Tag Archives: Human Performance Technology

Five Talent Management Lessons from a High School Music Program

The local music program in our High School is exceptionally good.  It is recognized as one of the best programs in the state of Wisconsin.  The wind symphony has traveled broadly and won regional, national and international competitions.

Every June for the last six years, as my kids made their way through the music program, I’d see another large group of extremely talented seniors graduate and leave the music program.  Every year my wife and I wondered aloud, “How will Mr. K [the music director] ever fill those shoes?  Next year’s wind symphony will never be as good as this year’s.”

And every following year at the senior honors concert in May, my wife and I say, “these kids are incredible; this might be the best wind symphony ever.”

This June after I watched my son’s last concert I had an “a-ha” moment…

Mr. K is a great band director not just because of his musical and teaching ability; he is a brilliant talent manager as well.  The more I thought about it, the clearer it became.  He MUST be exceptionally good at this in order to put a quality product out year after year.  It’s as critical to his success as his functional (musical & teaching) knowledge and skill.

I thought about it for a few days, and eventually had a conversation with Mr. K about this.  I came up with a few lessons that I believe everyone can understand:

Lesson 1: Have a sense of urgency

“For over a thousand years Roman conquerors returning from the wars enjoyed the honor of triumph, a tumultuous parade. In the procession came trumpeteers, musicians and strange animals from conquered territories, together with carts laden with treasure and captured armaments. The conquerors rode in a triumphal chariot, the dazed prisoners walking in chains before him. Sometimes his children robed in white stood with him in the chariot or rode the trace horses. A slave stood behind the conqueror holding a golden crown and whispering in his ear a warning: that all glory is fleeting.”  – Gen. George C. Patton

Despite the long history of success, Mr. K knows,” All glory is fleeting.”  His continued success, his reputation, perhaps even his job depend on him keeping the pipeline full of talent.  This is not a nice-to-do, for him, this is a MUST do!

Realize that your continued success and perhaps your job depend on how well you manage talent.  All glory is fleeting.  Make talent management the priority it should be.

Lesson 2: Know your team’s current strengths

Mr. K knows what the strengths of each musical unit is and who the top talent is.  He understands what they bring to the whole, i.e., the pieces that the wind symphony would not be able to play without them.  For example, a piece with a challenging percussion part that they would not attempt unless the talent was there to execute.

Do you know who your top talent is?  I.e., who are the key players who enable you to fulfill your mission?  Try to imagine what would be different if they were not there.  How would this change your team’s ability to deliver?

Lesson 3: Know your future talent needs

Mr. K is always looking 2 and 3 years ahead considering who will play which instruments when his top talent moves on.  He knows now that he will lose an English horn player in two years and is grooming 2-3 people to fill that slot.

Are you thinking that your top talent will stay with you forever?  Imagine that they will leave in a year?  How would that impact your ability to deliver?  Who will step into their places? What are you doing about it?

Lesson 4: Know your talent pipeline

Mr. K does not wait to assess incoming freshmen when they arrive at the high school.  He works closely with the music faculty in the whole district, looking into talent at the middle school and even at the elementary schools.  He is not only tracking musical ability, but attitude – dedication, flexibility and motivation.

Do you know where your talent comes from?  Where will it come from?  Are you talking to other managers in your own organization about growth opportunities for your people?  Are you partnered with human resources?  I’ll bet the better managers in your organization have an eye on your talent.  I’ll bet outside recruiters in the area do too.  It’s time to get in the game.

Lesson 5: Nurture your talent

Mr. K sets the bar high. He’s very demanding.  It takes an adjustment that some kids can’t make.  But he is also completely dedicated to their success and demonstrates every day that he cares deeply about his students.

Do you know what makes someone on your team succeed and others fall short?  Do you set high expectations, and enable your team to achieve them?  Do you show your team that you genuinely care about their success?

Jack Welch, the legendary former CEO of General Electric used to say that he allocated a third of his time to developing talent.  To many, that seems like an unrealistically high percentage of his time, but that’s what people who are serious about talent management really do.   They pass the calendar audit – they actually spend the time on the things that they say are important to them.

