Know Your Talent Better Than You Know Your Customers

THE DECODED COMPANY

Using Big Data in Human Resources

What if companies knew as much about their employees as they knew about their customers? That is the provocative question at the heart of The Decoded Company — a book written by a group of entrepreneurs connected to a technology-driven health care marketing agency called Klick Health. Klick Health CEO Leerom Segal and his co-authors are great believers in the potential of big data — the myriad of information that is quietly and continuously collected from you as you go about your business as a consumer. Surprisingly, while companies have near-unanimously embraced the use of big data technology for their customers, very few attempt to find out more about their employees.

Three Principles

Using their own experiences as leaders of a fast-growing technology company, the authors describe in their book three fundamental principles for decoding your organization — that is, truly understanding in real time the individual skills, motivations and successes of employees, recognizing the challenges they face, and supporting each individual or groups of individuals as needed.

  • Principle 1: Technology as a Coach and a Trainer. According to the authors, most organizations use technology as a referee rather than as a coach. Technology allows companies to monitor what employees are doing and to whistle the fouls when they fall behind or fail. In decoded companies, technology is a      trainer and coach — preparing employees for the game (to continue the metaphor), then watching from the sidelines and jumping in to coach as      needed. One coaching idea proposed by the authors is the hiring of a “concierge” — someone who might use some of the traditional HR tools, such as career counseling or performance reviews, but whose one and only goal is to design a customized solution for each employee that helps them perform and grow. Technology as a trainer, the authors explain, means using “data and systems to watch blind spots, identify teachable moments, and proactively intervene with just-in-time training.”

 

  • Principle 2: Informed Intuition. The second principle is that technology does not replace but rather augments the intuition of leaders born from their      experience and knowledge, thus allowing them to make better decisions. The      capture of ambient data — ongoing information about what employees are doing or saying — is vital. (One example of the creation of ambient data is your Facebook activity. Facebook tracks with whom you communicate on their site, how often, from where and through which method, such as posting or chat message. This ambient data determines which Facebook friends end up on your newsfeed.) After analyzing a combination of ambient data and selected self-reported data, such as performance self-evaluations or monthly results, managers in decoded companies use their intuition to seek solutions to employee challenges. Bank of America discovered that the performance of call-center employees improved based on whom they talked to  during overlapping lunches. The bank thus decided to create more opportunities for employee conversations by changing a policy that had restricted overlapping breaks.

 

  • Principle 3: Engineered Ecosystems. The third principle is to use data to set up the culture and the environment that enables employees to work at their highest levels. Engineered ecosystems are both data-driven and talent-centric. For example, the authors describe how Google — which, as the company that tested 41 shades of blue for one of its toolbars, is notoriously data-driven — launched a major initiative to identify the most important traits for its managers. The results seemed at first less than earth-shattering: The eight identified traits included not micromanaging, expressing interest in employees’ success, having a vision and a strategy, and having the technical skills to advise the team. The data, however, not only identified the traits but also ranked their importance, and this is where Google’s leaders uncovered a truth about its culture that was contrary to everything they believed: technical expertise, once thought to be the keystone of a great Google manager, is the least important trait that a manager can have. Everything else comes first.

While Segal and his co-authors use Google and numerous other companies in a variety of industries as examples, it is their own success at Klick Healthcare that make The Decoded Company an authoritative, balanced and real-world exploration of the human resources potential of big data.

Getting to More Without Settling for Less

SCALING UP EXCELLENCE

How to Scale Up Faster and Farther

Most companies have “pockets of excellence,” according to Stanford University professors Robert Sutton and Huggy Rao — units, departments or subsidiaries where people perform at the highest levels and generate the best results in the organization. The problem that bedevils many leaders, however, is how to spread that excellence throughout the company — what is known to practitioners as “scaling” or “scaling up.” In their new book, Scaling Up Excellence, Sutton and Rao describe five principles required to scale up the excellence.

