On Perpetual Organizational Progress

Emergence as a recognized entity secures a tentative place for an organization in a population, but its persistence depends upon the continual replication of its routines and competencies (Aldrich & Ruef, 2006, p. 94).  We think of where we work as somewhere fixed; an institution in its truest sense, a building with cubicles, desks with computers, and employees with bosses.  Yet what the research has shown is this is only the case because we collectively make it so each day, and the day we cease to do so is the day our organization equally ceases to persist.  From this outlook, though, comes an equally ambitious upside… we then have a choice on the organizational routines and competencies we elect to replicate and utilize.  Said differently, we can begin to rethink, regroup, redirect, and retool at any time as the organization is not in a fixed state.  So what’s stopping us?  Transformational change involves a radical shift from one state of being to another, which is an extremely painful process… proactive transformation requires an awareness of the consequences the “new” context will have on the existing culture, behaviors, and mindset, if it is to be engaged in willingly (Biscaccianti, Esposito, & Williams, 2011, p. 30).

We as individual members of an organization function as both user and supporter of the organization continually and paradoxically.  We are project managers, financial analysts, account executives, and customer service representatives.  We are defined by our role, by our processes, by the systems we use, the skills we have, and the declarative & procedural knowledge we employ.  We do not change because we choose not to change, and we choose not to change because we took far too long learning and working and struggling to get where we are with what we know.  Is this an accurate look on reality, though?  To seek perpetual organizational progress is to seek a framework and mindset of near-daily renewal of our routines and competencies for the sake of our company’s progress, not for change’s sake alone, nor at the expense of individual accomplishment.  The organization at its essence is an aggregation of human effort, not of best practices, industry standards, and heralded products and services.  Put another way, individuals can be wildly successful and equally accomplished, while the organizations they work for is under a constant state of flux and renewal.  One can use and support an organization differently each day, while being regarded the expert of his/her craft.  Thus, in order to pursue perpetual organizational progress, a new lens with which to view change is necessary.

The essence of the problem-finding and problem-solving approach revolves around the identification of problem characteristics and the extent to which they entail corresponding impediments to the activities of problem finding, framing, and formulating; problem solving; and solution implementation…  methodologically, this approach responds to design science’s call to comparatively evaluate alternative governing mechanisms that mitigate impediments, leading to more comprehensive problem formulations, more efficient searching for and creating of valuable solutions, and more successful implementation of solutions (2012, p. 58).  This approach to organizational design allows us to ask far broader questions of management, and of every member’s contribution to ongoing organizational success.  Success herein and thus far has not been defined, and this definition remains absent as the definition must instead remain iterative.  We should not seek success in traditional terms as traditional terms warrant traditional practices, and those practices warrant the knowledge we already have and the processes we already use.  Perpetual progress then means a perpetual identification of new problems, new obstacles, new impediments, new solutions, and a new definition of success with each march forward.

Is there a magic recipe all companies should follow for identifying the problems we must then address in perpetuity?  With persistence as the goal the answer then remains, not likely.  What can be done, however, is we can instead codify the process for identifying problems at the individual organizational level, as those same routines and competencies which brought us to today can then serve as filters for identifying further opportunities for progress.  Cognitive heuristics – problem-solving techniques that reduce complex situations to simpler judgmental operations – can become specific to an organizational form, or even an individual organization (Aldrich & Ruef, 2006, p. 120).  The very fabric which defines how our organizations are successful now then becomes not what we choose to change, yet instead what we use to evaluate what else should change.  Success today sets not tomorrow’s bar, it identifies today’s neighboring problem.  All else may change to exist on-par with that new success.

Today’s performance management systems seek to evaluate how well individual members are faring at performing pre-determined routines.  Individual performance measurement is accepted as a retrospective task seeking convergent methods of routine persistence and level of competence.  We set new goals, yet of the same routines.  We establish new targets, yet of only marginally enlarged job descriptions.  Skeptical?  Ask yourself when you were last given a revised job description based on what you’ve learned during your year(s) of service and growth.  Better still, ask yourself when you directly contributed toward the authorship of such a document.  Rational system theorists stress goal specificity and formalization, natural system theorists generally acknowledge the existence of these attributes but argue that other characteristics – characteristics shared with all social groups – are of greater significance, and open systems are [instead] capable of self-maintenance on the basis of throughput of resources from the environment, [and] this throughput is essential to the system’s viability (Scott, 2003).  Social systems warranting the identification of work performed indeed, and based on the resources provided by the surrounding environment.  This then obviates the idea that performance management should be based on a fixed target, much as organizational progress is only perpetual when fixed routines and competencies have been abandoned.

