Friday, October 25, 2013

A Level 5 Leader Makes a Bad Choice

Last week we had the chance to hear a Fortune 500 CEO talk about the company he was hired to turn around, and we got to chat with him afterword.  In his talk, he referenced the model Jim Collins laid out in Good to Great – that a leader’s first job is to “start by getting the right people on the bus, the wrong people off the bus, and the right people in the right seats."   

Our natural response is “Yeah, that sounds right.” 

In our chat with this CEO after his talk, he came across a great guy – humble, yet having intense personal will (the qualities Collins uses to describe a “Level 5” leader).  He clearly was focused on the greater good of the business, recognized that the company would only succeed through the effort of a strong team, and was not looking for personal ego gratification.

And yet. . .with all of that great intent, how he went about deciding who would be on the bus was just a terrible choice of methodology. [Read more. . .]

Figuring that the members of the team knew each other much better than he knew any of them, he asked the top 15 executives in the company to write down on a slip of paper the names of the people they thought should be off the team.  These submissions were anonymous.  The CEO then looked for names that appeared frequently, figured those people were ‘bad apples,’ and fired them.

This is the management version of the Survivor game show.  In the long run, it fosters politics, creates hidden agendas, slows things down, generates poor decisions and reduces results.  But more importantly, the method steps over the real reason the Board hired this guy to turn the company around.  Leadership!  None of the people named on the slips of paper had the opportunity to respond to his leadership.  That’s what the Board hired him to do - LEAD!  If someone needed to go, he should have known it intimately and shouldn’t have needed to get them voted off the island.

The notion that you start by eliminating people who’ve yet to benefit from your style of leadership is a mistake in Jim Collin’s academic approach.  The truly great leaders don’t do that and, as a result, build very strong teams.  Two great examples jump off the page; one more current, one more historical.  

The historical example is the NUMMI plant in California.  G.M. closed this ‘worst’ plant and fired all the incredibly bad union workers.  Toyota in a joint venture with GM, reopened the plant; hired back the same workers; and turned it into GM’s best performing plant in terms of both productivity and quality!  

More recently, when David Marquet took over the poorly performing submarine his boss gave him the freedom to start by getting the right people on the sub, the wrong people off the sub, and the right people in the right seats.  Commader Marquet made no change to personnel on the boat.  He didn’t know them well enough to make those choices.  In less than a year this crew delivered the best submarine performance in US naval history.  Great leaders in business and in the military take the hand their dealt and turn it into a royal flush.

What most CEOs lack is knowledge about what tried-and-tested tools are available to make these transitions easier.  That’s the tool kit we offer to companies.  In this specific case we utilize a couple of techniques to get a shared commitment from the team that they are the right people in the right seats, and that the right behaviors, strongly motivated sustain.  Occasionally, someone does get off the bus and in four out of five cases, the individual initiates their own exit.  Everyone who’s left is committed to the team and to an open, honest operating methodology.

Call us to find out how you can have a company that enjoys consistent extraordinary performance and to get more details on NUMMI or David Marquet, call me:  

Bill  Burnett at 847.219.2285 or email

Sunday, October 20, 2013

How to get to Great from Good

The "What"
The "How"

To go from good to great Jim Collins gave us the "What" it looks like.  Behavioral Advantage gives us the "How" that lets any Level 5 leader deliver GREAT.  (Mouse over the images to see more details - you can also zoom to get more clarity.)

Implementing Behavioral Advantage is simple, but not easy.  You can put a toe in the water by starting with a single team in your company.  You'll see results even before the three days of training are completed.  Call Bill at 847 219-2285

Monday, October 14, 2013

Nobel Prize Award announced today and its relevance to you.

Today’s announcement of the Nobel Prize for Economic Sciences  (recognizing the work of two University of Chicago economists and one from Princeton) reminded me of a chapter in the book Behave! How to get 100% of your workers fully engaged.  This chapter leverages insights from a winner of the Nobel Prize for Economic Sciences, (a psychologist) to enable you to have the best internal weekly meetings you can imagine.   Psychology plays a key role in managing effective human interactions, and that includes your weekly meeting.  I have excerpted part of the chapter on structure, which talks about the weekly meeting.  You should find it useful.

