people signals

Icon

talent leadership change innovation

How great companies develop their staff – Pixar

Finally, a movie-company to round these case studies off. Pixar was originally bought by Georg Lucas, then taken over by Steve Jobs and is now part of Disney. Over the years, Pixar has pioneered innovation in technology and screen design and won several awards, including many Oscars. The company lives from its talent pool of creative and technical experts.

In a presentation on Pixar’s approach, Randy Nelson highlighted their hiring and cultural strategy. Since Pixar is dealing with creative products, they take a slice from improve-theater. There are two rules there which translate well into the world of corporate creativity: accept everything that someone comes up with, and make your partner look good.

To support this approach, Pixar is looking for a value-fit in its hiring by hiring fitting people:

  • Ultra-nerds – People with depth in their expertise and mastery over a subject, which must not be job-related. It shows them the structure of personality they are looking for.
  • Communication and collaboration – the ability to translate thoughts and ideas into language that other people understand as well as the attitude to amplify each other’s efforts.
  • Failure and recovery – one of the key skills in innovation is the ability to recover from failure and find a way where few people have been before.

All this works together by having the values clear and making them the integrative force in hiring and building the culture.

Filed under: talent development, , ,

How great companies develop their staff – Apple

Apple is another famous brand with most of its merits coming from the intellectual capital of its workforce. Again, not much is known about Apple’s internal workings. However, the values of Apple dictate their hiring, promotion and retention strategy. Apple is known for its design aesthetics and attention to detail.

Through its brand and reputation, Apple is looking for the world-best people in design and technology. It highlights an interesting point what author Joel Spolsky call the “Hitting the High Notes”:

“The real trouble with using a lot of mediocre employees instead of a couple of good ones is that no matter how long they work, they never produce something as good as what the great employee can produce.

Five Antonio Salieris won’t produce Mozart’s Requiem. Ever. Not if they work for 100 years.

The Creative Zen team could spend years refining their ugly iPod knockoffs and never produce as beautiful, satisfying, and elegant a player as the Apple iPod. And they’re not going to make a dent in Apple’s market share because the magical design talent is just not there. They don’t have it.

The mediocre talent just never hits the high notes that the top talent hits all the time. The number of divas who can hit the f6 in Mozart’s Queen of the Night is vanishingly small, and you just can’t perform The Queen of the Night without that famous f6.

If you threw a bunch of extra programmers onto the Windows Media Player team, would they ever hit that high note? Never in a thousand years.”

Filed under: talent development, , ,

How great companies develop their staff – Google

Google is another company greatly admired and highly regarded across the globe. Their profit per employee of 240.000 USD is the highest of all companies. So, a great workforce must be central to their continuous growth. While there is little known on Google’s internal development, two features stand out in their staff approach: hiring and freedom.

Based on a strong brand and high desirability to work for them, Google is intend on hiring the smartest and highest-skilled workers in the IT industry. For this reason, they set a high entry barrier to attract only the best. Billboards with complicated mathematical riddles have become famous around Silicon Valley and aim at supporting the nerd-factor for Google as well as pre-screen only the best.

Once people join Google, there are a variety of perks – from free lunch and ice-cream over massages and all other kinds of amenities. But the majority of initiatives are not a part of pre-pefined plan. As Google VP of HR Anne Driscoll states: “The majority of initiatives come from Google population. We provide an atmosphere that says: Just do it”. This applies to laundry service, oil change, WLAN in buses, prayer rooms, and author series. And it extends beyond perks. Googlers are invited to spend one day a week on personal projects. So, 20% of the work time is dedicated to exploration, innovation and fun. Once these projects can convince their co-workers, they are introduced to management who might support them into new products (such as Google Wave, etc).

This approach of flex time fits well with the organizational value and kind of people Google attracts – innovators and experts who get motivated by solving problems. How sustainable this model is remains to be seen once the rising days of Google slow down.

Filed under: talent development, , , , ,

How great companies develop their staff – PepsiCo

PepsiCo is following a similar approach to GE with CEO Roger Enrico spending more than 100 days a year personally conducting leadership workshops for senior executives. According to PepsiCo’s program the most important philosophy of a leader is to personally develop other leaders. As a result, 86% of executive vacancies are filled from within. In the training session, values for leadership are discussed, along with techniques and philosophy, as well as new business opportunities are explored which then are worked out by the participants and discussed in a next session.

