Managing your team members individually: a per-person approach

An starting point to assess your cost-benefit analysis for your team members should be tthe identification of their actual shortcomings and strengths. Sounds easy, but a huge percentatge of leadership misguidances come from a wrong implementation of this simple point. A simple, yet effective approach to this poses a clasification of each member based on his/her technical skills and motivation. I personally find useful to label the four areas of the resulting matrix as follows:

  • Runners: On your upper right side of the matrix you can find the highly skilled, highly motivated employees. Runners are worth their weight in gold, no need to say, for they will lead the team to the next level and become a benchmark and role model for ther rest of its members. Remember: Team leaders should just care about trying to remove any potential obstacles for a runner to do what knows better: run. Pep Guardiola, former FC Barcelona’s head coach, knew this very well when he was questioned about what to do to improve Leo Messi’s already outstanding performance in 2009. He answered:”I just have to make sure that he’s happy”
  • Grandpas: Just below Runners, we’ll find grandpas. These are typically obsolete or very junior professionals (that means investment required) very much willing to be learn and be helpful. Motivation is an asset, unarguably, though a practical team leader should evaluate the cost-benefit analysis of such investment to decide on its viability and potential risks. Thus said, the classic pitfall with grandpas is failing to properly identify  their training shortfalls and take them as motivational issues. Remember: Grandpa’s just need a bit of external help. Help them climb (to the runner zone) and you’ll gain an invaluable asset for your team.
  • Sloth Bears: Located in the opposite side of the matrix, sloth bears are essentially demotivated professionals. Such demotivation might be caused by different reasons, but, eventually, will result into a plummeting performance. This constitutes, precisely, the classic pitfall regarding sloth bears: mistaking their demotivation for a lack of knowledge and preparation. Remember: focusing on the causes of the problem, and not on its effects, is what sets apart a good from a bad team leader. If you really want to help your sloth bear members, push them right. This game of words (right to the runner zone and the right way of pushing) will help you remember that an unmanageable challenge will make your team member fall in the worst possible zone of the matrix: the zombie zone!
  • Zombies: A good lesson from The Walking Dead TV series is that no matter what you do with zombies, if you’re outnumbered they’ll always win.Therefore, if one of your team members is either motivated or sufficiently skilled, you should seriously consider taking his/her relocation. Remember: zombies are slow, but their number will grow quietly and, before you know, you’ll have a team of zombies.

Understanding the essentials of team leadership: the cost-benefit analysis

As your professional career progresses, your job will be directly or indirectly focused on managing other people. Barring very (rare) specific cases, that is a fact. The reason is simple: once you’ve proved to be good enough at your job, you’re expected to scale it up and take it to the next step.  And that means leading other people to do so.

Precisely the acceptance that your performance review will be essentially based on what you’re able to get out of your team, and no longer on how good your personal job, is turns out to be  a big impact for most new managers. In fact, a fair number of them will never accept it entirely. They’d act as such, but, deep inside them, simply keep working exactly as before. The reason is twofold:

  • Inability or lack of training: up to that moment,  most of these new managers have devoted a huge percentage of their time developing a specific set of skills, entirely related to technical or operating topics. From this moment on, however, all this knowledge is taken for granted and, as such, of secondary importance. On the other hand, the total amount of time dedicated to learning how to properly do what will be the core part of their daily job (managing people) is, comparatively, tiny. And that’s true even for those of them holding an MBA. As a result of this, the fresh team leader will have to face his/her new duties with a  feeble theoretical background and a field experience typically inspired (limited) by former bosses. That’s called the golden trap of a vertical promotion, and we’ll have an specific post devoted to it further on.
  • A wrong approach to his/her goals as team leader. The ultimate goal for every team leader should be clear and straightfoward: take the best out of your team at the minimum possible cost. That’s to say: a cost-benefit approach (check this Cornell’s paper on the matter if you’re interested in a deeper look at this concept) Don’t take it wrong: all criteria may and should be included in this definiton: employee well-being, work-personal life balance, economic factors..everything. Investing too little in a potentially outstanding employee is a failure, assuming a disproportionate investment with an unclear return is equally irresponsable. Remember that input factors for these types of investment are, just as any other, two: time and money.

This approach will help us identify our team member’s shortfall and needs and take further action. We’ll use a taylor-made approach for that in another post.

Walking your talk: how do you lead?

A few weeks ago, my editor ask me for a quick tweet grasping my thoughts on leadership. More precisely, she asked me about the differences between a leader and a boss. Now, this is a classic question typically leading to statements regarding the overall capacity to create a team out of a group of people, thus involving drivers such as his/her motivational skills, long-term vision or willingness to overcome daily duties to take the team/organization one step further. Something probably winding around the idea of trascending hierarchy (internal focus) to embrace customer or business-focused principles. To me, these kind of definitions are vague enough to be obviously true, but essentially non-workable. Don’t take me wrong: we do need leaders with such accomplishments, but, more importantly, leaders need to focus on tangible, simple actions to get there. Do you want to engage your team? do you really want to lead? then walk your talk: be coherent, be guided by the very same principles that you insist on holding your team to and, first and foremost, show your customers that your approach is not just a fancy theory. Rest assured: everybody will notice Thanks to my job, I meet smart people (or considered as such)  on a daily basis, hard worker professionals quite (less) frequently, but very few people that really walk their talk.

