Monthly Archives: January 2013

Triangulating Talent Management ~ Leadership, Strategy and Organizational Culture

Over the course of my career, both in Corporate America and with investor-driven startups, I came to understand the driving elements of breakthrough performance.  Elements that transcend markets, industries and technologies. What I observed, and wrote extensively about in my book, was that the companies that consistently over-achieved and outperformed their competition optimized and aligned leadership, strategy and organizational culture.  As simple as this sounds it takes a concerted, mindful effort to coordinate and execute these mission-critical elements.

Adding to this challenge is the shift in the underlying driver of value creation in our ever-accelerating evolution from the Information Age to the Age of Ideas.  Human creativity, in the form of commercially viable intellectual property, is now the source of value creation in our global economy.  Today’s business leaders, for the most part, came up through the ranks optimizing processes, eliminating variability (think Six Sigma and TQM), and reducing costs.  Optimizing processes requires technical skills and evolves around good management.  Optimizing human capital requires adaptive skills (the so-called soft skills) and is driven by inspirational leadership.  The underpinnings of business success have shifted beneath our feet.

Taleo Research® published a white paper that supports this perspective.  The study, entitled, “Talent Intelligence – Key To U.S. Business Success”, identifies that in today’s knowledge economy upwards of 70% of an organization’s value is based upon the skills and experiences of its associates.  When we overlay other research from Gallup, McKinsey, and CEB, breathtaking opportunities for breakthrough performance and company valuation growth are revealed.

Employee engagement levels continue to hover around 30%, meaning that upwards of 70% of employees are sleepwalking through at least a part of their day.  Realistically, what level of discretionary effort can we expect from the 70%?  CEB’s Executive Guidance – 2013 report revealed CEOs currently believe they will need to increase workforce productivity by 20% in order to stay competitive in the coming years (the CAGR of workforce productivity has been a little over 3% per year since 1993).  The takeaways?  The 30% of employees that are intrinsically motivated contribute the vast majority of company value and elevating the growth rate of productivity from 3% to 20% will require innovative thinking and new approaches to engaging and motivating the other 70% of associates.  As daunting as this appears, the upside is nothing short of spectacular.

The fact is, robust Talent Management is central to success going forward.  So where do we begin?  Taleo identified the most important talent analytics and found they could be broken down into four major categories.

1.) Business Strategy – Defining goals and aligning employees to achieve these goals.

2.) Retention – Identifying and retaining high potentials and high performers.

3.) Leadership Development – Identifying and developing leadership bench strength.

4.) Workforce Metrics – Insights into the skills gaps to execute the business strategy.

Supporting my observations from twenty years of executive experience, Taleo’s report reveals leadership, strategy and organizational culture (a key to retention) are driving elements of Talent Management, which is now the driver of breakthrough performance.

mckinsey-quarterly-right-leaders-image-003It all begins with leadership, but what kind of leadership?  In June, 2011, the McKinsey Quarterly® published a major study that identified the fact that only 1% of “C” level executives and one step down executives measured “excellent” in five out of eight leadership competencies.  Ten percent scored “above average”, leaving the vast majority of executives scoring average or below average.  Strikingly, many of the competencies McKinsey was measuring back in 2010/2011 were more closely aligned with an approach to leadership that no longer resonates in our multi-cultural, multi-generational workforce.

Fortunately, CEB’s recent research has identified the key competencies high performers are demonstrating in today’s highly volatile, fast-paced environment.  Skills that include self-awareness and social/organizational awareness, adaptive, innovative thinking, as well as learning agility.  Critical skills that don’t show up in McKinsey’s research.  Critical skills that must be present if we are to reverse the employee engagement trends and achieve a 20% improvement in productivity.  There’s lots of room for improvement here as well, as CEB reports that, on average, only 5% of workers demonstrate a well balanced blend of these skills.