To seek resolution, then, of the competing challenges between management’s historical predisposition toward a rational system, and its desire to emulate open systems thinking, we seek not a replacement for today’s routines or tomorrow’s stretch goals.  We seek instead, an entirely different unit of analysis, and object of our futurist affection.  What we should be promoting instead of leadership alone are communities of actors who get on with things naturally, leadership together with management being an intrinsic part of that (Mintzberg, 2009, p. 9).  We seek the ability to fluidly move between the routines which bring us present success, the pursuit of impediments to success elsewhere, and the ability to base our progress on an iterative view of success itself and our progress toward it, thereby managing performance on numerous planes simultaneously.  Those planes then include perhaps a normative look at performance via the evaluations we all know and review periodically, the plane of success impediments identified, the working definition of success holistically, and the actions/strategies necessary to balance them all.  And is there a process for identifying these actions/strategies?  Indeed there is.  Positive deviance (PD) is founded on the premise that at least one person in a community, working with the same resources as everyone else, has already licked the problem that confounds others… from the PD perspective, individual difference is regarded as a community resource… community engagement is essential to discovering noteworthy variants in their midst and adapting their practices and strategies (Pascale, Sternin, & Sternin, 2010, p. 3).  We can embrace the bestseller lists without reservation and engage in either frequency imitation, trait imitation, outcome imitation, or a combination of the three.  Conversely, we can seek these deviants, and not for their solutions, but for their methodology at removing impediment in the name of a new successful day, every day.

– Justin


The Work That Gets Measured…

The organization is an entity which can be both viewed and assessed through a multitude of lenses, this includes the organizational learning approach.  The organizational learning approach focuses on how individuals, groups, and organizations notice and interpret information and use it to alter their fit with their environments (Aldrich & Ruef, 2009, p. 47).  The varying schools of thought around viewing organizations included lenses for viewing each as an ecosystem, as a combination of symbolic interactions, and as a series of transaction costs.  This view looks specifically into organizations as a network of persons learning and growing according to their environment.  Aldrich & Ruef (2009) continue, “The adaptive learning perspective, pioneered by Cyert and March (1963), treats organizations as goal-oriented activity systems that learn from experience by repeating apparently successful behaviors and discarding unsuccessful ones… From the adaptive learning perspective, variations are generated when performance fails to meet targeted aspiration levels, triggering problem-driven search routines” (p. 47).

The above suggests that we seek ‘a better mousetrap’ not only when we feel the current has gone stale, yet when targets are not met as well.  This should come as no surprise, yet what does require reinforcement is determining when targets are missed in the first place.  How do we determine we’ve missed the mark, if the mark is not plainly labeled before we begin?  In short, we do not know in advance, and therefore cannot always know when the mark has been unintentionally averted.  Adaptation then requires not only the ability to alter course according to outcome, yet is equally predicated on knowing the outcome sought to begin with.  This appeal to clarity reverberates throughout both management process and strategic clarity.  Once ready, we have just one consideration left for the moment before action, recognizing how much we can achieve based on what we’ve already done to-date.

Aldrich & Ruef (2009) complete the thought with, “Prior organizational learning creates knowledge structures and sets of conceptual categories that filter subsequent information and thus influence further learning.  Cohen and Levinthal (1990) borrowed the term absorptive capacity from industrial economics to refer to the level of stored knowledge and experience that make organizations better able to learn from further experience.” (p. 48).  Absorptive capacity is then this final consideration.  We take into account where we want to go as an organization, what benchmarks will alert us to whether progress is being made, while taking into consideration what we’ve accomplished/learned in the past, and we have a further informed determination of just how adaptable we can be collectively.

– Justin

Aldrich, H.E. & Ruef, M. (2009). Organizations evolving. Los Angeles, CA: Sage Publications.

My Philosophy of Teaching

A Call to Action

Exercising the courage to become more purpose-centered, other-focused, internally directed, and externally open results in increased hope and unleashes a variety of other positive emotions (Quinn, 2004). I as a teacher am not so solely because of anything tangible. Nor am I a teacher solely for those inspired moments in each student’s day. Rather, I feel that teaching is both a privilege and a responsibility. It is a privilege as I do have the opportunity to touch lives, bring new hope to possibly otherwise under-informed futures, and hopefully and occasionally inspire someone to be great. Yet, I additionally feel teaching is a responsibility each generation has to its successors. As society can be regarded as a construct of social networks, a collection of living systems, and its role to be that of sustainability long-term; teachers hold the responsibility of ushering in an informed era for those that follow such that they have the opportunity to continue the successes of the past and create their own in the process.

