Part 1 organization and execution

НазваниеPart 1 organization and execution
Дата публикации01.07.2013
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^ The Reward of Recognition

In a field that is particularly notorious for hoarding ownership and credit for ideas at the top of the organization, Joshua Prince-Ramus, president of REX, is an architect with something entirely different in mind. Upon the debut of his firm’s first large-scale project, the Dee and Charles Wyly Theatre in Dallas, people gathered at the Wyly largely expecting a momentous announcement that would place Prince-Ramus in the spotlight as a hot, emerging architect. Instead, he went onstage with a different kind of message: “We, not me.”

According to an article in ^ Fast Company, Prince-Ramus went on to say, “The genius sketch is a myth. Architecture is made by a team of committed people who work together. . . . Success usually has more to do with dumb determination than with genius.”

And Prince-Ramus was not just talking the talk. When one of the firm’s clients printed a brochure that attributed the credit for a REX building to Prince-Ramus, he demanded that the brochure be reprinted with an alphabetical list of the architects who were involved with the project.

Prince-Ramus’s “we”-oriented approach contrasts sharply with that of the typical credit-hoarding executive. Years ago, I had occasion to meet the head of marketing at a start-up that was encountering some early success. Thomas, as we’ll call him, had helped lead a number of start-ups and had dealt with his share of ego-driven CEOs. “It is pretty predictable,” he explained. “When ideas prove to be great, the CEO takes tremendous pride. When things are rough, it becomes a blame game.” Then his demeanor stiffened a bit and he further qualified his statement: “We have a great CEO.

A real creative guy. But he thrives on his success and only truly recognizes the role of our team when dealing with something that goes horribly wrong.”

Thomas’s story illustrates what happens in a more typical top-down environment where higher-ups hoard all of the credit. The recognition accorded for the completion of successful projects is most powerful when it’s distributed. As we see with Prince-Ramus and many of the leaders I have interviewed, success is more than a personal reward for leaders; it is a valuable currency that can be distributed to the team. The only bank account that the shared credit depletes is the leader’s ego.

Recognition is a powerful reward that, whether or not money is tight, can help further engage those who play a role in making your ideas happen.

TAKING RESPONSIBILITY FOR the chemistry of your team can be just as effective as retooling rewards for emboldening your creative pursuits. You are the steward of the chemistry in every project you lead, starting with who and how you hire. As you cultivate a productive work environment, you must strike a balance between flexibility and expectations, idea generation and execution, and helpful disagreements and consensus.

Your team’s chemistry is a reflection of your ability to strike a harmonious balance and constantly make small tweaks in the service of making ideas happen.

During my visit with Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh, it was clear that a potential employee’s culture-fit and commitment to serving customers are as important as the technical skills required for the job. To demonstrate this core value, Hsieh tells the story about a key technical hire—a top executive—whom the company recruited and moved from Los Angeles to Zappos’s headquarters in Las Vegas. Upon arriving to solve some critical technology challenges for the company, the new hire made it clear that he wasn’t interested in doing any direct customer support. The company fired him, losing quite a bit of money in the process. The reason? Zappos considers interest in customer support as a basic expectation, a prime element of the company’s DNA.

As you build a high-performing creative team, you will want to look beyond technical skills and develop a chemistry that will transform ideas into remarkable accomplishments.
^ Engage Initiators in Your Creative Pursuits

Building a team of enthusiastic and talented people is one of the greatest challenges for leaders. A resumé gives little indication of a candidate’s true mettle. Rather than focusing exclusively on an individual’s experience, truly effective managers instead measure a prospective employee’s ability to take initiative.

People who jump into whatever interests them, even if sometimes prematurely, power productive teams. A tremendous amount of energy and endurance is required to make ideas happen. As we now know, simply being interested in new ideas is not sufficient.

Those who consistently take initiative possess tenacity and a healthy degree of impatience with idleness.

Not surprisingly, the best indicator of future initiative is past initiative. For example, consider a candidate applying to join your team who led an astronomy club in college and later helped found a not-for-profit that introduces astronomy to inner-city youth.

Regardless of the nonastronomical nature of your project, this candidate is likely to take initiative if you can inspire interest in your pursuit. I have come to call these people “Initiators” based on their tendency to attach themselves to an interest and then relentlessly push it forward.

Earlier we heard from Jon Ellenthal, the president of Walker Digital, the unique R&D intellectual property firm behind such innovations as and a number of other successful patented inventions. Ellenthal and his team pride themselves on hiring Initiators rather than superstars. “I always try to hire people with a high level of intrinsic motivation,” Ellenthal explains. “I don’t want to spend my time trying to get people to do something. Ideas never get made unless everyone makes it their business to do so.”

More than anything else, Ellenthal strives to unearth Initiators. “I recall the days when I was a resumé snob,” he says. “[But now] I would trade experience for initiative and the raw desire to do stuff in a heartbeat.”

