Culture & Structure

Is Your Company Creating Careers?

For decades, we’ve been making an effort to help young people make better career decisions through our mentoring internship program. We’ve had 600+ interns from the US and internationally. Several years ago, we launched the Mentoring Internships program to help larger companies adopt our approach.

Over the last months, we’ve noticed a number of other programs focused on helping you people and we though we’d share a few.

With increased longevity – people living to 100+ – more people also ending up needing geriatric services. This is a professional marketplace not on the radar of most young people. Accordingly, a Geriatric Career Development program was developed to give teems a pathway to a career, and provide the host with a supply of workers in an industry with exploding demand.

The New Jewish Home, an elder-care non-profit in NYC launched the program to train teens to work in a nursing home, while providing mentoring school tutoring, college prep and life-skills training. (See details.) The program accepts NYC public schools beginning in the sophomore year as long as there is genuine interest to work in the field and to graduate high school. Over the years, almost every student in the program has graduated from high school and 94% are enrolled in college or employed. Two students have gone on to medical school and two others are pursuing Ph.D. degrees in pharmacology.

Recently, there was been discussion at the federal level on spurring the creation of apprenticeship programs to give people an opportunity to learn trades. Not everyone wants to go to a 2-4 year college to work in an office, fast-food establishment or some other company where the liberal arts training has little applicability to what they will do. For centuries, Europeans have been offering high school students the option of hands-on learning in trades like construction, plumbing and electrical, with the prospect of joining the firms. Maybe the time has come to adopt more apprenticeships.

Bloomberg Business featured one company whose pitch is “Want a $1Million paycheck? Skip college and go work in a lumberyard”. 84 Lumber Co, one of the nation’s largest building-supply chains spent millions on this message. It pays manager trainers about $40K a year; those in charge of top-grossing stores can earn $200K a year, and some earn more than $1Million, including bonuses.   With skilled and high-paying blue-collar jobs going unfilled, their program offers a solution to meet the need. While society today encourages millions of young people to take out loans to pay for college degrees, studies report that about half of the students then fill jobs in which they’re not really using the skills the acquired (e.g., learning Roman history may not be  helpful for a fast-food burger server.)

What are you doing to help young people explore their career options to make the best possible decisions?

Share with us your experiences!

Key Teamwork Traits

Does hiring the best candidates really produce the best teams?  So many times we find companies bring in superstars who don’t “gel” into a high performance teams, especially in sports.  So what should we be looking for to generate high performing teams?

Google recently conducted a study of its employees to discover the “secrets” to team effectiveness.  Many executives believed that building the best teams meant compiling people with Advanced degrees (e.g., PhD, MBA0 from the best colleges would generate the best teams.  As Julia Rozovsky, Google’s chief analytics manager noted, “we were dead wrong”.

Project Aristotle studied 180 Google teams, conducted 200+ interviews and analyzed over 250 team attributes, over a period of two years – and found no clear pattern of characteristics that could be plugged into a “dream-team” generating algorithm. However, when they switched to psychological and sociological perspective addressing how groups function, five characteristics of enhanced teams emerged, with the last being the most important:

  • Dependability – Team member understand the expectations and get things done on time and meet the performance standards
  • Structure and clarity – High performing teams have clear goals and well-defined roles with the group context.
  • Meaning – each member should be engaged in the group activity through personal and group-goal meaningfulness.
  • Impact – The group as a whole believes their work is purposeful and positively impacts on the greater good.
  • Psychological safety – When group members fear seeming incompetent in front of the group, they hold back questions or ideas. In a culture where there is psychological safety, and managers provide air cover and create safe zones, members are more likely to take risks, voice options and ask judgement-free questions. Google found that teams in “safe environments” were less likely to leave, more likely to harness the power of diversity and ultimately more successful.

As a psychologist with special training in personality, social, organizational, and leadership issues, the findings aren’t surprising.  A successful group is more than the sum of its parts. Employers need to hire people and organize them into existing or new teams and to create new teams. Further, as companies move from traditional hierarchical organizational models to the “network-team model” (which we’ve spoke about in prior blogs), finding people who can flourish in a team-of-teams approach will be essential.

What are your experiences in these areas?  Share insights and questions.

EQ vs Technical Skills: What Really Matters for Career Advancement

Recently, Google decided to data-mine their own employee reviews and promotions to identify what factors got people promoted to leadership roles within the company. While Google has a reputation for hiring and promoting based on technical expertise, the results surprised them.

They determined eight skills that the promoted managers possessed that others did not. Listed in rank order, they are:

  1. Coach your team members well.
  2. Lead your team without micromanaging them.
  3. Take an interest in team members’ success.
  4. Focus on results.
  5. Be a good listener and communicator.
  6. Focus on career development for your employees.
  7. Develop a strategy for your team.
  8. Possess technical skills to advise your team when needed.

Three are skills:  #8 is a technical, #7 is strategic, and #4 is tactical execution.

Five (#1, #2, #3, #5, and #6) are people-management and emotional intelligence (EQ) type skills.

In other words, it seems that Google hires for technical IQ type talent, but promotes for EQ oriented skills.

Experience with the CEOs I work with who have technical staff suggests that this is true for many organizations. To lead a team of engineers, you don’t have to be more brilliant than everyone else. You need enough technical knowledge to hire the right people and to ask the right questions. After that, executive effectiveness depends on listening (skill #5) to your smartest engineers and developing rising stars and helping them manage teams of their own (skills 1, 2, and 3). In other words, you need to be a coaching leader. And it you want to expand and take on more projects, you need to give your rising stars a path to upward mobility – which means training them to also be coaching leaders. The more sub-projects they can manage, the more effective you become in creating a profitable, growing company

It’s one of the reasons our Vistage CEOs this year are focusing on creating performance –driven job descriptions with measurable KPIs, understanding people’s Culture Index scores and learning more about how to measure leadership skills.  What’s your experience with EQ when it comes to career advancement and corporate growth? Share them with us!

