Archive for the 'Thinking' Category

The wrong question

Enjoyed the recent HRINZ conference in Wellington. The ‘Restoring the Trust’ theme was right on from the current economic environment Well run with a provocative series of speakers especially Roger Steare (Ethicability) , Vanessa Stoddart (Air New Zealand) and  Fermin Diaz (Mercer). The conference ran like clock-work. Well done to Beverley Main and the HRINZ team.

I did take issue with David Thompson (Beyond the Dots) who talked about Talent Management. I think I may be in a minority of people who object to the idea of identifying the few talented ones in an organisation! I don’t think I’m being a socialist here. The whole approach is based on the wrong question – ‘how do we identify and support our talent?’. If you ask the wrong question, you will come up with the wrong answer. Focusing on a relatively few high performance individuals is dumb.

Here’s one of the reasons why. Lets say your talent program identifies 10% of your organisation as talent. If your program raises their performance by 50% (which is hard as they already are high performers) the net organisational gain is a mere 5%.

I think a better question is – ‘how do we unlock the talent throughout the organisation?’ Because if you can raise the performance of the rest of your organisation (the 90%) by just 10% (which is easy as they are low performers) the net organisational gain is 9%. An 80% improvement on focusing on the talented few (ie. 9% instead of 5%).

I’m not an HR professional, but I think …

The problem is that talent management sounds like a good idea. But if HR is to build trust with business, it needs to stop advocating strategies that are fundamentally flawed and will not deliver value to their business. Eventually the results will speak for themselves and Talent Management will fail to meet it’s expectations. That will damage HR’s credibility and reliability which in turn will damage trust.

My second point here is about the art of questioning. Such a powerful and under-utilised skill. Our individual credibility is communicated as much though the questions we ask as though the stories and experiences we share. But take care not to ask the wrong question. Give the right question some consideration.

Of course, I could be quite wrong. Happy to heard alternate points of view.


Less is More

A quote from Antoine de Saint Exupery.

“You know you have achieved perfection in design, not when you have nothing more to add,

but when you have nothing more to take away”



It’s often refreshing to read the Harvard Business Review. They seem to understand how to communicate incisive business ideas in a very engaging way. It was particularly refreshing to see Teresa Amabile’s contribution to Breakthrough Ideas for 2010 (January-February 2010).

The number one motivator (by a long way) for motivating people is Progress. (ie. the feeling of making progress in one’s work). That’s based on the Amabile/Kramer multi-year study of hundreds knowledge workers. I’m calling it Achievement.  I think we’re on the same page.

What I’m arguing is that the best investment an organisation can make is in supporting it’s people to achieve something that aligns with the strategic direction of the organisation. There are no silver bullets, only fundamental questions.

Everyone should ask themselves:

  1. Given the current situation, what specific achievement should I be focused on? What specifically constitutes progress?
  2. How would this be meaningful to me?
  3. How do I enroll the people I need to support this specific achievement/progress?
  4. How do I create a sense of momentum that motivates myself and the team?
  5. What does reality look like? Am I making progress?

Worth thinking about!

Because you know. The greatest opportunities for leadership development, learning, motivation, change, engagement, value, etc – lie in front of us in the work that we do.  It is just a matter of how we think about it.

ps I’m back after a summer recess! You’ll be hearing more from me.

Future of work

Here’s a cool presentation on the future of work.

I like the golden rule of real estate = location, location, location.

The golden rule of work = communication, communication, communication!

Is there anything else?

Thought leadership

I’m sensing an increasing premium on thought leadership at the moment. We’re living at a time of significant change. A time of opportunity surely, but also danger.

Anything that supports and develops better and more creative thinking should be encouraged. There’s a lot more value in thinking differently at the moment. There’s a lot more value in thinking for ourselves. That’s why I love Twitter as a channel for connecting with a wider perspective on what’s happening in the world. Individual ‘tweets’ may be low value, but hearing how others are thinking makes you think differently. Valuable thoughts emerge from the diverse and potent mix of stimulating ideas. It can’t be premeditated though! You just need to let it happen.

In this spirit, here is an intriguing conversation with  Robert Sapolsky (a Stanford neurobiologist) about Toxo!

It probably has very little to do you’re day job. Unless you’re a neurobiologist!

But I hope it makes you go “wow”. I hope it makes you think about how little we know. I hope it creates an openness to different ideas. I hope it stimulates a curiosity to learn more. I hope it helps you to be a stronger thought leader. And I hope you find it stimulating enough to subscribe to

How the Mighty Fall

Just spotted Jim Collin’s latest book. I’ve always enjoyed his previous books – Built to Last and Good to Great. This one is Great to Bad! How once great companies fail. He identifies 5 stages of decline.

  1. Hubris born of success.
  2. Undisciplined pursuit of ‘more’.
  3. Denial of risk and peril.
  4. Grasping for salvation.
  5. Capitulation to irrelevance or death.

Sobering reading as an individual, team, organisation or civilisation.

I’m thinking of climate change and the current financial meltdown.

I liked this quote – “The signature of the truly great versus the merely successful is not the absence of difficulty but the ability to come back from set-backs, even catastrophe, stronger than before.”

There’s always hope …. if it’s well-founded!


Been thinking a little about influence without advocacy.

I was reminded of an old story of a long ago US presidential campaign. I think it was Roosevelt. The story goes that millions of campaign posters were printed with Roosevelt’s photo. Unfortunately no-one had obtained permission from the photographer. Instead of seeking permission and negotiating a fee with the photographer. Someone suggested approaching the photographer with an opportunity to have his photo on millions of campaign posters. How much would the photographer pay? They accepted his first offer!

I’m not commenting on the ethics!  But it’s interesting how reframing the problem resulted in a significantly different outcome. The frame influenced the choice that was made. Different frames, different choices

There are two frames worth thinking about:

  • buy or sell eg. Roosevelt story
  • life or death (positive or negative)

eg. Tversky and Kahneman  (1981)

Others might be:

  • simple or complex
  • quality or quantity
  • vision or execution
  • individual or group
  • change or status-quo

More soon…

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