“十人十色” (juu nin to iro) literally means “ten persons, ten colors” in Japanese or in other words “several men, several minds”
– Japanese proverb
How to sustain your team performance and company competitive edge in a fast-pace changing environment (propelled by technology innovations and globalization)? The secret simply resides in making sure that you on-board the right staff! But how do you define the “right staff”? You will learn in this post how to focus on three key components: the competency, the direction (read here motivation and company culture fit) and the diversity of your team members.
Download a one-page executive summary here (PDF or JPEG format): 3 attributes to sustain team performance
Getting started by playing in the “Shape” industry…
Welcome to the “shape” industry!
The “shape” business is nothing fancy: the clients simply expect their providers to deliver in the shortest delay the largest possible monochromatic shape matching their order. For the past decade, the client demand has principally been for Square shapes with a few recent exceptions of requests for Rectangle shapes.
Let’s now have a look to four small-size companies competing in this “Shape” industry. Each company employs an equal number of staff, 7, represented in the figure below based on the following coding rule:
- the form of the staff represents its skill set / background / competency in producing a certain shape,
- the size of the staff shows its level of expertise for the given skill set / background / competency; in other words, the larger , the more expert the staff is,
- the color of the shape indicates the staff “direction” where “direction” is defined by the combination of the staff motivation and its fit to the company culture and values.
All four companies have put emphasis of developing a culture of cooperation and collaboration among their staff to maximize their opportunities of winning deals: the more the staff members associate their competency and expertise by cooperating together the larger the shape they can create.
Now that the four competitors and their teams have been introduced, back to business!
A first prospect, pretty traditional, approaches our four companies and requires for a Square shape. Keep in mind: not only time is of an essence to win the deal, but the shape has to be as large as possible and unicolored.
Between Company A, B , C and D, which one is the best positioned to win the deal? Put another way, which company will be able to leverage its staff competency and expertise to come with the largest possible unicolor square in the shortest delays? How fast was each company to answer the request for quote from the prospect? How big is the proposed shape for each company?
While Company A and D can very quickly deliver a unicolor square shape thanks to the competency and expertise of one of their team members only, obviously they will not be in a position to compete with Company C who can easily involve all his team members to create promptly a very large square… What about Company B? It took to the team leader and his members many discussions and debates to come up with a large square shape, but they have finally made it. Too late though, Company C had already won the deal!
A second prospect, attracted by the new trend in the “shape” product suite, is looking for a monochromatic Rectangle shape.
Well… Here again, competitive advantage goes to Company C who can quickly mobilize all his staff to provide a large rectangle shape. Company B is not too far behind though in preparing a sizeable rectangle shape. Company A and D had some unicolor rectangle proposals as well, but, unfortunately for them, nothing to compare with Company B and C in terms of size!
A third prospect already knocks at the door. The request is again for a classical Square shape. This time, capitalizing on the first prospect experience, Company B was able to deliver a Square shape in the same timeframe and size range as Company C. Up to the customer to finalize which company to pick based on other criteria (Sales experience, company reputation, add-on services, pricing…)! Unfortunately, Company A and D remain unable to provide larger square shapes and were not even invited to the request for quote process.
After many other regular orders for square shapes (and a few other demands for rectangles), the “shape” industry sees its landscape transforming… Inspired by a generation that is looking for new shapes that would better fit the world they live in, an avantgarde customer suddenly requires a Triangle shape! Soon after, another order comes in for a Trapezoid shape while another prospect would like a rhombus…
Going back to the same question: between Company A, B , C and D, which one is the best positioned to quickly offer those unicolor shapes in a large format without putting any specific extra-investment?
Obviously, only Company B can easily answer those emerging needs by leveraging the diversity of background, competencies and expertise of its staff through proper collaboration of the various team members. This took initially a bit of time and passionate discussions to answer these new requests but here is the result!
Although one can easily argues that this illustration over simplifies the much more complex reality of a company and its environment, which conclusions can we draw here?
- If one or several of your team members do not possess the right competencies and expertise required to perform in your industry, your competitive advantage will drop without any doubt. (Look at Company A with experts in “Circle” shapes who can simply not perform in a business focusing on “straight-line” and “hard-angled” shapes)
- Formatted staff in terms of skill set, expertise and view points (like in Company C) will allow you to solve efficiently recurring identified challenges with minimum adaptation of your management style. Nonetheless, in front of unexpected requests or issues, you will very probably end-up clueless and lose your competitive edge, unless you invest extra-effort in rebuilding your teams.
- Comparing Company B to Company C results, it appears that only a diversity of profiles (experience, skills, background, opinion and ideas) within your team will give you the breadth and depth to both answer a standard business and tackle successfully upcoming challenges or emerging needs of your business at the same time (as long as they work in the same direction). No need to write that coming with new ideas and answering the new challenges involved heated discussions and passionate debates among the various team members of Company B… The ability to leverage each team members talent efficiently requires here a flexibility in your management style.
- Experience from Company D clearly reveals that, regardless of how skilled and talented your staff is, if its direction (motivation and behavior) does not converge with your company mission and culture, then your ability to execute and deliver on your business challenges will be strongly hurt. This is true even for one staff walking in the wrong direction. Look at the blue triangle staff: he is not motivated in his role or his motivation does not match any more with the company goals; he is not interested in working with his peers in providing the largest possible unicolor shape. Consider as well the red triangle staff: he has valuable skills and deep domain expertise but he is not willing to collaborate with his peers although it is a behavior largely encouraged by his company as a key value for success… Both will diminish the Company D ability to tackle new opportunities.