We’ve coined a phrase to describe this approach to leadership.  We call it Affective Leadership, which is the leadership of engagement (the approach integrates research from many scientific disciplines including affective neuroscience; how our brains react and function under various, emotional stimuli and interpersonal relationships).  An approach to leadership that is grounded in empathy and authenticity.  In fact, the Creative Leadership Institute conducted an eight year study in which they identified the only competency that differentiated mediocre management from inspirational leadership was empathy.  This is a learnable skill that requires a shift in perspective; from me to we.  The path for cultivating empathy begins with the development of emotional intelligence competencies; self-awareness and social awareness; which leads to self-regulation and the emergence of strong relationship management skills.

This is the starting gate for capturing that 20% improvement in productivity.  There’s a hidden workforce lying just beneath the surface in many organizations and it is through the process of implementing Affective Leadership that spectacular improvements in productivity, innovation and creative thinking will emerge.  With this foundation of leadership in place, strategy becomes more mindful and adaptive, and the organization’s culture becomes much more supportive of open collaboration, communication and innovation.  It is this approach to leadership that will set the tone and trajectory for success in the 21st Century.

© 2013, Terry Murray

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Coming Full Circle ~ From Naval Intelligence to Business Intelligence

Thirty-two years ago this month, I began a long, circuitous journey by raising my right hand and taking the oath to defend the Constitution of the United States.  So began my entree into the world of Naval Intelligence.  Little did I know at the time how formative the experiences that were about to unfold before me were going to be over the next three decades.

800px-USS_Ranger_(CV-61)_conducting_an_underway_replenishment_of_the_Dutch_frigate_F812_Jacob_Van_Heemskerck_during_Operation_Desert_Shield_2Naval Intel imparted strategic skills and a particular way of thinking that still serve me to this day.  First and foremost, was a sense of accountability to the lives of the pilots we worked with on the aircraft carrier.  We were responsible for mission planning, and it was our job to get them into the strike zone and home again, safely.  This sense of accountability to our fellow shipmates was remarkable and unshakeable.  I’ll give you a minor, yet hard to fathom example.  We conducted man overboard drills continuously while at sea.  The drill would often occur in the middle of the night, with the shrill of the bosun’s whistle cracking the quiet slumber of the 5,700 sailors that were not on mid-watch.  Within a minute and thirty seconds, everyone of the nearly six thousand sailors on board would be mustered at their battle stations and completely accounted for.  Picture if you will for a minute, the sight of thousands of people sprinting in coordinated fashion across a 1,079 foot long, 274 foot wide, seventeen story ship with a four acre flight deck, to their battle stations.  That’s engagement.  That’s accountability to each other and the explicit demonstration of our commitment to protecting our fellow shipmates.

Along with this sense of accountability, we were also taught a way of thinking that supported our strategic objectives.  We were taught how to consume massive amounts of information (message traffic that flowed through the Intel Center averaged 5,400 pages a day), identify what was cogent to our mission, interpret how the intel may influence our battle readiness, distill the information into manageable bites, and communicate it on an executive level in support of the Flag Officers decision making processes.  At a very young age I found myself writing Intelligence Briefs for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the head of the NSA and even the President of the United States.  It was exciting work, imbued with an enormous sense of purposefulness.

The experiences and education I received from the Navy served me well as I matriculated up the chain of command in Corporate America.  Over the years, one of my core competencies to emerge was, no surprise, strategic planning.  More importantly, however, was the holistic perspective I brought to strategic planning.  Of how it had to be aligned and coordinated with leadership and organizational culture in order to see it properly executed to achieve our objectives.  Any break in this coordination and the full potential of the strategy would fail to materialize.  Proper alignment would accelerate execution and often position us to over-achieve our expressed objectives.

Information technology has now evolved to the point where it can begin to deliver business intelligence that looks very similar to Naval Intelligence.  An article in the McKinsey Quarterly® defined business intelligence as, “The ability to transform data into insights to help manage a company, business intelligence consists of the processes, applications, and practices that support executive decision making.”  Sound familiar?  In the military, we executed this process manually, and the process was exceptionally robust.  As firms begin to evaluate how to apply this emerging capability, especially in the area of Talent Management, there are a few experiential lessons I learned along the way that can greatly impact the efficaciousness of the application of technology and process parameters.

