Do You Moneyball?

I recently saw Moneyball for the first time on a flight and was jumping out of my seat. There are so many clips in the movie that parallel how OD & Talent processes can enable performance. My favorites:

1. GM, Billy Beane confronts his scouts about the subjective discussion of perspective talent – “…you’re just talking…”
2. Near the end of film, the Owner of the Red Sox invites Billy to Boston. Over coffee, there’s a brilliant series of lines where he say’s to Billy that anyone that’s not using his system the following year is a dinosaur.

I’d love to (plan to) use these clips in a session with leadership to frame up the talent system improvements that most organizations are working to implement. I knew immediately that I wanted to write on the topic, but David Almeda beat me to it with his post Hitting a Home Run in Talent Management: The Value of HR Analytics. The key point to me is somewhat buried in the middle – “Doing this work effectively requires an understanding of the organization’s value chain: How does the workforce help the organization make or save money? It also requires a clear understanding of the company’s future strategy” (or in how we will make or save money in the future). This same thinking applies to organizations with a purpose other than making money as well.

Baseball games are won when your team has more runs than your opponent. In Moneyball, they show how the Oakland Athletics moved from static score watching and individual performance analysis to analysis of the dynamic process of run creation and then systematically build a team, as closely as possible – given present constraints, around effectively performing this process of run creation.

How do you and your organization win? Do you view it as static through lag measures and a “great man or woman” profile for talent? Or, do you manage and enable performance in those things that actually build performance with individuals positioned in area of strength to “get on base” to enable the organization to score?

Five Questions to Reflect

Build reflection into your processes to increase learning and improvement. Use these simple questions to facilitate an actionable planning session:

What is my (our) role and purpose?

What am I (are we) doing well that should continue or even do more of?

What am I (are we) doing that requires improvement?

What should I (we) start doing?

What should I (we) stop doing?

Expected results:

  • everyone learns something
  • innovative ideas are developed as people play off each others contribution (aka Catchball)
  • plans are better aligned
  • the team is more engaged in and committed to the plans that are made (and question the leaders’ awareness of what’s really going on much less)

Some Practical tips, should you try it:

  1. The goal is learning – the tone should be set by the leader. Prime the group with an idea of your own for each of the questions. Express your value for the activity and the good you expect to come from it. Praise some things that others are doing well, point out something under your own control you recognize needs improvement, an opportunity you’d like to see the group capitalize on, etc. Some of the leaders I’ve helped thought it was best to leave the team to work on the exercise and then return after 90 – 120 minutes to discuss their ideas.
  2. As a facilitator, I find it works well to project a document for recording notes and summarizing key points for each question. The participants reading the idea seems to stimulate more questions, clarification and conversation as they see the ideas summarized.
  3. End the session with a recap and summary of the key points and any agreements made. I have found it effective to ask members of the team to lead this.

More broadly, discussions with the word “review” in the title (also, debriefs) should honor this same reflective intent. The idea – there are lessons here that should guide our future plans and actions. Don’t limit your conversation to only the misses and opportunities. Ask, why are we experiencing the success we are having and how do we make sure it continues?

Come on down

“Being charismatic and wrong is a really bad combination.” – Jim Collins

This post is about questions. There aren’t enough questions being asked and those that are asked are often really statements disguised as questions. I don’t hear (or say) “I don’t know” or “I’m not sure” nearly enough. Answers and solutions are praise worthy; questions to ensure a problem is defined, not so much. I’ll share a few different ideas related to questioning in posts to come.

A lesson I learned from Jim Tull has really influenced how I think about learning, persuasion and influence. Jim presented Argyris‘s Ladder of Inference as a way to model situations where you’re trying to reach agreement. Imagine an issue you have very strong beliefs and opinions about. If you apply the Ladder of Inference to your situation, when it comes to this topic, you are at the top of your ladder. You act based on these beliefs and you feel good about it. You’re living your values. Then, you’re confronted with a person or situation that challenges your “position” on the issue. They’re on the top of another ladder. To reach agreement – which yields benefit you want – you need to get on the same ladder. So if an agreement is to be reached, either someone’s changing ladders or you’re both going to move to a third ladder. Otherwise, no agreement. So how do you go about this process of determining who’s switching ladders, where to build a shared ladder, or deciding that your position is more valuable than the benefit?

