The Thought Leader's Voice Podcast
Decoding Leadership, Management, and Creativity
As part of our Thought Leaders Voice podcast series we are thrilled to be in a conversation with David Burkus: Author, Organizational Psychologist, Thinkers50 Ranked Thought Leader on ‘Decoding Leadership, Management, and Creativity’. These are testing times for CMO’s & leaders as they steer their organizations through to calmer waters amidst the global healthcare & economic crisis.
Join the conversation to access actionable advice shared in an incredibly insightful way.
One of the world’s leading business thinkers, David Burkus’ forward-thinking ideas and bestselling books are helping leaders and teams do their best work ever.
He is the best-selling author of five books about business and leadership. His books have won multiple awards and have been translated into dozens of languages. His insights on leadership and teamwork have been featured in the Wall Street Journal, Harvard Business Review, USAToday, Fast Company, the Financial Times, Bloomberg BusinessWeek, CNN, the BBC, NPR, and CBS This Morning. Since 2017, Burkus has been ranked as one of the world’s top business thought leaders by Thinkers50. As a sought-after international speaker, his TED Talk has been viewed over 2 million times. He’s worked with leaders from organizations across all industries including Google, Stryker, Fidelity, Viacom, and even the US Naval Academy.
- Is business all about change and keeping up with the latest trends. Has the time come to re-examine some of the most fundamental concepts in management today. What kind of management changes organizations should focus on?
- What makes someone more or less creative than his or her peers? Where do our flashes of creative insight come from, and how can we generate more of them?
- What are some common myths prevalent in the management styles that need to be challenged and debunked?
- How leaders create the conditions for organizations and individuals to thrive.
- What are some of the companies that are experimenting with new and different models and policies for leading teams and managing people. The kind of companies who have developed a new set of best practices that may look counter-intuitive but have become an integral part of what makes them so high-performing.
Full Transcript of Podcast with David Burkus
Andrew Newby: Hello everyone. My name is Andrew Newby and I’m hosting a series of iResearch services podcasts of the coming weeks. These are intended to educate senior level marketers and thought leaders as to how to address some of the more challenging and exciting issues facing them currently. Our topic today is that of decoding leadership management and creativity. With that I’d like to welcome heartily our guest expert, David Burkus based in, I believe Tulsa, Oklahoma. Is that right?
David Burkus: That is true. Yeah.
Andrew Newby: Excellent.
David Burkus: These days being smack dab in the middle of the country seems the safest between hurricanes and forest fires and COVID, we’re just stuck in the middle where nothing is happening. It’s been good strategy.
Andrew Newby: Yeah. Yeah. Just keep very quiet and still and just let it roll. So, David is the best author of the last count five books about business and leadership. These books have won multiple awards and going to be translated in dozens of languages. David’s insights on leadership and teamwork have been featured in the Wall Street Journal, Harvard business review USA today, the financial times, CNN, BBC and so on. Since 2017, David has been ranked as one of the world’s top business thought leaders by Thinkers 50. He’s worked with leaders from organizations across all industries, including Google, Striker, fidelity, Via Com, and even the US Naval Academy. I must question you further on that and I will. David Burkus, David. Welcome, and thank you very much for sharing your insights with us.
David Burkus: Thank you so much for having me.
Andrew Newby: Most welcome. I’m rather excited to be talking to you because you are sort of a global star. You are. I’m going to stop; I’m going try not gush too much. So, let’s start off with a park. You’ve got a new book, your sort of secret lockdown project coming out in January called “Leading from Anywhere, Unlocking the Power and Performance of Remote Teams”. Yeah. So, could you tell us a bit about that?
David Burkus: So, I mean, it was a lockdown project, right? Newton discovered, you know, calculus, I wrote a book, it doesn’t really compare but well we each had our quarantine projects. Of course, the plague was a bit worse of a pandemic than what we were facing here. But the, you know, the core idea is we found we started when, when the COVID pandemic looked like it was going to truly be global and affected everything. We send people home, you know, we give them a cell phone or a laptop or told them to make, do with the ones they already owned. And we said, Oh, everybody will be worked from home for a couple of weeks and then this will all blow over. And now it’s been six months and people don’t want to come back, even if it’s safe to come back and this is really the thing that I was seeing even before the COVID-19 pandemic. I mean, some of the research on employee engagement as early as January before, this was really known to most of the world’s suggested that people are most engaged when they have that workplace flexibility of being out of the office three to four days a week.