Becoming a role model is not about doing a lot of things very well, but just being rock-solid about a few, essential things. Coherence is definitely one.


Blog Treballador

This final post on the topic will be focused on the employee’s standpoint. Thus, while work-life balance efforts have become a common place in organizational behavior, the most interesting, yet untapped, approach by far lies in the answer to this question: which are the incentives for workers regarding the new job models? As we mentioned in the past articles, there’s an unstoppable drift towards embracing flexibility and customization at the expense of security and stability. In general, our current lifestyle demands breaking with old reigning paradigms (traditionally prevailing in Europe, as the model is quite different in the US and Japan):  an eight hour, face-to-face workday with fixed weekly rest period, a monolithic annual leave during summertime  and a full separation between working and non-working periods. This is an obsolete model: both self-employed (working on a project basis) and an increasing number of wage-earners are nowadays indistinctly working from home, office or even while walking in the streets, based on ubiquitous computing and a flexible schedule to better serve a customer that might very well be living in another time zone, together with team members whom they have never personally met.

This progressive liberalization and adaptation of the model, however, has been wrong-footed by many companies and workers alike. The formers are timidly exploring these new trends in a confused way (I was told about a company offering the possibility of home working to its employees…along with an equivalent salary reduction: insane), the latter watch their traditional set of skills go obsolete (and I am not just speaking about tech skills) or mistake a higher autonomy and flexibility for a gravy train by which a lot of money can be made with much lesser work (the success of books like The 4-Hour workweek is revealing) or even no work at all (see the attached photo). Talk to any self-employed or entrepreneur and he/she will tell you that is nothing but a fallacy. Though enriching, being your own boss does not diminish the workload and exigency: it’s just that you take it gladly. Do you think this could suit you? You may want to read this interesting article 13 Signs You Are Meant To Be Self-Employed to help you give it a thought.

However, if the answer is negative and you do prefer to be on payrolls, many of the aforementioned trends are equally valid. Among them, the urge for an approach that focuses on work-life balance is to be highlighted. It’s definitely a complex debate, and we’ve lately seen disconcerting measures about it with more than debatable results. The Yahoo decision to ban homework has been very polemic, but pilots like the one taking place in Goteborg (working less hours while keeping the same salary) have been tried and dismissed before (ironically, in Sweden as well). Be that as it may, this is an unstoppable change that shall bring a more efficient model, better adapted to both the current scenario and our needs and aspirations. In order to reach it, however, we’d better stop asking what the labor market has got for us and start questioning what we can really offer instead. And that means be willing to engage in competition based on a different set of personal and professional skills (much more commercial-focused, accountable and proactive), and, of course, also enjoy new and better working conditions.

This article is also available in Spanish


We reviewed a macroeconomic perspective on the issue in our past post, but…how does the company’s point of view fit into a global approach to this issue?

Well, it definitely looks like, at some point along the way, we’ve lost the perspective on what is the main reason to hire an employee and the pressure that this entails for the company.The underlying principle is that the value added by the employee through his/her performance must have a tangible impact on the final product or service the company is offering to the market. This is not rocket science, ok, but it can be interpreted in different ways.  Take a company that manufactures pens, for example. Every cost associated to the operating processes existing from the very creation of the pen until its market delivery should be substantiated in regards of an increased added value resulting in a bigger margin (either a higher price or a lower cost). Thus, a change in the raw materials used or in the manufacturing process would immediately and clearly lead to a smaller margin, and precisely because of this is discarded. The company’s staff, on its turn, should also contribute to increase the pen’s margin, once marketed. However, this is easier said than done: this kind of principle is very present in start-ups (a must), but, as the company grows and so does the staff, internal processes become more complex  and diverse, resulting in a loss of visibility of the real amount of value added by a certain employee to the final product or service. When this happens, his/her performance is typically assessed based on either the direct supervisor’s level of satisfaction or the compliance with certain performance goals. This is both correct and required, but very frequently insufficient (hence the consolidation of assessment models for corporate restructuring like Management by Missions). Be that as it may, losing perspective on the real (in terms of value) contribution of an employee to the organization is potentially dangerous, and even more considering that the average weight of labour taxes on wage costs for European companies was 23,7% (though very unequal between countries) in 2013, a very similar percentage to that of the United States. In countries like Sweden, this rate climbs to 33,3%, and hence the obvious interest in maximizing the employee’s productivity shown through examples like the one mentioned in the previous post.

