Thursday, January 29, 2009

I Want to Work for Diddy

I dislike most reality TV but I found myself getting pulled into 'I Want to Work for Diddy' because of its unexpected insight into HR topics. The basic premise is that they pull a bunch of people together who admit they don't want to do any real work and one token achiever, then give them annoying and impossible tasks to perform as a team. People get voted off until one finally gets to work for Diddy.

I was watching this at the gym the other day and found myself in complete sympathy with the overbearing team lead, who was also the only one on the team who was capable of getting anything done. She was also pretty open and obnoxious in her critique of the other people on the team but then again, they really weren't very good.

When it came time to vote someone off, the team voted unanimously against her because they didn't like her.

At first I thought this was kind of dumb because without her the others didn't stand a chance of buying a pack of cigarettes for Diddy and coming back with the correct change but then I thought about it a bit more carefully.

It's clear that their decision to vote her off the team was an emotional one, which is a good reminder to all of us that even if you think you're better than everyone else, you shouldn't flaunt it.

But there is a subtle logic to voting her off the team that reveals itself if you think about the probable outcome of not voting her off the team: over time it would become more and more apparent that she was the one getting the work done. Her competence actually represented a threat to the collective, which protected its members from being negatively singled out with its uniform incompetence.

My respect for the dum-dums rose when I realized this.

What can managers learn from this, besides 'don't be a jerk or people won't work for you'?

Don't expect people to make decisions that promote the greater good of their employer if it conflicts with their own greater good. Smart companies bring everyone's greater good into alignment.

That, my friends, is talent management.

Diddy apparently realized this as well, because his factotum (a hard-faced girl who used to be his PA) ended up keeping the competent girl in the running, kicking the worst of the losers off, giving the competent girl a pretty stinging lecture about her unbearable personality and telling the other losers they better straighten up or get lost.

And that, my friends, is performance management.

7 out of 10 Executives say...

A Boston Cosulting Group (BCG) and European Association for Personnel Management (EAPM)survey of 1,350 European executives from 27 countries* identified talent management as one of the most critical challenges facing business today. This isn't hugely suprising because pretty much everyone's jumping on the TM bandwagon in the down economy.

But the results of this executive survey** made me laugh:

82% believe that human capital has an impact on profitability

92% think that human capital has an significant effect on customer satisfaction

72% believe that human capital has an impact on innovation and new product development

These figure imply that up to 28% of executives believe that people have no impact on profitability, customer satisfaction or innovation.

To be fair, for all I know the executives surveyed were in highly-automated, non-R&D industries, which might explain scores under 100%. But generally speaking, the executives of any company that has products, services or customers would be well-advised to acknowledge the value of people.

I mean, no impact on profitability, customer satisfaction, innovation or new product development? Clearly these companies have no difficulty attracting creative, customer-oriented, workaholic people....

Where can I apply??

* The Future of HR: Key Challenges Through 2015.
**I came across these figures in a pretty good Taleo Research White Paper: 'Talent Management in a Down Economy.'

Monday, January 5, 2009

What makes a good manager?

Lots of people have weighed in on this question and after years of painstaking research I found a list of manager qualities I like here. And in case this site moves or vanishes, here's the summarized list from Jan Gordon, Executive Career and Personal Coach, with my comments:

Creativity – capture people’s attention and pull different elements and players together into a cohesive whole
Structure – work within structure without getting bogged down by it
Intuition – make good decisions on a gut level and relate to people
Knowledge – hallelujah, understand what your team is doing
Commitment – be there for your team and your project, moving everyone forward to the end result
Being human – connect with people if you want them to relate to you as a person
Versatility – be open to change
Lightness – exactly, get over yourself and have some fun
Discipline – focus on first things first instead of being all over the map, which keeps people and projects on track
Big Picture, Small Actions – be good at both, don't just sit back in your chair with a big vision while others do all the work and don't get so bogged down in details that you lose sight of the end game

I would add to this list being an advocate for the people who work for you.

Not all of these qualities can be learned but most can be built upon if there’s a will and a spark to work with.

I would particularly like to highlight ‘intuition’, because in my experience this is the one thing that really makes or breaks a manager. The other stuff’s important too, i.e., no one wants to work for an ignorant, inflexible hothead with no sense of humor, but intuition is where you live. This is where you draw your line in the sand and say, ‘This is the right thing to do.’ And having good intuition means that it really is the right thing to do, not just some crazy scheme of your own. We all know managers who consistently fail to pick the right advisors, fail to pick the right solution, fail to foresee fairly obvious problems, fail to realize that one message resonates more than another, or that one problem is more important than another, and it all comes down to intuition.

We also probably know managers who don’t do some of the other items in the list that well but seem to have a knack for making good decisions.

Who do you prefer to work for?

Intuition is one part experience, one part listening and one part gut instinct. The first two can be learned but a manager with poor instincts will either constantly make poor decisions or constantly fail to make any decisions because he or she can’t decide whose advice to follow.

Instinct is also essential for avoiding problems. Current thinking tends to praise ‘reactive management’, or the ability to react to problems decisively, phlegmatically and innovatively. Reactive managers are able to drill into the root cause of a problem and calmly implement solutions to solve it. Many reactive managers actually enjoy the thrill of the burning deck around them and feel that they are in their element, adding value and saving the company from the jaws of disaster with their inspired leadership.

Despite this somewhat dramatic language, I don’t want to imply that this is a bad thing because problems certainly arise and it’s always helpful when the people at the helm have crisis solving skills. But far too little attention seems to be paid, at least in American corporate culture, to ‘predictive management’, or the ability to foresee and avoid crises in the first place. Predictive managers avoid the trap of chasing their own tales and, to borrow a hockey phrase, skate to where the puck is going to be rather than where it is right now.*

Is it more expensive to avoid a problem or fix a problem?

This is actually a trick question because sometimes waiting may be the cheaper option, but generally speaking it isn’t.

*The good news is that predictive management can be learned with practice. It's often a matter of applying the problem solving skills you already have about six months earlier.

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