing skills, posted on January 21, 2011.
To read the complete article, check out others, and sign up for email alerts, please click here.
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According to author Daniel Pink traditional management methods are great if what you want from your people is compliance. The problem is that most of us in leadership roles require far more than that in the new normal that exists in these post recessionary times. Without a committed and engaged workforce our ability to create sustainable business outcomes is severely challenged.
Pink has done some ground breaking work in identifying the true drivers of better performance in the workplace. It turns out that for simple, straight forward tasks the carrot and the stick work well as motivators. For roles that require algorithmic performance, the concept of “if you do this, then you get that” works as a performance motivator. However, if the task gets more complicated – when it requires some conceptual, creative thinking – those kinds of motivators don’t work. We’ve known for years that money is not the primary motivator of successful business outcomes. Science has shown us that performance, and personal satisfaction, come down to three factors:
Autonomy is our desire to be self-directed, to run our own lives. This is where traditional management methods actually get in the way of performance. In their book First Break All The Rules: What the World’s Greatest Managers Do Differently, Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman identified the differences between what great managers do and what conventional wisdom dictates. Their findings indicated that without fail the managers that concentrated on following had significantly better results than their contemporaries:
• Selecting for talent.
• Set expectations by defining the right outcomes.
• Motivate by focusing on an individual’s strengths.
• Develop the people on their team by helping them find the right fit within the organization.
Defining the right outcomes and focusing on the individual strengths of the members of your team will have a dramatic effect on the sense of autonomy that you engender. Traditional management focuses on setting expectations by defining the right steps for your direct reports. Regardless of what your leadership role is within the organization (leader of others vs. leader of leaders) when you establish what the target or goal is with one of your direct reports and allow them to determine the right steps to success are you provide them with the autonomy that drives both personal satisfaction and improved performance.
The shift from being an individual contributor within the organization to being a leader of others is a difficult one to make. Most of us that have made that transition didn’t get much in the way of training for our new role. We know what has worked well for us in the past and when it comes to crunch time we reach back to those experiences and apply them with our direct reports. Unfortunately much of what we did as an individual contributor has a negative impact when it comes to managing for results with others.
There are some simple steps you can take to ensure that you cultivate a true sense of autonomy with your direct reports. It is important to remember that autonomy and accountability go hand in hand. Allowing your direct reports to determine what the right steps are doesn’t mean that you will be abdicating your responsibility as a manager to ensure that targets are met and successful business outcomes are delivered. It is imperative to the success of your direct reports that you have frequent check-in conversations and that you both monitor the progress to the end result. That doesn’t mean that you should look for a status update every time you talk with the person. Establish a schedule of follow-up meetings and stick with the schedule.
It’s been said that good people don’t leave the organization they work for, they leave due to a misalignment with their manager. That’s often driven by the fact that their manager has been determined to motivate them by identifying and overcoming what s/he perceives to be their weaknesses. The fact is that people don’t change that much. As a manager you are wasting your time trying to put in what you feel was left out. Focus instead on the individual strengths and try to draw out more of what was left in.
Strength based coaching plays directly to mastery. Each of us would like to get better at what we do. I don’t believe that anyone I’ve ever managed got up in the morning and started the day thinking about how they wanted to go to work and do the worst possible job they could. It was only when I began to understand behaviour that I could see how my actions were impacting both the personal satisfaction and individual performance of my direct reports. Once I was able to apply the science of behaviour and truly understand what the motivational drives and needs were for the various people I began to see the shift from compliance to commitment.
It truly is your choice to make. I can speak from experience on both sides of the issue and I have to say that I much preferred commitment from my direct reports. Your role as a leader of a group of individual contributors puts you in the driver’s seat when it comes to the level of engagement within your organization. In most cases this group of managers is directly responsible for the business outcomes of 70% to 80% of the workforce. Give them autonomy, mastery and purpose and watch them shine. Have great conversations and focus on developing their strengths. That’s the way to improve performance.
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According to Bob Woodcock, “My role is to help companies manage their talent and improve profitability by better understanding, motivating and developing their people. It’s a combination of “gut” plus science creating better, more informed decisions. I do this by training leaders to align the capacities of their people with the organizations business objectives.”
For more information please visit www.thepulsecheck.com.
Why and how to manage yourself so that you can then manage others effectively
This volume is one of several in a new series of anthologies of articles that initially appeared in the Harvard Business Review, in this instance from 1980 until 2005. Remarkably, none seems dated; on the contrary, if anything, all seem more relevant now than ever before as their authors discuss what are (literally) essential dimensions of managing one’s self as well as others.
