Leading the Clevers

Clever people are famous fast. Their impact is more profound and spreads more quickly than ever before. The global economy amplifies their influence.

Being clever isn’t just about being smart. While in many cases your organization’s most clever people may also be on the smarter end of the IQ scale, there are many other components to be on the lookout for. Not only do clever people add value, they seek it out. Clever people are always looking for new and exciting things. They are self-motivated, and this is one of their key differentiators.

What Clevers Want

Clever people need to work in clever environments and, if possible, for a clever boss. They respond to expertise, not hierarchy, and that is something mangers and leaders have to understand. For this reason, your position alone isn’t going to get you anywhere with clever people. In the end, though, this leads to a two-fold benefit to having a Clever-friendly culture – you get innovative and creative thinkers, and your managers must constantly develop themselves in order to keep one step ahead of the Clevers.

Another cultural expectation Clevers have is freedom. At Google, a Clever-haven, their corporate culture has been developed in a way that enables Clevers to spend a percentage of their time working on anything that is of personal interest to them. This freedom fulfills a fundamental need in the Clever and, therefore, results in a greater ability to focus on other corporate driven initiatives.

Leading Clever People

Herding cats may seem like a perfect analogy for Clevers. The immediate picture is a room full of self-absorbed, creative thinkers with high ambition.

As a manager, it may seem virtually impossible to approach them, let alone lead them. However, they, as with all other people, are just that – people, and they need you.

In terms of specifics, the first thing they need is context setting. Clever people may have a great ability to solve a problem, but leaders must be willing to spend time ensuring that the Clevers understand the context in which to solve the problem. In other words, tell them the What and the Why of the problem, let them come up with the How.

Secondly, and probably more importantly, is the fact that Clevers need rewards and recognition for their accomplishments. While they may be self-motivated in terms of picking up the next project, they need the satisfaction of knowing that they impressed you, and that you value their contribution.

Bottom line – take of your Clevers, and they will delight you.

Egonomics

You have no idea how it happened.

One moment, you are on top of it all. The next thing you know, both you and your organization are irrelevant. You have become the organizational equivalent of Latin.

You gather your team together in a desperate effort to figure out what happened. One by one, now that they have nothing to lose, they begin to open up. They tell you your own arrogance and overconfidence led the organization to stray from its path. They tell you that, essentially, you are the reason the organization has fallen over the cliff. They tell you how you ignored the warning signs, how you vetoed their decisions and replaced them with your own. They tell you how your charisma blinded the employee population until it was too late.

They go on and on, and you begin to get the message. You are an egomaniac.

The Fact is trust, candour, and alignment are only a pipe dream in many organizations. Far too often a leader, driven by ego, creates a workplace that is dysfunctional, ineffective and, ultimately, heading down a very destructive path.

The Problem is everyone in these types of organizations is a co-conspirator by allowing this type of behaviour to persist. Nobody questions the logic behind bad decisions, nor are they willing to fight for their own point of view.

The Outcome is many organizations are full of thick-walled silos, unhealthy disputes, and bad decisions based predominantly on subjective grounds.

The Solution is to understand that your organization’s egonomics are out of balance.

Egos and your P&L

It’s amazing there’s any room left for ego in the modern workplace. However, according to recent research, there is still plenty to go around.

  • Over one third of all failed business decisions are driven by ego.
  • Nearly two thirds of executives never explore alternatives, once they make up their mind.
  • 81% of managers push their decisions through by persuasion or edict, and not by the value of their idea.

Ego. It’s there – in fact, it’s everywhere.

They key is knowing it, and then learning how to manage it effectively.

Ego is not totally bad, it does have benefits. It drives ambition, instils confidence, and builds courage. In order to be successful, and ultimately unstoppable, organizations must have a certain amount of ego.

The problem arises when the organization’s ego (which can be driven by a single person in a position of power) gets out of control. When this happens, the organization starts to ignore hard data, distort market realities and make bad decisions.

Is ego in balance in your organization?

The Intersection of Ideas

The “new economy” is a term coined over 15 years ago and yet, despite its monumental impact and importance, it is a business concept and point of view still not very well understood. Almost assuredly, its scope is significantly misunderstood and its essential premise confused and diluted.

Simply put – the rules have changed.

Size and scale no longer matter. The current belief is that ultimate “victory” will go to those who understand that speed, agility and originality are what will create sustainable performance in the 21st century.

The bottom line?

Watch what you watch.

Watch what you measure.

Watch what others are watching and measuring.

Yesterday is gone and will not return. Even large doses of nostalgia will not help your organization thrive or survive. The drivers of business success have changed with the times.