“Meetings are where minutes are kept and hours lost.”

It is politically correct in business today to express a dislike for meetings.  We often hear people say things like “Meetings? I am so tired of meetings, they’re such a big waste of time, we talk and talk and nothing gets done...”

While we can be vociferous in our dislike for meetings, the attitude research shows that our private view of meetings is far less negative than we pretend.  But, it is still negative.  We recognize that meetings can serve a useful business purpose, and that they are social events too.  Even though we actually dislike meetings less than we pretend to, we still have negative feelings toward them.  Your meetings going forward are going to change that.  We are going to leverage a little psychology and some great tried and true business tools to get there.

Daniel Kahneman is a psychology professor at Princeton University.  He did something very interesting about a decade ago.  The Nobel Foundation is charged with awarding Nobel Prize in Physics, Chemistry, Physiology or Medicine, Literature and Peace.  Additionally, thanks to a donation from Sweden’s central bank, since 1969 a Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences is also awarded. 

What Kahneman showed them was that while they don’t think they award a prize in psychology, they actually do.  Kahneman is the only trained psychology professor who’s won a Nobel Prize for Economics.  He is the father of Behavioral Economics and won the prize in 2002.  He and fellow behavioral economists have shown us that the economic models predicated on a rational decision-making model are invalid.  Humans, more often than not, do not make rational economic decisions.  What is interesting is that while we are irrational we are predictably irrational.  The predictive nature of that irrationality is what enables behavioral economists to come up with predictive explanations of economic behavior.

Kahneman won the Economic Sciences Prize for the theory that he and his partner Amos Tvesky developed called The Prospect Theory.  Just prior to developing that theory the two psychologists came up with a different theory called the Peak/End Rule (Kahneman, Fredrickson, Schreiber, & Redelmeier, 1993).  And it is this theory which will help us remove the negative feelings we have toward meetings and replace them with positive feelings.

The Peak/End Rule says that the way we evaluate certain types of experiences is based on the peaks we feel during the experience and how it ends with the ending being the most important.  The type of experience is an episodic experience.  That is, it has a defined beginning, a defined end, and a consistent middle.  A whole day is typically not a single episodic experience even though it has a defined beginning, you wake up,  and a defined end, you fall asleep.  The typical day has a great deal of variety in the ‘middle’.  Thus, it is not an episodic experience.  A typical business staff meeting is an episodic experience.   Under the Peak/End rule, the duration of the experience does not matter, nor does the other information contained in the experience.  Although that other information is not lost and we remember it;  it is not used by the brain in evaluating the quality of the experience.  The Peak/End Rule applies equally to pleasant experiences and unpleasant experiences.

Lots of different experiments were conducted to demonstrate this rule. In one of the experiments the participants were exposed to two unpleasant experiences, and the order of the experiences were randomized.  First participants put one hand in very cold water for 60 seconds.  It’s a painful experience.  After a few minute of rest, the participants put their other hand in the same temperature water, again for 60 seconds, then kept that hand in the water for another 30 seconds as the temperature of the water was increased by one degree, still painful, but most participants could perceive the last few seconds as distinctively less painful. 

Then later, participants were given the choice of doing it again, but this time they could chose either of the two ways. A significant majority chose the longer one. Since both methods included 60 seconds of the same water temperature and same pain, they were apparently choosing to endure more pain rather than less by selecting the 90 seconds version.

Since the Peak/End Rule works both for negative experiences and positive experiences, we will leverage this insight to augment an already strong meeting methodology in a positive way.

We start with a well tested weekly meeting agenda and added Team Member Focus and the Epitome.  The agenda is adapted from Verne Harnish and Gino Wickman who’ve created a very effective and powerful meeting structure.  The structure has been in use for more than ten years and has proven to be very successful.   Here is the full agenda:
  • Check-in
  • The Numbers
  • New Customer and Team Concerns
  • Team Member Focus
  • Concern Resolution
  • Epitome
  • Rate the Meeting

Verne suggest that you schedule the meeting for the same time slot and same place every week.  The meeting should last an hour and a half and as Gino Wickman requires, it should start and end on-time!

