There’s no such thing as a great company

There are great teams and not so great teams. The best companies are networks of great teams. When you look at organizations, there is a huge range in performance team by team by team. There are differences within high performing teams compared with underperforming teams. These differences impact not only business outcomes, but lead measures like the ability to attract and retain talent that create the valued product or service that customers trade money for.

In 1994, a HBR article titled Putting the Service-Profit Chain to Work (J. L. Heskett et al.) introduced a model that is widely referenced and used. This year, DDI published their DDI’s 2011 Global Leadership Forecast. In it, they illustrate an adapted version of this value chain based on their huge biannual leadership study. Integrating the two looks something like this:

I do this to illustrate a (simplified) sense of cause and effect. The best companies are made up of great teams. Great teams have high quality leadership that build a uniquely positive work environment / climate. This leadership and context supports team member engagement in work that allows them to contribute their strengths. While the local leader exists within a system – enabled or confined by talent systems and process, as well as the broader management culture – it is the leadership of the local manager that has the greatest impact on the engagement and performance of their team. While leaders are as much a product of this system as they are nodes within it, positive deviants exist and they make the most significant difference. Most team members’ knowledge of and beliefs about the organization are driven by how the organization is presented and exemplified through their local leader’s words and behavior.

Curt Coffman and his partner Kathie Sorensen have taught me a lot about how local managers drive engagement. Most engagement research consists of reporting data collected from a large sample of employees from a broad set of teams and organizations – how do a broad range of factors impact engagement. Coffman’s research surfaced drivers of engagement by finding the correlation between employee responses to questions and team performance. For example, while a question like, “I’m fairly compensated…” is a highly rated hygiene factor that individuals rate as highly influencing their level of discretionary effort and intent to stay, It’s important to everyone regardless of performance level. However the question “My manager really knows me” is rated significantly higher on high performing teams than low performing teams. This research shows that highly engaged teams delivering superior results are different and the key differences are under the control of and most influenced by the local leader.

Despite more than a decade campaign to refocus leaders on achieving greatness through allowing talent to contribute those things they are truly great at, we remain fixated on being “not-bad” by trying to put in what’s not there or improve what we are remedial at. Good is not the opposite of bad. It’s entirely different.

“We all have a vast number of areas in which we have no talent or skill and little chance of becoming even mediocre. In those areas a knowledge workers should not take on work, jobs and assignments. It takes far more energy to improve from incompetence to mediocrity than it takes to improve from first-rate performance to excellence.” ~ Peter F. Drucker

There’s no perfect job. The ideal for most people, when they are asked to describe it, is an enriched and empowered variation of what they are doing now.

SO WHAT?

Glad you asked. Leadership matters. How we feel about our contribution at work matters too. Focusing on these two things will make you and your organization more effective.

Leaders – Focus on leadership drivers of engagement. How would those you lead respond? Ask them?

  • What are the outcomes that you are accountable for?
  • Do you feel that you really know me? Is there anything you’d like to know?
  • Do you see additional opportunities where you could contribute your talents and abilities?
  • What’s the best (most meaningful) recognition you’ve ever received at work?
  • What are you doing when you’re doing what you’re best at?
  • Who was the best manager you’ve ever had? Tell me about what he or she did that you liked so much?
  • How do you feel you best add value to the organization?
  • What are the strongest teams in our organization? Tell me about the strongest team you’ve ever been a member of?
  • When have you grown most professionally in your career?

Each of us must better understand our strengths and use them more. This will serve our personal interests, benefit our organizations and the stakeholders we impact – family, community, etc.

What, in your experience, causes an organization to be seen as great?

Personal Best Performance: Learning from Your Successes

Personal Best Concept
Personal Best Concept

I love to succeed. I love to do things that I’m good at for as many people as possible, providing me plenty of examples (or evidence) that I am successful and high levels of esteem are justified and secure. Building this self-efficacy is both important and constructive to motivation. Individual satisfaction and meaning occur when we are contributing Personal Best Performances.

Applying the Hedgehog Concept (Jim Collins, 2001) to our individual careers yields higher performance and more Personal Bests.

A Personal Best has 3 components:

  1. Talent – what you are good (even great) at.
  2. Passion – what you like and want to contribute; what you want to be good at.
  3. Organizational Value – the contribution needed or opportunity to create value.

I have developed a tool for helping clients identify Personal Bests. I have used this approach with a broad group of customers with favorable results. If you’re a consultant, helping a client through this self-discovery process is impacting. In my experience, clients have valued the exercise and some have used the process with those that they lead. If you’re a leader, using this process with your team members is an effective way to support their development and build a stronger relationship, both supporting higher levels of engagement.

Personal Best Interview

Purpose: The purpose of the Personal Best Interview is to guide your thinking about personal development to help you make your greatest contributions through efforts that are personally meaningful and satisfying.

Directions: Answer the questions below to help you identify high-impact development goals for your personal development and to prepare for development discussions with your Manager, mentor or other coaching resource.

Personal Best Examples: Describe 2 – 3 examples of experiences when you felt most enthusiastic and positive about your work.

For each Personal Best Example above, what about that experience made it such a positive and motivating experience for you?

What are your talents (those things you’re good at and can constructively apply at work)?

What are you passionate about (Those things you are motivated and enthused to do at work)?

What contribution can you make to the organization leveraging your talents in an area of passion?

What do you not want to do? (What would you like to avoid doing? (e.g., relocating, shift changes, roles)

What are your career goals and plans? Do they position you to contribute more personal bests?

Short-Term:

Long-Term:

What do you need to learn, become more skilled at, and experience to make your best contribution to the company and achieve your goals?

  • Focus on WHAT to develop or change rather than HOW at first.
    •  Example – “develop the ability to develop and communicate strategic plans to align your team and achieve objectives” rather than “complete strategic thinking training.”

What barriers or development needs could keep you from making your best contribution and achieving your goals?

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.