Culture & Structure

What’s the goal: Peak Performing Individuals or Teams

In the opening 2021 Olympics game of Basketball, there was a major “upset”. The US team, which won 25 consecutive games, and which had been referred to as “the dream team” because it included many of the best US players, lost to the unheralded French team.  However, one of the French team managers questioned whether it really was an “upset”, noting teams that forge strong bonds, as their team had over 10 years, generally outperform individual superstars who come together as a team.

In the second half of 2021, one of the biggest news items is the difficulty of companies to find qualified workers. Several reasons are given for this. Some people have decided to change jobs or leave the workforce post-pandemic, because they are more interested in following their passions and purposes; they’re not interested in returning to a pre-pandemic workplace, and/or they want substantial changes in compensation, working conditions, etc.  Thus, hiring managers are challenged to find qualified people among this new workforce.

Jim Collins, author of Good to Great, is famous for recommending we get the right people on the bus”, i.e., hire the right people for each job. The challenge is to identify the right characteristics for each person – are well looking for individual superstars or team players?

Similarly, Sutton and Rao, in Scaling Up Excellence note that people have unconscious biases and they may play a role. For instance, people tend to prefer to be around others who are similar to them; yet diversity matters. Linda Abraham, a co-founder of comScore, notes that hiring people like you can be “the worst thing for building out a team.”   “New mindsets, skills, and practices, travel faster and farther when team members have varied backgrounds, skills and viewpoints”.  If the goal is a team adept at solving problems and creativity, then you need a team of individuals with mutual respect – where they can “fight as if you are right and listen as if you are wrong.” That means standing up for what you believe until the evidence clearly shows you are wrong, and then admit that the other person is right.

In sum, before hiring for teams, identify the key attributes each member should have to both individually do his/her job and to help the team do its job. Be aware that that may mean tradeoffs are necessary for ultimate success.

Align Your Executive Team for Peak Performance

One of the most important elements of a successful company is a strong Executive Team.  Whether you’re forging ahead with a new business strategy or considering selling your company, it’s the power of the team to coordinate their efforts to create individual and collective peak performances that really counts. As John Warrillow, author of Built to Sell, and other experts in helping owners develop lucrative business exits note, it’s their ability to carry on the business as well – and often better – without  you that significantly affects the final price.

Especially during times of great change – whether it’s the switch to post-lockdown hybrid workforces, new product lines with new suppliers and distribution channels, or workforce utilization due to automation and AI – it’s important that the Executive Team stays on the same wavelength to collaborate effectively and efficiently, and not end up unaligned and in silos.

It’s for this reason that I stress with the CEOs with whom I work the importance of coaching direct reports and opening stronger lines of communication. Indeed, Marshall Goldsmith, a leading executive coach, recently shared 6 questions that would be appropriate for these coaching sessions. They are:

·   Where are we going?  Are we in sync with the current vision, goals and priorities? Are we aligned?!

·   Where are you going? Is your part really aligned with the company and other divisions?

·   What is going well?

·   What can be improved?

·   How can I help?

After asking these questions, switch the focus with:  “What suggestions do you have for me?” This opens the door to a two way dialogue.

With such coaching, you can identify cracks in the company’s strategy and be able to repair them.

Also be sure that you and your team have full “conversational capacity”. He created a “conversational martial art of business communication” that allows teams to perform well and remain open, balanced, and non-defensive as they tackle their most troublesome issues.  For more information, see Craig Weber’s Conversation Capacity  and https://weberconsultinggroup.net).

Final note: Recently, Vistage introduced a set of new leadership programs for managers that they supervise.  For details on the Executive Leadership Programs, contact me at jerry.cahn@vistage.com)

Is Your Company Feeding People’s Purpose at Work?

Several years ago, the CEOs with whom I work in NYC for Vistage Worldwide (there are 23,000 CEOs globally) began referring to the companies as CILOs- Continuous Improvement Learning Organizations. The focus of a CILO is to hire talented workers and dedicate time for continuous improvement learning as part of the standard job description. With professional and personal growth, many will outgrow their current positions and grow into new ones where they can make higher contributions.

Periodically, we share stories on some of our staff have grown thanks to the CILO culture. We find that people who live their purpose at work are more productive than those who don’t. They are also healthier, more resilient, and more likely to stay. Recently, we’ve noted that the CILO culture is especially effective at this post-pandemic time, because it’s encouraging people to pursue their longer-term purpose at their companies.

McKinsey’s recent report, Help Your Employees Find Purpose – or Watch Them Leave, demonstrates just how important this us for them now.  Their research found that 70% of employees said their sense of purpose is defined by their work. However, two-thirds reporting that the pandemic has caused them to reflect on their purpose in life. About half said they’re reconsidering the kind of work, with Millennials three times more likely to say so than older workers. It’s likely that those companies which foster continuous improvement have a better chance of meeting employees’ changing purpose needs by enabling them to adopt new, supportive positions. We will be monitoring this in the future. How are your workers doing? Are they engaged and focusing on taking on new challenges in the company to continue meeting their purpose needs? What challenges are you encountering? Share with us.