Creating a Shared Need: The Threat vs. Opportunity Matrix

Not long after any initiative’s core team has been assembled, it is essential to get that team aligned and to get them thinking about the potential effects of their initiative.  A “best practice” is to have the team collectively work through this tool to find ways to frame the need for change as a threat and opportunity over both the short and long term, for all stakeholders. 

What is it?

Most readers will be familiar with SWOT Analysis.  The concept with the Threat vs. Opportunity Matrix is to put yourself in the shoes of the stakeholders being impacted by your initiative and imagine their perspective.  Framing the need for change as a short-term threat can serve as the proverbial 2×4 to the side of the head that gets attention and creates urgency.  But long-term organizational effort is sustained by opportunity not crisis, so it is necessary to frame the need for change as opportunity as well.   A frequently overlooked benefit of this tool is that it gets the team thinking about potential resistance to the initiative early in the process.

Why do it?

The purpose for using this tool is threefold (See Figure 1)

  1. To enable the team to articulate the need for the change in terms that will resonate with the stakeholders being impacted.
  2. To anticipate the pushback the team may get from those affected by the change, and to begin an adoption risk mitigation plan
  3. To build alignment and consensus among the team leading the initiative
Threat vs Opportunity Matrix

Figure 1 – Threat vs Opportunity Matrix

How do it?

There is no right or wrong way to do this.  The value is in the conversation that the team has and the list that is generated.   It can be done with sticky-notes on a flipchart, on a whiteboard, or at a table with a scribe on a computer.

Before using this tool, pre-work should include a list of stakeholders and the project charter.  It can also be valuable, though not essential, to pull a cross-functional team together to participate in this exercise.  

1.   Working individually, CAP team members list the reasons for the change initiative.

a.       List both the threats of not changing and the opportunities created if the change is successful

b.      Additionally, try to anticipate the resistance by considering the potential pushback from skeptical stakeholders, i.e. the threat if we DO change and/or the opportunity if we don’t change.  This is a first look at potential resistance to the initiative.

2.     Team members then share their perceptions and then debate and discuss similarities and differences.

3.     Team members then collate and sort the reasons into short vs. long-term.

4.    The team should review their list of stakeholders and try to ensure that they have identified reasons that will resonate with all key constituent groups (e.g., manufacturing, marketing, engineering, sales, etc.).

Tips:
  1. Most reasons for an initiative can be articulated as both a threat and an opportunity.  For example; failure to change will result in job losses, vs. successful change will lead to job growth.  It is useful to retain both versions early in the process.  The team may decide later to portray the need for change one way instead of the other to maximize its effectiveness.
  2. Some teams may struggle articulating the need for change, or to do it for all stakeholders, early in the project.  Therefore, it may be useful to begin this discussion and then revisit it once the vision has been articulated.  It may also drive additional conversations with the project sponsor to clarify the need from the leadership perspective.  Effective teams treat this as a living document and both update it and refer back to it regularly – the team’s understanding of the stakeholder’s perspective will (and should!) evolve over time
  3. A “Best Practice” is to use this tool together with 3-Ds matrix
When do it?

This tool should be used early on in the project, even during the team chartering process.  Though subject to modification throughout the project, this initial statement of need is essential to moving forward with a clear sense of why this change initiative is essential to do at this point in time.

Managing Transitions: Real-Life Examples – Part 2

This is another true life personal experience straight from the Org Change trenches.  I’ll bet many readers of this have either had a similar experience or know others who have.   Part one of this story is about an experience in my personal life.  Click here to go back and read Managing Transitions:  Real-Life Examples – Part 1.   It may also be useful to read a previous post: Why do we need Organizational Change Management?

Scan to QR flat

Applicant Tracking System (ATS) Transition

Virtually every large organization is using technology to manage their HR processes.  The recruiting function in most large organizations utilizes an Applicant Tracking System (ATS) to post job openings, manage applications, and manage the interview/selection process.  This story has been edited to reflect only the issues surrounding one set of functionality; campus recruiting.  Obviously there was much more involved in this project.

A recent client did a significant amount of college recruiting.  The campus recruiters would collect resumes at college career fairs.  They would then go back to their office and manually create a candidate record in their home-brew ATS, then scan and attach the pdf of the resume to the new candidate record.  This was a labor-intensive process that was prone to errors.   Many recruiters opted to not use the ATS at all, preferring to keep a spreadsheet and paper records.   Leadership was frustrated because essential business metrics were difficult or impossible to gather.  Needless to say, this process was painful for everyone involved.  It had to change.  Even so, the recruiters were not enthusiastic about changing the way they did things and were reluctant to provide support for the project.