Learning as SKILLS

Self-Knowledge Inventory of Lifelong Learning Strategies (SKILLS) is based upon five aspects of learning which are essential to the learning process, these are the constructs of metacognition, metamotivation, memory, resource management, and critical thinking (Conti & Fellenz, 1991). Taking this construct as developed by the Center for Adult Learning Research at Montana State University into account, it creates a paradigm with which to gauge not only the structure and success of a given lesson plan, yet the success of each student in terms of their own personal level of learning as well. As metacognition regards the ability of the learner to reflect upon what has been learned and work to make their own learning process more efficient over time, it is my responsibility to ensure each learner has the tools to do so. As metamotivation regards the learner’s control over their own motivational strategies, it is both my responsibility and privilege to ensure those options exist while in a learning environment. As both memory and resource management are stand-alone concepts, I operate with an obligation to ensure the methodologies I employ allow for greater capture and memory usage while allowing for greater resource utilization and management as well. Finally, as critical thinking is a concept not uncommon in the academic environment, I will put defining this term to the side and instead comment that critical thinking is what I feel the majority of my teaching strategy is reliant upon. As critical thinking is what I feel separates the successful from those otherwise not experiencing similar success, I feel critical thinking and success are mutually beneficial and directly correlated. Yet, to ensure the greatest level of critical thinking in those I guide, I return to Quinn’s words regarding being purpose-centered, externally focused, and use these emphases to ensure each learner operates at their highest critical thinking potential.

Sculpting Futures

The workplace, the professions, the leaders and foot soldiers of civic society must all do their part – and that obligation cannot be spurned or postponed or fobbed off on institutions that are incapable of picking up the responsibility (Gardner, 2006). Institutions of higher learning have existed far before any referenced work concerning concepts such as adult learning strategies. Yet, very little separates the adult from the adult learner and again from those instructing such as myself. As that responsibility exists to ensure the sustainable future of our society, I feel taking an analytical approach to learning as with the SKILLS construct, aids in ensuring both that privilege and responsibility are well served. Finally, as a litmus test for whether I have succeeded as a teacher, I look to Wind & Crook’s definition of advancement. Science sometimes advances not through evolutionary progress in a given framework but through sudden leaps to a new model for viewing the world (Wind & Crook, 2005).

– Justin

Conti, G.J. & Fellenz, R.A. (1991). Assessing adult learning strategies. Bozeman, MT: Montana State University.

Gardner, H. (2006). Five minds for the future. Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Press.

Quinn, R.E. (2004). Building the bridge as you walk on it: A guide for leading change. San Francisco, CA: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Wind, Y.J. & Crook, C. (2005). The power of impossible thinking: Transform the business of your life and the life of your business. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Wharton School Publishing.

Do You Lead by Listening?

As Flight 1549 plummeted down, they chanted in unison to passengers, “Brace, brace, heads down, stay down,” preventing many injuries during the rough water landing; a testament to the leadership aboard the ‘Miracle on the Hudson’, and to the power of repetitive and concrete instruction for provoking action (Sutton, 2010). Examples such as this one are those rare gems which can take an entire tome on leadership, and give it a single, palpable schema with which to walk away from the reading and immediately apply its lessons. Yet is leadership entirely about leading? Is being a follower both the antithetical and only alternative?

Leadership is leading, yes as the term begets, but leading is additionally listening. In a summer article for the Harvard Business Review, Martin (2007) wrote, “Brilliant leaders excel at integrative thinking. They can hold two opposing ideas in their minds at once. Then, rather than settling for choice A or B, they forge an innovative “third way” that contains elements of both but improves on each… Embrace the complexity of conflicting options. And emulate great leaders’ decision-making approach – looking beyond obvious considerations” (p. 73). The funny thing is, though, some leaders may hear this and think they must come up with all of those great options & ideas personally. ‘They put me in charge because they expect me to have all the answers’ you may say. ‘My people can’t possibly think I am weak and in need of their help to decide what to do’. I challenge this thinking to instead reply that your abilities as an individual contributor may have been what brought you praise, possibly even initial consideration for the position you now serve, but it wasn’t why you were selected.

You were selected because you see the opportunities a better run team can collectively contribute to organizational success, more colloquially known as ‘seeing both the forest and the trees’. But where can we turn for a repetitive, concrete example of how to get the best of our people by learning to listen better, rather than relying on our ideas and personal experiences alone? How about a solution dating back to 1956, Bloom’s Taxonomy.