● Leadership Development.  Much like the military, companies must adapt to changes in the dynamics of their theater of operations.  The leaders the military developed during WWII are very different than the leaders currently deployed in Afghanistan.  Are you training leaders for yesterday’s environment or are you preparing your next generation of leaders with the competencies they will need to succeed going forward?

● Strategy.  This is an area that seems to generate a lot of noise.  Some technology opinion leaders espouse tossing out the old approaches and replacing them with business models.  In reviewing these new business models I’ve found they’re not really any different than the traditional approaches when they are well executed.  The fundamentals of knowing where you are, where you want to go, and a thorough evaluation of the optional paths before you enables flexibility and nimbleness.  It also should guide professional development, to ensure the right skills are deployed in the right areas at the right time.  A well disciplined and open process of strategic planning is the value driver, not the resulting document.

● Organizational Culture.  This is a particular area of interest for me.  The military thoroughly understands the importance of culture.  Both explicit culture (Navy Regulations) and implicit culture (how we actually got things done and interacted with each other) are continuously cultivated in the Navy.  We had a saying, “There’s the right way, the wrong way, and the Navy way!”  The military consistently focuses on their culture and how that culture supports their current mission.  It is intentionally created and reinforced at every touch point.

The access of remarkable information, emerging talent management software, and today’s connectivity unleash remarkable opportunities for capturing and leveraging cogent business intelligence.  Somewhat ironically, capturing business insights requires some initial insight as to the guiding parameters of intelligence gathering and formulation and how leadership, strategy and organizational culture are positioned to leverage and capture the promise of this emerging capability.

© 2013, Terry Murray.

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Scientific Study Demonstrates the Efficacy of Equine Facilitated Experiential Learning

leadership-round-pen-2-lo-res.jpgThose of us employing a relationship-based approach to Equine Facilitated Experiential Learning (EFEL) in the personal and professional development business know how powerful the approach can be for our participants.  The success we’ve witnessed traveling the country these past four years conducting workshops, from Hawaii to Montana to Florida, has been remarkable.  We’ve seen rapid, developmental progress made in combat veterans, women leaving county jail, VA counselors, juveniles in detention, at-risk children, clinicians and business professionals.  The approach delivers a powerful shift in one’s perspective of self, others and how the interplay between human beings (and horses, too) has a biochemical, neurological and psychological affect that subtly defines the nature of our relationships.  Whether we’re leading a team of professionals, selling to prospects, or simply interacting with our friends and families.  We know this works because we’ve seen it working.

Now there’s a solid, scientific research study that confirms what we know anecdotally.  Researchers Patricia Pendry and Stephanie Roeter of Washington State University published the study, “Experimental Trial Demonstrates Positive Effects of Equine Facilitated Learning on Child Social Competence, in a 2012 edition of the professional journal, Human-Animal Interactions.  Conducted as an eleven week after-school program, the study demonstrated improvements in the youth’s’ self-confidence, self-esteem, school bonding, positive social behaviors, school grades and achievement test scores.  To quote Pendry and Roeter, “Results echo findings from prior correlational, anecdotal, and case study evidence, which suggest significant positive associations between participation in equine facilitated programs and various aspects of adjustment and wellbeing.  Faced with skepticism about the efficacy of equine facilitated programs by potential funders and third party payers, therapeutic professionals and clients can now point to causal evidence.  This may not only increase the public’s confidence in equine programs’ ability to positively affect child development, but also translate into increased structural support to increase accessibility to such programs.”1

At first glance, working with horses to develop mindful leaders, cohesive teams and highly efficient sales professionals may look a bit woo-woo.  It isn’t.  We’ve canvased over 200 peer-reviewed research studies in everything from affective neuroscience, biochemistry, applied behavioral economics, performance psychology, adult learning styles and even quantum physics to correlate and explain what is actually happening in our workshops.  Our approach incorporates this research to introduce and frame the lessons the participants are about to experience, in specifically designed horse/human relationship-based exercises, firsthand for themselves.  As we introduce business metaphors throughout the exercises, we see eyes widen as that ah-ha moment emerges when a lesson is embraced through self-reflection and self-discovery.  These kinesthetic lessons are not easily forgotten.