When the project team talked to the college recruiters about their requirements for a new system, they said, “We need the ability to scan resumes and get them into the ATS faster.”  This is typical of what Business Analysts (BA) hear on IT projects; I want the new system to do what I do now – just better.  A good BA can translate that into real requirements, and that is what was done on this project.  Most ATS’ these days don’t have any capability to manage paper documents at all; they rely on the applicant to submit a resume electronically, so finding an ATS that could “scan faster” was not going to happen.  However, many state-of-the-art ATS’ have other capabilities designed to address this specific need.

A group was selected to pilot the new system, based on their expressed willingness to be “guinea pigs” and the support of their leadership.  When the recruiters got there first overview of the new system they were flabbergasted, “Are you kidding me?  There is no way interface to the scanner?  I hate this!  It will never work for us.”  Fortunately the team had done its homework and anticipated this reaction, and had planned to walk them through the solution.

For each new campus recruiting event, the recruiter creates an event in the ATS.  This in turn, creates an on-line” Event Portal” linked to the ATS, with a form to capture candidate information.  It also generates a unique QR code for the event.  The recruiter then embeds the QR code in all the collateral that they create for the campus event.   At the event, the candidate scans the QR code with their smart phone and is then directed to the Event Portal.  Here they fill out a simple form that creates their record in the ATS, emails the recruiter their contact info, and emails them a link to upload their resume.

Once the recruiter pilot group understood how this system worked, how easy it was, and how much effort it saved them, they became raging advocates – they would’ve harmed us if we tried to switch them back to the old system.  Together we developed very effective, efficient training for the larger deployment.  Best of all, positive buzz about the new system spread fast, ahead of our formal communication plan, and soon campus recruiters across the enterprise were clamoring for the new system.

This story is typical of corporate IT application deployment projects.  The technical aspects of the deployment are relatively straightforward, but the impact on the end-user is transformational – it fundamentally changes the way they do their jobs. (See: Types of Org Change)

Four Phases of Change

It starts with denial; “We don’t need to change.  We know this process is bad but we know how to do it.”  The initial emotional /gut reaction is resistance; “This doesn’t work the way our old system did, it will never work.”  In a scenario like this, the key to achieving the desired business impact is by getting the adoption rate to 100%.  If the impacted population doesn’t experience success and feel the benefit of the new system quickly, their frustration can drive them back to their manual processes or to work-arounds.

A good Org Change consultant does their homework; anticipates the resistance, understands the source of it, and has an executable plan to address it.  This is where we earn our pay!  Identify a pilot group of early adopters and lead them by the hand into the Exploration phase.  Their real-life experience is then used to develop and/or refine the training materials that will be used to roll-out the system to the balance of the organization.  Their success stories become the core of your communications.

It is worth noting, that it is critical that someone knowledgable of orgnaizational behavior and change management is involved early in a project to identify transformational changes.  Too frequently I see teams assume that the technical deployment is simple so the impact on the end-user must be minimal.

Managing Transitions: Real-Life Examples – Part 1

This is a true life personal experience.  I’ll bet many readers of this have either had a similar experience or knows others who have.   While this story is about an experience in my personal life, it is absolutely representative of what people go through during organizational change.  I’ll follow-up this story with another real-life story from a corporate setting.  For reference, it may be useful to read a previous post: Why do we need Organizational Change Management?

The Blackberry to Android Transition

BB to Android flat

I had a Blackberry for a long time.  It was a corporate issue standard Blackberry with the hard QWERTY keyboard and the small screen.  Over the years I had become intimately familiar with all its capabilities and its quirks.  I knew that my phone functionality was hopelessly outdated, and that RIM, the maker of Blackberry, was in trouble and that they are probably going to be extinct soon.  I didn’t care.  I was going to use my Blackberry till the bitter end.  I was solidly in my comfort zone and solidly in denial – afraid to “let go” as long as I didn’t have to.