More specifically, how to get results, motivate employees, avoid or overcome the “Set-Up-to-Fail Syndrome,” save rookie managers from themselves, understand what great managers do, use fair process to manage in the knowledge economy, teach smart people how to learn, determine how ethical (or unethical) someone is, understand what “the discipline of a team” is and does, and finally, how to manage one’s boss (i.e. lead up).
Each article includes two invaluable reader-friendly devices, “Idea in Brief” and “Idea in Practice” sections, that facilitate, indeed expedite review of key points. Some articles also include mini-essays on even more specific subjects such as “Growing Your Emotional Intelligence” (Daniel Goleman), “The Elusive One Thing” (Marcus Buckingham), “Making Sense of Irrational Behavior at VW and Siemans-Nixdorf” and “Fair Process Is Critical in Knowledge Work” (W. Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne), “Are You Biased?” (Mahzarin R. Banaji, Max H. Bazerman, and Dolly Chugh), and ”Building Team Performance” (Jon Katzenbach and Douglas K. Smith).
These ten articles do not – because they obviously cannot – explain everything that one wishes to know and understand about managing one’s self as well as others effectively. However, I do not know of another single source at this price (currently $14.13 from Amazon) that provides more and better information, insights, and advice that will help leaders to achieve success in the business dimensions examined in this volume.
There are several reasons why I think this is one of the most important business books I have read in recent years. Here are three. First, it is the best single-source I have as yet encountered which prescribes and explains a cohesive program by which to create growth and high performance in an organization. Also, this program allows for all manner of adjustments and modifications to accommodate the specific, sometimes unique needs and interests of any organization. Finally, it is extraordinarily well-written. In fact, this edition combines two books in one volume because the original version has since been expanded to include “The RCL’s Handbook for Action.”
To gather the information they needed, Katzenbach and his associates at McKinsey & Company (the “RCL Team”) examined more than 30 different change situations and interviewed more than 150 change leaders. In the Introduction, they discuss seven common characteristics among the RCLs and then cite three shared beliefs:
1. “Tough standards of performance, but not just financial performance; customer value and workforce rewards are important as well.
2. “A set of democratic principles that tap the creative power inherent in every person; but they also enforce consequence management, believing they can truly empower people only by requiring results in return.
3. “The essence of self-governance is joint accountability (among leaders and constituents alike) for creating new opportunity; the basic approach is open dialogue and interaction to resolve conflicts by working to obtain the best contributions from multiple points of view.”
The material is organized within three Parts: People-Intensive Change, Engaging the Organization, and Leadership Capacity and Growth. Throughout the book, the reader is provided with immensely informative as well as convenient charts (e.g. “Differences Between `Good Managers’ and RCLs) that feature key points. I have already noted “The Real Change Leader’s Handbook for Action” (pages 341-391 in the softbound edition) which, in effect, gives each reader a template as well as a frame-of-reference to implement whichever combination of concepts, strategies, and tactics is most appropriate. The “Handbook” offers comments, suggestions, checklists and frameworks “for getting started in areas where change leadership help is needed.”
For me, one of the book’s greatest values is derived from its response to the question, “What distinguishes a real change leader from traditional managers?” The answer may in some ways surprise you, as it did me. For example, “Real change leaders do not care if the change effort is fast or slow, empowered or controlled, one-time or recurring, cultural or engineered — or all of the above. They only care that it is people-intensive, and performance oriented…. Simply put, real change leaders learn how to survive and win in the delta state, while traditional managers can only survive in the current state or the future state.” The real change leader is committed to delivering results beyond the bottom line and instilling a working vision in the hearts and minds of associates while doing whatever is the right thing to do. They help others to perform above expectations (especially their own), constantly nourishing relations with customers while developing and applying the skills needed to remain flexible. Over time, they achieve results with a no-excuses mindset.
If you share my high regard for this book, I urge you to check out James O’Toole’s Leading Change and Gary Hamel’s Leading the Revolution as well as Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman’s First, Break All the Rules.