To make the meetings run effectively several roles need to be filled.  They are:
  • Meeting Leader – keeps everyone on track.
  • Scoreboard Keeper – Collects updates, brings copies of the scoreboard to the meeting.
  • 90 Day Goal Keeper – Collects updates and brings copies of the 90 Day Goals list to the meeting.
  • To Do’s Keeper – Maintains the list of open and recently closed To Do’s.
  • CIPIO List Keeper – Maintains the CIPIO list and brings copies of the list to the meeting.
  • Sage – Performs the end-of-meeting Epitome.

The most challenging role is the Sage role as we’ll describe shortly.  In selecting the first person to play the Sage role in the Rated 10 Meetings we recommend looking for the person with the highest level of emotional intelligence (EQ) in the group.  If you think of emotional intelligence as a continuum (below), you are looking for someone on the far right of the line.

Psycho Normal Graph from Autism on the Left to High E.Q. on the right.

When we think of stereotypes; engineers, computer geeks, mathematicians will typically be on the left side of Psycho Normal and salespersons, nurses, social workers on the right. 

The way to do this selection is have everyone on the team anonymously write the name of the person they think has the highest emotional intelligence on a slip of paper, and assign the Sage-role to the person whose name appears most frequently.

The Meeting Components
We already talked about the Check-in.  It is the piece each of personal and business good news that everyone reports at the start of the meeting.  Over time, the personal good news portion of the Check-in causes people to become closer and builds stronger bonds.

We also talked about the Team Member Focus in the Peer-to-Peer Accountability  section earlier.  This is where you help a single member of the team deliver the right behaviors and find good Identity and Meaning in their work.

 The second part of the weekly meeting we also take from Verne.  In this part of the meeting you are reporting ‘the numbers’.  Every team should use a scoreboard[1] to track their key performance indicators (KPI).  These are SMART[2] goals.  For the team as a whole there should be five to fifteen measurable weekly goals.  Every employee should have at least 1 measurable.  For each individual, the Scoreboard numbers they are responsible for are added to the Colleague Letter of Commitments.

To the extent possible, these numbers should be predictive in nature.  For example, imagine it is the salesperson’s goal to close 2 deals per week.  That means they must have 4 face to face meeting, 8 phone calls, and 16 prospects.   The predictive measureable is the number of prospects contacted during the week.

Scoreboard goals display the state of the business or department for that team.  Each measurable has a weekly target number.  Each number must have a single person who is responsible for it and accountable to the group for the behaviors that deliver that goal.

Every KPI on the scoreboard belongs to a specific individual.  No KPI’s are shared.  Sharing goals translates into no accountability.  The Behavioral Advantage™  model is based on rigorous accountability.  When you establish the KPI you want to specify the behaviors that drive that KPI.  In the Behavioral Advantage™  model we hold people accountable for their behavior.  The performance against the KPI is an indicator of the employee’s delivery of the defined behavior.

This is a key distinction.  Since behavior is all you get, you want to hold people accountable for the behavior. When a KPI is missed we use the CIPIO redress methodology described below to determine if the employee isn’t producing the prescribed behavior or the behavior itself needs modification.

In the scoreboard portion of the weekly meeting the responsible person reports the number as “met” or “did not meet”.  In this part of the meeting it is reporting only.  No discussion.

Gino Wickman uses this methodology as well as part of his Entrepreneurial Operating System.[3]  Anytime a target is missed, it goes up on a list.  We call this the CIPIO List.

This is also reporting only.  Any concerns, issues, problems, ideas, opportunities that have arisen during the past week are captured on the CIPIO List.  In turn, you go around the table and ask participants to list any customer concerns or any team concerns.  You do this quickly, no discussion.

These are action steps that come out of the CIPIO redress process described below.  You simply report these as well as “Done”, or “Not Done”, or “Not Done but On Track”.  If a To Do is reported as Not Done, it goes up on the CIPIO List. No discussion.