Questions of Inquiry vs. Questions of Advocacy

It turns out that most people try to accomplish this challenge from the top of their ladder – using advocacy – the equivalent of suggesting the person leap from the top of their ladder to the right ladder, your ladder. Advocacy develops a position (or moves up the ladder) and consequently, strengthens the attachment of other parties to their position(s). The skill is to go down the ladder – using inquiry. Inquiry is based in questions about what others believe to move down the ladder. This is not a new obscure idea. Stephen Covey has popularized the principle (Habit 5) “Seek first to understand and then to be understood.” Once you’re down your ladder, you can learn and understand their “data,” interest, rationale, etc. and also review your own. Without inquiry, we cannot empathize. Without feeling understood, you are much less likely to find mutual purpose. And, without mutual purpose, you’re not likely to reach an agreement or solution. If we have no agreement on the problem (shared purpose), we will most likely not agree on the solution (shared benefit).

Curiosity of how others form their positions and how their interests are served by maintaining these positions is undervalued and underutilized. It really doesn’t follow the social order, making it that much more powerful and differentiating for the skilled. Why is inquiry not practiced more? Perhaps:

1. an attempt to appear confident and of strong conviction in your position due to fear of being taken advantage of or belief that seeking to understand will bring you to a less powerful position (fear or lack of confidence)

2. seeing situations at hand as zero-sum (bad logic or bad motive)

3. lack the skill to explore your and others’ positions and seek mutual benefit (ignorance)

Being interested is often more persuasive than being interesting. When someone truly feels that you understand them, yet still do not draw the same conclusions and agree with them, the natural response is curiosity. What additional information do you have? How are you ending up somewhere else? This is the time for advocacy. You are now serving their need and not your own. You don’t concede your position (or values / beliefs) by working to understand others’ positions and how they arrived at them. You can always climb back up. Though, be forewarned, you may learn something that will cause you to choose not to.

Additional Reference:

http://www.solonline.org/pra/tool/inquiry.html

http://www.amazon.com/Getting-Yes-Negotiating-Agreement-Without/dp/0140157352/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1240334060&sr=1-1

http://www.amazon.com/Difficult-Conversations-Discuss-what-Matters/dp/014028852X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1240334517&sr=1-1

TPOV: Good News Fast, Bad News Faster

Today, I was reminded of an impacting Teachable Point of View (TPOV) from Mike Wells, CEO of Wells Enterprises – makers of the worlds best, Bluebunny, ice cream. When introducing the company’s updated “Fundamentals,” Mike communicated a principle for communication that resonated with me immediately as one that I share, support and advocate. I read it on the handout provided at the all employee meeting I attended as he said the words, “Good News Fast, Bad News Faster.” I can’t remember the words he used. I left knowing that he meant the organization believes in recognizing, celebrating and rewarding success, but it also depends on each person to confront reality and make problems visible to allow the team to provide support, problem solve, and act accordingly. It agrees completely with a couple of ideas I regularly express to my teams and colleagues:

1. never, EVER, hide a problem

2. If I have to take a hit now or later, I’ll take it now

An example: A high performing consultant from my team sent an email to a group of managers with an excel spreadsheet as an attachment that he learned minutes after sending was a pivot table that contained confidential information. He immediately called my cell phone and told me directly what happened and who it went to. I then called my boss and IT. Within about 10 minutes we had surgically removed and destroyed the message and attachment from each recipient’s mailbox, identified who had opened the email and whether a copy had been saved locally, and replaced the message with an attachment including only the information intended to be sent. The next day, I took the opportunity to recognize the employee that made the mistake for modeling our values. His response – “I made the mistake and wanted to make sure you (me) weren’t surprised and that we got it fixed before it got out of control.”

We will make mistakes. We will form imperfect plans and then imperfectly execute them. It is certain. This does not and should not limit our drive for excellence, even as Toyota states it in their Lexus brand – the pursuit of perfection. If you are a purpose driven person that acts on ideals, you are pursuing an asymptote. This principle that tells employees bad new faster is an expectation that is liberating. Do not play not to lose. Do not waste valuable time and resources hiding information and strategizing how to skirt ownership or place blame because you are afraid to share what is now reality with your team. The message is also clear that when bad news is presented to you, don’t punish the informant to teach them to fear making mistakes and keep them far from you.

Though not common, I’ve witnessed great individuals, relationships and teams that are truly safe and open. When something happens, there is little or no inhibition to discuss it. It may be a lucrative opportunity, a total disruption to the status quo, or a threatening mistake made by the team. They are able to lay the issue out, walk around it and look at it from various points of view and assess:

  • is this real?
  • what is happening here? how does it work? how did it happen?
  • what does it mean to us? who does it impact?
  • is there a lesson to be learned? is there a weaknesses that is revealed?
  • is there an opportunity to exploit?
  • what will we do?

The environment is engaging with heightened arousal in focus and curiosity. There is ownership and accountability. There’s no burying your head in the sand and hoping it will go away. Run to the issue. Assess what it is, does and means. Own it. Move forward.

This TPOV creates competitive advantage and is a fundamental to a learning organization. It takes what most organizations fear and run from – their richest lessons – and uses them as fuel for success and growth for talent and the organization.