As you assemble teams around creative projects, probe candidates for their true interests—whatever they may be—and then measure the extent to which the candidate has pursued those interests. Ask for specific examples and seek to understand the lapses of time between interest and action. When you stumble across an Initiator — someone who has passion, generates ideas, and tends to take action—recognize your good fortune. Nothing will assist your ideas more than a team of people who possess real initiative.
^ Cultivate Complementary Skill Sets

Just as you should build a team of Initiators, you should also foster a chemistry of complementary expertise. Diego Rodriguez, a senior partner at IDEO, the design consultancy discussed earlier, cites the “T”—where the long horizontal line at the top of the letter represents an individual’s breadth of experience, while the tall vertical line represents a depth of experience in one particular area. “At IDEO, we look to hire and build teams of ‘T’ people,” Rodriguez explained to me. His expectation is that each person on a team should have both a general breadth of skills that supports collaboration and good chemistry and a deep expertise in a single area, such as graphic design, business, or electrical engineering. “The benefits of having ‘T’ people on a team is that everyone is able to relate across boundaries while also covering depth in one particular area.”

Rodriguez attributes much of IDEO’s success to a culture of mutual respect and a desire to be remarkable. The “T” concept enables teams to practice a true meritocracy in the process of idea generation. IDEO’s use of rapid prototyping is all the more effective when people share enough broad knowledge and value for the culture that they can seriously consider solutions from their peers with a different area of expertise.

It is unlikely that IDEO has any greater understanding of electronics than Hewlett-Packard, or of banking than Bank of America (both IDEO clients). The expertise within IDEO likely exists within their clients’ companies as well. It is the chemistry within teams at IDEO that makes all the difference.

When it comes to work flow and how teams are led, IDEO’s chemistry is a competitive advantage. With careful hiring and a shared understanding, the various project teams at IDEO are spared from the clashes that are all too typical in other teams. Ideas can be pursued unencumbered by the misunderstandings and ego-driven antics that other cross-disciplinary teams must face daily.
^ Provide Flexibility for Productivity

As you develop some norms and expectations for your team’s work flow, try to elevate true productivity over the appearance of hard work. Managers instinctively measure work ethic with an eye on the clock. Measuring work by time spent working is seductive, because it’s easy and objective. But doing so defies the realities of the creative work flow and will ultimately damage morale.

In reality, ideas are made to happen in spurts.

The pressure of being required to sit at your desk until a certain time creates a factory-like culture that ignores a few basic laws of idea generation and human nature: (1) When the brain is tired, it doesn’t work well, (2) Idea generation happens on its own terms, and (3) When you feel forced to execute beyond your capacity, you begin to hate what you are doing.

Rather than focusing on face time, creative teams should embrace transparency and strive to build a fundamental trust between colleagues. As leaders, we must create rules and norms for the sake of efficiency rather than as a result of mistrust. We should measure tangible outputs like actions taken and quality of outcomes.

Some companies have completely departed from the traditional mind-set that butts-inchairs equals productivity. Best Buy, IBM, Sun Microsystems, and other major firms have implemented programs like ROWE (Results Only Work Environment), which measures performance based on output rather than sit-put. In a ROWE environment, employees are compensated based on their achievement of specified goals rather than on the number of hours worked. The ultimate goal is to empower employees to make their own decisions about when and where they work as long as mutually agreed-upon goals are achieved. This means that bosses stop watching employee calendars and paying attention to when people arrive and leave the office.

In one study conducted by Gallup Inc. reported in BusinessWeek, productivity in departments at Best Buy that had adopted the ROWE program was up an average of 35 percent, along with a marked increase in employee satisfaction. It turns out that people thrive when their judgment and autonomy are respected.

Workplace flexibility can be a tricky conundrum—while it helps improve a team’s chemistry, it also requires a certain degree of chemistry going in. There must be a shared level of trust and commitment to ensure that this autonomy is used for good purposes. More important, operating successfully in an autonomous environment requires that a concrete set of goals be established and constantly revisited. ROWE and other attempts at hands-off management fail miserably when objectives and goals are not mutually agreed upon and tightly managed. Many managers struggle to establish and repeatedly review goals with their teams. And, when a team falls short on goals, managers must confront it.

If you find yourself hesitant to support flexibility in your team, you should challenge yourself to find the root cause. Perhaps you’re questioning your team’s commitment to the projects. Or maybe the goals—or deliverables—are not specific enough. When leaders lack confidence in their team’s preparedness and commitment, they compensate through increased control. Instead, you should examine the root cause. If

you question your team’s dedication, take a closer look at the chemistry. Are incentives aligned properly? Are their unaired doubts in the plan? Does each member of the team feel challenged, and fully empowered to do what he or she does best? Many small creative teams and start-up companies also suffer from unclear goals. A popular fix is to have regular ten-minute “standing meetings” at which the team reviews the current milestones and deadlines for progress. Another best practice is to have the list of major milestones up on the wall, visible to all. Just a quick check-in—or a glance up at the wall—can refocus an entire team on the priorities.