Cheryl offers: I began to wonder as each Olympic athlete stepped to the podium to be awarded their medal if they were using just a few bouquets of flowers and passing them around between events. They all looked the same! As it turns out, my friend in Canada, Lyn Kyneston, solved the mystery for me. Each bouquet of green spider mums with hypericum berries surrounded by leather-leaf fern, monkey grass, and aspidistra leaves, was made by Just Beginning Flowers in Surrey, B.C. This florist is much more than a florist; they are also a non-profit that teaches people with significant social barriers to be florists, provides them with experience, and then helps them find jobs. The many women who worked on these 1800 bouquets might be recently released from prison, formerly abused or recovering drug addicts. It made me remember what Marcus Buckingham wrote in his book, First Break All the Rules, which in many ways, this florist is doing. He said “Every role performed at excellence deserves respect. Every role has its own nobility.” High five to the Olympic committee that chose this extraordinary florist and bestowed not only medals to athletes, but also bestowed opportunity, confidence, and respect to these women in need.
Buckingham was a Senior Researcher at The Gallup Organization who set out to break through the preconceptions about achievement and get to the core of what drives success. The result of his persistence, and arguably the definitive answer to the strengths question, can be found in Buckingham’s four best-selling books: First, Break All the Rules (co-authored with Curt Coffman, 1999), Now, Discover Your Strengths (co-authored with Donald O. Clifton in 2001), The One Thing You Need to Know (2005), and Go Put Your Strengths to Work: 6 Powerful Steps to Achieve Outstanding Performance (2007) in which Buckingham shares important insights with regard to maximizing strengths, understanding the crucial differences between leadership and management, and fulfilling the quest for long-lasting personal success.
Here is a brief excerpt from my interview of Buckingham.
Morris: How can an organization’s strengths and weaknesses be accurately measured?
Buckingham: There are several ways. In First, Break All the Rules, Curt and I offer a set of 12 quite specific questions to ask of everyone. Their answers are invariably revealing. For example, they will indicate whether or not they understand what is expected of them, whether or not they feel appreciated, whether or not they consistently receive constructive criticism…all of these are key issues indeed. We also offer several specific techniques for helping people perform better on the job. For instance, how to structure a trial period for a new worker and how to create a pay plan that rewards people for their expertise instead of how fast they climb the company ladder. There is no shortage of mechanisms by which to measure almost anything.
The first step is to recognize what you need to know and why you need to know it. What are the pressing questions? For example, do you have a problem attracting and then retaining the people you need? Do your people have a clear understanding of what is expected of them? Do they understand how their performance will be measured…and rewarded? How well do your people communicate, cooperate, and collaborate with those in other departments? Too many of the organizations I have observed resemble a farm in Kansas. They have lots of fences and silos as well as a storm cellar.
All three books offer lots of measurement suggestions, techniques, and tools. Those who are interested are encouraged to read the books, of course, and invited to visit www.marcusbuckingham.com. Also, I helped to develop with Gallup the StrengthsFinder exam (www.StrengthsFinder.com) which identifies signature themes that help employees quantify their personal strengths in the workplace and at home. That may also be a helpful source of advice on measurement.
If you wish to read the entire Buckingham interview, please click here.
Cheryl Offers: Sara and I were recently speaking to a colleague when we heard “People don’t change. All my thesis research proved it.” Now this person is someone I respect a great deal and admire for their accomplishments. I was shocked to hear this fall out of their mouth – with conviction. I asked a question to ensure I had heard this correctly and the answer confirmed it: people can’t and don’t change. I must admit I don’t believe this for one nanosecond. There is a growing body of research that seems to be in direct contradiction to this idea, starting with Now, Discover Your Strengths by Marcus Buckingham. I first fell in love with the ideas in this book when I read “Each person’s greatest room for growth is in the areas of their greatest strength.” My philosophy has always been that it is a zero sum game. If you focus on doing more of something where you are strong, competent, and resonant as a leader, then you automatically do less of what might not be effective. And I’ve seen people change, including myself. Who wouldn’t want to invest time and energy in being better at something we already love to do? That actually sounds like fun rather than work.
Sara Offers: When I work with leaders I always look for the ones who are willing to change. When those who come out with pronouncements like, “I can’t change – I’m too old” or “I can’t change…they’ll just have to take me the way I am”, I head the other way. Leaders who proudly embrace their inflexibility are not bound for success! I think an unwillingness to tackle change is taking the easy way out…wimp leadership. Unlike our colleague’s belief, people not only CAN change, they MUST. Just ask Marshall Goldsmith. In his book, What Got You Here Won’t Get You There, he maintains that the very skills that got leaders up the company ladder will sabotage them if they don’t change by developing new skills. Think about it. A great seller is promoted to being a sales manager. Being a great seller will get in the way because the manager’s job is to develop and motivate others to become great…not revel in their own past greatness. Can’t change? Nonsense! People can change. They do change. Change is growth.