Educators have been using it for decades, and anyone who has frequented grad school has been exposed at least minimally in conversation with fellow scholars. The crux of Bloom’s work gives us categorical direction with which to mine meaningful data from our direct reports, by simply channeling the intentions of our listening activities via the following levels of thinking as described by Anderson & Krathwohl (2001):

Remembering: Retrieving, recognizing, and recalling relevant knowledge from long-term memory.

Understanding: Constructing meaning from oral, written, and graphic messages through interpreting, exemplifying, classifying, summarizing, inferring, comparing, and explaining.

Applying: Carrying out or using a procedure through executing, or implementing.

Analyzing: Breaking material into constituent parts, determining how the parts relate to one another and to an overall structure or purpose through differentiating, organizing, and attributing.

Evaluating: Making judgments based on criteria and standards through checking and critiquing.

Creating: Putting elements together to form a coherent or functional whole; reorganizing elements into a new pattern or structure through generating, planning, or producing.

So try this yourself with your team, by applying at least two of these levels in your next meeting, see if the conversation changes shape from what you’re used to hearing (or saying).

– Justin

Forehand, M. (2005). Bloom’s taxonomy: Original and revised. In M. Orey (Ed.), Emerging perspectives on learning, teaching, and technology. Retrieved from http://projects.coe.uga.edu/epltt/

Martin, R. (2007). How successful leaders think. Harvard Business Review, 85(6), 60-67.

Sutton, R. I. (2010). Good boss, bad boss: How to be the best – and learn from the worst. New York, NY: Business Plus.

Help Them Grow Before They Work For You: Community-Based Curriculum

Generally, futurologists do not attempt to predict what is going to happen in 10-15 years, but rather attempt to decide on what they want to happen so that they can then make more intelligent choices (McNeil, 2009). In order to prepare tomorrow’s business leaders for the obstacles that lay before them while acting as global citizens, we must rethink today’s curriculum at our institutions of higher education. Recent years have seen a proliferation of career schools, oriented in training practitioners to meet the demands of society’s impoverished trades. These trades, ranging from business, to healthcare, to the legal profession, give rise to a series of curriculum which are founded upon systemic views of curriculum development. The aforementioned futurists belong instead to the school of thought concerning the social reconstructionist curriculum.

Considering only those participants who are identified as members of the organization, who is recruited and how long they stay have a wide range of implications for the structure and performance of the organization (Scott, 2003). The organization of tomorrow is more likely to take advantage of advanced technologies, contribute to the abundance of information already seen by the current generation, and will be entirely composed of knowledge workers. The implication to these conditions is to develop a curriculum around the intelligence, creativity, and energy of the upcoming generation. Yet, as current curriculum is developed via traditional models intrinsic in our larger institutions, there lies a great opportunity for those institutions to embrace a school of thought which is concerned with allowing the learner to be focused on the student’s definition of self and thereby provide the catalyst for greater individual growth.

Under the leadership of the school, community members meet to acquire the mental outlooks, knowledge, and skills for establishing new industry central to the development and self-sufficiency of the community (McNeil, 2009). As a solution to the imperative concerning the development of curriculum to meet the needs of tomorrow, there is the opportunity to begin to engage the community. This engagement is much less about solving the problems faced today, and is more about contributing to social reconstruction via a democratized model of curriculum development based on future need. When initiating a dialogue from relevant stakeholders, there lies the opportunity to forge connections between the impressions of need felt by teacher, administrator, community member, and student alike.

It is important to emphasize that transfer and long-term retention are enhanced by learning conditions that introduce difficulties in learning initially and even impair performance (McNeil, 2009). A student can be better served with a curriculum not allowing for immediate, small successes, and instead introduces such challenge that refuge must be sought in disparate pieces of information. This gives rise to the synthesis of otherwise meaningless data in a way that forges connections throughout the curriculum, and instills a sense of student independence with regard to the learning. This, thereby creating a heightened sense of self-efficacy, and preparing him/her for the future challenges that await in an increasingly global society where an employee is as much a global, corporate citizen.

To conclude, democratizing the curriculum development effort where institutions, their constituents, community members, and students alike have a profound effect on the way essential skills are taught moving forward presents an opportunity to go beyond lesson plans which harbor activities built to the textbooks of today. In learning how to learn through long-term retention activities, and while incorporating this community-based outcome of social reconstructionist curriculum, the educational institutions of today may be better prepared to face the challenges facing them tomorrow.