The research pipeline for EFEL is beginning to fill and in the coming years I’m confident we’ll see even more validated results to the approach.  Validation of what we’ve learned experientially by conducting workshops these past four years.  If you are interested in learning more about our approach, we invite you to visit our website!

1.) Patricia Pendry, Stephanie Roeter, “Experimental Trial Demonstrates Positive Effects of Equine Facilitated Learning on Child Social Competence”, Human-Animal Interaction, 2012, Vol. 1, No. 1, 1-19.

© 2013, Terry Murray.

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Is it Time to Upgrade Your Human Software?

Emerging advances in social knowledge media and management software promise a future of remarkable connectivity, responsiveness and strategic flexibility for businesses.  The greatest limitation to these emerging capabilities, of communicating and collaborating in unprecedented ways across traditional business boundaries, may be the businesses themselves.  In particular, the individual operating systems that comprise the business; human beings.

Early in my corporate career I was taught an invaluable lesson.  It was during the mid-nineties when many companies were making the final migration away from business software operating systems that were developed in-house to enterprise software platforms from the likes of ORACLE and SAP.  The new, integrated platforms promised remarkable upside.  Promise that often came along with substantial disruption, especially during conversion, which could drag on for months (or sometimes years).  While many of the problems were purely technical, variable and unstable business processes were also contributing to the challenges at hand.

What I learned was you cannot improve process by simply applying technology.  Automating a questionable process only exacerbates questionable results.  Even worse, it often accelerates and amplifies those results.  Back in the 1970s software engineers had an acronym for this phenomena; GIGO – garbage in, garbage out.

Now we’re on the precipice of another business software/process evolution; social media and social knowledge management.  The looming impact this next wave of technology will have on current business processes makes the old CRM conversions pale in comparison.  Open networks, strategy accelerators, social branding, on-demand customization, Design Thinking and spherical collaboration will alter many of the established, stabile business processes that have been optimized for hierarchically-organized companies.  The scope of change, and the speed at which it is taking place, is unprecedented.  I dare say social technology will effect commerce in the Ideas Age on a scale similar to how the assembly line impacted the Industrial Age.

While unstable or simply bad processes were brought to the surface as enterprise software gained traction, this new evolution will surface something more fundamental; misaligned thinking, outdated leadership and dysfunctional culture.  While the pace of change in the 1990s enabled organizations to muddle through their enterprise conversions, today’s environment will be much less forgiving.  This isn’t about fine-tuning yesterday’s processes to meet the new, adaptive challenges.  It’s about co-creating entirely new processes, and more importantly, embracing an organizational shift in perspective and orientation that will empower greater collaboration.  Companies will need to strategically navigate the journey from yesterday’s command-and-control thinking to tomorrow’s engage-and-inspire actions.

Structural Effects on Performance

Structural Effects on Associate Performance Orientation

Fortunately, we’re not navigating in the dark.  I wrote a blog last week about global advisory firm CEB’s Executive Guidance – 2013 report that identified the top ten competencies today’s high performers are demonstrating as they thrive in volatility.  A thematic thread runs through these imperative (and teachable) skills.  One of high emotional intelligence, an interpersonal orientation, psychological agility, and a sense of purpose greater than the individual self.  Notice that these skills are oriented around intrinsic goals and values (personal development, authentic relationships, purposefulness).  Goals and values that transcend the superficial differences that exists in multi-cultural, multi-generational workplaces.  The fact is, organizationally leveraging extrinsic goals and values (money, prestige, power) is no longer the go-to motivating factor it was in the past.  Deeper meaning must be imparted through mindful leadership and a highly engaging, inclusive culture in order to ignite breakthrough performance through the application of human capital.