It’s Time to Shift to Blue Ocean Strategy

When you develop a strategy for a new venture, expand or change an existing company, do you adopt a Red Ocean or Blue Ocean strategy? If you’re not familiar with the terms, let me explain.  

In 2005, Kim and Mauborgne, professors at INSEAD, introduced the distinction in Blue Ocean Strategy: How to Create Uncontested Market Space and Make the Competition Irrelevant. Michael Porter , a Harvard professor, originated the 5 Forces model to describe how a company develops strategy, noting that one was rivalry of incumbents. They fight over similar clients with similar weapons (e.g., airlines today increasingly compete on price, times and fewer amenities).  When they compete, they sometimes end up in a “bloody” war – turning the ocean “red”.  Kim and Mauborgne, suggest thinking “outside the box” and focus on customers who might not yet be served with new products that are neither lower priced (e.g., discount vs. full-serve airlines) or product “richer” (Mercedes Benz vs. Buick), but rather rethink the value offering to include some of both (e.g., iTunes, Smart Phones). For instance, after hundreds of years of circuses with animals and clowns that serve children and their parents, Cirque du Soleil, developed a completely different kind of “circus entertainment” for adults. In the world of billboard outdoor advertising, with limited options and limited impact, JCDecaux created “street furniture”, such as bus shelters with moving ads, to offer more cost-effective outdoor advertising.

As an innovation advocate, I provide workshops (through Vistage and Presentation Excellence Group) to help participants unleash their creativity for product, process and new market innovations, as well as help companies forge cultures to spur the ongoing adoption of innovations. Accordingly, I invited a speaker to discuss the concepts in the book with my Vistage CEOs at Board meeting.

Now, the authors have advanced their model to help more companies develop Blue Ocean strategies.   In Blue Ocean Shift: Beyond Competing, they provide a set of tools that can be used to go after these opportunities and share more examples. For instance, the Four Actions Framework allows you to break the traditional trade-off between product differentiation and lower cost by listening to customers and non-customers who help you work through four questions:

  • Which factors that the industry takes for granted can be eliminated?
  • Which factors should be reduced below the industry’s standard?
  • Which factors should be raised well above the industry standard?
  • Which factors that the industry never offered should be created?

One example of a company that adopted the Blue Ocean strategy is citizenM, which created the new market space of affordable hotels – which offer the features of a 5-star hotel for 3-Star prices. Focused on the needs of today’s business travelers, they discovered that these customers did not value traditional hotel’s extra lobby space, personnel to run it, and food services,  but did value location, quick check-ins using kiosks and phones, high quality sleeping environment, and unique, compelling communal living spaces.  The result is a new, growing chain of hotels with high occupancy.

If you’re open to expanding your product line and market reach by rethinking industry’s approach to serving customers, which often takes “pain” for granted (e.g., standing in the rain for a taxi vs. Uber-type services), read the book!  Then share your thoughts and experiences.

(If you want your company to adopt the Blue Ocean Shift framework and forge new product and services, and/or enter new markets, we’ll be providing hands-on workshops starting in 2018!)

This is an interactive workshop, called “How to Capture and Capitalize on ‘Blue Ocean’ Opportunities” is designed so participants leave with a plan-outline. We’re offering it to Vistage groups, Association and corporations who have conferences focused on creativity and innovation, etc. Interested? Sign up here.

Does Your Culture Foster Innovation?

We hear often about how companies like Amazon, Google and Microsoft are generating innovations, especially regarding artificial intelligence, through their corporate R&D departments. What lessons can smaller companies like ours learn from them?

Recently, Dr. Ishak, Chief Technologist for Corning Research & Development Corporation reflected on this question in McKinsey Quarterly (Sept, 2017) and identified a number of “less intuitive” ideas based on his 40 year experience. They include:

  • Practice “innovation parenting”. Innovation leaders should ground creative people in accountability for the organization’s objectives, key focus areas, core capabilities and stakeholders. Then give them broad discretion within these parameters. Obsessing too much on budgets and deadlines often kills ideas before they get off the ground. In addition, pay attention to innovator’s social development. Millennials, especially, expect and seek out opportunities to interact with people who interest and excite them; these exchanges build innovation energy.  Encourage relationships with colleagues in the internal innovation chain, from manufacturing to marketing and distribution; this helps them overcome the assumption that they must do everything. The result is that it reduces wasted effort and inspires burst of collaborative creativity.
  • Open up organizational space. Facilitate people to bypass barriers and hierarchies that often sap creativity and identify outside-the-box resources.
  • Encourage the unreasonable. While companies value unconventional thinking, cultures trend to reinforce tradition. Assure brainstorming participants that there are no bad ideas and encourage outside-the-box approaches. Challenge assumptions about products and markets; engage in scenario planning in which competitors challenge your strengths, and force you to rethink what you’re doing and up-your-game.
  • Stay focused. Taking on too many projects, because only one will be “boring” leads to a lack of ownership and commitment. Concentrate on a primary, immersive project, with the possibility of shifting gears to the other if the first hits a temporary roadblock.
  • Cultivate external relationships. Today many companies are feeding their innovation pipelines by partnering with external companies, including star-ups, national labs, universities, business accelerators, etc.. Allowing the internal and external partners to interact leads to greater achievements, as it did for Corning: bend-resistant optical fibers and Gorilla Glass.
  • Hire the best and do it fast. As with other parts of the business, identifying recruiting and retaining innovators and visionaries is a big challenge. Always be looking for great people!

What do you think?   What’s your experience in creating an innovative culture. Share with us.

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