– Justin

McNeil, J.D. (2009). Contemporary curriculum: In thought and action. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Scott, W.R. (2003). Organizations: rational, natural, and open systems. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.

Keep Employees Engaged, At Any Age

Meister & Willyerd (2010) contend, “The organizations that create a competitive advantage in the 2020 workplace will do so by instituting innovative human resource practices – by first defining an authentic core set of organizational values and then augmenting these by leveraging the latest tools of the social Web to reimagine learning and development, talent management, and leadership practices (p. 4). This done, as the authors describe the working environment we currently experience, which consists of four generations in the workplace simultaneously, and while sharing differing sets of values and beliefs.

The research of Meister & Willyerd (2010) discovered:

What happens in the workplace when these credentials-driven Millenials (born 1977 to 1997 to include Gen-X) are forced to work side by side with older coworkers, who may at times view them as out of touch with reality? To successfully answer this question and the others raised by having an age-diverse workforce coexisting in the workplace, it’s important to develop an understanding of each generation as well as the challenges the different generations bring to the workplace in terms of communication styles, career aspirations, and knowledge transfer. Understanding each generation is critical because employers who adapt the fastest to a multigenerational workforce will be able to attract the highest-quality employees when the war for talent is in full swing. (p. 43)

Generational studies remain critical to the study of organizations as those organizations continue to employ generations whose norms, values, and beliefs shift over time. The face of today’s modern workforce is more diverse than any time in recent history; multiple generations are now working side-by-side in organizations requiring today’s human capital leaders to reexamine how to respond to each generations specific needs to create an engaged workforce (Blake, 2009).

The U. S. Dept. of Labor states that those 65 and older will grow from 12.4% of the population in 2000 to 20.7% in 2050; it also states that one reason boomers will retain positions from which they would have retired or work under new compromising arrangements is that they are needed (Lindborg, 2008). It is no surprise that the Baby Boomer generation will remain a long-term fixture of the American workforce for some time, yet what is also apparent are the differences amassing between this, and its successor generation, Generation X. In a study of The Correlation of Retention, Masi (2010) studied a population “made up of participants eighteen or older, with Internet or email access, and was categorized by generational age groups (p. 2). This study on the impact of ‘manager’s behavior on retention among high potential employees from different generations’ studied a representative sample of 1,000 qualified participants of differing age categories to see just how perception dictates retention. Masi (2010) found, “the results described a medium strength of correlation, r = 0.379, between the decision to leave and the distance in perceptions between employee and manager” (p. 105). Similarly, as remarked by Pitzl (2010), “For meaningful and harmonious transition to occur there has to be a more conscious effort to better understand one another” (p. 28). These differences plague not only levels of understanding and therefore communication between generations, but can affect retention as well.

Dries, Pepermans, and De Kerpel (2008) take this a step further to ask whether ‘satisfied is the new successful’. To determine an evidenced response, the authors studied a total of 750 people completing a vignette task, thereby rating the success of 32 fictitious people (Dries, et al., 2008, p. 907). To complete this research, a synopsis of the four generations studied was completed. These generations included the ‘Silent Generation’, ‘Baby Boomers’, ‘Generation-X’, and ‘Generation-Y’, each with their own general and work-related values respectively. Whereas the general values of the Silent Generation included conformism, the Baby Boomers were summarized to exhibit a more idealistic tendency. Once Generation-X was reached, equal portions of skepticism and individualism were listed. The findings from the vignette tasks administered by Dries, et al., (2008) revealed “If our design accurately presented the reality of career evaluation, then, this would mean that the shared social understanding agreed upon by all generations tends to validate the internal evaluations individuals make about their own careers, no matter what their objective characteristics” (p. 923).

Hiring and retaining employees is one of the biggest challenges we face in organizations today; add in what we now recognize as four generations of employees in today’s workforce, and the challenge potentially becomes a recipe for disaster (Clare, 2009). The author continued with a classification of generations not unlike the aforementioned, yet specifically highlighting Traditionalists, Boomers, Xers, and Millenials as the populations of inquiry. Through means of understanding cultural differences, and embracing those differences, Clare (2009) later concludes, “If you are able to harness the strengths of all the generations and different personality types, the results can be impressive” (p. 43).

– Justin

Blake, D. (2009). Creating generationally specific engagement strategies based on need satisfaction. Ph.D. dissertation, Capella University, United States — Minnesota. Retrieved November 4, 2010, from Dissertations & Theses: Full Text.(Publication No. AAT 3360065).

Clare, C. (2009). Generational differences: Turning challenges into opportunities. Journal of Property Management, sep.oct 2009, 43.