And so, then we forced everyone into this work from home experiment and no surprise it’s working for a lot of people. Didn’t work at first, it took a lot of time for people to figure out how to balance this work and life thing. And now I think that the future of work is allowing most employees to work from anywhere. And so hence the title leading from anywhere because the future of management and leadership is going to be having to manage a team of people who are all over the place. Even if they have a desk at your co located office, they’re probably not going to be there the same way they were before. And so we ought to be preparing for that, that the future it’s not, I don’t think it’s going to be purely remote work, distributed companies, but places with no offices but you’re going to have to rely on the same strategies to lead those teams, because it’s going to be a rare occurrence that you’ve got everybody in the office all of the time.
Andrew Newby: Right. So that idea of flexibility of giving people perks, or they spend hours at the office not working themselves to death unless they’re American mission is to do that’s just not coming back. So, what’s the right blend? How does one walk that out when people aren’t together?
David Burkus: Yeah. So, there’s a few things that we’ve got to learn here. It means that you’re changing the way you’re doing meetings. It means that the separation between presence and productivity is needs to finally die. I mean, truthfully, it needed to die for a long time. We’ve known this for a while that the people that managed to sneak into the office before the boss and managed to leave two minutes after the boss gets in his or her car, they’re not usually the most productive people, they’re the people faking it. Right? And so that means that we need to make outcomes clear. I think it means the role of leaders changes from a role of assigned tasks and verify to a role of these are the things we’re going after, what resources do you need to accomplish them? And what obstacles are in place? I mean, the irony is this is something that a lot of us in this space have been advocating for this approach or philosophy of management since before the pandemic. You know, we saw the research on engagement. We saw that people are more motivated when they’re autonomous. They’re more creative when they have that autonomy and we’re advocating for all of this. And, you know, the line was all, we can’t do that because, you know, virtual meetings don’t work. Well, in-person meetings didn’t work either. Right? So, then we were all forced into this work from home experiment and people figured out like, Oh, you know, it’s got its own frustrations, but you know, it mirrors there are no more frustrations than they were when we were all in the same office.
So, there’s a different philosophy here and a different techniques and tactics around assignments that around the overall idea of what is the role of management. I think it will be that inverted pyramid that Venette Neir often talks about where our goal is to make all of the, what used to be called sort of support functions, be a management function as well. The goal is to figure out who’s actually achieving value. Who’s interacting with the customers and everyone else’s job is to support them, get them to things they need to do the work they need to do. I, for one am looking forward to that, I think that’s going to create a lot more engagement, a lot more motivation and a better place to work. But I do think there’s going to be a decent number of people that enjoyed the power they had back when they had the corner office that nobody cares about because no, one’s in the office to look at them jealously, et cetera. So, it may not be a smooth, perfect transition, but it’s going to be the transition.
Andrew Newby: Well, I mean, no one asked for this but we are fine. We can work better. So not a lot of your work sort of and you have books specifically on this topic about the nature of creativity. So, what makes someone more or less creative in his or her peers. So where do our flushes of creative insight come from? You know, how can we generate more creativity? So, you talk about Theresa [inaudible 07:06]of Harvard who talks about creativity, being beaten out of people by your parents, by education, by the corporation, you know, the Dilbert sort of type of idea. So just take through your sort of thoughts on the nature of creativity.
David Burkus: Yeah. So, I mean Theresa’s definitely right as is the researcher E. Paul Torrence, who came before her was really the, one of the godfathers, if you will, of creativity research, especially in well in children and in adults, he developed the first creativity test to ATTA the adult Torrance test of abilities. And one of the things that he said was it was somewhere around fourth grade in the normal sort of Western primary school. It was right around the fourth year of school, which is when things flip from let’s understand a little bit about science and here’s a triangle, it has three sides but what do you think about it? And let’s teach you to read and teach you the colors too. Okay, now we need to get into the real stuff and there’s only really one right answer and all that sort of play time is over. Recess is over now it’s time to figure out. And you know, the kids that do the best in that environment are the ones that figure out what said teacher wants, and then regurgitate the desired response. And then no surprise we ended up in a Dilbert culture when they get into the workplace to the workplace is no different. Right? There is a small subset of people that I think managed to resist that I think they’re drawn to the fields where there still isn’t a right answer, even in primary school.