Choose your battle:

  • Share of market – leads to an ever smaller piece of the pie
  • Share of wallet works – so long as there is a wallet to open.

The future of business rests in improving your share of opportunity.

Opportunity to produce new products and services. Opportunity to meet new customers. Opportunity to make mistakes, and fix them. Opportunity to re-invent your organization, always outpacing the competitors.

The key today is to understand the new order – the new economy. To capitalize on a strategy that focuses on increasing your share of opportunity, you must understand that opportunity runs on one type of fuel. Opportunity runs on a single, high-octane, unleaded, rocket fuel.

In the business world this fuel is called – ideas.

We believe too many organizations today are spending far too much time searching in vain for the next “home run” concept or business proposition. They seem single-mindedly obsessed with discovering a new concept that will completely redefine who they are, what they do, and how they do it.

Instead, they should be looking at ideas, and how they might support and augment each other. Author and social observer Frans Johansson suggests there is a much different and more effective way of finding new ideas. His theory is based on the belief that it is two existing concepts or ideas which meet at what he calls an “intersection” that have the tremendous potential to be combined into that elusive breakthrough concept.

The Seeds of Innovation

One can picture a time – back in the early 1800’s, in a small rural town, perhaps in Canada, Australia or India – when a farmer would wake before dawn, and set out to the fields. He would grab a bag of seed and, by the handful, he would toss the seeds onto the land. He would let nature take its course, and hope that enough rain would come and that the seeds would produce enough food for the family, as well as some to sell in the town.

Today, farmers rely on the latest technology. Seeds are planted with precision, accurate to the centimetre. Irrigation allows for just enough water, and the seeds are constantly monitored, fertilized, and cared for. The resulting crop is bountiful, and even surpasses the demand.

When it comes to innovation, unfortunately, many organizations are still acting like primitive farmers, randomly scattering seeds, hoping for anything. This approach often creates a sense of panic for employees who believe the only innovation worthy of praise is a “breakthrough” innovation.

The reality is – breakthrough innovations are one in a million.

Today’s successful organizations, on the other hand, use well thought out and proven methods and processes that have a better chance of yielding top quality ideas, and then they have an ethic of discipline to carry these ideas through to fruition.

Nice Innovation

The situation in far too many organizations today is that somewhere along the line “out-of-the-box” thinking was actually placed in a black box, and moved to a store room in the basement of Head Office. Goofy brainstorming sessions, and too many PR speeches about how the organization must innovate, have reduced innovation to the business jargon equivalent of the word – nice.

The passion is gone.

The excitement is gone.

The organization didn’t take it seriously, and it died.

I read a book several years ago by Elaine Dundon entitled “The Seeds of Innovation” in which she breaks innovation down into 3 types:

Efficiency Innovation – developing new ways of using and improving what already exists

Evolutionary Innovation – developing “new and improved” ideas

Revolutionary Innovation – developing paradigm shifting new ideas

Your organization will be well served if you are able to focus on the efficiency and evolutionary innovations, and take the pressure off the idea of revolutionary innovations.

Confidence in Organizations

Overcoming obstacles, leaping over hurdles, and recovering from fumbles can strengthen a team that has the discipline not to panic under pressure – so says Rosabeth Moss Kanter in her book “Confidence”.

For many of us, there is one story from our childhood that stands out in our memories. We may forget stories of bears or castles or animals, but none of us forget the little engine that could.

“I think I can, I think I can.”

This essence of perseverance sticks with us throughout our lives. Overcoming setbacks, clawing our way up through adversity. We think we can, we think we can.

Once we reach the top, the mantra changes to – “I know I can.”

This level of confidence is one crucial element that must be in play in order to ensure an organization’s future success. The role of the leader must ultimately be to help instil a sense of confidence in their organization. Confidence helps people take control of circumstances, rather than be dragged along by them. It is a self-propagating mixture of accountability, collaboration, and initiative.

Confidence is based on a cumulative set of events. As a leader, the focus of your effort should be to look at the “wins” and the “losses” in a historical context. Many times, leaders focus on the next win only and, while this is important, they must also consider their team’s overall track record – especially in crucial games.

The most important goal is to develop a series of wins, to be able to create serial success. This “winning streak” mentality is what ultimately translates into higher confidence for the team which, in turn, helps “psyche” them up for the next event. The resulting confidence not only enhances your team’s self-starting ability and sense of empowerment, but also allows you to look further out into the future for even more challenging goals.

In the same way, when your team is in the midst of a losing streak, your focus must be on analyzing missed opportunities, and developing a strategy to keep them from happening again.

Remember that momentum can shift either way with respect to confidence. In sports and in business, winning teams have temporary setbacks to be sure, but they are able to keep the overall momentum moving in the right direction because they have an ability to recall the taste of confidence.