Dries, N., Pepermans, R., & De Kerpel, E. (2008). Exploring four generations’ beliefs about career :Is “satisfied” the new “successful”?. Journal of Managerial Psychology, 23(8), 907-928.

Lindborg, H. (2008). A booming voice. Quality Progress, 41(9), 58-59.

Masi, F. (2010). The correlation of retention: An investigation of the relationship between what is important to employees and what is perceived to be important to their managers. Ph.D. dissertation, Capella University, United States — Minnesota.

Meister, J. C. & Willyerd, K. (2010). The 2020 workplace: How innovative companies attract, develop, and keep tomorrow’s employees today. New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers.

Pitzl, J. (2010). Building bridges between generations. Journal of Financial Planning, 28-30. Retrieved from Business Source Elite database.

Questioning Your Organization’s Purpose

Do any two people in the same organization, division, department, or even team interpret any one event or idea similarly?  An Organizational Interpretive Schema is defined as a set of shared assumptions, values, and frames of reference that give meaning to everyday activities and guide how organization members think and act (Rerup & Feldman, 2011, p. 578).  Context is the broad term which envelopes much of what drives an organization’s interpretive schema.  Where companies begin to meet challenges, is while embracing the difference between Espoused and Enacted schema.  As described by Labianca et al. (2000), “Espoused schema is an assembly of tenuously connected ideas that a person draws on in novel situations when behavior is unscripted”.  This whereas enacted schema is the result of the thinking and action which actually take place regardless of those ideas previously espoused.

There continues to exist, a great divide between what companies aspire to be, and what companies are in the present day.  Yet rather than continue with a research-driven response, I offer this entry as an opportunity for introspection.  When regarding the chasm separating thought and action, consider these five questions:

  1. What is your organization’s epistemological structure?  In other words, how is knowledge structured, defined, assigned value, and therefore captured in your organization?
  2. What is your organization’s ontological structure?  Said another way, how is this epistemology represented in concepts and vocabulary throughout the company, and what constructs drive prevalent conversations?
  3. If your organization could speak to the world’s population all at once, and only once, what one message would you wish to be communicated?
  4. Is this the same message which drives your employees’ actions today?
  5. How do you know?

– Justin

Labianca, G., Gray, B., & Brass, D. L. (2000). A grounded model of organizational schema change during empowerment. Organization Science. 11, 235-257.

Rerup, C. & Feldman, M. (2011). Routines as a source of change in organizational schemata: The role of trial-and-error learning. Academy of Management Journal. 54(3), 577-610.

Tomorrow’s Talent Management Today

Over the past generation, talent management practices, especially in the United States, have by and large been dysfunctional, leading corporations to lurch from surpluses of talent to shortfalls to surpluses and back again (Cappelli, 2008).  This, the introductory statement to the HBR article Talent Management for the Twenty-First Century describes the plight felt by today’s corporations, in an era where both the supply and demand of talent rest in environments as unstable as the economy itself.  At the precipice of this issue are the considerations for career paths.  With the greater majority of variables being as descriptive of personal characteristics as organizational ones, solutions for the merger of such concepts as career success and talent management become less frequently available.  One solution as proposed by Cappelli (2008) includes, “The issues and challenges in managing an internal talent pipeline—how employees advance through development jobs and experiences—are remarkably similar to how products move through a supply chain: reducing bottlenecks that block advancement, speeding up processing time, improving forecasts to avoid mismatches” (p. 2).  Hall (1976) introduced the concept of the ‘protean career’, characterized by individuals taking the lead in career management, driven by the change of personal rather than organizational needs;  he even argued that the ‘career’ no longer exists within organizations (Kim, 2005).

The meeting place of these ideas may rest in the concept of organizational interventions.  As Kim (2005) in Organizational Interventions Influencing Employee Career Development Preferred by Different Career Success Orientations describes a “study [which] explores Korean employees’ perspectives on organizational interventions that influence their career development, according to personal definitions of career success (p. 48).  A sample of 1,000 respondents of a wireless communication company responded to a survey which identified career success orientations and preferred organizational interventions.  Kim (2005) describes the findings as, “From a practical perspective, at the organizational level, the findings of this study imply that organizations may want to design their career mobility systems or performance incentive systems in accordance with employees’ career orientations” (p. 59).