The study went on to identify that, on average, only 5% of employees demonstrate competencies in these areas, so there’s enormous room for growth and performance improvement.  But a shift in perspective must first occur in order for these productivity gains to be realized.  Here’s a quote from the research that supports this insight:

“What skills and behaviors will differentiate the most productive employees?  Most managers and performance management models assume that strong business acumen, task and process mastery, and technical know-how explain the majority of an employee’s job performance.  Unfortunately, the prevalence of outdated assumptions about the most valuable skills and abilities leads to the misidentification (or under-identification) of the organization’s next generation of high performers.  Using existing methods, organizations will likely fail to identify 65% of their new high performers.”*

This points to a misalignment, or misunderstanding, of values…of what matters most in driving performance.  Adopting a social knowledge management software platform without first addressing the firm’s human software (the associates’ thinking, orientation and perspective) is akin to seeding a field without first tilling the sod.  These new insights into the skills necessary for high performance lead us to additional insights into the type of leaders we must be developing and the organizational culture required to foster these competencies and behaviors throughout the organization.

Social knowledge management offers remarkable promise for increases in productivity and performance.  A study conducted by the McKinsey Global Institute and published in the November, 2012 McKinsey Quarterly®, demonstrated that improved communication and collaboration through social technologies can raise the productivity of interaction workers by 20 to 25 percent.  In analyzing just four key business sectors, the research goes on to suggest social platforms can unlock somewhere between $900 billion and $1.3 trillion in value!  Just don’t forget to upgrade your human software first!

*CEB, CLC Human Resources High Performance Survey, 2012.

© 2013, Terry Murray

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The Ten Key Competencies of High Performers and Next Generation Leaders

Global advisory firm CEB released their Executive Guidance – 2013 report identifying the critical competencies high performers embody in today’s rapidly changing workplace.  The study examined the drivers and performance of more than 20,000 professionals working for 40 separate entities around the world.  Gaining insights into evolving skill sets and performance attributes provides guidance for choosing the right training and development endeavors that best serve the enterprise.

If you happen to be a frequent or even occasional reader of this blog you are probably familiar with our philosophy of cultivating the right talent and the right thinking necessary to successfully navigate the accelerating change and ambiguity of today’s global workplace.  Value creation today is rooted in the efficient commercialization of economically viable intellectual property (IP).  The raw material of IP is human creativity, and thus, human beings.  How we choose to connect, engage and motivate human beings will have the greatest impact on organizational success going forward.  Leaders must develop keen insights into what we call “the granularity of the human experience” in order to inspire and orchestrate the emerging demands of intra and extra-organizational collaboration.  The same type of, for lack of a better word, technical expertise about human beings that has historically been demonstrated in the fields of engineering, science and technology; key drivers of value creation during the Industrial and Information Ages.

CEB’s study surfaced several interesting trends and observations from executives that are reshaping the core competencies leaders, at every level throughout the enterprise, must embrace and consistently demonstrate in order to optimize performance.  First, the executives surveyed expressed the need to secure a 20% improvement in employee productivity in order to stay competitive in the future.  They also felt that only 29% of their associates were working at full capacity.  This is a fascinating figure as it is the similar percentage that Gallup® and the Chartered Management Institute® both report as  fully engaged employees (yes, seven out of ten associates are disengaged with their employer).  Engaged employees that show up with passion and excitement about their work.  This isn’t a coincidence as the prerequisite to knowledge work, creative thinking and open collaboration is engagement.  Engagement on both a cognitive and emotional level.  If leaders are to wring an additional 20% increase in productivity from today’s lean-staffed organizations it is going to come from expanding engagement levels throughout the business.

The executives surveyed also identified three distinct trends that are already well underway.  Frequent organizational change, the need for more interdependent work to be accomplished and a continuous increase in the performance of knowledge work will require a new set of competencies to emerge.  Those that lead with success and optimally perform in this volatile, co-dependent environment will be those that have expanded their development beyond traditional, technical business competencies to include what were once dismissed as soft skills.  Skills that overlap personal and professional development.  Skills that contribute to a heightened state of awareness; what one might refer to as a state of mindfulness.

CEB’s list of critical competencies strongly correlates to our philosophy and approach.  Here’s their list along with some additional thoughts.

