Let People Be Themselves
Hire for difference—in people’s thought processes and life experiences, among other qualities. In interviews, explore people’s origins and backgrounds; this will illuminate how people see themselves and the world. Don’t rely only on search firms—they often tend to produce lists of the usual suspects. Keep a notebook of talent that you spot in unusual places.
Don’t forget the familiar advice: “Hire for attitude and train for aptitude.” Don’t allow HR to dominate recruitment selection and induction. Interview people sequentially, which will allow you to collect a variety of perspectives on each candidate. If done skillfully, you will enhance your chances of discovering difference. Because your investment in people is the most important investment you’ll ever make, be sure that HR involves line executives in hiring processes and makes every effort to seek out difference in new hires and protect those differences.
Be more tolerant of differences and how they are expressed. Conventional wisdom has always been that leaders should encourage what sociologists call cognitive conflict—the clash of ideas—and discourage affective conflict—the clash of emotions. Our observations lead us to believe that in high-performance organizations, a little clash of emotions is actually no bad thing. Emotions are a major source of energy at work; build time into your meetings for the expression of individual feelings.
Practice Radical Honesty
Communicate honestly and quickly. You have less time than you think. Modern technologies have dramatically speeded the dissemination of information. Make sure, however, you are focused on what’s most important to tell people. Radical honesty is proactive.
Use many communications channels. Remember, you are attempting to reach individuals and groups within and beyond your organization with different communicative habits. There may be marked generational variations. Younger people will use social media, older generations may rely on face-to-face contact and networks. Recognize your default mode and experiment with other channels.
Encourage radically honest conversations about people’s hopes and fears throughout the organization. Power relationships tend to sanitize the information that reaches the top. You will need to find a way of knowing what’s really going on. Take a deep dive into your organization, collecting information that hasn’t yet been sanitized. Allow people to bring you bad news—make it feel safe for them. Radical honesty works both ways
Build on People’s Strengths and Interests
Offer opportunities for adding extra value in people’s personal development as well as professional development. Conceptualize extra value in rich and diverse ways—think about all of the various forms of value that we have described. This is about much more than the simple development of technical skills and the deployment of training budgets. Remember that some forms of value may be developed speedily while others are slow burn.
Recognize that adding value to employees and generating value as an organization are not competing activities. They are clearly symbiotic. Add value to make value. Great pharma companies recruit talented scientists who are obsessed with their scientific expertise, but to this they add critical leadership abilities that drive successful drug development. Or think of your favorite bar or restaurant: the food, the service, and the ambiance all add value—and all of them rest on the skill of the staff.
￼Help your star employees to shine and your weaker players to grow. Don’t restrict development to your best workers. Understand that there are considerable benefits from adding value to the “average” employee. For too long HR departments have been obsessed with high-potential employees (HiPos); think instead of adding value right across the range.
Stand for Something Real
Demonstrate your own authenticity. You can hardly expect this in others if you don’t demonstrate it yourself. As we have urged repeatedly in our earlier research: be yourself—more—with skill. This means understanding what you have in terms of the distinctive personal differences that can work positively for you, as well as the weaknesses that may effectively humanize you. With this self-insight it is then possible to explore what works in particular contexts and particular relationships. Remember, the skillful communication of authenticity rests upon an expert read of your situation.
Understand your personal authentic roots. Organizations have roots and so do you. It is inauthentic to attempt to write these off, but in a mobile world some people try. Search for a balance between where you started and where you are now. Clearly you need to adapt to where you work in order to make connections. But too much conformity and you will lose your individuality and leadership ability; not enough and you will never produce sustainable change.
Communicate what you stand for and what you take pride in—clearly and simply. Use opportunities to connect this communication to organizational purpose and values. Tell personal stories—they can be very effective. The most powerful value systems can be deduced from real behavior—they don’t have to be written down.
Make It Meaningful
Don’t assume your motives (and your sense of what’s meaningful) are shared by others. We often know a lot about others’ abilities and experience—CVs are stuffed full of this information. But how much do you know about others’ motives and goals? Our experience is that for many people, this is a gap. In the absence of good information we often assume others’ motives are like ours. But the overwhelming evidence is that they are not! Motives vary. It is difficult to assess what is meaningful to others without understanding their motives. Is it recognition? Or relationships? Or security? Or self-fulfillment? Or power and influence? Good leaders keep a notebook and build rich pictures of others’ motives and how they may change.
Take in different experiences/get out of your comfort zone to find the meaningful. It’s hard to know how the pieces of your organization fit together and connect unless you know something about the other pieces. For example, if you are head of radio at the BBC, make sure that you are visible in TV and online. Go out of your way to connect with support staff in finance, HR, and legal. You will be amazed at how much more connected you can make your organization feel. The more connected you are, the more meaningful your work may become, as you see the link between individual effort and collective outcome.
Take every opportunity to connect your organization’s efforts and outputs to the wider community. Bring in messages from the outside. Beware organizational introspection. It’s meaningful to know the impact you have on the wider society. Think about how many supermarkets and restaurants now take care to employ local staff and proclaim their commitment to local products.
Simplify the Rules
When things go wrong, resist the temptation to invent another rule. Where you can, try trust first, and accept that this may not always produce what you want. Rules may look like a quick fix, but they can inspire a “low trust” downward spiral that typically creates more problems.
Don’t ask others to do things that you wouldn’t do yourself. You are unlikely to engender respect for the rules—or for yourself—if you repeatedly create exceptions for yourself or for others. If you have rules, believe in them!
Check how the rules affect all stakeholders. Rules affect not just employees and regulators, but also customers and the wider society. Next time you introduce a new rule, be sure to examine the impact it might have on customers, consumers, suppliers, and other stakeholders.