So, these are the kids that are drawn to art or music or someplace where they have some ability to continue to express themselves. And then fast forward a decade in their lives. We make the mistake of thinking those people are the creatives and everybody else is uncreative. Well, the truth is that some people just got the creativity sort of beaten out of them. Now all of us can exercise this creative muscle, to your point about flashes of creative insight, all ideas are combinations of ideas Right? All ideas come from the ability to study a lot of different things, play around with novel combinations in your head, have the freedom to experiment and then sort of, I don’t want to use the term luck but it’s not far off because a lot of times people will have the same combinations. That’s why we have simultaneous inventions and books that seem similar, even though they were published by different people and all of that comes from playing around with these novel combinations. And unfortunately, a lot of our organizational system is designed to sort of, again, beat that out of people as well because we either don’t have the time to experiment. We don’t actually encourage failure. We punish the people that have these experiments that they get failed. We give people a very, very specific assignments like we did at university and in primary school to just say, this is what it has to be.
This is the budget. This is exactly what we want and then we promote the people that have managed to do that. And then to get even worse inside of a lot of organizations, we find that people, especially in times of uncertainty, which I’ve never experienced a time of uncertainty in my life. I don’t know about you. Most of my, you know, it’s been pretty stable, the business environment for the last 20 years. Right? But in times of uncertainty, people have a sort of an inherent bias against creative ideas when they hear them. Right? So, a lot of times what we find in a management context is people hear that creative idea. They’re thinking about the uncertainty that’s going on in the world. They’re being presented an idea that diverts from what they were doing before. There’s an inherent bias in that. I mean, the irony is most of the organizations that I work with say they want their people to have more creative ideas. And then when people do speak up with those ideas, they get rejected pretty quickly and the message gets sent that no, I don’t actually want you to have all of those creative ideas. Right? I want you to figure out what I am asking for as the leader, and then give it back to me, which is what we trained you to do in primary school anyway.
Andrew Newby: Right. So, they’re managing creativity in a clip. So, managing for it.
David Burkus: Yeah. There’s two. I mean, there’s two quick and easy things you can do with it in this context that we’re really helped managing for those creative insights more. The first is to actually figure out how much can we afford to fail or afford to experiment? How much time do we have in the budget, whether it’s time or resources? How much can we have budgeted to almost waste time so that we can play around with different ideas? If we give people that really, really short timeline and the really, really small budgets and not really write some of that off, then no surprise we’re just going to get deliverables that look exactly like what we asked for and won’t be all that novel. And then the second thing is when people, and this is a check for everyone who’s ever been in a leadership role. When people present to you, their idea, pay attention to your reaction. Most people have some version of the, it won’t work here, or we tried something similar before, et cetera. And that’s a negative reaction for two reasons. One you’re judging the idea of too fast, which we already talked about, but you’re sending the message to people that I don’t actually value your creative thinking. I think the thinker, Roger Martin actually has a great rephrase of this question, which is when you’re presented with a creative idea, ask the question, what would have to be true, this idea to work because when you’re doing that, you’re inviting the other person in to judge the idea with you. You still need to judge the idea, right? We can’t just give all of our budget over to people with crazy ideas. We still do need to judge ideas but we need to do so in a way that’s collaborative that lets people feel heard so that even if we don’t implement their idea that time, they feel like I got a fair shake. I got listened to. They value the creativity that I’m bringing to the organization and I feel free to try again the next time. Otherwise, you end up again, beating that creativity out of a lot of people, even the ones you hired because they’re supposedly creative.
Andrew Newby: So, I guess you’re the enemy of this idea of you know, the eureka moment. Spot krav and just hard work you know, teamwork. Now that it’s not a single person’s genius, but the collective for a lot of reason that word fell communistic but you can be specifically creative and consciously creative.
David Burkus: Yes. I’m the enemy of that for a lot of different reasons. You mentioned a lot of different myths in there that we probably need to spend some time to monkey. I know I’m not against the idea. We all have that sort of aha moment or that eureka moment. The problem is that we often, because it feels like this, this sudden out of body experience or my favorite thing is, over here in North America, a lot of people will describe their flash of insight as it just came to me. Well, where was it before? Right? Like it was in your head the whole time, but you’re acting like it came from somewhere else and it visited you. It’s an almost quasi-religious experience and that doesn’t line up with the psychological research, right? The psychological research says that those aha moments usually become are usually the result of a period of incubation in our workflow, either intentional or unintentional.
