Redefining the Middle Manager Role

A bank redefined the [middle manager] role. They knew the role had become unwieldy, and as they looked into it they found that just by having a direct report, every people manager had 105 tasks to do. Some of these tasks made sense for a manager: performance reviews and coaching. But there were other things, like simple approvals of credit cards or expense reports, that … [ Read more ]

Increasing Access to Social Capital

Access to social capital is a sticking point for employees… To increase access, business leaders must first understand who has it—and who doesn’t. Advanced analytics can make it easier than it’s ever been to provide that understanding.

One electronics company, for instance, is using HR, facilities, and operations metadata (calendar invitations, email, HR information systems, and so on) and advanced analytics to map knowledge flows and … [ Read more ]

Create an Internal Innovation Futures Market

A consumer products company created an internal innovation futures market, where managers can go long or short on innovative ideas pitched by the teams creating them. Once the market price of an idea crosses a threshold, the innovators get more funding; if it crosses a higher threshold, it’s transferred into an existing or new business unit. But if its price falls below a certain level, … [ Read more ]

Humans vs. Algorithms for Hiring

Michael Lewis’s book Moneyball pits the collective old-time wisdom of baseball players, managers, coaches, scouts, and front offices against rigorous statistical analysis in determining which players to recruit. Analysis wins, changing the game forever. Could the same be true for recruiting top talent?

When the National Bureau of Economic Research looked into this, it pitted humans against computers for more than 300,000 hires in high-turnover jobs … [ Read more ]

Improve HR with a Rotational Onboarding Program and Peer-to-Peer Hiring

One important initiative at ING has been a new three-week onboarding program, also inspired by Zappos, that involves every employee spending at least one full week at the new Customer Loyalty Team operations call center taking customer calls. As they move around the key areas of the bank, new employees quickly establish their own informal networks and gain a deeper understanding of the business.

We have … [ Read more ]

“Rule of Two” for Promotions

When George Halvorson was chairman and CEO of Kaiser Permanente, he instituted a “rule of two” to encourage diversity and help avoid the “just like me” bias that’s prevalent in many promotion decisions. For appointments at the VP level and above, Halvorson encouraged leaders to bring three candidates, and no more than two of them could have a similar demographic profile—for example, sex or race. … [ Read more ]

Have Senior Management Work in Customer Service at Least One Day a Year

Kaizen and the whole process of continuous improvement was, and continues to be, a powerful tool at Amazon. That’s partly because for a long time Jeff Bezos has had all of senior management work in customer service at least one day a year. This allowed executives to see events on the front line, to understand the problems that came up, and to help find solutions. … [ Read more ]

Identifying and Bounding Innovation Opportunity Spaces

Fresh, creative insights are invaluable, but in our experience many companies run into difficulty less from a scarcity of new ideas than from the struggle to determine which ideas to support and scale. At bigger companies, this can be particularly problematic during market discontinuities, when supporting the next wave of growth may seem too risky, at least until competitive dynamics force painful changes.

Innovation is inherently … [ Read more ]

Analyze Your Firm’s Jobs and Activities

McKinsey has been investigating the future impact of automation on the workplace. The firm structures its analysis around roughly 2,000 individual work activities and assesses the requirements for each of these activities against 18 different capabilities (see below) that potentially could be automated. Analyzing your own firm’s jobs and activities with a similar framework would not only help plan for future disruptions, but also could … [ Read more ]

Private-Equity Exercise

A useful exercise is to think about the value agenda as though a private-equity firm had just bought your company. What would you be working on if you were trying to triple your value in five years? Answering that question in a really finite way, with dollar values next to ideas and initiatives, is a really good thing to do.

Build Greater Agility Into Your Investment System

One multinational company built greater agility into its incentive system by keeping some investment funds in reserve until the middle of the year, then releasing them for successful initiatives requiring more resources in order to grow. In return for the funding, initiative leaders had to agree to raise their performance targets.

Improve Your Hiring Process

In hiring, what most leaders do is they have a set of criteria, they evaluate a bunch of candidates through interviews and resumes and other information available, and then they make decisions based on their gut. You could actually turn that process into a much more scientific approach, where you lose none of your experience but you add a lot of data.

The way I would … [ Read more ]

Whisper Courses

This reminds me of something our leadership-development team launched last year with behavioral nudging. We created what we call “whisper courses,” which were based on the premise that, as leaders, we have the best intentions yet get so busy and forget to do the many little things that matter so much. I recall us talking about how nice it would be to have this invisible … [ Read more ]

Create a Sales War Room for Better Post-Merger Integration

After a merger, it is a mistake to expect sales reps on their own to address all of the inevitable questions from customers and tactics of competitors. Unfortunately, sales managers are often too preoccupied with integration issues, so the front line is left to its own devices.

To resolve this problem, successful acquirers create a temporary sales war room, or interim leadership group. Led by two … [ Read more ]

New Leader Tip: Learn What Is and Isn’t Working

One of the first things I did when I joined [Philips], in late 2010, was to write an open letter to about 700 people—basically, the group we call the Consumer Lifestyle leadership and a layer below them. I invited them to tell me what they thought was working well in the business and what wasn’t. This gave me a pretty good idea of what was … [ Read more ]

Snowball Sampling: Identifying People with Informal Influence

Employee resistance is the most common reason executives cite for the failure of big organizational-change efforts. Companies need to develop strong change leaders employees know and respect—in other words, people with informal influence. But there’s one problem: finding them. How can company leaders identify those people beforehand to better harness their energy, creativity, and goodwill—and thereby increase the odds of success?

One way we’ve found … [ Read more ]

A Premortem for Contrarian Thinking

“The premortem technique is a sneaky way to get people to do contrarian, devil’s advocate thinking,” explains psychologist Gary Klein. “Before a project starts, say, ‘We’re looking in a crystal ball, and this project has failed; it’s a fiasco. Now, everybody, take two minutes and write down all the reasons why you think the project has failed.”

Take the Pulse of the Room

Ask participants to write down their initial positions, use voting devices, or ask participants for their “balance sheets” of pros and cons. “Frankly, I’m surprised that when you have a reasonably well-informed group it isn’t more common to begin by having everyone write their conclusions on a slip of paper,” remarks Nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman. “If you don’t do that, the discussion will create an … [ Read more ]

Making Better Investment Decisions

Always ask people making an investment recommendation to present their second-best choice. It’s rarely better than the first. But both might actually be good, and both recommendations of another business unit might not be. Considering just one recommendation from every business unit will deprive you of many investment opportunities you’d get if you asked for two.

Tell Five Stories at Once

We typically see organizational leaders tell two types of stories to inspire their teams. The first, the turnaround story, runs along the lines of “We’re performing below industry standard and must change dramatically to survive—incremental change is not sufficient to attract investors to our underperforming company.” The second, the good-to-great story, goes something like this: “We are capable of far more, given our assets, market … [ Read more ]