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Monday, August 11, 2014

'It's not the How or the What but the Who'

I came across a Harvard Business Review webinar 'It's Not the How or the What but the Who: Succeed by Surrounding Yourself with the Best'. It was hosted by Claudio Fernandez Araoz, whose written the book 'It's not the How or the What but the Who'. (This title is from a Jeff Bezos quote made in an interview.) He is also a Partner at Egon Zehnder, which is into executive recruitment consultancy and leadership strategy services among other things.

In the book, he states that people's choices about friends, partners, spouses, mentors and employees are more important than they realise. You need the best people around you to thrive and yet very few people know how to do this well. I couldn't agree more with him because I've spent so many years of my life pruning away people who are a drain and liabilities and trying to add people who will bring out the best in me and help me succeed. I actually do have a similar motto, which is up on my Google profile.

So, once I knew it wasn't just a snobbish tactic on my part but an approved strategy at work, I wanted to see what tips Claudio had for companies to put together good teams. He did start off by comparing two top CEOs in the world today. Jeff Bezos of Amazon and Roger Agnelli of Vale (a Brazilian mining company). Both men have attributed their huge success in such disparate industries to their great teams.

Claudio also highlighted why this strategy is needed now more than ever. The reasons are:
- Globalisation: Many businesses are looking to find increased revenues - almost 70% - from emerging markets.
- Demographics: The developed countries are seeing a 30% decline in leaders in the 35-44 age group bracket.
- Pipelines: Companies have depleted pipelines of qualified successors. This problem like the above one will double in time. At the moment, half the VP level leaders in most companies that Claudio looked at, are close to retirement and half of those don't have successors lined up. A survey of 400 companies showed that successor training and planning is broken.

The webinar participants were told to take a poll and they all stated that the third factor, depleted leadership was what bothered them the most. Claudio suggested four ways to counter this issue:

- Focus on Potential: Good way to start but most assessors are clueless about how to judge potential. No one has an "empirically validated model" to predict a person's potential. Claudio suggests employers keep an eye out for these indicators: Motivation ("a fierce commitment to unselfish goals"), curiosity, insight, engagement, and determination.

- Master Retention: Key ways to retain people is to give them autonomy with regard to (task, time, team and technique), mastery, and purpose. These were recommended by Daniel Pink in his book 'Drive' and Claudio thoroughly agrees with them.

- Master Development: This was least looked into by many companies. Claudio's research shows that education makes up for 30% of development but on-the-job experience makes up for 70% of it. What also helped with development of potential was, in this order of priority - being given stretch assignments, job rotation and having personal mentors.

- Build Effective Teams: This is and will become an urgent need in the future: Surrounding yourself with the best people. This doesn't happen by chance. You need to know how to pick the best too. Talent spotting can't be left to the whims and fancies of people recommending their favourite and/or servile pets.

He has suggested and seen what team structures work best for a company turnaround, a new venture and a post-merger alliance.

1. A turnaround team has to be resilient and efficient.
2. A new venture's team has to be high on energy, openness and resilience.
3. A post-merger integration (PMI) team has to be balanced and aligned.

He also shares a case study of one of his 'finds' - Pedro Algorta. A person whom he recruited to be a brewery manager in Argentina and who then went on to become the CEO. This despite him not having the required competency but Claudio mined his past, and knew this man had the potential to do this job well. You need to see this portion of the webinar to know what this CEO endured to become the person he did.

I read the CEO's experiences on his own site a few months ago, and Claudio gives you a short version of it. From surviving a plane crash in the Andes to eating human flesh to survive..he did it all. He, and some of the other survivors have also been immortalised in a movie called 'Alive'. You can read about him here: http://www.gsb.stanford.edu/news/bmag/sbsm0805/feature-leadershiplessons.html

I would like to work for such a person, but everyone doesn't have so much trauma in their past that makes him/her a wonderful type to work for, or with. I'll settle for people with some competency, a sense of fairness, and the ability to take criticism as much as give it to others. Oh...hmm..a dash of potential also would help!

What I loved best, was the way Claudio emphasized in the Q&A session at the end of the webinar, that women are the future of every workplace, all over the world. So start bucking up guys or leave, especially when you don't add much value to your jobs anyway.

Check out the webinar here: It's not the How or the What but the Who Graphics are from the webinar.

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