Alongside the personal involvement of CEO and senior executives, PepsiCo’s designs their bonus packages with up to 50% of the goals relating the values and leadership behavior – counterbalancing the tendency to focus only on results and neglecting the way to get there.

Filed under: talent development, , , , , ,

How great companies develop their staff – General Electric

Under Jack Welch, GE has become known for its organizational excellence and leadership development depth. At the outset was one organizational value – pragmatism. With a hate for bureaucracy, Jack Welch formulated a vision of the boundaryless organization: “business behavior that tramples or demolishes all barriers of rank, function, geography and beaucracy in an endless pursuit of the best idea in the cause of engaging and involving every mind in the company”. The outcome was a program called “Work-Out” – a 2-3 day program involving large groups with an effort of achieving boundaryless behavior through a combination of culture change, leadership development and action learning projects.

Another organizational value – speed – followed the same path. Welch understood that speed is the key to competitive advantage. So, he abolished most central planning and involved people in the Change Acceleration Program (CAP) with the idea of making people open to change, hungry to learn and anxious to move quickly on new ideas. Participants come to CAP in teams of 8-12 with real problems. Each team worked with a coach who was constantly present and the contents altered between the CAP framework (guidelines and steps for change) and the solution of the problem.

Noel Tichy was responsible for setting up the now-legendary training center for GE at Crotonville. In his book “Leadership Engine” he describes the internal workings of Crotonville:

  1. Leaders with a proven track record take responsibility for the development of other leaders
  1. Leaders who develop others teach through their point of view with living stories in the areas of:
    1. Values – What behaviors are required to put our business ideas into practice?
    2. Ideas – How will we make money and win in the marketplace?
    3. Energy – How do we keep people motivated and working with high energy?
    4. Edge – Which difficult decisions must I make?
  1. Because leaders are involved in developing others, they have well-defined methodologies and coaching and teaching methods.

According to Tichy, this approach succeeded because it involved the leadership of the company. This led to high expectations in the participants, cultural definition in the company, and strong tests and clarification in the leaders. All this resulted in a cultural dimension in learning which requires clear values and a stated vision that provides strength to development activities. Most learning happened on real projects (action-learning, 80-20 approach) and was geared to the right timing (career transitions) for max impact.

Overall, GE uses a number of well known tools to support their development. This distinguishing factor is the focused implementation and tie to organizational values. It is mostly about doing the best practices consistently and with excellence every time.

Filed under: talent development, , , , , , ,

How great companies develop their staff – General Electric

Under Jack Welch, GE has become known for its organizational excellence and leadership development depth. At the outset was one organizational value – pragmatism. With a hate for bureaucracy, Jack Welch formulated a vision of the boundaryless organization: “business behavior that tramples or demolishes all barriers of rank, function, geography and beaucracy in an endless pursuit of the best idea in the cause of engaging and involving every mind in the company”. The outcome was a program called “Work-Out” – a 2-3 day program involving large groups with an effort of achieving boundaryless behavior through a combination of culture change, leadership development and action learning projects.

Another organizational value – speed – followed the same path. Welch understood that speed is the key to competitive advantage. So, he abolished most central planning and involved people in the Change Acceleration Program (CAP) with the idea of making people open to change, hungry to learn and anxious to move quickly on new ideas. Participants come to CAP in teams of 8-12 with real problems. Each team worked with a coach who was constantly present and the contents altered between the CAP framework (guidelines and steps for change) and the solution of the problem.

Noel Tichy was responsible for setting up the now-legendary training center for GE at Crotonville. In his book “Leadership Engine” he describes the internal workings of Crotonville:

  1. Leaders with a proven track record take responsibility for the development of other leaders
  1. Leaders who develop others teach through their point of view with living stories in the areas of:
    1. Values – What behaviors are required to put our business ideas into practice?
    2. Ideas – How will we make money and win in the marketplace?
    3. Energy – How do we keep people motivated and working with high energy?
    4. Edge – Which difficult decisions must I make?
  1. Because leaders are involved in developing others, they have well-defined methodologies and coaching and teaching methods.

