September 7, 2004
Excerpts: Everything You Need to Know About Strategy - Part III
The first thing is to hire enough talent that a critical mass of excitement starts to grow.Tina Brown
Its the people, stupid! Its the people on the roster of your favorite baseball team or ballet companyor in the 6-person finance department or 300,000-person home improvement giant. Bob Taylor, who created Xeroxs startlingly innovative PARC (Palo Alto Research Center), was described by a colleague as a connoisseur of talent. (Nice!) Limited founder Les Wexner said he became a true institution builder when he began to take as much pleasure picking people as he'd previously had picking trendy clothing. People people do peopleto coin a not particularly sparkling phrase. Incidentally, this is a trait, Ive observed, that starts (or fails to start!) earlywith the class president in 10th grade who picks a Great Cabinet of intriguing talents, not just a collection of sycophants.
The question then quickly becomes: What do we do with this Great Talent weve recruited? And my answer is now clear: Send them out on Inspiring Quests! I love the word ... Quest. It conjures everyone from Columbus to Copernicus to King to Thatcher to Mary Kay Ash. (But not 90 percent of the worlds cubicle slavesalas.) The successful boss is no shrinking violet when it comes to audacious moves, but nonetheless she or he aims to have this Great Collection of Talent surprise and delight (stun, amaze, etc*) (*cool words are ... cool) him or her by heading off to explore territories (Here Be Dragons) that neither could have imagined; if the boss is not routinely surprised as to where his Talent has taken him, then said boss is an unworthy talent selector-user.
In their extraordinary book, Organizing Genius, Warren Bennis and Patricia Ward Biederman make these two statements:
Groups become great only when everyone in them, leaders and members alike, is free to do his or her absolute best.
The best thing a leader can do for a Great Group is allow its members to discover their own greatness.
Either statement leaves me breathless. What monumental aspirations: Free ... do ... Absolute Best. Discover ... Greatness. Doesnt this ... perfectly ... encapsulate the problem with 99 out of 100 organizations? People are hardly free to do absolute best and discover greatness. My view: This should be every bosss mantra, every employees aimor else we are settling for de-motivation and mediocrity, and no strategy, no matter how clever or wise, will save us.
One last word/caution. Re-read the above: People people do people. Its surely true for a General Manager in the National Football League. And it should be equally true for boss of a 4-person training department. Mantra: People people do people ... 25/8/53.
About Dylan Schleicher
Dylan Schleicher has been a part of the 800-CEO-READ claque since 2003. Even though he's stayed on at the company, he has not stayed put. After beginning in shipping & receiving, he joined customer service and accounting before moving into his current, highly elliptical orbit of duties overseeing the ChangeThis and In the Books websites, the company's annual review of books and in-house design. He lives with his wife and two children in the Washington Heights neighborhood on Milwaukee's West Side.