Confidence is self-propagating. It is contagious. Once an organization gets it right, there can be several benefits that ultimately lead to enhanced levels of confidence, including:

– an emotional climate of high expectations

– positive, supportive, team-oriented behaviour

– organizational structures and routines reinforcing accountability, collaboration and innovation

– a network to provide supportive resources

The cycle goes on and on. Winning builds confidence and this confidence builds more winning.

Igniting Champions

Organizations profile prospective employees and leaders for a number of vital characteristics – business acumen, management capability, interpersonal skills, etc. Rarely, if ever though, do they look for the organizational equivalent of a “spark”. They usually don’t look for that natural born catalyst. Someone who can initiate great amounts of growth through people. Someone who can see through the bureaucracy and decide what must be done, right now.

Organizations need catalysts now, more than ever. With many employees paralyzed by the rapidly changing economic conditions, organizations must tap into a catalyst’s natural abilities to kick-start action and lead change.

Chemical Reaction

In tough times, catalysts are what you need. Just as importantly, though, you are also wise to seek out and listen to your catalysts in the good times.

Catalysts are wired differently. They understand what it takes to achieve an organization’s growth target, and how to get around roadblocks that might get in the way. They innately know how to speed up the processes that are necessary within an organization.

The organization’s leaders may know what needs to change, and what they must do to reach their target, however, it takes a catalyst to cut through the analysis and bureaucracy to get the process started – now.

Mental Models

Trapped. You can’t do it. There are too many constraints. Bureaucracy, corporate policies, you name it. There is no way you can reach your new, higher targets with this impossible number of constraints.

This attitude may be all in your head!

In many cases, organizations teach – or better yet brainwash – managers into believing they are not able to take control and make the changes necessary to achieve long-term substantial growth. In the organization’s eyes, the key is to minimize risk and maximize control. In other words, maintain the status quo.

As a catalyst, you need to see through this trap. If you spend the time and energy (sweat equity), and if you can build a sound business case to achieve the company’s goals, you will get the permission you need. As a catalyst, you can change the company.

Keys to Becoming the Catalyst in your Organization

The good news is that catalysts can be profiled. Here are some of the traits they exhibit:

Dominance – As a catalyst you are likely frustrated with the here and now, and are always looking for the next big thing. Catalysts are also very task focused. If the growth target is “meaty” enough, a catalyst will get to work on it immediately.

Influence – Catalysts know that they can’t do this alone. You must influence others in the organization to get on board with you, and pursue this new approach together.

Steadfastness – Choose uncharted waters for your change plans, learn as you go and don’t let rules and regulations get in the way.

Conscientiousness – Do not be shackled by your organization’s past, understand its importance, but don’t be constrained by it.

How to Avoid Failure in Judgment and Decision Making

All of our decisions are based on a well researched and proven “value chain” that helps determine both the nature and the quality of the choices we make. In short, all of our decisions, especially those we make in business, are based on a premise (right or wrong), which in turn shapes the assumptions we make, which lead to the conclusions we draw and the actions we take – or do not take. It is a little more complicated than that but, for our purposes, let’s simply say that premises and assumptions are the raw materials of all decisions, and the chain of events that make up this process are fundamental to the success of any organization.

Taking care in your decision making

It has long been bewildering why leaders do not seem to take either enough care of, or pay enough attention to, the decision making process within their organizations. The same leaders who will spend millions of dollars to improve the efficiency of an outdated IT system, or an inefficient manufacturing system, or a faulty sales process have, generally speaking, never really considered spending any money on improving the corporation’s decision making process.

As leaders, it is our obligation to do justice to this one vital element of organizational effectiveness which many of us have been afraid to address for far too long. A good place to begin, in our view, is redefining what it means to fail.

We have all heard the phrase that we “learn more from our failures than our successes”. If that is true, then you have to wonder why we have not done a better job of formalizing the “learning from mistakes process” in order to improve the learning itself. In this case, like so many other urban myths, the words are nice and the thoughts somehow comfortable and reassuring, but the reality is quite different.

In short, we will have to apply more rigour and scrutiny to our failures if we want to create new opportunities to reinvent our organizations, the products we offer, the value we create and the people we chose to be our leaders.

We need to examine failure not just through the lens of failed outcomes, but also in terms of:

  • Failure of Opportunity
  • Failure of Trust
  • Failure of Will
  • Failure of Priorities
  • Failure of Respect

Think about it for just a minute.