These goals come out of the Quarterly Goal Setting Meetings (see below).  The reporting here is “On Track”, “Off Track” or “Done!”  If a goal is Off Track it goes up on the CIPIO List.

We described this process in the Peer-to-Peer Accountability  chapter earlier.  If there are concerns that arise through the discussion, they go up on the CIPIO List.  After you’ve spent a few minutes focusing on this week’s team member and evaluating their behavior and motivation, you move into resolving concerns.

CIPIO redress

You begin by prioritizing the top three items on the CIPIO List. You need only prioritize the top three items because you may not get through the whole list and you are better off using the meeting time to redress concerns.  Moreover, some of the items on the list may not represent a level of concern to warrant redress yet.  For example take the scoreboard goal for your salesperson to contact 16 prospects per week.  Suppose that team member reports, “Did not meet,”  and the actual number is 15 on the report.   As an isolated incident, missing the goal by one may not warrant any action by the peer group.  However, if the target had been missed three weeks in a row, the priority would likely be higher.

The top priority concern is taken down from the list and put on the table for redress.  Your objective is to redress the concern and permanently remove it from the Weekly CIPIO List (which carries over week to week).

When solving a concern you want to first follow the causal chain to find the root cause.  The root cause is the real source of concern.  Often an item on the list will be described as a symptom rather than the real nature of the concern.   You can utilize the 5 why’s technique here as well.  Keep in mind that the root cause  will link back to behavior most of the time.  This is a time for open, honest dialogue with everyone around the table getting an opportunity to contribute to the discussion.  It is not about blame. 

Once the team agrees that you’ve identified the real nature of the concern you should know what caused it.  It could be an unanticipated external factor got in the way of the person doing the right behaviors for this deliverable.  It also could be bad luck.  It could be that the person responsible did not perform the desired behaviors for this KPI.  If the person did exhibit the right behaviors and the results were not as expected, then perhaps the definition of the behavior needs to be re-evaluated.  Whatever the cause, you go around the table with each person contributing to the discussion on how to redress the concern..  Usually, the resolution of a concern results in additional to-dos.  All to-dos are SMART goals assigned to specific individuals.

Once the first concern is resolved you move on to the next one until ten minutes remain in the scheduled amount time for the meeting.    Any item left on the CIPIO List is carried over to the next meeting.  You may remove an item from the list either by resolving it or by agreeing that it is no longer a concern.  Next the person responsible for the To Do list reads each added item and the team ensures that each To Do is a SMART goal.

Recap the Meeting
The team member responsible for performing the Epitome has two jobs.  First the Sage pays careful attention to what takes place in the meeting.  The Sage looks for important, unusual, thoughtful, or relevant things each attendee contributes to the meeting, and selecting one or two from each person for the Epitome. 

When we install Behavioral Advantage in the third day of training (8th week) we establish the desired Identity and Meaning for each member of the team.  A good Sage will keep in mind a persons Identity and Meaning when look for incidents to highlight in the Epitome.  The Sage will describe the incident in a way that can be tied back to that individual’s Identity or Meaning.  Those are the best kinds of things to include in the meeting Epitome.

The second job is to deliver the Epitome. 

The objective of the Epitome is to create a peak for each individual in the meeting.  By highlighting something each individual contributed, we hope to create the peak.  However, here is where the job of the Sage becomes more challenging. 

Research has shown that the power of a peak is dependent upon how active a person’s brain is during the peak moment.   Other research has shown that the brain is four times more active when we are talking than when we are listening. (Almor, 2008)  Thus, it is best to create peaks for people while they are doing the talking.  The Sage’s job is to do that.

Here is an example of how the Sage accomplishes this piece of magic.  Suppose the Sage selected an anecdote Sally told as her highlighted contribution to the meeting.  The Sage might say something like: “We had a productive meeting today.  Sally, you made a great point about the marketing initiative and really brought your point to life with that wonderful little story.  Remind us what was that story about?”  Sally then would say a sentence or two about the story.  The psychology suggests that her peak will be a stronger peak because she was talking at the time.