Admired leaders of creative projects are able to provide flexibility for their teams by keeping a close eye on the team’s chemistry and ensuring that the priorities are clear to everyone. And when you feel the urge to question and control, seek out the root cause. Often, your own insecurity as a leader might prohibit you from providing the autonomy that your team needs to thrive.
^ Foster an Immune System That Kills Ideas

A strong chemistry in a team will not only support the development of new ideas but also help get rid of bad ones. In our bodies, the immune system plays the crucial role of killing off harmful viruses and bacteria. Without our immune system, our organs would fail from the constant invasion of new pathogens. Similarly, our ongoing projects face grave risks when new ideas arise during our process. Our ability to extinguish new ideas is critical to productivity and to our capacity to scale existing projects. In a team setting, the skeptics—the ones who always question ideas first rather than falling in love with them —are the white blood cells. The skeptics keep us functioning and help us stay on track.

While our natural tendency may be to not hire, engage with, or empower those with an inclination to poke holes in our ideas, these people are in fact essential to a productive creative environment. As Michael Crooke, president and CEO of outdoor apparel company Patagonia, proudly proclaimed at a Wharton West conference, “The people closest to me are all naysayers.”

As you cultivate your team’s immune system, you will want to differentiate between skeptics and cynics. Cynics cling to their doubts and are often unwilling to move away from their convictions. By contrast, skeptics are willing to embrace something new—they are just wary and critical at first. Though they are often undervalued, skeptics are an essential component of a healthy team, and leaders should cultivate their respect and influence.

Of course, there will be times when you will want to suppress the immune system and help the team play with ideas in an open-minded, blue-sky format—without skepticism. On such occasions, the skeptical members of the team should know their role and tailor their feedback accordingly.

The great challenge is to balance idea generation and relentless focus. While you don’t want to behave like a large company that locks down all creativity from the point of production, you also don’t want to act like a fledgling start-up that is always generating new ideas and features that saturate the project, ultimately getting in the way of execution. Finding the right balance requires allocating time for open idea exchange along with a healthy level of intolerance for idea generation during execution. One approach is to have a bias toward considering ideas during brainstorming sessions and killing ideas when they come up randomly during execution. Your resident skeptics can be helpful on this front. Of course, great ideas may still crop up unexpectedly, but when they do your bias should be to stay focused on the project at hand. With this approach, only the mightiest of ideas—those worthy of deep consideration—will risk getting you off track.
^ Fight Your Way to Breakthroughs

Conflict is a common occurrence in any creative process. It is a good sign, a powerful opportunity to refine your ideas and processes. Despite the frustration that friction causes, it will serve you in the long run if you are able to manage it. The leaders of great creative teams value the friction that results when opinions vary among a passionate group of creative minds. If good chemistry has been cultivated, teams can use disagreements to foster valuable insights that would otherwise be inaccessible. Yet despite the opportunities that conflict provides, our tendency is to shy away from it.

We will often completely disengage when a creative process becomes heated.

Conflict happens very easily. For any problem, there are multiple possible solutions —some better than others. In a diverse team, there will be many different opinions. Often, the person with the most power or experience just makes the call. Or sometimes people will openly disagree but eventually withdraw as the fight ensues. Conflict is a byproduct of different viewpoints, but you cannot let it become a source of apathy.

Fighting is uncomfortable, but consider the benefits of opposing perspectives duking it out. Imagine that the answer to a problem lies somewhere on a spectrum between A and B. The more arguing that takes place about both ends of the spectrum, the more likely it is that the complete terrain of possibilities will be adequately explored. By contrast, if the advocates for A just give up, then B becomes the default answer without any better solution being discovered in between. The alternative to healthy disagreement is apathy, a toxic state of mind that only encourages inertia. It is critical that you actively combat the tendency of some team members to withdraw from the dialogue when sparks start to fly—even if it means pulling colleagues aside and encouraging them to stick with it. The more individuals involved as the team triangulates on the solution, the better.

The best answer to any problem often dwells in the land of the unknown. If the members of your team have the fortitude to advocate for their perspectives while respectfully considering those of others, then the breakthrough will reveal itself. A leader’s role is to keep people engaged in the debate and ruthlessly attack apathy.

As the leader of a creative team, try to foster healthy debate between people with different levels of influence and experience. One helpful practice is to get everyone to share proposed solutions or ideas first, prior to having people react. Junior people go first, followed by alternative proposals from the more experienced members of the team.

Then, as people share their reactions, be sure that all members of the team stay engaged throughout the exchange. When you notice shortness or impatience, confront it with a question about process—something along the lines of “How can we keep all options on the table?” or “Since we’re all trying to find the best solution, why are we getting impatient with each other?”

Some of the most admired creative teams share a common tenet—they are comfortable fighting out their disagreements and diverse points of view, but they always share conviction after the meeting. These teams recognize that the purpose of disagreement is to more fully explore the options. Fighting, as it turns out, is an asset for the teams that can stomach it. But the animosity is released when the exercise is over.

Your team is more likely to conceive breakthroughs if its chemistry is strong enough to capitalize on conflict.
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