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    Entries in strategy (27)

    Monday
    Jul112016

    Is it a great company culture or just a collection of great talent?

    Lots and lots of folks like to push 'culture' as the primary driver of organizational success. I have written and presented pretty extensively on why I think that's wrong. Check any of my 'Rock-Paper-Scissors' posts in case you are interested.

    One of the many reasons I get a little skeptical about this 'cult of culture' is that by its very nature culture is hard to define, to measure, and hard to draw any kind of a direct (or even a dotted) line from culture to actual results. I'm not saying it's impossible, but just really, really, tough.

    But another reason why culture gets too much emphasis is how easy it can be to confuse a great culture with what is really just a collection of great talent. This challenge was discussed, I think very effectively, on of all things an NBA podcast I was listening to recently, by ESPN writer Kevin Arnovitz on the July 6 episode of The Lowe Post Podcast.  Lowe and Arnovitz were discussing the recent decision by NBA star Kevin Durant to leave the Oklahoma City Thunder and join the Golden State Warriors - a team famous for their 'culture'.

    Here's Arnovitz' observations on culture v. talent, then some comments from me after the quotes:

    On an NBA team is culture permanent? Or is it really just transient? Is it this fancy word people like us to describe what is really just a concentration of good talent, but it seems like culture? But actually what it is is just really good basketball players there? Which is why they (the Warriors) win, it's not because they have any special connection to the community of San Francisco like people like to talk about. 

    Steve here - I think these observations are spot on, especially in a business setting like an NBA team where individual talent and excellence plays such a critical role in organizational success. Said a little differently, it is almost impossible to achieve the highest level of team success in the NBA without at least one superstar player, and one or two other All-star caliber players. You simply can't win without that talent level no matter how fantastic your team's culture may be.

    And I know that I get a fair bit of heat from folks for trying to make these kinds of HR/talent points using sports analogies, as some folks think that an NBA team and its dynamics offer little to us to learn from, back here in the real world. But I continue to think that they are valid ones to make, especially as more and more organizations and work teams have to rely on ideas, innovation, creativity, and quite simply talent, in order to succeed in a hyper-fast, hyper-competitive world.

    Ask yourself some of the questions about your organization that Arnovitz hints at.

    What would really drive increased performance at your shop? More talented people? Or a somehow 'better' culture?

    Which one of those levers is easier for you to influence? To measure? To replicate?

    This isn't about me trying to convince you that culture = bad and talent = good.

    It's about making sure we keep both in mind, (along with Strategy, if we really want to get back to my Rock-Paper-Scissors take).

    When you put 4 of the best 10 or 12 best basketball players in the world on the same team you are going to win A LOT of games. If at the same time you have a great culture, you may win one two extra games.

    But the great culture without the great players? Good luck in the draft lottery next year.

    Have a great week!  

    Wednesday
    Feb172016

    HRE Column: Rethinking Culture and Strategy

    Here is my semi-frequent reminder and pointer for blog readers that I also write a monthly column at Human Resource Executive Online called Inside HR Tech and that archives of which can be found here.

    As usual, the Inside HR Tech column is about, well, HR Tech, (sort of like I used to write about all the time on this blog), and it was inspired by a recent HR Happy Hour Show that Trish McFarlane and I did with Anthony Abbatiello from Deloitte, and that focused (primarlily) on the connection between organizational culture and business strategy. This was a great conversation, and I encourage you check it out.

    On the show, Anthony also talked about a new software product from Deloitte called CulturePath, designed to help organizations not only understand and assess their culture, but to also help HR and business leaders with the critical task of aligning culture with business strategy. Since I thought the show was so interesting, and the product incredibly interesting, it was the topic of my latest column for HR Executive.

    Here is an excerpt from the HRE column, 'Rethinking Culture and Strategy'

    From HR Executive...

    The "Culture is King" folks sometimes would make us think that a "fun" or "flexible" or "inclusive" culture (or whatever other adjective you prefer that connotes some kind of healthy or desirable culture) is all, or at least nearly all, any organization needs for success.

    This point of view conveniently ignores the idea that, no matter how much free food, foosball tables and flexible-work arrangements an organization has, if they don't have a compelling product or service that meets a true market need, and have recruited and retained the "right" set of talented people to execute on the strategic plans, then all the great organizational culture in the world will still result in failure.

    Plus, it ignores the fact that, for just about every successful organization, the business strategy was formulated first, and then the culture developed around that strategy and through the organization's people.

    So what I am really saying is that culture can't  -- and doesn't -- exist in some kind of vacuum. It has to co-exist and be in alignment with the organization's strategy and resonate with the actual people who inform the culture and execute the strategy.

    My belief that we can't consider culture alone when thinking about what makes an organization successful is probably why I am really impressed with a new technology solution I have recently become familiar with: CulturePath, from the consultancy and advisory firm Deloitte. This solution represents an interesting and important evolution in how we think about culture, strategy and people in the organization.

