Tag Archives: Welch

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.


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.


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.

I am not Jack Welch – A Foot Soldier’s Guide Leading Change

There is no shortage of excellent material on change management available. More than likely, anyone reading this is familiar with the books by Kotter, Bridges, etc. They are all very good. I have referenced them extensively throughout my career. The problem (for lack of a better word) with virtually every one of the “Leading Change Effectively” books out there is that they are geared toward the high-level perspective of business leaders. You know what I mean… “Establish a vision, visible authentic leadership, yada yada yada…” Unfortunately I am not Jack Welch. I suspect that you are not either. I don’t get to set the vision, or to speak to the all-employee meeting. I have to try to drive change vicariously.
How do you as a consultant, or as an individual contributor, get change to happen when you are lucky to get 30 minutes a month one-on-one with a senior leader? Or you can only get 10 minutes on a leadership team agenda? Add to the mix that many of the people you are trying to reach don’t understand anything about organizational change management, but are sure that they do, and are equally sure that they don’t need you telling them about it.
I had an epiphany recently. There’s plenty of great reference material for the generals in the change management wars, but there is little to no good reference material for the foot soldiers (of which I am proud to count myself).
Over the next few weeks I’ll be posting new material from the view of the foot soldier. Some of it will be new, and some will be a revisit to some previous posts to change up the perspective.
This will be fun. Let’s see where this goes.

The Results – Activities – Systems & Structures (RASS) Model

The Results – Activities – Systems & Structures (RASS) Model

Whether designing a new organization or diagnosing the performance of an existing one, there are three fundamental questions that must be answered: What is the organization trying to accomplish? What does the organization’s leaders want their employees to do in order to achieve these goals, i.e., the desired behaviors?  And finally, are the organization’s business systems and structures aligned to drive the behavior?  Business systems and structures include, but are not limited to, the hiring & staffing system, the training & development system, the measurement & reward/incentives systems, tools & processes, organizational structure, etc.  The answers to these three questions comprise what I call a Results – Activities – Systems & Structures (RASS) model for performance improvement.

Step 1 – Results

What is your organization trying to accomplish?  It is essential to differentiate between business results and accomplishments.  It is common to hear a manager state the current sales targets as the desired results.  Obviously they are desired outcomes, but NOT the results we are interested in.  Among other problems, these types of business measures (e.g., volume and margin) are lagging indicators, after-the-fact, that do not enable a manager to evaluate progress and correct course if necessary.

Instead, the results that must be identified are the behavioral accomplishments of individuals, based on the organizations’ vision and go-to-market strategy.   For example, ABC Co. wants to be viewed by customers as a strategic partner.  ABC Co. management knows from experience that if a sales rep can establish such a relationship that opportunity and deals that lead to volume will follow.  Subsequently, they want their sales reps to be regarded as trusted advisors.  An individual accomplishment toward this end might be, “Establish a collaborative relationship with the CFO and his/her staff.” 

Step 2 – Activities

What should your employees to do in order to achieve these goals, i.e., the desired behaviors?  A good manager understands what their successful employees do to achieve their results. We need to identify the activities, or behaviors, that we want – not simply the end result. We must be able to articulate what we want these people to actually do (more of, less of…).  These behaviors are referred to in HPT as “Performance Objectives.” Being able to articulate the desired observable, measurable, behaviors is a fundamental lesson of GE’s CAP process (See post “Overview of GE’s Change Acceleration Process” – 25 Jan 09).  In my experience, management failure to identify and effectively communicate the desired behaviors is the root cause of numerous business problems – ineffective employee coaching programs for example.

Unfortunately, this step is frequently skipped – or done superficially.  It is difficult and time-consuming to construct good performance objectives.  But it is absolutely essential.  So many business initiatives fail because leadership thinks their work is done after they communicate the high-level vision. 

To continue the example above: In order to establish a collaborative relationship, ABC Co. wants the sales force to stay current on industry developments, and their target customers’ developments.  They want sales reps to meet with CFO’s subordinates to learn the customers financials and their pressing challenges, and to share insights with them.  They want a strategic account plan created for the top accounts in each territory.  They also want sales reps to schedule and record meeting notes in their CRM tool.  Additionally, ABC Co. wants managers to use reports from their CRM tool to manage sales and they want senior managers listen on those meetings periodically.

Step 3 – Systems & Structures

Are your organization’s business systems and structures aligned to drive the desired behavior?  These systems exist to support the current state of your business.  If you do not modify them to support your desired state, they will drive behavior to maintain the current state, that’s what they are supposed to do. 

Ironically, you may find it’s fairly easy to do this once you identify the behaviors you want.  It is virtually impossible to align your business systems and structures with those goals if you DON’T identify your performance objectives.

At this point, take your list of desired behaviors and systematically evaluate each of your business systems and structures against them.  Have the behavioral expectations been communicated effectively by upper management?  Is there accountability for the behavior?  Are you hiring the right types of sales people?  Is your training & development system preparing your employees properly?  Does your measurement & reward/incentives systems drive the right behavior?  “Most businesses are replete with undesirable behaviors that stem from disregarding the fundamental principles of organizational reward systems.”[1] Is the CRM tool accessible and easy to use?  You can use a simple tool like a force field analysis to get you started on this.  Eventually you will want to use more rigorous criteria to evaluate your systems, like benchmarking of world-class organizations or best practices checklists provided by industry groups like SHRM or ASTD. 

You are likely to find that your business systems present your employees with a confusing, contradictory set of instructions and incentives.  Without clarity and consistency they are left to choose for themselves how to behave.  You should not be surprised if what they actually do is not what you were hoping for.


[1] Kerr, S., Reward Systems – Does Yours Measure Up? (2009) Harvard Business School Press, Boston, MA.