When teams have a good deal of experience with the weekly Rated 10 Meeting, they tend to jump in and contribute whenever they can.  Eventually the need to have an individual Sage goes away, because every member of the team is able to contribute something about another team members in the Epitome.  Keep it short and sweet.

Clearly the core agenda makes for very useful meetings because lots gets done in the meeting.  Putting the Peak/End on top of that helps each attendee walk away with a positive feeling toward the meeting and toward the people participating in the meeting.

Verne Harnish suggest you end the meeting by going around the table asking each team member to sum up the meeting in a word or phrase.  We prefer Gino Wickman’s method.  You rate how the team did in the meeting on a scale of 1(waste of time)-10(great meeting).  If a team member scores the meeting below an “8”, it’s a CIPIO item for the next meeting; capture the reason for the low score.  You want the meetings to be 10’s for everyone.

We have clients rate our Behavioral Advantage training sessions using this method as well. 

Before you schedule your first Rated 10 meeting, you ask team members to rate the effectiveness of their current staff meetings on a scale of 1 to 10.  Typically, honest answers will rate the old meetings somewhere between 3 and 6.  The goal is to achieve ratings that approach 10s, hence the meetings are called Rated 10 meetings.

One team, in honor of the movie Spinal Tap, changed the scale used from 1-10 to 1-11.  They were having a little fun when they said they were going to have even better meetings than mere ‘10s’.  We encourage you to have some fun in these meetings.  Most of our clients look forward to these meetings each week; they get stuff done, and it is an hour and a half of good camaraderie.  Make them enjoyable!

End the meeting on time.

(Copyright 2013 Bill Burnett)

[1] We use “Scoreboard” rather than “Scorecard” because a scoreboard is what professionals use.  It is out there in the open.  A scorecard is something you can keep in your pocket.  Accountability requires a more public display of your professional accomplishments.
[2] SMART is an acronym for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Timely.
[3] We recommend every company have installed a disciplined operating methodology.  Gino Wickman’s EOS is the best one we’ve come across and we like to install it with clients.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Jeff Blackman's Results Report September 2013

This is an excerpt from Jeff Blackman's Results Report  (subscribe to his report below)

One of the great joys of writing The Results Report, is folks recommend to me new sources of content. Smart people I never knew, but quickly learn, their message, beliefs and perspectives will be of great benefit to you, my valued and loyal reader.

That's how Bill Burnett and I found each other. He's the author of: Advantage: Business Competition in the New Normal, Behave! How to Get 100% of Your Workers Fully Engaged and The Peak Interview: New Insights into Winning the Interview and Getting the Job.

What I think you'll especially enjoy, is Bill's insights and opinions will force you to think. You may agree with him. Yet, you may also vehemently disagree.

You may consider some of Bill's declarations disruptive or controversial. They may even make you squirm. That's okay. Because one of the goals of this e-zine, is to help you imagine "other ways" or "what if" possibilities. Heck, to delight in disruption!

Here are excerpts from our conversation.

Jeff Blackman: How does a company become a competitive powerhouse?

Bill Burnett: Create a monopoly! As bad as that sounds, it works. It’s perhaps the best way to become a competitive powerhouse and a strategy lots of companies have pursued.
You can do it by carving out a market presence others will be unable to challenge. In some respects that's what Microsoft has done. They've locked us into their solutions by being the gatekeeper to products running on your PC.

You can also create a monopoly with unique intellectual property. Polaroid cameras, at one time, enjoyed that kind of a monopoly. Or you can become iconic. The Barbie Doll carved out a monopoly in, well, Barbie Dolls!

You can also be better than your competition. That's what Google did to Yahoo and other search engines. It's what Pixar did with animation and great story telling. What W. L. Gore has done to guitar strings by coating them with microscopically thin, advanced polymer tube coatings. Now they own the biggest share, (35%), of the guitar string market.

Alternatively, companies become competitive powerhouses by providing higher quality at a lower cost. We often think of Henry Ford inventing the assembly line to drive down the cost of the automobile to make them affordable. However, all that automation was done earlier by Colt. They turned the pistol industry upside down by dominating manufacturing through an assembly line of interchangeable parts. Prior to that, every gun was uniquely constructed with unique hand-crafted parts.