    The CulturePath solution surveys employees in the organization and then analyzes the aggregated data to measure the organization's cultural attributes across a spectrum of core indices such as collective focus, external orientation, and change and innovation, as well as differentiating indices such as courage, commitment and shared beliefs. The goal is to assess how well the attitudes and behaviors of employees align with, and support, the desired business strategy...

    Read the rest at HR Executive... 

    Good stuff, right? Darn right it is. Ok, just humor me...  And be sure to check out the HR Happy Hour Show where Anthony Abbatiello from Deloitte talks culture, strategy, and technology.

    If you liked the piece you can sign up over at HRE to get the Inside HR Tech Column emailed to you each month. There is no cost to subscribe, in fact, I may even come over and take your dog out for a walk or dig your car out of the snow if you do sign up for the monthly email.

    Have a great day and rest of the week!

    Thursday
    May072015

    Learn a new word Thursday: The BATNA

    I will admit when prowling around for ideas for the blog that I sometimes get lost in the weeds of Wikipedia. Sort of reminds me of how back in the day a 9-year old me would page through volumes of the Funk & Wagnalls Encyclopedia late at night when I should have been sleeping. Note to the kids out there, that is just one example of how miserable life was before the internet, and smart phones, and Snapchat. When I have some more time I will tell you about the 13-inch TV I had to watch in college. 

    But back to the point, (such as it is).

    While reading about a pretty interesting article on a Game Theory principle called the Nash Equilibrium, I came across a slightly less interesting but probably more relevant for the HR/Talent pros, an idea called the BATNA, or in the realm of negotiations, the 'Best Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement.

    From the 'Pedia:

    In negotiation theory, the Best Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement or BATNA is the course of action that will be taken by a party if the current negotiations fail and an agreement cannot be reached. BATNA is the key focus and the driving force behind a successful negotiator. A party should generally not accept a worse resolution than its BATNA. 

    The BATNA is often seen by negotiators not as a safety net, but rather as a point of leverage in negotiations.

    So the BATNA is kind of the fall back plan, the Plan 'B' so to speak if you are unable to reach a negotiated agreement - whether it is for the price of a new car, the starting compensation package for that new job, or if you are unable to convince your significant other that eating at Chili's does, in fact, constitute a 'night out.'

    But the idea that the BATNA isn't a safety net, or a 'bottom-line' is key to the entire concept.

    Usually, a bottom line signifies the worst possible outcome of a negotiation that you are still willing (or are forced to), accept. The bottom line is meant to act as the final barrier after which a negotiation will not proceed. It is a means to defend yourself against the pressure and temptation that sometimes exists to simply end a negotiation, even if the conclusion is self defeating. Although bottom lines definitely serve a purpose, they also inflexible, can eliminate more creative solutions, and decrease the likelihood of long-term satisfaction with the agreement.

    Let's go back to the salary negotiation example to see the difference between the BATNA and the 'bottom-line'.

    Candidate: I am looking to start at $125,000 with 5 weeks vacation.

    Employer: Our offer is a starting salary of $105, 000 plus 3 weeks vacation.

    Candidate BATNA - $115,000 with 4 weeks vacation

    Candidate 'Bottom Line' - probably something like $110,000 with the 3 weeks. 

    Notice the difference between the BATNA and the Bottom Line though. The BATNA gives up a little on the salary number, but represents a gain on the vacation number. It really is a 'Best Alternative' scenario for the candidate, and not just a surrender. The 'Bottom-line' however, is more or less a total loss from a negotiation standpoint. The candidate might be able to live with that outcome, (say if their current salary was $95,000), but if they accept the bottom-line deal they are going to be immediately dissatisfied with the outcome. But if they have the BATNA defined walking in to the negotiation, then settling on it will still represent a good outcome.

    It is a small, maybe even a subtle difference, but understanding the difference between the BATNA and the Bottom-line could be the key to drive better overall outcomes.

    So there it is, your new word of the day - BATNA - The Best Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement.

    Happy haggling.

    Monday
    May042015

    'We believe we can do anything'

    I get kind of bored with most of the conversation/writing about 'Company Culture'. Probably because at best the dialogue seems either a little empty or obvious or perhaps even derivative. Or at worst, it equates vague concepts like 'culture' and 'fit' with exclusionary hiring, promotion, and rewards policies. Used in this way 'culture' becomes the same thing as 'gut feel', which then allows some organizations and leaders to do whatever the hell they want ignoring data, logic, and even at times, the law. And finally, and something I have written and presented about, the 'culture' army confuses or at least substitutes 'culture' for strategy. When a company builds its business around say, providing the best customer service in their industry, that is a conscious strategic decision, not a 'cultural' one. But the 'culture' folks like to ignore strategy, conveniently.No. 61, Rust and Blue, Mark Rothko

    Anyway, a few weeks ago I was listening to a very senior executive at a large corporation discuss their organization's recent strategic acquisitions of a few smaller firms that competed in new, or at least adjacent markets to where the larger firm had traditionally competed. This (at the time still new to the company and in their role) executive expressed concerns to the CEO about their organization's ability to efficiently integrate these newly acquired companies and to effectively compete in these new markets. According to this new Exec, the CEO just leaned back and said something to the effect of 'Relax. This is ACME Company (not their real name, obviously). At ACME, we believe that we can do anything.'