In order to get a clear picture (thanks to El Blog Salmón please note this is written in Spanish) of what entails hiring a  new employee in Spain in terms of costs, just consider that, in order to pay an average monthly gross salary of 1.500€,  resulting in  a net salary of 1.269€, a 2.019€ cash outflow is required. If you are a wage-earner, please read the figure again and now imagine that you are the one responsible for ensuring that this salary is paid monthly (in addition to searching and dealing with customers, paying suppliers and distributors, taxes and keeping a reasonable amount to make your living).  You might also want to think about the probable redundancy costs (especially if you live in a European country) and, worst-case scenario, potential judicial costs resulting from the dismissal of the worker. Now ask yourself if that is a very appealing scenario and whether you still think that you have any incentive to hire this person.  If the answer is affirmative, what would you ask in exchange? What kind of guarantees or control over his/her performance would you like to have? In the past (and, unfortunately, in too many current companies), the answer to these questions would typically lead to a so-called face-to-face working approach: stable, firmly supervised and based on hierarchy, in which the employee was paid to work the more number of hours, the better under a model to control performance based tasks or goals. In other words: time and obedience that were traded off against security and stability. This was the traditional system of incentives, a sort of symbiotic relationship by which the employer acted on the grounds of a certain mistrust towards an employee that required permanent control, basically because the very model encouraged him/her to work as few hours as possible at the prospect of an invariable salary.

Nowadays, this is an absurd and (luckily) dying model. There’s an increasing consensus about the necessity to change the focus from the process (workday) to the contribution (cost-benefit analysis of the achieved results). Technology is playing a decisive role, no need to say, when it comes to the consolidation of new models, such as home working, flexible working or non-hierarchical networking, but on top of that companies are becoming increasingly convinced that a satisfied and happy employee is far more productive than a merely supervised one. However, there’s one more step to take in order to consolidate the paradigm shift, and this is, again, the reinforcement of the new system of incentives. Forget time and obedience in exchange for security and stability: they are dead. The new tradeoff is performance, adaptation and efficiency in exchange for flexibility, variable salary and work customization.

Working by individual projects, home working, self-employment and entrepreneurship promotion are along these lines: reducing the burden and commitment of traditional hiring to focus on more flexible, open and customized schemes that enable a better visibility of the employee contribution to the company’s achievement. And this is not about facilitating the dismissal of workers or promoting low-quality jobs (a traditional perspective on this type of approaches), but simply enabling a more balanced model of risk and benefit sharing between agents (companies and workers) resulting in a system of incentives much more adapted to the current competitive scenario.

We’ll review the employee standpoint in our next article

This article is also available in Spanish

New types of competitive models, organizations…and workers? (I)

These last days, following Carlos’s Slim public statements favoring the adoption of a super-concentrated three-day working week and the news about the implementation of a pilot project in Goteborg (Sweden) by which a group of municipal employees would have a 6-hour working day (instead of 8), while keeping the salary intact, an old debate has re-emerged with force: if business models and organizations alike have changed in line with new competitive paradigms, shouldn’t workers and recruitment modalities change as well?
The answer seems pretty obvious: yes. However, as it happens with any change process prior to the adoption of a new dominant paradigm, the approaches on this topic are still confusing, primarily due to the fact that different perspectives from a variety of agents are being mixed. We’ll be reviewing them throughout the next posts.
Let’s start with a global perspective:
From the standpoint of the macroeconomic environment, the post-crisis situation in which we are in (just budding in some economic zones, far more consolidated in others) is conducive to reflection on its causes and the best ways to adapt to this new scenario. In line with this, looks like the Eurozone, with an average unemployment rate of almost 12% (compared to the 6.3% in US and 3.6% in Japan) and scandalous cases like Greece (27%) and Spain (25%) has all incentive to lead the development of new proposals. Given an outlook of this being a long-lasting scenario, the conclusion is evident: the current recruitment models and global relationship between supply and demand within the labor market are simply inefficient and unable to reverse the situation. Against this backdrop, some old (Keynes already proposed this) bizarre proposals are re-emerging again, such as the one proposed by the economist Arcadi Oliveres, who upholds a reduction in the average number of working hours per person to share them out among more people. This kind of (dangerous, read Jack Straw’s opinion on similar proposals) approach, which seems to be moving back 100 years, mixes social and political considerations through the lens of widely outdated economic doctrines, apparently from the premise of the existence of an unchangeable, local job demand for any given competitive environment. This level of job demand would be conditioned by workers in no way, just as if it was a big cake to be shared and we’d only had the chance to miserably stand in line, waiting to get our little slice.
Compared to that, the new dominant paradigm will necessarily be completely opposed, focusing on a serious rethinking of the organization and worker roles that encompasses a deeper employee accountability, a stronger impulse to entrepreneurship and an overall increased dynamism and mobility on the grounds that many new professional profiles shall be offered, created and entrenched by workers, instead of just demanded by organizations.
We’ll take a look at complementary perspectives in future posts
This article is also available in Spanish