Have-to arrived sooner than I anticipated.  The USB connector that is used to charge the battery became intermittent and the phone had to be replaced or I risked losing everything.  I opted to go with a state-of-the-art Android-based phone.

One of the features I utilized on the Blackberry was the speed dial function.  My wife’s name is Wendy.  I setup the W key as a speed dial to call her cell phone.  I could do this by touch without looking – absolutely safely – anytime, anywhere, and did it often while driving.

Not long after the transition to the Android phone, I needed to call my wife from the road.  I instinctively reached for the W key but only got glass.  I pulled off the road.  I had to get my reading glasses out and scroll through menus to place a call to my wife.  This was clearly going to be a problem, but I wanted this new phone to work.  That night I tried to create a speed dial key with no success.   I eventually resorted to asking my 18 yr. old daughter to make a speed dial key for me.  To my astonishment she had no success either.  I was extremely frustrated at this point.  I hated the new phone it – I was sure it would never work.  I wanted to go back to the old way. I was ready to go to the phone store and exchange this modern marvel for a tried-and-true Blackberry and ride RIM into the sunset.

A few days later I was complaining about my new phone experience to a colleague.  She asked if I had a headset for the phone and that I should get it and plug it in.  Once attached, she directed me to “press the button.”  I had no idea what she was talking about.  I turns out that a small bump on the headphone wire that I thought was the microphone, was actually a button.  So I pressed the button.   I heard a computer generated voice ask me to, “Say a command.”  After a few moments of confusion and discussion with my colleague I finally commanded, “Call Wendy.”  Within a few second my wife’s cell phone was ringing.  After explaining to Wendy that I really didn’t need to talk to her about anything, I thanked my colleague.  …And I started thinking completely differently about my new phone.  Cut to the end – I now love my phone and wonder how I could have ever considered going back to a Blackberry.

I went through the four classic phases of personal change.

Four Phases of Change

I started off in Denial.  Despite compelling logic and clear technological advantages, I was not going to change.  I only changed when forced to by an external cause beyond my control.

Once I had made the superficial technical change, the real changes began.  I was stuck in Bridges’ Neutral Zone, vacillating between Resistance and Exploration in the Four Phase model.  I was futilely trying to make the new phone work the way my old phone did.  It wasn’t until a “change agent” held my hand and showed me a solution to my personal source of frustration that I moved permanently from Resistance to Exploration.

Once I began exploring all the other features of the new phone I was hooked – I was committed to the new way of doing things.  I have no desire to return to the old way and have become a vocal advocate for the new way.

This was a major “a-ha” moment for me.  I saw that there were many important lessons here for every organizational change practitioner.  To paraphrase Peter Senge in The Fifth Discipline, “Although we are all interested in large scale change, we have to change one mind at a time.”

  1. The technical change itself is frequently simple, and seems trivial.  If you don’t drill down to the “how will you actually use this device” level – you can never understand the sources of frustration and the opportunities from the end-user’s perspective.
  2. It is impossible to anticipate all the ways that technology or process changes will impact end-users in the “future state.”  Pilot implementations are essential to understand how they will actually do things, and to develop meaningful training that will hit the mark
  3. A knowledgeable change agent, ready and able to address the needs of the impacted population is essential.

The Key to Accountability: “We should…” vs. “I will…”

“Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.”   – Leo Tolstoy

I have frequently been asked, “How can our organization increase accountability?” And I typically respond with something like, “Make an action plan and then publicize it.” It’s well-understood that making a public commitment is a very powerful motivator.

There’s strong empirical evidence to show that a choice made actively – one that’s spoken out loud or written down or otherwise made explicit – is considerably more likely to direct someone’s future conduct than the same choice left unspoken. [1]

This is very simple, and easy to do. But for some reason, organizations struggle with getting to that public commitment.

I think I’ve stumbled upon the missing link.

To make a long story short: I was recently part of a series of division-level planning meetings. There were many ideas raised, dutifully recorded on flip charts, and there were good discussions and acclaims of, “Yes, we should do that.”