The “value” created by any leader, team or organization is really the sum total of all of the decisions made by the leader, the team or the organization over time. The improvements we make, the breakthroughs we have, the innovations we spawn, and the outcomes we achieve are all, ultimately, based on the quality of the decisions made, both large and small. While much has been written on the importance of execution (which we do not deny or dismiss), the fact of the matter is there can be no more important attribute for defining individual or collective success than the ability to make great decisions.

In others words, while executing the decision is important, the things that govern the decision and the decision making process itself are equally important.

Embracing New Mindsets

Organizations everywhere (at least those not lucky enough to be born a Google or an Apple) have been struggling for years to find ways to instill an ethic of innovative thinking into their workforce. In far too many instances, the emphasis has been on improving the effectiveness of their brainstorming activities. Research has shown, however, that the most effective “phase” of the thinking process may lie at the very beginning – in what is called the “framing” stage.

Author John Naisbitt takes it even one step further, and teaches a new method of approaching the framing stage by adopting new mindsets. Think of mindsets as the foundation of the box. In many cases, the foundation is a foot thick and made of solid concrete. The worst part is, if you look down, you’ll find that your feet are embedded in the concrete (no wonder you can’t get out). The answer is to crack up the foundation, so the walls fall down by themselves.

The central part of Naisbitt’s approach lies in his proposition that the thinking process shouldn’t be limited to just one mindset. Instead, he has developed eleven different ways of looking at the world. This should be a breath of fresh air for organizations that have adopted a one-size-fits-all approach to their thinking, and have failed. The idea is to free your thinking, and just let your mind flow.

Development of the Fittest

Who carries the “burden” for executive development and talent retention within an organization? Is it the executive or senior manager who aspires to greater things? Should they be spending their time planning their career path and seeking out new development opportunities? Or is it the employer who must take the lead in this process, through identification, selection, reward and recognition?

The central problem here rests with the fact the traditional mindset that underpins most executive development and talent retention must be changed. The “survival of the fittest” mentality that most organizations have relied upon since the end of WWII to validate who has the “right stuff”, must also be changed.

The new focus and approach has to centre on the overall “development of the fittest”, and that involves a more complicated dual-track approach. Simply put, if your organization fails to adequately provide its high flyers with both applicable work experiences and plentiful training and development opportunities, your top players will more than likely leave.

A core premise, within the new credo, and a very big philosophical change from even 10 years ago, is that an organization should not aim to treat all of its aspiring executives in the same way. In fact, the progressive organization should pro-actively “discriminate” when it comes to their High Potential Officers. Simply put, Talent Management means that the organization needs to find and create unique development solutions and streams for each and every manager with potential. There is no “one size fits all” approach, and generic formulae do not do enough to differentiate between capability, motivation and learning style.

There is another important point to make, and it has to do with the “soft middle” within most organizations. The fact of the matter is, while we may praise the “high potentials”, there is no question the “soft middle” plays a major role in keeping most organizations afloat. They may not have the same upside, or even the same work ethic, dedication or aspirations, but an organization that hopes to win in the market, has to make sure it’s “B Players” are better than the competition’s “B Players”.

In an important way, developing a new, stronger and more robust talent management process has two additional benefits. Aside from rewarding and recognizing your strongest team members – the “high potentials” – you send a strong message that will entice the moderate performers to rise to the occasion. In so doing, you pass ownership of that responsibility to the employees, and improve the overall fitness of the organization.

Become an Influencer

The fact is – modern businesses are constantly burdened by long-term problems. These problems don’t go away. They don’t change. They’re not getting any better.

The problem is – not that we lack the courage to confront these problems, we lack the skill. People tend to act like “copers”, rather than influencers.

The outcome is – we develop complex coping mechanisms and justifications to deal with these problems without creating lasting change. Our business plans do not execute as expected, and we have trouble motivating individuals to follow through with goals.

The solution is – to recognize our ability to influence problems. To be an influencer, we must focus on a small number of “high leverage” behaviours, and apply these to our interactions in order to develop superior performance.

The question here is influence. Why do some organizations seem to resolve their issues, while others remain stagnant? What does it take to influence employees in order to get a solution implemented?

The key is to understand that you, as a leader, have the responsibility to find out what motivates your co-workers and apply that knowledge to get results from them.

There are two kinds of companies in the business world. One kind of company has leaders who are continually meeting new challenges, while the other has leaders who resign to dealing with an ever-shrinking list of challenges “within their control”.

One set of companies is innovating and seeking to deal with its problems. The other is setting up barriers to its own accomplishments.

One organization has influencers, the other has leaders who develop coping mechanisms.

It’s so easy to be the second type of company. That’s the company that labels its challenges as “out of its control” or “impossible to resolve”. It is the company that accepts the status quo. It is the company with a group of leaders who don’t understand influence, and haven’t taken the time to see how they can motivate others to perform.