From theoretical lessons learned to a field application.
Unless your industry and market are completely static (find me one!), you need to focus your energy on building your teams in a way that will allow them to cope efficiently with any upcoming challenges; this is a key matter if you want to maximize your chance of success and sustain your performance on the long run.
Our recommendations and experiences here are :
Step 1: Identify
- Identify and express clearly your company mission, purpose, culture and values. In your team/department/company, which behaviors are to promote and which ones are to ban, for which goals?
- Identify the must-have and nice-to-have skills and competencies required in each role for a maximum performance.
- Identify for each of your staff if its skills match the ones expected for the role and, more importantly, if its direction converges or diverges from the company one.
Step 2: Adjust and/or filter out
- Focus first on your staff with a diverging direction, regardless of their expertise. Is it a simple punctual problem of motivation that makes them diverging? Or is it a deeper ongoing problem of motivation? In that case, you will need to assess directly the situation with the concerned staff and agree on an action plan to restore motivation. If no action plan looks possible, it is best to terminate the employee at that stage before this motivation issue leads to underperformance and potentially contaminates other team members. Or else is it a problem of fitting to the company culture and its promoted values (eg not being able to participate to constructive debates by highlighting one own’s ideas and point of view in a company defending values of staff discussion for problem-solving) ? If so, you will need here an open and honest discussion with your staff. In case of incompatibility with your company culture, it is then recommended to terminate the working relationship with your employee as soon as possible.
- Then focus on your converging team members with limited or insufficient proficiency. Assess the ability to learn in the expected area of expertise and to develop the necessary skills at a sufficient level to perform in their jobs. Build and agree on appropriate development plans (training, coaching, mentoring…) and follow-up through SMARTER goals.
- Do not forget to review the situation with your best performers as well, the ones aligned in terms of direction and with adequate competencies and expertise, in order to identify where and how to grow them further and to keep their motivation as high as possible.
Step 3: on-board and support diversity
- Now focus on the new staff you want to on-board within your team (be it through internal mobility or external recruitment). Take with you the information from step 1 on your company environment and promoted behaviors as well as the missing and required skills for your team.
- Source your candidate from the broadest possible range of sources and try to ensure a maximum variety in the candidate profile (gender, age, citizenship, past experience, education, culture…) with the expected skill set.
- During the screening process, remove any personal information to avoid being influenced by non-relevant details or other stereotype/association bias.
- During the interview process, of course, evaluate and confirm the competencies, skills and experience of the candidate, but spend even more time in qualifying whether the work behaviors and attitudes of the candidate would match your company culture, assess thoroughly the true motivation of the candidate to take-up a new role in company. Take time to explain how your company works and what its values are and check for the candidate’s specific feedback.
Step 4: Explore and Protect diversity
- Spend quality time with every new joiner and ask them for their candid feedbacks about your organization (process, methods…). What has surprised or shocked them when they had joined? What could be improved? What is working very well from their view? New joiners wear “external glasses” till their integration is over; you may learn a lot from them during this initial phase.
- Support constructive discussions within your teams and accept to be challenged as well as challenge your team members on status quo. Welcome disagreement on view points and conflicts as long as conclusions are drawn on how to move forward and final decisions are respected by all team members. Foster a culture where debates are encouraged as an healthy activity to progress and improve the company competitiveness and performance.
- When facing a challenge, solving a problem, changing a process, revamping your organization or working on any other important matter impacting your staff, be clear on the decision making process that you will adopt. Highlight what will be negotiable and what is not, explain how the final decision will be made (by majority vote within the team, by consensus between the team members, by the manager based on the team inputs, by the upper management…) and precise the expected involvement of your staff in this decision making process. When debating an important topic with your team, be the last one to give your opinion not to influence your team members in the expression of their own ideas.
- Make sure to keep the same spirit of open discussions within your team over time by adapting your management approach and leadership style to the individual and situation and by reassessing the situation on a regular basis starting from step 1…
- exercise 1: Answer the following questions in order to prepare your next open position.
- Are there any missing competencies or knowhow in your current team? Are there any profiles already over represented in the team? What are then the mandatory competencies, skills, experiences and background required for the position? What are the optional ones? Which trade-off are you ready to do in case of competing profiles?
- What are your company culture, values and missions? Which behaviors are encouraged and supported? Which ones are prohibited? How will you assess whether your candidate embraces those values as well?
- exercise 2:
- Assess your existing team members competency, motivation and company culture fit by positioning them in a similar matrix than the one displayed below
- Which actions and next steps will you take for each one of your staff? By who will you start?
- exercise 3: Think of the last unknown large issue faced by your team.
- Who was involved in finding the solution?
- Which decision-making process did you follow?
- Was the process communicated to your team members?
- Were you satisfied with the end result?
- What would you do differently next time?
In a constantly transforming environment, the management team has the key responsibility to build teams that will allow their companies to navigate those changes in a minimum of time and with a minimum of extra-investment. This requires to look closely at each staff to assess and validate three parameters: first, the staff competencies must be in adequacy with the role. Then, and more importantly than skills, the staff motivation must point to the same direction as the company goals and their attitudes at work must match the behaviors and values promoted by their company. And finally, the diversity of the team members must be capitalized on and protected against any ideological dictatorship. As a summary note, let’s quote an extract of “Good to Great” from Jim Collins: “The old adage “People are your most important asset” is wrong. People are not your most important asset. The right people are.”
Last Revision: 2015 March 28