4 Stages of Contribution

A common area of opportunity to help many of the technically brilliant people I enjoy working with – scientists, engineers, supply chain experts, even financiers – is career development.  These colleagues become frustrated with their perceived inability to engineer and control career advancement when transitioning beyond individual contributor roles where relationships, interest-based negotiation and influence skills become important to get results. In my experience, this results in a presenting problem like (generalized examples):

Career paths are not established and communicated clearly enough…

The organization doesn’t value the technical skills that create value here…just look at who gets promoted…

There doesn’t seem to be any opportunity for me in this organization…

each of which may be true. The problem with these beliefs is that they are totally passive and the expectation is to fix “them” or change how “they” do things. These are difficult expectations to fulfill. However, there is a change that each person can make that is totally under our control and with a much higher probability for success.

A model that I have found helpful is Novations’ 4 Stages of Contribution. I first saw this model in a conference session jointly presented by one of Novations’ consultants and a learning & development manager from Intel. It has influenced the career development processes and tools I have designed and implemented. Since the model focuses on the contribution or performance of an individual rather than position, it integrates well with strengths-based approaches, which I advocate.

Careers are moving from position focus to contribution focus to increase impact and influence. Flatter organizations and critical individual contributor talents need not mean career ceilings. High-performance is achieved by aligning talent with opportunities to deliver greater contribution in-position, laterally, through advancement, or in a role that’s currently undefined. In fact, it is this ability to mine the greater contribution that can be made from each role that truly differentiates top talent and their organizations from the status quo.

Measures that Lead

James Slavet’s recent post Five New Management Metrics You Need To Know at Forbes is excellent. It presents five examples of lead measures (he calles them inputs) that organizations are using to drive performance. I call them lead measures because I first learned the concept of how important it is to have both lead and lag measures identified was in a presentation DDI President Bob Rogers delivered after the release of his excellent book, Realizing the Promise of Performance Management. His presentation was simple and impacting – effective strategists and leaders are looking forward, planning and developing capabilities that will cause the outcomes sought. In contrast, many more often see the situation where the person in charge reminds us of the budget targets that were given, where we are for the past month, YTD and YOY…followed by praise, reward, threats and consequences; quite Pavlovian. Imagine watching a baseball or football game where the commentary and coach interviews revolve only around the number of runs / points each team had scored…no on-base percentage, yards-per-carry, time of possession, defense formations, etc. It would be moronic. There are important outcomes and status towards those outcomes that are important to measure and review, but the real work is done when performers are aligned with actions that will cause success and measures of these drivers are identified, implemented and tracked to create change.

This Post provides a couple of nice examples. My favorite analogy is likening lead measures to the arrows on a bowling lane (and this video cracks me up).

Lead measures focus talent on behaviors that will cause success. So why aren’t they more effectively used? I believe it’s fundamentally cultural. It’s difficult to choose and use the right lead measures if you’re not in the business. As a leader, with all the related demands, you’re not spending time at the process level where value is created unless you make it a priority because you see it as your role to serve the processes and those that execute them. The best I’ve witnessed are from leaders that practice and value gemba walks. With a balanced set of lead and lag measures not only will outcomes improve, but you’ll know why. You will likely even be able to foresee opportunities and threats much earlier while there’s time to mitigate, reduce losses and capitalize on opportunities.

Learning = Change

It isn’t obvious that learning and change are synonymous; learning = change is apparent to very few. Helping more leaders and their staff to realize this paradigm will yield great benefit. We will be more agile, effective and competitive. Most of the people I interact with pursue learning activity without a clear outcome in mind. Similarly, when changes are made, how the change impacts stakeholders in a legitimate cause and effect sort of way (i.e., what will people need to start / stop / do differently as a result of this change) is an afterthought. Worse is that the necessary investment of time and resources to learn to perform in a new state are underestimated, resisted, and short-cuts are attempted.

Three useful lines of questioning that have served me well in helping people begin to plan personal and group-level change are:

1. What will you (we, they) know, do and / or value different if this (intervention) is a huge success? By when? Why are these changes and timing important?

2. When we’re meeting six months from now and you’re explaining how elated you are with the outcomes of the work we’ve done together and the changes that have been made, what will be different? Why are these changes and timing important?

3. Who will need to change? What will they change from and to? What is our interest in making this change? How will making this change benefit them (from their perspective)? Why would they resist making the change desired?

We’re creatures of habit but we are motivated to serve our own interests. Until it is clear in the mind of an individual what to change, it’s unlikely we will deviate from our norms. We’re much more likely to work to maintain stasis. With defined outcomes and interests for change defined, we can involve stakeholders, build an impact map and allow learning and transition as needed to realize our desired future state.