You can also become a competitive powerhouse by changing the sales model. Zappos did it for shoes. Amazon for books. eBay for garage sales. Historically, and unfortunately, some take the "monopoly" idea too far. You can strong-arm your way into a monopoly. Grease the right palms in the government and suddenly you're the winner of a no-bid government contract supporting a war. Or 'take-out' the competition as some drug lords have done. Or buy-up all competitors.  

Innovation also plays a big role in sustaining a competitive advantage. And another big factor, is how you interact with customers. Both innovation and how you treat customers depend upon your people. Every individual in your company plays a role.

JB: How does an individual become a competitive powerhouse?

BB: Ironically, for most people, you become a competitive powerhouse by not being an individual. For companies, teams provide more value. The lone inventor model is mostly a myth. The best way to sustain competitive advantage is through innovation. In the end, every idea comes out of a single brain. However, innovation improves by having lots of brains in the room exchanging knowledge.

That gives you lots more dots from which connections can be made. Those connections may pop out of any one of the brains in the room. Useful insights can come from unlikely places. We hold up certain people as great inventors, guys like Thomas Edison. But he wasn't alone. He used teams of people who could think and build. He leveraged their brainpower.

JB: What role does innovation then play in success? How is it attained? Communicated? Leveraged?

BB: We often think about innovation as some BIG idea, like Scotch Tape, or iTunes + iPod, or the Internet. However, the real source of competitive advantage is lots of little innovations. In mature industries the companies that have vastly superior operating margins get there through innovation. At the famous Toyota/GM joint venture NUMMI assembly plant, the line workers implemented about 10,000 little innovations every year. Their operating margin surpassed other assembly plants in the U.S. by a large margin.

What often happens in companies that get very innovative, is the first round of ideas usually focus on "faster, cheaper, better." They're all about becoming better at what we do for current customers. The next round of ideas expands into other problems our current customers face and we create new products and services to meet those needs. Finally, the third round of ideas creates new products for new customer and segments. And of course, innovation thrives when all three rounds happen all the time.

Jeff Blackman: You say, "Useful insights can come from unlikely places.” So where should leaders look for those insights?

BB: Everywhere! You never know which brain is going to synthesize the great idea. I remember leading a five-day meeting where we were tasked with redesigning one of the company's core pieces of technology. At the end of the second day, we reached an impasse. Then this shy, quiet, very agreeable, Pakistani gentleman from the Dubai business approached me with an idea. It changed our business model and drove $2 billion in incremental sales every year thereafter.

On another occasion, while traveling in Latin America, someone made a suggestion. At the time I thought, "This person doesn't have a clue.” Three weeks later, I'm sitting at my desk, when it hits me, "What a brilliant insight!" She'd seen the problem from a different perspective. It was beyond my blinders. She was a great synthesizer.

Since then, I've always encouraged leaders to put people in positions where they must participate in the discussion. Don't let the shy, quiet person or the seemingly arrogant person who's got what Robert Galvin, former longtime Motorola CEO called, "The Minority Report" off the hook, or they'll leave the room with the best idea.

JB: Tell me more about the significance/impact of “synthesis.”

BB: We create new knowledge in three ways:

  1: Discovery: We stumble upon something and it dawns on us how this discovery might be valuable.

  2. Experimentation: We have some notion of what the root cause of a problem is and we try all kinds of solutions until we find one that works.

  3. Synthesis: It's the most common way we innovate. It's simply the ability to take a bit of knowledge from here, and another from way over there, and somehow combine them to create new knowledge. This happens in our brains and we all do it.

I'll use charcoal as an example for all three.

Charcoal was originally "discovered" to burn hotter than wood. You could use it to melt metals. That made it valuable. People who wanted to sell charcoal began experimenting to find better ways to refine charcoal from wood. But there's a problem of waste in the bottom of the kiln after the refining process is complete. Lots of tiny bits of charcoal line the bottom of the refining kiln after every burn. These were too small to sell so they were thrown away. 