Where the existing literature becomes scant, is when the task becomes elucidating what is meant by creating organizational-individual alignment for like-minded career planning to optimize career success in talent management. Research which has shed some light on this topic, however, includes Martin & Schmidt (2010) in How to Keep Your Top Talent, wherein they list the 10 critical components of a talent development program (p. 6).  These components include (a) explicitly test candidates in three dimensions (ability, engagement, and aspiration); (b) emphasize future competencies; (c) manage the quantity and quality of high potentials; (d) forget rote functional or business-unit rotations; (e) identify the riskiest, most challenging positions; (f) create individual development plans; (g) reevaluate top talent annually; (h) offer significantly differentiated compensation; (i) hold regular, open dialogues; (j) replace broadcast communications about the company’s strategy with individualized messages for emerging leaders (Martin & Schmidt, 2010).

“We conducted a survey of human resources executives from 40 companies around the world in 2005, and virtually all of them indicated that they had an insufficient pipeline of high-potential employees to fill strategic management roles” lament Ready & Conger (2007) of Make Your Company a Talent Factory.  In an industrial environment where organizations are forced to forgo contracts, which contribute to either substantial gains in revenue and/or market share, few organizations have in-place what the authors call “talent factories”.  In these scenarios, they marry functionality, rigorous talent processes that support strategic and cultural objectives, and vitality, emotional commitment by management that is reflected in daily actions (Ready & Conger, 2007).  While the study speaks to the development and retention of key personnel in adopting this approach, the further benefit is an alignment with some of the preferences of the current organizational population including achievement, realism, and conscientiousness emphasized in evidence-based decision making.  Adding a layer of predictability to this inter-organizational movement arms companies with the ability to be cognizant of where resources should be allocated for this process of utmost importance, and as the generational shift which has sparked the ‘War for Talent’ continues with a level of fervor not before seen among corporate ranks.

– Justin

Cappelli, P. (2008). Talent management for the twenty-first century. Harvard Business Review, 86(3), 74-81.

Kim, N. (2005). Organizational interventions influencing employee career development preferred by different career success orientations. International Journal of Training & Development, 9(1), 47-61.

Ready, D. A., & Conger, J. A. (2007, September 15). How to fill the talent gap. Wall Street Journal – Eastern Edition. p. R4.

Martin, J., & Schmidt, C. (2010). How to keep your top talent. Harvard Business Review, 88(5), 54-61.

Leveraging Support Systems for Unparalleled Performance

Tacit-explicit interactions largely determine the extent to which participants make use of others’ knowledge, build on others’ creative insights, and harness the synergistic potential of product-innovation settings (Biscaccianti, Esposito, & Williams, 2011).  While the authors were expressly referring to product innovation, this conclusion is equally applicable in nearly all organizational situations where knowledge exchange occurs.  This universality is the direct result of the need for those who possess greater experience – who thereby possess greater tacit knowledge – to then share this with those who may possess greater explicit knowledge – such as those acting on the cutting-edge who are perhaps less experienced yet aware of emerging trend.   The meeting place of the tacit-explicit interaction is therefore a situation where at least two participants part ways sharing collectively deeper levels of understanding in the nuance of current, experience-supported technical expertise.

Support systems, such as this interaction where an innovator supports another, is a source of unparalleled performance based on a mutually beneficial relationship.  Once a particular passion or interest is unleashed, constant interaction among group members, with their varying skills and talents, functions as a kind of peer amplifier, providing numerous outlets, resources, and aids to further an individual’s learning (Thomas & Brown, 2011).  On the scale of an organization, this same amplification is seen at a collective height where an individual’s benefit is multiplied many times over.  This distinction becomes inherently crucial when regarding organizational performance, as the focus is normatively on the proper comprehension & execution of a strategy and its objectives.  Yet in situations where a strategy is poorly articulated or understood – or in situations where workers are charged with conjuring their own plans of attack – gaps in the collective knowledge of an organization begin to amass as portions of the organization advance in disparate directions to satiate the same goal(s).  As remarked by Merchant (2010), “In Silicon Valley, we call that gap an ‘Air Sandwich’: the empty void in an organization between the high-level strategy conjured up in the stratosphere and the realization of that vision down on the ground”.

Support systems, in this instance referring to any opportunity for the knowledge/skills/abilities of one to provide benefit to another, can unlock potential stifled by these structural and communication-based barriers to execution and therefore performance.  One such strategy includes building an advice-and-counsel network of trusted advisers within and outside the organization with whom to talk through what you are experiencing (Watkins, 2003).  Additional strategies include mobilizing organizational change by setting the fast zebras free, and melting the frozen tundra by seeding a movement and ultimately proving the movement works (Katzenbach & Kahn, 2010).  In nearly every instance, a terse summary of the suggested approach for eliminating the void and driving unparalleled performance requires a collective representation of knowledge both in storage and in use.  This knowledge, as well as opportunities to identify positive deviance such that they may be communicated as best practice which will ultimately drive structured efficacy toward pointed, consistent organizational measures of performance allows for an evolved lens with which to view performance toward a single, holistic purpose.