According to Tichy, this approach succeeded because it involved the leadership of the company. This led to high expectations in the participants, cultural definition in the company, and strong tests and clarification in the leaders. All this resulted in a cultural dimension in learning which requires clear values and a stated vision that provides strength to development activities. Most learning happened on real projects (action-learning, 80-20 approach) and was geared to the right timing (career transitions) for max impact.

Overall, GE uses a number of well known tools to support their development. This distinguishing factor is the focused implementation and tie to organizational values. It is mostly about doing the best practices consistently and with excellence every time.  

Filed under: Uncategorized, , , , ,

Twitter and working from my living room

Sitting at home in my living room with a nice cup of coffee I consider Big Trends these days: distant working, working in results-only environments (ROWE) and microblogging.

This morning I talked to an Australian sales guy in my office 2 minutes after breakfast. Now, I just mailed my boss in Canada and colleague in Luxembourg something. Reality these days for most people – and so we can enjoy the positive side of it. Focus more on results than business, cut on time on the road and see our children every now and then. But it does pose some challenges to team work – how do we know what the others are doing? How do we keep a sense of team?

Microblogging seems to be an avenue to explore. Twitter, Tumblr, Facebook have gotten a lot of hype. Possibly too much play and 2.0-euphoria, but it might have some use for the distributed folks or those working from home. This is what I recently heard from a friend:

TWITTER – the simple way

  • Set up a twitter channel for everyone in the group.
  • Set the channel to private.
  • Only add each other as followers.
  • Everyone post once a day what they are working on.

Voila – you have your group updates. Maybe even more so than in offices next to each other.

WEEK NOTES and FACEBOOK – the personal way

A new thing happened to me today on the internet. Week notes – some people start posting weekly reflections on their work. Very valueable for he individual in reflecting on their successes and challenges. Sort of a public journal. It might be a bit too personal, but nontheless can foster a great way of catching a vibe from each other and promoting teaming.

  • Setup a profile on facebook that is for your work relations
  • Add each other as friends
  • Once a week, post your weekly reflections
  • Comment on each other’s postings

Some folks migh be uncomfortable with Facebook’s reach and private nature.

TUMBLR – the third way

  • Set up a tumblr account
  • Set up your own tumblr
  • Add an additional tumblr blog
  • Password protect it
  • Add members from your team
  • Allow them to post into the blog
  • Post weekly or daily updates

This might be the best way to combine the speed of twitter with private settings and flexible posting options.

Communication does need some thinking. A lot of places possibly resist home office or distributed work for the lack of control or information that they perceive. These apps can help and we’ll see where they take us. In the future, we will probably work more and more from the places we like than taking long commutes to stuffy, expensive offices.

Filed under: organization, , , , , ,

Facebook – a platform for elearning 2.0

The first generation of elearning sucked. Blinded by the flexibility of technology a lot of crappy courses were developed. The economics seemed irresistible – almost no delivery cost, endless scale, deep libraries and unmatched flexibility. The business case looked good. And so we were greed by great announcements from the HR department of a “new generation” of support for staff’s self-development.

Except – it didn’t really work. I did a study once before a rollout of a new elearning offering was planned. A test access was given to 30 people. Within 3 months they could test and evaluate. Results: no one finished a course. Rating on a scale from 1-5: 2.1 (5 being great). Why?

I think elearning 1.0 was too static. Initially it was text-based, later audio came along, then video. Most case studies were lame. Most exercises trivial. There were a lot of multiple-choice options in there. I took a course in a subject I was somewhat proficient in. I couldn’t pass most multiple-choice things, because they were asking for a definition which I really didn’t care about. (It reminded me of growing up bi-lingual. I had to take English classes in school which I already knew. I sucked at grammar even though I could speak better than the teachers. I was good at practice, not good at theory). Now, there is a case for theory, but come on– what knowledge workers need to know can very rarely be boiled down to multiple-choice formats.

There was one great online-course I did. Peter Drucker’s stuff on Corpedia (disappeared by now). It was basically a series of insights by Peter Drucker and then very open questions for self-reflection (plus that great Austrian accent of Peter). That course was engaging and actually really helpful. But it lived from Peter Drucker’s insights and brilliance, as well as the restrained from that “testing” nonsense.