1.) Ability to Prioritize ~ Having worked for more than a decade in the investor-driven startup world as a strategist, prioritizing activities, focus and constrained resources was always critical to success.  To help in the prioritization process, we created a decision-support tool called Dynamic Parallel Targeting®* that incorporated a qualitative and quantitative approach to weighing various business pros and cons of competing priorities and market opportunities.  Far from being a scientific methodology, the tool did, however, create a structured discussion document that spurred debate and creative thinking that may not have occur otherwise.  As windows of opportunity open and close with advancing speed there’s little room for slack and each individual’s ability to prioritize their energies and efforts will grow in importance.

2.) Works Well in Teams ~ As you read this list you will notice how strongly intertwined all of these competencies are.  What makes a good teammate?  Someone that can put the objectives and success of the team above their own personal desires.  Mature prioritization that parks the ego and successfully manages a variety of relationships with a diverse group of people.  This requires empathy for others to emerge and consistently be demonstrated, not something that is traditionally stressed in business schools.

3.) Organizational Awareness ~ At first blush you might think, strategy and vision, knowing where the organization is going.  While this is part of it, it’s more nuanced.  The root of this competency is cultivated through the imparting of social awareness; a key component of emotional intelligence.  Organizational awareness requires the skill of discernment to emerge; of being self-aware of one’s hidden biases and honest enough to see not only where the organization is heading but where it is today.

4.) Effective Problem Solving ~ Referring back to the creation of Dynamic Parallel Targeting, we had a challenge on our hands.  We had a disruptive technology that had more than a dozen market applications, so where do we launch first? We worked as a team to solve this problem by creating a new tool to structure the search for the optimal solution.  Problem solving to solve a problem and improve our thinking going forward.

5.) Self-Awareness ~ This is the first tenet of emotional intelligence and mindfulness.  When we can get off the dance floor and into the balcony in regards to our own thoughts, emotions, motivations and behaviors, and the impact these elements have on those we lead and work with, we discover a new orientation.  The self-aware professional doesn’t take things personally.  They are grounded in authenticity rather than in a state of conditioned perspectives.  From this foundation, self-regluation can emerge (another skill of emotional intelligence).  Through this self mastery, presence comes to the surface and with it one’s ability to rapidly build trust, engagement and spark inspiration in others.

6.) Proactivity ~ Businesses can no longer afford to wait for people to be told when to bring their brains online.  Associates need to be free to move forward, free to think and invited to contribute.  This requires a culture that encourages measured risk-taking and empowers decision making throughout the organization.  Again, the prerequisite for proactivity is engagement; engagement cultivated through mindful leadership.

7.) Ability to Influence ~ The ability to influence requires trust and relationship.  As we saw earlier, the competencies of self-awareness, self regulation and social awareness are the foundational blocks upon which this skill is built.  As these foundational skills engrain, a clarity emerges.

8.) Effective Decision Making ~ Discernment versus judgement.  The ability to correctly prioritize is a form of effective decision making as well.  Once again, awareness, or more fully…mindfulness, improves decision making as clarity delivers fresh insights and a checked ego invites collaboration and input from diverse perspectives, further enhancing engagement.

9.) Learning Agility ~ This really speaks to both the cognitive and emotional agility that comes through self mastery.  Grounded in authenticity, free from conditioned thinking, we can adapt and learn continuously throughout our personal and professional lives.  Learning agility is key because continuous learning is now an essential element of business success.

10.) Technical Savvy ~ Perhaps this goes without saying, but it harkens back to learning agility.  Staying current with technology’s enabling, rapid evolution demands continuous learning.

CEB’s report goes on to illustrate the prevalence of associates that demonstrate the combination of these skills is around 5% (ranging from a high of 6.4% in the technology sector to a low of 4.1% in the travel and leisure industry).  While on the surface this sounds dire, it also points to the breakthrough performance and productivity gains that are attainable through applying the right blended learning, coaching and development programs to cultivate these competencies and the organizational fitness that will be necessary to sustain them.

* Dynamic Parallel Targeting is a registered trademark of SalesForce4Hire®, LLC.

© 2013, Terry Murray.


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