So, some of the most prolifically creative people, you know, you said it’s about the process. Some of the most politically creative people, they don’t grind it out and wait for the idea. They’re deliberately juggling projects so that while they’re doing the research on one in their subconscious, they’re kind of incubating a lot of ideas on a different project. And when you’re doing that, the research really suggests that that’s when you, those snap idea, aha sort of moments happen. That doesn’t mean [inaudible 14:10]build incubation into your workflow, whether that’s through juggling projects or whether that’s, a lot of times when I work with teams and organizations, if we have a multi-day meeting, that’s usually spending time either the lunch break or sometimes even spending the last half of day one, talking about an idea and getting the research and getting out there, what do we need to accomplish? And then let’s take the evening off, right? Let’s go to dinner. Let’s whatever, let’s wake up the next morning after we’ve incubated a little bit on all of the requirements of the project. Now we’ll generate the ideas. So that’s really, what’s behind a lot of those aha moments but like I said before, it takes some time if we’re just asking people to put their head down and grind it out and burn the midnight oil at both ends or whatever the terrible cliche is, right. We don’t allow for that time for incubation. So, that’s one, I mean, the second thing you mentioned really briefly around the loan creator versus the team, this one is actually really simple. If all ideas are combinations of preexisting ideas, then the teams that brings the most, raw material of preexisting ideas tend to win. And that’s why creativity becomes a team sport. Even the stories that we tell of lone individuals who are massively creative, usually have a team behind them that history sort of forgot or deliberately edited out. I’ve never really gotten a clear answer on that one but it happens most often. If your idea makes a dent in the universe, the first thing we do is forget about all of the other people that got you, the mass needed to make that dent.
Andrew Newby: Right? As Keynes once said, we are all the slaves of dead economists, which I think what he meant to say was no idea is original, in of itself, it is the result of all that’s gone before, good or bad.
David Burkus: Yeah. The Newton quote is that, you know, we stand on the shoulders of giants, which is what he was doing when he stole that phrase from Bernarda. So, there’s that.
Andrew Newby: And then you have the mouse trap myth. I think you’ve sort of alluded to it where no innovation is brilliant enough to sell itself great ideas in the end of the process, but it’s the beginning. So from an incubation period, you talked about. There’s a lot more that has to happen afterwards.
David Burkus: Yeah. And the mousetrap myth is really about the idea that if you build a better mousetrap, the world, won’t be the path to your door. Our most common reaction when we’re presented with ideas that diverged from the status quo is to prefer the status quo. The researcher, Jennifer Mueller has a series of fascinating studies on this, in the book I only got to talk about the first one, which I already sort of hinted at this time of uncertainty. We say, we want creativity but we have a hidden bias. She did a follow-up study where she actually surveyed customers and then surveyed managers inside an organization with product ideas and no surprise. The ones the customer said would be the best innovations to the products were the ones that the manager said, Oh, we can’t do that either it wouldn’t work or customers won’t want it or be too expensive, or what have you, right?
David Burkus: There’s this divergence between what we say we want. We say, we went out of the box thinking we never actually want the ideas to bad. We want them to be like right on the fringe of the box. We say, we want new grandiose ideas. We don’t right. We want them to come inside this status quo. But I mean, the truly disruptive ideas that truly come from companies and leaders who are willing to actually say, I need to give you a little bit of space here. I needed to recognize that the first version of the idea that you present to me, I shouldn’t even reject. I should invite you to test because it needs to be refined. Ideas are ugly babies. The person presenting them to you thinks they’re beautiful but come on. You know, it needs a little bit of development, a little of love, but if we just rejected outright right off the bat, we fall prey to that mousetrap myth and we end up like Kodak that invented the digital camera and went bankrupt. Xerox invented the personal computer, never really developed it. It goes on and on and on. History, business history in particular is full of executives being presented with the first iteration of what turned out to be a disruptive innovation and rejecting it outright because they just, they didn’t see it for the potential that it had. That’s a big problem and I don’t know the answer. I don’t have like a four-box model. I wish I did, because then I could make billions selling that as a consulting firm. All I have is the suggestion that sometimes you need to invite people into the process of judging the idea alongside you. So, they continue to feel heard and continue to feel empowered and maybe even continue to push for the idea to the point where we can test it and see it’s potential.
Andrew Newby: Right. So, in terms of leaders creating the conditions for the full organizations and individuals to thrive I guess the issue of autonomy is the idea of accountability as well. Is that something that sort of we can sort of discuss?