  1. Hot Causes, Cool Solutions. This first principle involves the debate on what comes first: changing the mindset and beliefs of the people in the organization (hot causes) or making people change their behaviors whether they believe in the cause or not. The authors argue that either order can work.
  2. Cut the Cognitive Load. Scaling up requires new actions, new processes and new learnings, and sometimes employees can get overwhelmed by all that is new. The authors recommend that organizations that are scaling up look not only to add” but to “subtract” as well. Limit the bureaucracy whenever possible. Find the old processes or old structures that are no longer needed in the new scaled-up organization.
  3. The People Who Propel Scaling. “People propel scaling,” as the authors put it, and that first means having the right people with the right skills doing the right      things. Hiring the right people, however, is just the beginning. No matter how talented your employees, scaling up doesn’t work unless they are accountable: that is, they are compelled to work in the organization’s best interest.
  4. Connect People and Cascade Excellence. Connecting people is also key to spreading the excellence. Diversity plays a role: The more departments, functions, locations and positions on the organization’s ladder are represented, the greater the reach of the scaling-up effort.
  5. Bad Is Stronger Than Good. Because they will have much more impact than any positive actions, it is essential to prevent and eliminate any and all destructive attitudes, beliefs and behaviors from the organization, according to the authors.      Lesson number one: Nip it in the bud.

Each of the principles are supported and illustrated through a variety of case studies and academic research. In addition, the authors offer a specific and detailed list of practical how-tos to instill the principles in an organization. For example, among the seven ways to ensure the talent and accountability required for successful scaling up (principle three) are squelching free riders and bringing in guilt-prone leaders — those who will feel guilty for putting their needs above the needs of those they lead.

Catholicism vs. Buddhism

One of the key questions that leaders of scaling-up initiatives will need to ask themselves is whether or not one size fits all. The authors call this the Catholicism (replicating tried-and-true practices throughout the organization) vs. Buddhism (having a guiding mindset but adapting the practices to fit local conditions). There is no right or wrong answer. Leaders, however, will need to figure out which path is best as they launch their initiatives.

Based on what they call a “seven-year conversation” that included combing through hundreds of academic studies, conducting detailed case studies as well as targeted interviews, and presenting emerging ideas to a wide range of business audiences, Scaling Up Excellence is a definitive guide on one of the key paths to organizational success.

The #1 Rule for Real Leaders

WALK THE WALK

The Power of Doing What You Say You Will

People who become leaders have many options. One way a leader can lead is by becoming a ruler. Machiavellian leaders who rule tell people what to do, and intimidate, coerce or bully them into compliance. Other leaders ask their followers to help them sustain business as usual, often with declining results. Another type of leader simply holds his or her position until somebody else comes along to mop up the mess.

Finally, there is the true leader. This leader, whose attributes are described in detail in author Alan Deutschman’s latest book Walk the Walk, is the powerful person who does exactly what he or she says he or she will do. A leader who doesn’t just talk the talk but walks the walk is somebody who stands up to opposing forces by following the values and belief systems that he or she described while rising to the top position in the organization.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

At the beginning of Walk the Walk, Deutschman describes an elegant example of a leader who embodies the quality that he illuminates throughout his book: Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Not only did King preach a nonviolent approach as the best way to end the inequality suffered by African-Americans in the United States, but when called to task, he lived the beliefs that he spoke about in his speeches.

Deutschman describes a day in September 1962 when King was speaking before a crowd in Birmingham, Alabama. While talking to about 300 black civil rights leaders at the annual national gathering of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, a 24-year-old neo-Nazi stepped up to the podium and punched King in the face. He then proceeded to pummel the civil rights leader with his fists. Instead of defending himself and returning the man’s blows, King dropped his arms to his sides, demonstrating how somebody who chooses nonviolence should act when encountering a violent response.

When King’s followers in the audience rushed to his defense, King told them not to touch his attacker. King followed the words he had been preaching all along. He showed his constituents how to turn the other cheek. When King did this, he served as an example to his followers of how they should act when involved in their own struggles for fairness and freedom. By doing so, King walked the walk, embodying the rule that Deutschman writes is the singular quality that separates those who truly lead from those who only claim to lead.

