The Right Stuff for You

Our principal partner Dr. Diana Elliott once worked for a relatively young company with a remarkably profitable history. Started by the two founders in the basement of a home in Annapolis, MD, by its 16th year it owned (outright) several three story office buildings; its annual sales were $3.5 billion and its annual growth rate was 17%. Incredible.

Brought in to help them continue the upward growth, we had this conversation:

  • Question: "What causes you to have this growth rate and unusual profit?"
  • Answer: "Hire the right people, teach them our business processes and develop them. "
  • Question: "So who are the right people ?"
  • Answer: "Well, they have the right know, they have 'IT'."
  • Question: "What is 'IT'?"
  • Answer: "We can't tell you, but we all know 'IT' when we see it!"
  • High level agreement, enthusiastic nodding, all around.

These executives understood that the skills and attitudes of their employees were the reason for the company's success.

So what might be the "right stuff" for your organization? What are some competencies in your workforce that can be critical for performance? How do you hire people that have these?

In later articles we will explore the role of emotional intelligence in performance, career stallers and derailers that may affect high performers, and the best practices in developing your workforce. First, identifying "IT".

Steps to Effective Performance

Making sure your employees can perform to meet the needs of the organization begins with defining the needs of that organization! Simple but not that common in practice. Too many companies do not have well defined strategic plans. In the absence of that, employees do largely what they think they should do, what is the easiest, or what they know how to do. So how do organizations get consistently high level performance that moves the organization in the right direction?

  • Step 1. Your first step is to decide what the organization does or intends to do. Is it in pharmaceuticals or manufacturing where you must have rigorous processes with adherence to standards? Is it in services where the primary mission is customer satisfaction? Is the work creative and innovative such as research and development or the arts? Is the intent to be the market leader in innovations? Is it to provide the lowest cost? Or best service (customer intimacy)? Making these strategic decisions is crucial to clarifying where the organization is going and getting the right people in the right places to make it happen. (See Wiersema, Treacy and Wiersema, The Discipline of Market Leaders; Bossidy and Charan, Execution: The Discipline of Getting Things Done; and Mauborgne and Kim, Blue Ocean Strategy: How to Create Uncontested Market Space and Make Competition Irrelevant).
  • Step 2. Communicate the strategy, your values, the goals and the milestones. Be sure those people that will make the plan work understand what the plan is. Be clear about what is important in the organization, its mission and values. Put processes in place and create metrics that can describe how the organization is performing. It's surprising how many individuals inside an organization do not know what is important.

    Once when installing a performance management system in a manufacturing plant, I had several managers and supervisors exclaim, "If I had known that was important, I'd have done more of it!"
  • Step 3. Identify the roles and responsibilities for the people in the organization. Create agreed-upon goals. Then put in place feedback systems that help people understand how they are doing. And we all realize once a year is not enough feedback for people if they are to become high performers! Feedback should be deliberate, specific and frequent. Managers and supervisors need to be coached on the content and frequency of these meaningful conversations. The organization should provide support for employees in the form of training, development, coaching, corrections when needed and recognition for their effort and accomplishments.

    And here is where the "IT" shows up:
  • Step 4. Define the competencies needed in key functions for your organization's people to perform well. What does this mean? To begin, identify the competencies based on where your organization is GOING, not where it has been.
    • She once managed a training department with staff members who were highly skilled at designing training. One year we shifted focus in manufacturing and needed to generate training in five different lines simultaneously. It was too much for the staff to do, so we decided to outsource the training development and use our training staff as managers of the process. One day I walked into Jim's office and discovered he was rewriting and editing at length the training materials provided by a vendor. If it wasn't done or said his way, it just wasn't acceptable. Managing vendors requires a different skill set than designing training. With some coaching, Jim got more comfortable with his new role.

    Next, your organization can identify key (or leverage) positions or groups and create competency profiles that describe the skills and attitudes that underlie high performance for those jobs. We know countless stories of managers that are overwhelmed by a new technology required for them to be competitive in today's marketplace.

    • We have known some executives who even rely on their administrative assistants to print out emails so they can dictate or handwrite a response! Manufacturing supervisors are bewildered by the requirement to chart activities on the floor, wondering why they cannot do their jobs as they have always done them.

    People who are behind or overwhelmed need help gaining those competencies, or help finding a better assignment, with more fit for their skills.

    Also organizations should be sure the leaders have the leadership qualities required to move the organization into the future. Leaders help an organization identify the future, gain enthusiasm for that adventure, define the resources needed and help people make the changes required.

    • The owner of one of our clients in insurance was sure a business process needed revision. However, the vice president in that area resisted making any changes because he understood how to manage using those steps already in place. The organization had to manage past his fear and reluctance to change, requiring that he comply. He wasn't leading, he was being dragged into the future.

    Also, having a succession system (based on leadership competencies) assures that as people change positions or leave the organization you have the right people to fill those roles or know what you need to look for.

  • Step 5. Use the competency profiles to recruit, hire, promote, coach, correct, recognize and reward employees.

So, What is The "IT"?

For the rapid growing service company described earlier, we went through a process to identify the key competencies required to be a high performer. We identified 3 key levels: entering employees, supervisors, and directors. With focus groups of high performing employees we were able to define what was essential.

For the new hires, we discovered the "IT" were these key competencies: Action Orientation, Customer Focus, Developing Direct Reports, Ethics and Values, Personal Learning and Negotiating. Based on that profile, confirmed by high performing individuals in the job and by supervisors of those individuals, we were able to create a hiring and development system to ensure the organization continued into a sustainable future. We also developed profiles for supervisors and directors. The organization was now able to talk about, hire, develop and promote employees with "IT".

For your organization, the "IT" may vary depending on your strategy, marketplace, individuals' roles, makeup of the workforce, and resources available. But a customized process can work to help you find the "right stuff" for your organization, the "IT" that makes you successful.

If you would like further information on this process, or any others suggested in the article, visit our contact page.