David Burkus: Yeah. I mean, autonomy is that new perk, right? I don’t care about free food anymore. I don’t care about the fact that you’ll do my dry cleaning. I’ll do my own dry cleaning. I’ll do it from the house that I’m working at three or four times a day, but that three or four times a week, excuse me. But that creates in itself a new set of conditions that we’re asking managers to come to develop. I think I kind of really summarize the three sort of conditions we’ll need in this future work, being, working from anywhere as we need to start developing objectives mutually. Right? So there used to be a time where a lot of managers said, here’s what I’m asking you to do, right? Here’s the KPI, here’s the OKR. And even the people that advocated for those acronyms in the beginning, there was a much more mutuality to it but it doesn’t usually happen in practice, it more happens like here’s your assignment, right? Which again goes back to primary school university where we’re like, here it is, here’s the word count you need in the number of sources you should have cited. That’s what we’re asking a lot of people do that robs them of that autonomy.
So, setting those objectives mutually. Checking in regularly with people, right? And regularly means different things to different people. So as a leader, you have to know your team. You have to understand that some people want constant contact, some people find that to be micromanagement, right? So, you’ve got to figure out the right rhythm for some people that might be checking in on Monday and Friday. Some people, it might just be Friday. Some people, especially early on in their tenure in that assignment might want something more frequent. You’ve got to know your people and know how to check in on that. And then also in that check-in figure out what the obstacles are to them doing the work that then allows you to take that information, bring it back to the whole team so that everyone is working out loud is aware of what else is going on, et cetera. And then the last piece I think, is finding ways to mark progress. One of the things that can happen when you give a lot of autonomy and you let everybody work from anywhere and give them a lot of flexibility is can develop a feeling like I just show up and I clear out my inbox every day and I, or I do the assignments that are asked of me. And I don’t really know the bigger picture of what we’re making progress towards. So that becomes a big role for leaders at all levels of an organization to do with their team is remind them of where we are and where we’re headed and how much progress we’re making because when you’re not in the office doing that sort of organically or seeing the impact of your work because across the floor and another sea of cubicles is the team that benefits from your work. It becomes the manager’s job to remind people of that progress and that impact piece. So, setting objectives, mutually checking in regularly, and then tracking progress pretty devotedly.
Andrew Newby: Right? So, the idea of, I guess, accountability flowing down, not up.
David Burkus: Yeah.
Andrew Newby: And checking what resources are needed, you know, the lower levels thing that they’re deployed and used and monitored. The idea of what am I accountable for as a leader. So, are we talking about sort of do leaders need to be visionary to be able to express a mission, you know that there seems to be a lot of stuff out there about visionary leadership? Is that a bit of a high bar, too high a bar I think for mortals?
David Burkus: You know, I mean, it depends on the organization. The problem that I have with terms like visionary is that a vision is only really one part of a larger sort of purpose, right? Vision is just what the world looks like when we achieve whatever mission. Right? But if people don’t understand mission, which is the, what we’re actually going to do, right. And they don’t understand the purpose, which is why we’re going to do it. Right. All of these things are sort of concentric circles. The easy thing that I do rather than vision, mission, statement, purpose, et cetera.
And its sort of deliberately provocative, I’ll admit and a lot of people in HR don’t appreciate my use of this terminology. But the question that I ask people often to try and figure out if they’re having this vision, mission, purpose thing is if I walked into your offices, which I couldn’t do at this time, you know at least without a mask I couldn’t do. And I pulled aside your employees, right? Email your employees working from their home. And I asked them, Hey, when you think about our organization, what are we fighting for? If they can answer that question, then I think you’ve got sufficiently, you’ve done a sufficiently good job, conveying the mission and purpose and how it relates to that day-to-day tasks. And what are we fighting for? It’s not, who are we fighting? It’s not, who are we trying to sell more widgets than who are our competitors, etc. It’s more than what in the world are we seeking to change by doing the work that we’re doing? Right. What about the status quo we trying to change? What about injustice in the world that we trying to remove, or even just, how are we trying to make people’s lives a little bit better through the product or service that we offer? All of those things are in my mind could be elevated to the level of what are we specifically fighting for. And the reason I use fight there’s a lot of research from the group artists international that actually studies, you know, armed, whether it’s terrorism or civil Wars or things like that. And they show that what causes people to take up arms. In other words, to be so motivated, they would be irrational and put their lives at stake. Are this idea that the purpose re-iterates a set of sacred values, not core values, we’ve done those.