Toward the final hour of the last meeting, the division leader ended the discussion and challenged his team – It’s time to stop the “we should…” and start the “I will…”

The impact of this simple statement was astonishing. I’ve been reflecting on it since then, trying to put my finger on what had happened. Here’s what I came up with:

We should - I will table

  1. Consensus is the enemy of accountability – it can prevent it. It “feels good” and teams have a sense of accomplishment after reaching a consensus. But a leader who lets a discussion end at “we should…” is enabling the inaction problem.
  2. “We should…” allows room for pie-in-the-sky ideas. There is a time and place for that. But “I will…” immediately causes you to focus on what is actually achievable within your control; within your time and resource constraints. We should solve world hunger – who disagrees with that? What will you do to solve world hunger?
  3. Similarly, “we should…” allows thinking in long time-frames, while “I will…” results in near-term focus.
  4. “We should…” allows undefined solutions – i.e., “we should automate that process.” “I will…” thinking makes you think of the actual process of developing a solution. I.e., I will sponsor a meeting to define the goal and begin documenting the current state.
  5. “We should; reduce scrap, improve customer satisfaction, decrease cycle-time.” All of these examples are good goals, but they are not actionable. Instead, try “I will; propose two ways to reduce scrap, Improve customer satisfaction, decrease cycle-time.” These are tangible actions that an individual can plan to execute.

Summary

Too frequently, teams mistakenly think that their goal is simply to agree on something they “should” do; a vision, a goal, or a direction. If you are coaching a business leader, remind them; As soon as you agree on “we should…” – follow it up with “I will…”

[1] Cialdini, Robert B. “Harnessing the Science of Persuasion.” Harvard Business Review, October 2001: 72-79.

Credibility as a Consultant – Expertise and Execution

This is the first of what I plan to be a series of posts on “A Foot Soldier’s Guide Leading Change.”  See “I am not Jack Welch” for additional background.

Recently I was asked how to go about establishing credibility as a consultant during the early phases of an engagement with a new client.  I immediately responded, “Expertise and execution.”  To make a long story short, this question eventually led to a more in-depth discussion about why I feel that way – what experiences formed that belief.  It took some reminiscing and some reflection, but three experiences eventually came to stand out in mind.  I thought they were worth sharing.

The First Time I Taught a Class

The first was shortly after the first time I ever taught a class.  In 1990, I had recently finished a graduate degree in instructional technology and I changed jobs to get an opportunity to teach classes.   I’ll never forget the debrief after my first attempt at teaching and the feedback I got from my boss, “If you said ‘um” one more time I was going to kill myself.”  But as many of you understand, I had been bitten by the bug.  I loved it and was determined to be good at it.  I wondered one day to my boss, “Wouldn’t it help if I were an expert in these subjects?”  He responded, “You only have to be one chapter ahead of the class.  That appears to be expertise to them.  They come into the room assuming that you are an expert.  As long as you don’t tell them you’re not, they will continue to think you are.”  He continued, “Expertise will give you more confidence, so by all means learn more.”  This has turned out to be true.  Listen to Brene Brown’s talk on TED (Start at 11:20 if you can’t watch both her talks).  Dare greatly!  Don’t be afraid of failure.  You just have to be “good enough” and then you must try!  Of course expertise is helpful – it’s always good to “have more in your pocket than what you show.”  But if you wait until you are “expert enough” to jump in, you may never jump at all.

Welcome to GE

The second experience was when I was hired as an instructional designer by GE in 1997 for a high-profile project run out of corporate headquarters.  I was brought in because of my experience with technology-enabled learning to work on the Six Sigma Quality Coach (SSQC) – GE’s first enterprise-wide intranet-based e-learning application (see: Slater, R., 1999. The GE Way Fieldbook. New York: McGraw-Hill; p139-144).   I had no idea what I was in for.  My first day on the job I flew to Schenectady, NY and jumped right in.  What honeymoon period?   By 1:00PM that day I’m in a working team meeting, literally surrounded by Harvard Business School, Boston Consulting / McKinsey alumni.  This was a very smart, very intense crowd.  It was pretty intimidating.  I kept a low profile while I got my feet on the ground.  That evening, I confided in my new boss that I felt like youngster who had just been thrown into the deep end of the pool.  She gave me some sage advice, “You were hired for your expertise.  Don’t worry about what they know.  Answer questions and offer insight about stuff you know.  If you don’t know the answer to a question, say ‘I don’t know’ – tell them when you’ll get back to them with the answer and then be sure to do it.”  She went on, “Ask questions when you don’t understand something, and don’t offer too many opinions about stuff that you don’t understand, and you’ll be fine.”  This advice got me through that project, and it has served me well throughout my career as a consultant.  Be realistic about what you do have expertise in, and what you do not!  Good as your intentions may be, straying into areas where someone else in the room is the expert might do you more harm than good.  Secondly, say confidently what you will do and then be sure to deliver.