Time to Plan for Mentoring Internships

With the Spring semester at its midpoint, students are beginning the search for summer internships. This year, possibly more than ever before, it’s important for adults in the labor market to try to open their hearts and companies to offer mentoring internships.

A bit of background. I started offering internships to students in my very first full-time job. The concept was simple: provide students with an opportunity to learn about job/career opportunities, and learn about their own strengths, weaknesses and interests, by integrating them into productive projects within companies. Since then, I’ve worked for public, private, nonprofit and government organizations and served over 650 interns. We referred to them as mentoring internships, because we took extra time to mentor the students so they could make better career choices.  At one point, at a school career fair, we realized that despite the fact that my teams were small, we were serving more students than much larger companies. We even published an ebook to help other companies adopt our mentoring internship model.  (It led to the development of another mentoring program model for companies who wanted to stop the churn of young recruits; one used it successfully for seven years as it engaged new and experienced workers.)

Impact: A recent study by the ASTD (American Society of Training & Development) documents the value of such programs along four key measures:

  • Development: More than 60% of interns and recent college grads list mentoring as a criterion for selecting an employer after graduation; 76% of Fortune's top 25 companies offer mentoring programs.  
  • Productivity: Managerial productivity increased by 88% when mentoring was involved versus 24% increase with training alone.
  • Retention: 77% of companies report that mentoring was effective in increasing employee retention; 35% of employees who do not receive regular mentoring look for another job within 12 months. 
  • Promotion: 75% percent of executives point to mentoring as playing a key role in their careers.

Why It’s so Important Now. One of the impacts of the pandemic has been a general re-evaluation by students and adults about developing lifestyles and careers. Today’s students face a different world than most older adults. Increasingly, they are living in a digital economy, where physical labor isn’t the key requirement. During their elongated life to 100+, they can engage in lifelong learning to pivot into as many as 10 careers – and provide their services from outside a central office. This enables them to pursue passion and purpose as the commit to mental and physical health, financial security and independence, and meaningful relationships.  Faced with these options, mentoring internships provide an ability for them to learn from the experiences of people who are at the forefront of some of these changes.

It’s clearly more challenging now, since so much of the worker-team is virtual. It is more difficult to onboard and supervise/mentor people who aren’t in the same workspace and have to save the interaction time to scheduled Zoon calls.  But as we get increasing control of our lives through vaccinations, changed office spaces, and new working styles, we will learn how to create hybrid experiences.  Indeed, I resumed taking on interns during the 20-21 academic year to provide experiences for both students who must be 100% virtual (e.g., in Australia) and combined on-site and virtual training for people who are local.

Feel free to reach out to me to answer questions. Reach me at jerrycahn@presentationexcellence.com  

What Could Innovation Do for Your Company?

As human beings, there’s one set of innovations we’re all waiting for: effective vaccines for Covid-19 and ways to distribute them as quickly as possible.

There’s a second set many of us are thinking about: a system that will enable us to handle the next pandemic a lot better than the one we’re in now. Let’s not be unprepared again!

There’s a third group that the CEOs with whom I work are now talking about: product and process innovations that enable their companies to serve customers better. Helping companies unleash their workers’ creativity and forge innovations has been a special area of interest for me for dozens of years and therefore a subject we discuss in group meetings and executive coaching sessions.

As we have these conversations, I am reminded of a major misconception about innovations: the myth of the lone genius who comes up with an innovation. Instead, the experts remind us that innovations are “cobbled together” by contributions from a number of sources. Henry Ford’s assembly line idea was the product of observations made while watching the meat “disassembly” plants by meat packers, and the replaceable parts concept used in the sewing machine.

In How Breakthroughs Happen: the Surprising Truth About How Companies Innovate, Andrew Hargadon focuses on this issue by introducing the concept of the “technology broker” – outsiders who specialize in trying to see how a new idea could be commercialized effectively.  We all know stories about companies where people created innovations that never saw the light-of-day as commercial products and/or services. For instance, Xerox’s PARC’s (Palo Alto Research Center) scientists created the GUI (graphic user interface), the mouse, and other technologies; but did nothing with them. It took an outsider – Steve Jobs to see the commercial applications – and then used them to create Apple Computer. Similarly, Spencer Silver, a 3M scientist, discovered an adhesive that stuck lightly and saw no use for it.  Art Fry found a use for it and engaged others (secretaries) to experiment with it – and created 3M’s Post-it Notes. He was the critical “technology broker”.

Who is your technology broker?   If you don’t already have a group of objective, smart business leaders who look at your ideas and, using  their fresh perspectives, give you insights on how it can be adapted  successfully, now is the time to do so

One of unheralded benefits of belonging to Vistage Worldwide is that you have a set of smart, committed leaders who are constantly coming up with new ideas and approaches, sharing them, and getting constructive, objective feedback from members of their local Peer Advisory group and/or the “special interest” networks to which the 23,000 global members belong.
Why not find out for yourself? Vistage offers appropriate leaders an opportunity to experience Vistage meetings virtually. Just contact me for details.  Email Jerry.Cahn@VistageChair.com or call 646-290-7664.

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