– Justin

Biscaccianti, A., Esposito, M., & Williams, L.C. (2011). The M3C model of cooperative contextual change. Mustang, OK: Tate Publishing & Enterprises.

Katzenbach, J. R. & Khan, Z. (2010). Leading outside the lines: How to mobilize the (in)formal organization, energize your team, and get better results. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Merchant, N. (2010). The new how: Creating business solutions through collaborative strategy. Sebastopol, CA: O’Reilly Media, Inc.

Thomas, D. & Brown, J. S. (2011). A new culture of learning: Cultivating the imagination for a world of constant change. Douglas Thomas and John Seely Brown.

Watkins, M. (2003). The first 90 days: Critical success strategies for new leaders at all levels. Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Press.

Leading Down the Path of Greatest Resistance

A culture of high performance depends on commitment at the highest levels of the organization—not only to set it in motion but also to maintain the momentum that ensures ongoing high performance (Thomas, Harburg, & Dutra, 2007).  Change is not a concept in its infancy nor is change an easy process, yet as the c-suite continues to rely on those reporting to them to execute change within an organization, the potential result is an unmanned and underperforming change effort.  To set the stage for fluid change in an organization, one can begin with an exploration into the concept of leadership as it applies to this effort in particular.  Perhaps not because leadership is all that makes a change effort successful, yet rather because a lack of leadership can be all that is needed to make a change effort a failure.

Transcending our own egos, entering uncertainty, being open and seeking increased awareness, challenging our own hypocrisy, being purpose-centered – it all sounds very intense and difficult to sustain (Quinn, 2004).  Leading change at the individual level can often be confused with simply taking tenacious action.  Yet, as Quinn describes, it is far more about undergoing a transformational effort within the self regarding perceptions, attitudes, beliefs, and patterns of behavior.  Rather than looking at the organization juxtaposed to personal life, perhaps a more efficacious approach is to view the organization in conjunction with personal life.  This done not because it is acceptable to bring personal  turmoil to the workplace, rather because it is sought that every leader who has the opportunity to succeed in a change effort brings the life lessons, attitudes, and beliefs of self to the organization instead.  Once congruence is reached between the personal and professional lives of a leader than true action can begin.  And once a leader is congruent, focus, perseverance, and a true sense of leadership can emerge.

The energy and moral power of people in the fundamental state of leadership tends to be contagious (Quinn, 2004).  This excerpt pertains to the concept of Emergent Leadership.  Emergent Leadership is much less about the hierarchical means of process integration as prescribed by industry for prior decades, and is instead regarding the leadership role each individual on a team takes when relative strengths can become both apparent and utilized in a change effort.  Teams in organizations have a tendency to gravitate toward structure, isolating leadership within a team, and assigning accountability based on either title, pay grade, or political standing.  Emergent Leadership conversely discusses an individual becoming the team leader only insomuch as they create the opportunity for each team member to feel free to lead each aspect of a change effort where individual talents can emerge.  As such, to lead a team thereby becomes much less about exacting orders, and much more about bringing to light the individual talents of each member of the team, while simultaneously empowering them to use those talents. Organizations need to change constantly, for all kinds of reasons, but achieving a true step change in performance is rare (Meaney & Pung, 2008).  Ever-Increasing Integrity is a term used to envelope all concepts surrounding revitalized, transformational leadership via the methods as described.  Quinn posits that with ever-increasing integrity; organizations have the ability to empower individuals at all levels to contribute to the leadership of the change effort in such a way that a more contagious, shared-values approach is seen throughout the transformation.  It is with Ever-Increasing Integrity, in combination with Emergent Leadership & personal congruence, that leaders of all levels have the opportunity to contribute toward a successful transformation effort.  Rather than finding themselves responsible for forcing the change onto the organization, they are no longer leading down the path of greatest resistance.

– Justin

Hrebiniak, L.G. (2005). Making Strategy Work: Leading Effective Execution and Change. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Wharton School Publishing

Meaney, M. & Pung, C. (2008). Creating Organizational Transformations. New York, NY: McKinsey & Company

Thomas, R.J., Harburg, F., & Dutra, A. (2007). How to Create a Culture of High Performance. New York, NY: Accenture.