Talent Management: “The Real Leadership Lessons of Steve Jobs” Lessons 4 -7 of 14

In my first post in this series ( Talent management: “The Real Leadership Lessons of Steve Jobs” – the first 3 of 14 ) I explored how Focus, Simplify and Take End-to-End Responsibility relate to Talent Management (TM) and Performance Management (PM). In this post we will continue this examination with the next four lessons or as I call them principles.

Again, I will define my two key concepts:

TM –  Continuously meeting our timely access and use of talent needs in highly effective business driven ways.

PM – The process for leveraging the value of the talent you have access to by enabling excellence to materialize and be sustained.

When Behind, Leapfrog. This is simply about getting ahead of the competition rather than catching up to them. Being a second mover can be alright if the first mover missteps in taking advantage of earlier start.

From a TM and PM perspective this about challenging your talent to think beyond what others are doing. Organizations that are heavily analytical and/or influenced by their controller type mindsets will struggle with this principle. Analysis is about examining what is. It is hard to see how we can do a systematic analysis of what is off in the future – there is no data to analyze nor any history to demonstrate the success of the potential endeavour.

The other aspect of the analytical mindset is it has a hard time moving from its successful past and present to a new different future. The adage: “If it isn’t broke, don’t fix it!” is especially strong for those who need “proof” before moving on. This is why the “burning platform” argument for change is important to analytical oriented types – it’s real and clearly impractical to stay put. Am I denigrating the analytical orientation? No, I just don’t see it playing a transformational role in taking the leap so to speak. where analytical orientation thinking and action is helpful is it can help deal with managing the uncertainties and risks of leapfrogging.

Steve Jobs apparently was predisposed to cannibalizing still successful products/features. This was one of his visible manners of facilitating leapfrogging. Another way we can picture this that we leave the top of one “S” curve (e.g., a mature product) and leap to a new “S” curve. One benefit of being so cannibalistically predisposed is it makes it easier to free up internal working capital and associated talent on new efforts.

The TM challenge is to facilitate rapid movement along the curve to proficiency and productivity. Having people who can innovate is insufficient, the associated roles and support systems must enable this attribute to flourish. What is recognized and rewarded must be congruent with innovation. this applies at the individual and the organizational levels.

Put Products before Profits. This principle has interesting implications for those of us who do strategy work using the balanced score card approach. Also this is an incredibly important PM related principle. It asks and answers the question around how to strategically extract and sustain excellence.

Profits are a “contrived” measure. Why contrived? Because there is a lot of accounting manipulation (this is not a derogatory comment) that goes into determining the so called “bottom line”. For example, there is considerable judgement regarding depreciation, when to move costs from capital to operation, write-offs, etc. Yes there are accounting and regulatory guidelines in place, but a lot of flexibility remains. And apart from the CFO and the President, no one really has a lot to say about what goes into these machinations and therefore is not really in control of the resulting outcome. Even here it can be squarely – witness the debacle at Nortel where they could never get their financials straight for several years running.

Hence I am leery of using financial metrics for PM for most roles in the organization. Even in the areas where we use local costs as a PM measure, I have seen where corporate loads on corporate overheads in in less than transparent manners. I always argue that PM should rely on what someone in the role can control/heavily influence. You build excellence by building the habits associated with it. Habits are developed by taking control of the controllable.

Products are things that people work on directly. And, from a PM perspective this is within the control/strong influence of those who work on them. In the last previous post I suggested that there are four levels of measurement (inputs, throughputs, outputs/results, and outcomes/experiences) and products is at the very least reflects an output/result level meteoric. Of course we can track the inputs and throughputs too, and depending upon our respective involvement these may be preferred measurement levels for us.

However, we can embed the outcome/experience level metric level too. We do this through the performance specifications expectations. For example, We might be working on iDVD (the product), but the ease of use expectation can be an element in what constitutes a successful product.

I have a strong bias towards embedding outcome/experience level elements in PM in that this assists us better achieve excellence. I consider excellence an outcome in its own right.   Critical talent  should be challenged to achieve the desired outcome/experience. Everything else (inputs – outputs) is a means to this end.