Patina

The third was more recent.  I did some work for a company through Patina Solutions (This is a great organization, for more information – see their web page).  Their specialty is matching their client’s needs with a consultant who has deep expertise in that area.  There niche is “50-25” i.e., consultants over fifty years old with more than twenty-five years experience – hence “Patina.’    During the on-boarding for a project, a Patina account exec asked a probing question that has stuck with me, and has permanently shifted my mindset.  She asked, “How will you add value by Friday?”   I’ve been to many career workshops etc. over the years and been to many “What is your elevator speech?  – What is your sweet spot?” sessions.  However, this question focused me like never before.  With every project I begin now, I ask myself that question, and I continue to ask myself that question every Monday morning as I plan out the week ahead.  How will I add value by Friday?  This question makes you think hard about what technical expertise you bring to bear, what expertise you have regarding the client’s challenges and goals, and what you understand of your stakeholders and their perspectives.

In retrospect, these three experiences were formative and profound for me.  They are at the root of my approach with my clients today.  This exercise showed me the value of examining my beliefs, and understanding why I believe what I believe.

Sparking Creativity – How to Get Good Ideas

I had the good fortune to catch Austin Kleon, pitching his latest book and talking about creativity, at Translator in Milwaukee over this summer.  During his talk he posed an interesting question that turns out to be really insightful: Are you a net giver or receiver of good ideas?  

It’s great to share your ideas with others, and there are many good reasons why you should continue to do that, but this is about input.  Are you getting enough new ideas?  We all know the importance of continuous learning – we preach it all the time!  But are we practicing it?

I took Austin’s question to heart.  I thought about my net idea ratio.  I decided to increase my idea input.  A list of suggestions follows.  Some of these came from Austin Kleon, some from me.  Some I was already doing, some I’ve started doing.  Some I plan on doing.

Where can you get ideas?  Give some of these a try:

  • Join the local chapters of professional organization like the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) or the American Society for Training and Development (ASTD) or others.  Most offer monthly chapter meetings where you can hear from others outside of your normal circles, and do some networking as well.   Membership in most of these groups’ national organizations will probably get you a subscription to a good magazine too.
  • Just go to the TED website right now and get on their mailing list.  There is so much good stuff on TED that you can spend weeks watching it all.  My suggestion: Find a bunch of stories you want to hear, download the audio or video to your computer, transfer it to your mobile device and listen to it during your commute.
  • Subscribe to a great general interest magazine like Atlantic, Harpers, or Vanity Fair.  They feature very well-written, thought-provoking articles in every issue.  There are lots of others.  Go to the magazine section in your local library or book store and browse a few.
  • Subscribe to professional magazines like Harvard Business Review, or Strategy + Business.  They usually have well-researched, business-related articles.  Magazines such as Wired and Fast Company, if nothing else, will keep you up to date on cutting edge technology.
  • This is counterintuitive, but you should pursue your hobbies and the arts.  Go fishing, build a model airplane – do things that make you happy – that recharge you – and take your mind off of the sources of anxiety in your life.
  • Do things that might inspire you. Go to a museum, or a concert.  Go on an architecture tour in a nearby city.  Go to a national park.
  • Take a walk!  The link between moderate exercise and mental and physical health is well-known.   Plan 20-30 minutes into you work schedule at lunch time to go outside and take a walk.  Try it.  You’ll feel better, and think better, in the afternoon every time.  Make this an “A” priority.  It’s as important, maybe more important, than any meeting you will attend.
  • Use your hands!  This is a great one from Austin Kleon.  Step away from the computer.  Get paper, pencils, color markers, scissors, glue sticks, post-its.  Write, draw, doodle.  Get tactile!

Every organization is trying to foster innovation.  We are all individually challenged to boost our creativity.  These are just a few ways that we can make that happen.   For more ideas, visit Austin Kleon’s website – Steal Like an Artist.