Here comes Facebook. Great learning is about great theory and great interaction. No better tool than Facebook for that. Here is a scheme I have seen recently that I benefited more than even from the Drucker course. This was the steps in the course:

1. kick-off call – everyone was invited to an opening call with the goals and methods used.

2. lecture – provided with itunes U, it was an mp3 (or video) with about an hours worth of lecture

3. reflection – a hidden group in facebook with a new question posted every week on the lecture. People had 250 words to answer (kiss).

4. interaction – we had 2-3 days to respond to other posts

5. summary – the teacher read all posts and comments and did a video-summary. This was posted in the Facebook group as well.

6. project – at the end of the 4 weeks, we did a learning project. Create something and do some kind of transfer.

7. final call – a final phone conference to tie things up.

In addition, there was one book to read, as well as two supporting books for who wanted to go deeper. Also, where possible people were encouraged to meet in person to discuss their insights (which we did and benefited from a lot).

Great new learning. Why? Interaction. Real, meaningful interaction. That is what elarning 1.0 lacked. Of course, it doesn’t scale as well and it limits the flexibility. But it seems that elarning is finally moving on and getting some real development. Most tools are free. No need for elaborate platforms. I’m interested in seeing how this plays out in the future.

Filed under: learning, ,

The 5 best questions of the year

This year I’ve run across a wonderful piece of Peter Drucker’s legacy. I always admired his insight and focus on the essential. With this piece on “The Five Most Important Questions You Will Ever Ask About Your Organization” Drucker wanted to help non-profits manage their organizations. It turns out he help the rest of the world as well. The questions are: 

1) What is our mission? – what a great question to focus what you are all about. While it might seem easy, it usually is not. Try letting people write down their understanding of the mission and it becomes clear that a clear mission is a lot of work. It also cuts right at the question on how to react to change inside and outside of the organization.

2) Who is our customer? – Peter Drucker recommends to look at 2 types of customers. The typical customer who buys the services or products. And then the internal customer that you need to deliver those. Like employees. Only through good understanding of your target will the organization be focused.

3) What does the customer value? – what do customers want. Now that always seems obvious, but working in an organization it is easy to overshoot the market, to deliver non-essentials and loose essentials. It requires constant renewal to focus on the costumer’s value and not just through study, but through going there and feeling their pain.

4) What are our results? – focusing on outputs. Another great question for a team. While this also seems trivial, I hardly see any organization that agrees on this. Top management overestimates the understand of the employees and if there is little agreement on this, there is a lot of waste.

5) What is our plan? – out of all the first questions you bild the plan.

 

The leader of the past was a person who knew how to tell. The leader of the future will be a person who knows how to ask,” – Peter Drucker – .

 

Applied to Obama’s campaign: Obama’s Drucker-style win (business week)


Filed under: organization, , , ,

Self-directed innovator

Yesterday I sat in a presentation and heard the target group of Google’s products. They call it the self-directed innovator – the new class of workers that transformed out of the Knowledge Worker of the 1980s and the Office Worker of the 1950s. Some of the characteristics of self-directed innovator:

– Not process driven
– Collaborates with broad network of friends and colleagues
– Intermingled personal and work lives
– Needs information even when not at her desk
– Tends not to be patient

Basically, self-directed innovators want to get a job done. They don’t want to be busy, but productive. This is a great attitude, but it poses some problems for organizations. These are usually run from a central command structure and try to manage the landscape through processes. But this excactly frustrates this new class of worker: feeding an organizational hunger for reporting and compliance. Big organizations don’t seem to be a good place for self-directed innovators.

What would need to change? I think we need a shift along the axis of control & accountability. With the focus on processes, organizations tend to be high in control and low on accountability (you are responsible for compliance and business). If an organization could focus more on high accountability and low on control (responsible for outcomes and value), then it would really move towards a „network of brains“. Too often, initiative is tied to titles and stiffles the creativity and ownerhsip of employees beyond their own cubicle. Anyway, without being too much rock’n’roll here I think Google is on to something.

Filed under: career, energy, ,