The chase for profits is akin to the chase for happiness. It is a very tricky thing to pursue. To say we are in business to make a profit is a PM and TM distraction – it is a mutably determined measure. For Jobs, creating great products that Apple’s customers love to use (and thereby enrich their lives in someway) is concrete and highly complements the focus principle.

Don’t be a Slave to Focus Groups. This one of my favourite principles. Henry Ford is purported to have said that if he had asked his early potential customers what they wanted, they would have asked for faster horses. Customers have a very difficult time thinking outside of what they have experience with. Envisaging can be difficult for most of us, it sometimes feels unreal like fantasy fiction.

Regarding innovation, focus groups make the most sense where you want to make something you have to offer even more efficient and effective. But if you want to do the “leapfrog” the best processes  for doing so is usually to ignore focus groups.

Apple’s approach apparently relies on identifying what isn’t done very well and making it elegantly simple to do with great outcomes. That is, solve a customer’s problem.

In the area of PM, this means we should craft our goals around desired outcome experiences. So working on a product needs to embed a clear expectation on how the customer will benefit with his/her use of it.

Bend Reality. I have always been fascinated by the notion of the label “Reality Distortion Field” as it has been applied to Jobs. It is meant as a derogatory judgement. For me it derogatorily reflects only on those who utter it. It is a comment about those who can’t imagine what they have, are, and experiencing being fundamentally different and better. I have pity (a very cruel judgement) for those who say such things against someone else. One of the beautiful human abilities is that capacity to make a better future. To achieve this requires viewing “reality” as we currently see it being different.

I view our sense of the world as theory about it (the reality of it). Why? Because, we don’t know how it fully works, so our understanding  of it is at best partial and often idiosyncratic (after all it is my experiences that I make good use of to make sense of the rest of the world).

More practically speaking, the process of crafting a vision, mission and strategy is a process of bending reality. We either make a new strategic reality for ourselves or we reinforce the strategic reality we have so far been following. The process of solving a customer’s problem entails the act of seeing reality differently. Innovation necessitates the act of bending reality.

TM work can mean we have to bend the associated reality. Organizations have (or expect to encounter) difficulties because of how they are configured in their competitive setting – You have the TM experiences that your strategy and operation create. If you have organized your business processes around a highly specialized limited in supply skill set – you made your problem. I have asked clients to picture a future where their TM issue is non-existent. What would that look like and how do we achieve it?

Much of the TM work I do with clients involving systemic concerns involves how can we simply adjust the competitive reality the firm finds itself in that directly contributes to the issue at hand. This is the act of “bending reality”. Creating a new reality where the TM issue is systematically moderated or better yet eliminated.

In the next post we will explore the “Impute”, “Push for Perfection”, and, “Tolerate only A Players” principles.


About 123stilllearning456

As a management consultant I am passionately interested in talent management and risk/uncertainty issues. In the area of talent management I propose that we seek strategies that look beyond the staffing/employee centric frames of reference. I have been frustrated at the "closing down on possibilities" by these more conventional staffing/employee centric approaches. I have been impressed where people have found systematic solutions to their talent management issues by going beyond the conventional approaches. In the area of risk and uncertainty, I am interested in making this topic relevant to more normal decision making situations. My conceptual foundation is to use the micro-economist's fixed/variable cost theme. I also think it is important to look at these issues for people through their emotional and psychological lens. As a premise I think risk and uncertainty only exist where there is a person who cares about possible events and its consequences. Hence, risk and uncertainty are social based concepts (no sentience, no risk and uncertainty). A major influence on my thinking in this area is Nassim Taleb of "Black Swan" fame. This BLOG provides me with an opportunity to express my thoughts on topics that interest me. As this is an online diary, content is more important to me than polish. I apologize if this distracts from readers' enjoyment and learning. Still I find this a useful way to live up to my namesake, learn more from others and hopefully provoke creative thoughts and ideas in others.
This entry was posted in Creativity, Decison Making, Performance Management, Strategy, Talent Manangement, Values and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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