Yet not wanting to waste this fuel, Henry Ford "synthesized" a solution. He knew from the paper industry that starches can bind fibers. He also knew that in its near pure carbon form, charcoal retains its fibrous nature. He simply made a starch slurry mixed in the bits of charcoal, formed them into balls, let them dry, and called them briquettes. The company he formed was Kingsford, now owned by Clorox. 

Everyone synthesizes, but some people are really good at it and we call them "supersynthesizers."

JB: What/who's a "Supersynthesizer?"

BB: A supersynthesizer connects distant dots. Examples are physicists like Albert Einstein and Richard Feynman. But lots of computer programmers, scientists or businesspeople are also supersynthesizers. James March, professor emeritus at Stanford studied these people for years. While anyone can be a supersynthesizer, according to March, they often possess three traits:

  1. they can be "low self-monitors," they don't care how others perceive them

  2. they usually avoid contact with co-workers, preferring to work alone, and

  3. they tend to have high self-esteem, can be a pain to work with, don't play well on teams, don't care about your opinion, and come across as arrogant

JB: How do individuals and companies become better problem solvers?

BB: At the individual level, Malcolm Gladwell was right. If you want to  get good at something, practice, practice, practice. People who are good problem solvers do a lot of it. Solving a difficult problem will boost these people's sense of self-worth. Certainly some people are born with brains that can solve some problems well, yet are completely unable to understand other problems. Think of someone great at math and logic problems, but not so good at figuring whether someone is frowning because they're angry or confused. Everyone is good at some kind of problem solving, you just have to create the environment where they're enabled.

At the company level, you get better first, by making sure people are all fully engaged. Then you need structure to create accountability around delivery behavior. We actually reverse these, structure first, engagement second. The thing about engagement, is standard approaches don't work. I'm always surprised when the leading 'scientist' in the leading employee engagement firm points out only a few companies put forth the effort and success in getting upwards of 70% of their employees fully engaged. This is supposed to be a great result! Where I went to school, anything under 70% is an 'F'!

Why do we listen to people who delight in getting an 'F'? Especially when there are companies that get all their workers fully engaged. Companies like Semco, Morning Star, Valve Corporation and Gore. What they do really well, isn't some action that's designed to engage workers. Rather, they stop disengaging workers.

Over and over again, history has shown us that if you just let them, 99% of workers will be self-motivated. Of course, the obstacle is a big one. However, it's easy to overcome if you have the will to do so, and impossible if you don't. 

The discussion to understand this obstacle is a long one. It boils down to this: the hierarchical management structure most companies use, creates a parent-to-child dynamic that undermines the subordinate's sense of identity. Earlier I talked about the supersynthesizer and their high level of self-esteem. Playing the child role is an affront to self-esteem. Identity is a big motivator. A subordinate who's repeatedly forced to interact with someone who takes the parent role, whether it's scolding, correction, instruction, or praise, will lead to the subordinate becoming disengaged.
Lots of employee engagement experts recommend management do lots more recognition. This is bad advice. It's just too much parenting. The best thing you can do is ban parenting at the workplace. If you want to maximize your operating margin and spur top-line growth, you'll want to replace hierarchical accountability with peer-to-peer accountability.

JB: What talent(s) are crucial for creating success?

BB: Harry Truman said, "It's amazing what you can accomplish if you don't care who gets the credit." The trouble is, we are all scorekeepers. We haven't yet figured out this problem of needing to take credit for something.

But by implementing a team based peer-to-peer accountability structure we go a long ways to ameliorating it. We think what's crucial for a company is its sense of team. For a team to function well, we want to confirm three things about each team member:

  - First, they have to thoroughly understand what they're getting themselves into.  

  - Second, they must desire the job.

  - Third, and this has something to do with talent, they must be able to master the tasks.

We use a process similar to what Gino Wickman describes in his book Traction, to make sure every member of the team answers 'yes' to all three questions when we ask them about themselves and every other team member. Then you need a structure that bakes-in peer-to-peer accountability and ensures the team is highly motivated. We use a methodology that results in a short document, like a contract among team members, the Colleague Letter of Commitments™. Morning Star in California uses a similar method with incredible success.