Amazon.com CEO Jeff Bezos

Throughout his book, Deutschman offers dozens of colorful examples from a variety of professions to show readers how this quality manifests itself in a multitude of ways. For example, he describes the actions that allowed Jeff Bezos, the CEO of Amazon.com, to become one of the most admired leaders in the world. Early in his life as a leader of Amazon, Bezos said that his main priorities were his company’s customers and its long-term success. Defying the Wall Street analysts who were looking for shorter-term results, Bezos grew his company slowly while creating an infrastructure that never wavered from his original goals. Today, Deutschman explains, Bezos is a leader among leaders whose success is a direct result of his ability to walk the walk.

Part of Bezos’ success, Deutschman writes, comes from one of the crucial ways that a leader who walks the walk can stay on track. To do this, he writes, “you reveal the ranking of your values.” For King, his two values were nonviolence and equality. When he refused to strike back at his attacker, he showed that nonviolence was what Deutschman calls “his paramount value for the movement that he led.” When Bezos refused to remove several customer-centric applications that he installed on his Web site to improve the value that they get from their interactions with his company, he demonstrated his “first virtues” of customer-centricity and a long-term focus.

Many powerful examples like these fill Walk the Walk. Deutschman’s ability to tell stories filled with highly pertinent details make his latest book a compelling inroad to the most important attributes that a leader can embody. Using the techniques described by Deutschman, leaders can take the necessary steps to find their way to organizational success.

Think Like an Elite Warrior to Lead and Succeed

THE WAY OF THE SEAL

A Warrior Turned Entrepreneur

“Let’s face it. When the stakes include your own mortality, you tend to be very clear about what’s important.” As a former member of one of the fiercest fighting forces in the world, Mark Divine, who writes these words in his new book, The Way of the SEAL, is all too familiar with mortality. The SEALS are the elite group of fighters who take on missions that would seem suicidal to men less trained and less dedicated. Divine spent 20 years in the SEALS, retiring as commander. In The Way of the SEAL, he applies the mental and emotional training of the SEALs to success in the world of business and life through eight core principles.

The mix of Divine’s early background in business (including an MBA from New York University’s Stern School of Business and a job with a big eight accounting firm), years as a combat soldier, and subsequent challenges as an entrepreneur makes him uniquely qualified to help people overcome hurdles and push themselves and others to success. For Divine, who has started and led six multimillion dollar ventures since leaving the military, most leadership and management books make the mistake of offering techniques and strategies without first building the personal foundation required for success. It all begins with you, what you have inside, he writes. The following eight principles are designed to build that foundation.

  1. Establish your set point, the core values, passion and purpose that guide what you do.
  2. Develop front-sight focus — like a sniper focused exclusively on the front sight      at the end of the barrel and the target beyond, don’t let yourself be distracted or derailed.
  3. Bulletproof your mission so it won’t fail.
  4. Do today what others won’t so you can achieve tomorrow what others can’t.
  5. Forge mental toughness, eliminating the quit option.
  6. Break things and remake them — everything improves through innovation and      adaptation.
  7. Build your intuition, which includes slowing down so you can engage the senses.
  8. Think offense all the time — be confident, do the unexpected and execute without delay.

Devoting a chapter to each of the principles, Divine offers practical strategies followed by exercises to help his readers apply the principles to their lives. Bulletproofing the mission, for example, begins with “selecting high value targets” — making sure that the goals you choose fit your skills, are important to achieving your overall mission, fit the timing, and are simple and clear. Achieving the goals starts with answering four questions: What are your priorities? What are the realities of the situation? What options do your targets suggest? And what path forward will you select? The next step in bulletproofing your mission is to communicate the mission through a visual story. Finally, rehearse repeatedly.