    And to me, that little story was the best example of what, if such a thing really exists, a 'culture' can mean to what an organization does, how they approach challenges, and the types of people that will succeed (and hopefully be happy), working in the organization. As a philosophy it is simple, fundamental, and definiitive. It doesn't require lots of complex messaging or high cost communications strategies to articulate. It is pretty easy to evaluate decisions, actions, behaviors, and probably people too in comparison. Plus, and this is probably why I liked it, the 'We believe that we can do anything' approach sits in an opposite or at least an entirely different way to think about experiments and risk and competition than the 'embrace failure' crowd.

    Like I mentioned at the top, I am not that big on the 'culture' discussions but when it can be expressed in one sentence, in seven words like it was by that CEO, then you might get me to buy in, at least a little. ACME believes that it can do anything.

    What does your organization believe?

    Have a great week!

    Monday
    Jul142014

    Germany, Spurs: Welcome to the Machine

    The German men's national team won the World Cup with a 1-0 victory over Argentina yesterday, completing a march to the title that at times seemed almost incredible and surreal, (their 7-1 demolition of host nation Brazil in the semifinal), and absolutely workmanlike (the title match, their group stage tussles with Ghana and the USA).

    But no matter how any individual game for the Germans developed, in the end they were always able to find the right combination of talent, strategy and tactics, and individual moments of inspiration and excellence needed to raise the most prized trophy in all of world sports. For US fans, continuing to warm up to the highest levels of a sport that almost (it seems) every American child has played at least some in the last 20 years, watching the German team in this World Cup had to be at least somewhat reminiscent of the recent San Antonio Spurs NBA Championship.

    While there were certainly some differences between the two team's achievements, the similarities, at least to me were pretty clear, and might (apologies in advance to anyone already sickened by 'What can we learn about career management/leadership/workplaces from LeBron James returning to Cleveland' posts), I as a member of the 8 Man Rotation feel obliged to call out a few keys to both of these victories, and to take a stab at what broader application might be found therein.

    Talent and system are not the same as culture, (and are more important) - Tim Sackett had a great take at Fistful of Talent last week about 'system' hiring and it is well worth a read. Both the Spurs and Germany 'play the right way', i.e., organize their players and approach the game in a particular way in that each player understands their role, and how it contributes to the overall goals of the team. While each team has recognizable and extremely successful individual players, (Duncan and Parker on the Spurs, Muller and Klose for Germany), none of the games and the strategy ever seemed to be about these individuals. From beginning to end each team approached and played the games as a team. Not once in the NBA Finals or in the World Cup late stages did I recall hearing any commentator say something like 'The Spurs (or Germany), will only go as far as player XYZ takes them.' It was always a team effort, not one that relied on one or two talents. In fact, many of the players on the Spurs for sure, probably only succeed because they are in the Spurs system, and they have found the right fit for their talent.

    In the long run, discipline and belief trumps emotion - In the pre-game of the World Cup semifinal the home team Brazil had cranked up the emotional meter to 11 - they had 70,000 fans behind them, they 'felt' like it was their destiny to win on their home soil, and even held up the jersey of their injured and unable to play star Neymar in the pre-game line-up. It would have been easy for Germany to succumb to that emotional and psychological pressure, and give up and early goal or two. Instead, the German side stuck to their plan, withstood the first 10 minutes or so of Brazil's efforts, and then set on a goal scoring flurry not seem ever before in a World Cup semifinal. Similarly, in the final game of the NBA Finals, the two-time defending champion Miami Heat jumped out to an early lead against the Spurs, only to find the Spurs back to just about even by halftime, as the Spurs system and discipline proved more that Miami could match. When you have a system, and the right talent that has bough in to the system, then the lesson is to stick with it, don't panic when your opponent seems to have the upper hand, and double down on what you know will be successful in the long game.

    Most of us are really bad at evaluating talent - The Spurs had the NBA's best regular season record. The German side are full of top-level players from the world's most famous clubs. Yet neither was favored to win their respective championships prior to the final series or game. The Heat, with best player in the world LeBron James, and Brazil with their history of success (and home nation status), were expected to lift the trophies that ended up being held by the Spurs and Germany. We kept looking for excuses why the Spurs or Germany could not win (the Spurs were too old, Germany had not won the World Cup in 20+ years, and never outside of Europe), that we let ourselves be fooled. Even the leaders of these great teams might not understand talent completely. The World Cup winning goal was set up and scored by two players that were not even in the starting team of 11. I think this is is often the same thing that occurs in day-to-day talent assessment and evalution. We are trained to look for the reasons why someone won't or can't succeed, instead of focusing on the things that they are talented and strong at, and thinking about ways to leverage the skills they have. 

    Bottom line - Spurs = Germany = a great way to think about how systems and strategy lead you to find the right talent you need to succeed.

    Look for more sports takes later in the week, (I know you can't wait), from the NBA Summer League in Las Vegas.

    Have a great week!