Dr. Michael Walsh is an industrial and organizational psychologist, author, professor and leader of human resources and people analytics. In this Work Arts Interview, he shares some of the foundational ideas of his 2021 book, HR Analytics Essentials You Always Wanted To Know, discusses how changes in work are impacting organizations and their HR professionals’ efforts to build healthy communities that retain talent, and leaves us with practical steps we can take to make better decisions.
Michael currently leads Global Talent Management and Organizational Effectiveness for Eaton Corporation’s Vehicle Group. He also teaches graduate students at the University of Illinois and Wayne State University. Previously, Michael started and led the Global People Strategy and Analytics function at Bloomberg and the People Analytics and Insights Function at Fiat Chrysler Automobiles. Michael began his professional career as a client facing consultant for Mercer’s Human Capital practice focused on HR Strategy, Organizational Design/Development and Human Capital Analytics. He worked for Mercer in Chicago, Dubai and New York.
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For many of us, being invited to contribute more broadly to leading a business, at times beyond our domain expertise, is the greatest compliment we can receive in our work. I lead a global function within an organization and contribute to several cross-functional leadership teams that manage the business. I work with a team of others that do the same – lead a part and contribute to the whole. What this typically equates to is that in a given 2-hour team meeting, 10 minutes will be planned for review of the KPIs, updates and decisions that need to be taken for my part. It is important to be well prepared to effectively manage your part of the agenda, but it’s been my experience that this time is usually cut in half through the normal course of the meeting. Or, if you’re allocated more time, it’s not because it’s going really well. The most effective colleagues I have worked with over the years adapt to accomplish their objectives AND actively contribute to the rest of the meeting.
Being able to accomplish your objectives in this normal course of business should be anticipated and is a team member’s responsibility. If it’s our meeting then we are accountable for the whole agenda. How we engage in the rest of the meeting can be analogous to how we operate within the organization. We can just show up, we can only focus on our tasks and lament when our agenda isn’t granted priority over others, or we can view ourselves as a member of the team accountable for the whole agenda and make a difference in the rest of the meeting. Having the perspective and preparation to succeed in the rest of the meeting can be developed in both process and content.
To be effective in the process, we have to develop our perspective and skills. Our perspective (i.e., attitudes or paradigm) on the team, our role on the team and our individual and shared objectives informs what we endeavor to do. We also have to be skilled in our preparation and interactions to show up on the job beyond intentions.
Here are a few resources I’ve found helpful:
4+2 Model – How HR leaders earn the invitation to operate centrally within their leadership teams to engage and enable their leaders to capably drive the talent agenda. 4+2 Model presentation from the Talent Management Institute at UNC
As we learn the various facets of the work of the team and the relationships and dependencies that exist between them, the content (i.e., business acumen) of the team’s work can be the most daunting gap to bridge. When transitioning to a new role, the content is new and you will have a lot of questions. One example to illustrate this is in how a company manages finished goods inventory. In order to contribute to the rest of the meeting for a team that has to manage finished goods inventory effectively, the questions you have to understand include:
Why is it important? What happens if we have too much? What happens if we have too little?
Where does it come from? Is it sourced or made internally? What are the lead-times to receive more? What is the capacity of the supplying producer?
What causes or triggers it to be sourced?
How do we pay for it? How do we get paid for it?
If we have too much and need to reduce, do we have the right commercial team to increase consumption and what does that do to our production workforce and for how long?
If we have too little, do we have the right talent in the right quantity to ramp up?
Beyond the perspective and skills to effectively contribute to the rest of the meeting, we need to understand the content of the meeting. Curiosity is the key. Do not believe enduring ignorance will go unnoticed. By noting what you do not understand to research and seek mentoring from your colleagues to better understand their part of the business, you can both improve your knowledge and build your relationships.
It’s a choice. You can fixate on your part of the agenda and hope the space you’re given fulfills your expectations or you can take accountability to contribute to the rest of the meeting and make a difference.
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:
Talent – what you are good (even great) at.
Passion – what you like and want to contribute; what you want to be good at.
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?
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?
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.