The First Death

In his introduction, Divine tells the story of “Mr. Kane,” the owner of a family-run paper company audited by Divine’s employer at the time, a large accounting firm. To accumulate lucrative billable hours, the accounting firm kept the audit going as long as possible. Divine overheard one of Mr. Kane’s sons say that “these guys are never going to leave” and “they’re going to kill Dad in the process.” Indeed, Mr. Kane died of a sudden cancer during the audit. Kane & Co. would be Divine’s last client. He quit his high-paying corporate job and chose a new career that would put his life on the line in the most dangerous places in the world.

Readers involved in any endeavor will be fascinated, informed and guided by the often harrowing stories and practical lessons offered by this warrior turned entrepreneur.

Lessons from Leading CEOs on How to Create a Culture of Innovation

QUICK AND NIMBLE

Out of the Mouths of CEOs

What are the core elements of an effective culture that encourages and enables innovation, and how can leaders create such a culture? These two questions are at the heart of Quick and Nimble, a new book from New York Times feature writer Adam Bryant. Bryant replicates the process he used for his previous book on leadership, The Corner Office, by interviewing more than 200 CEOs, then gathering their insights into focused chapters on key topics.

Leading Innovation

In the first part of Quick and Nimble, Bryant outlines the basic elements identified by the CEOs he interviewed as essential to an effective innovation culture. A sample of these elements include:

  • A simple plan. Complex objectives and goals won’t be understood and will therefore fail to inspire and focus employees.
  • Values. Behavior in the organization must be driven by clearly communicated values.
  • Respect. Interactions between all leaders, managers and employees must be built on unwavering respect.
  • Team focus. All members of the organization must be ready to do their part for the team.
  • Frank feedback. Misunderstandings and disagreements are unavoidable, but they need to be resolved through honest and open “adult conversations.”

In the second part of the book, Bryant shifts to guidelines for leaders who want to build on the cultural foundation of their organizations and foster innovation. These guidelines include the importance of:

  • Constant communication to keep employees focused on priorities.
  • Training managers on key managerial skills, behaviors and habits.
  • Offering learning opportunities to high-performing employees by moving them around the organization.
  • Surfacing problems that might be hiding under the surface.
  • Knocking down silos.

The Wisdom (and Wit) of CEOs

At the beginning of the book, Bryant writes that he structured each chapter “much like a dinner party conversation, with me as the host, guiding the conversation with a large group of CEOs.” The metaphor is apt, as the reader can imagine a circle of CEOs gathered around a dinner table, adding their insights and stories to the discussion at hand. The chapter on having values as the guiding “rules of the road” is a case in point.

Lars Björk, CEO of data software firm QlikTech, shares the values that drive his fast-growing company: challenge (the conventional); move fast; be open and straightforward; teamwork for results; and take responsibility. Robert LoCascio, CEO of software company LivePerson, recounts the challenge of changing a culture that had become hierarchical and bureaucratic. The major changes he introduced — beginning with asking leaders to move out of offices — did not go over easily: one-hundred twenty employees and three-quarters of the management left the company, either voluntarily or not.

To reinforce the values through stories (one of the most effective reinforcement techniques), City National Bank CEO Russell Goldsmith describes how he organizes a quarterly American Idol-inspired “Story Idol” for employees (Goldsmith, it should be said, is a former movie industry executive). Other CEOs share the clever expressions that summarize the culture, such as LinkedIn’s “next play,” which echoes the phrase Duke basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski yells to his players at the end of any play, offensive or defensive. Like Krzyzewski, LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner doesn’t want his team celebrating what they’ve just accomplished or lamenting what they failed to do: Just move on to the “next play.”

For health care supply company Medline Industries CEO Andy Mills, a favorite expression is “kissing frogs.” Mills often tells employees that “they have to kiss a lot of frogs,” which means that they should not be afraid to take long shots that might not pan out. After, the frog might just be a prince.

Filled with the wisdom — and wit — of 200 successful practitioners and well organized into focused topics of discussion, Quick and Nimble is an insightful, comprehensive and entertaining overview of the role of culture in building an innovative company.