Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Help Your BEST Players Get On Board

Occasionally, an executive who is trying a bold, new tack on the business will tell me how difficult it is “to get people on board”. I agree. Many people love to talk about innovation and change, but they are often remarkably resistant to those leaders who try to actually breathe life into those concepts.

Having said that, let me flip the equation around. There may always be career skeptics, but I think the bigger problem that leaders and organizations face is that they do not make it worthwhile and attractive for those employees and managers who really do want to get “on board”.

Remember that in any company, the best players at any level or function—the smartest, the most talented, the most proactive, the most impatient, the most imaginative-- are perpetually hungry for innovative action. They’re eager to challenge “the way we’ve always done things”. They want to plunge through the walls of conventional wisdom to make a positive impact, and they want to reap the financial and advancement rewards for doing so.

If they don’t have the power, the opportunities, and incentives to do that, they’re no dumber than the rest of us. As rational people, they’ll pour cold water on their own initiative. They’ll learn to conform to the same old game, and the organization will suffer accordingly. Or, even worse, they’ll start polishing their resume and be gone, seeking a new climate for challenge and responsibility elsewhere. They’ll do it sooner or later, for the simple reason that they’re marketable. And then the company really gets mired in decline, because when the best and brightest leave, the mediocre players and the drones will always stay on. They’ll stick to a company like barnacles, because they know they’re not particularly marketable, or because they retired years ago and never told anybody.

As I’ve said in the past, one of the best predictors of organizational success or decline is who’s happy and who’s upset. If leaders set up an environment where the best players are the most dissatisfied and the drones the most comfortable, you can predict a bad moon rising regardless of the company’s current size and prestige.

The moral for the leader? Stack the deck by seeking and nurturing those people in your organization who are right now straining at the leash for the opportunity to make a true difference and be accountable for it. They exist. They’ll be your critical mass for exciting change. They’ll also inspire some of the skeptics, and help drive many of the remainder to seek less challenging environments in other companies. That’s what you want, isn’t it? And, by the way, it’s a lot easier, and more fun, to follow my advice than to try to verbally convince everybody to “get on board.”


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