We put them on posters. We have pictures of Eagles and mountains and whatever, and nobody paid attention to them but sacred values, meaning our organization exists to defend this value, to say that it’s a priority. And then they also provide a sense of group identity, which again, this is going to be the big thing that’s lacking if everybody’s working from anywhere by themselves, and then their digital team of, you know icons or avatars on a screen in a Slack channel, that larger sense of group identity of we’re all in this together to change this, if we don’t solve that problem both of those problems. And so that’s why I love this question. What are we fighting for? So, I guess the short answer to your question is you don’t need to be a visionary. You need to be a fighter, or at least you need to be able to advocate to your people. This is what we’re fighting for. This is the cause that we’re working for and here’s how your job helps us win that or this is what our customers or our stakeholders are fighting for and how all of our jobs help them win that.
Andrew Newby: I mean it’s only half-jokingly, but can we learn from that the military. You know, you worked early with the US Naval Academy. Are there lessons there?
David Burkus: You know, I think they are in the, in the United States it depends on the branch of the service, right? The Navy in particular is a very, very regimented systems driven, right? That, for lack of a better cliche, they run a very tight ship in the Navy, right. It’s what they’re supposed to do. Whereas when you get into the Marine Corps, which is a subset of the Navy, the army, they’re much more of that sort of visionary leadership, motivation, sort of, et cetera. I do think we could learn a lot from them about the way that they tie in that sense of purpose into everyday work. Right. Like I said, I’ve done a lot of work with the Naval Academy and the Naval postgraduate school. Even in my day-to-day life, I interact with a lot of different veterans. I competed a very esoteric martial art known as Brazilian jujitsu, that’s very popular in the veteran community here in the United States. So, I interact with a lot of different veterans.
Andrew Newby: It’s very lethal isn’t it? Brazilian jujitsu, it’s up there with like Krav Maga for like, yes, it will.
David Burkus: Yeah. We don’t poke people in the eye or kick them in the groin, like Krav Maga but you’ve similar. Yeah, yeah, yeah and you hear about the impact of things like Liberty you’re protecting democracy, right? The idea of specific patriotism, all of those things are sacred values for these people and the group identity as well. I mean, these are people who were I’m trying to think of a nicer word that indoctrinated but made to believe, right. That the community was more important than themselves, that we always go back for a fellow Marine, right. Or that it’s really about most of the people that are there in the midst of armed conflict, at least in the United States, military are fighting to keep the people next to them, safe as well. Right? There’s the cause. But then there’s also the group identity piece. Now that doesn’t mean we need to put everybody in an organization through basic training, right. We need to all be teaching them how to do burpees every morning, right before we go to work or something like that. But I think we do, do a really bad job, especially in, you know, the two ways that we’ve used combat analogies in the last 40 years, I think have both been a disaster, right? The first is we’ve used them in the context of fighting against competitors and fighting for market share and, you know, businesses of battle. And I mean, even one of the top podcasts right now in Spotify and iTunes, et cetera, is called business Wars, right? It’s not a war. It’s not, there’s nothing. You’re Coke and there’s Pepsi, nobody should be fighting over this. Right?
So, it’s that. Or we talk about the war for talent, which is again, very much an individualized approach, right? That we’re fighting over to get that best, that perfect person and we’ll pay gobs of money to bring that perfect person in we’re fighting this war for top talent. In reality, talent flows from teams. Right? We’ve known this for at least 15 years now. That you could take that top person that you paid gobs of money, put them in a terrible system, and the system will beat them down every time. Right? Whereas in an organization like the military, this is pretty much any functioning military takes anybody who will volunteer and puts them into a system designed to turn them into a talented individual. Right? I would much prefer that system because then “A” we’re not in this war for talent. We’re not paying way too much money for people that have a good resume but “B” I think it was Deming that actually said this “that a bad system will be a good employee every time”. “So, I would much rather focus it on the system”. The line that I used in under new management was that great leaders don’t innovate the product. They innovate the factory. They innovate the place where work gets done in order to create the environment as well.
Andrew Newby: Are you kind of thinking there’s a main quote appropriate. Let’s try and dig one out. Okay, so yeah, it’s kind of wishy-washy, liberal, messy democracy, main street. What are some of the companies that you see that are experimenting with new and different models and policies relating to managing people?
David Burkus: Yeah. You know, it’s funny. I wished they were coming out of the United States because then I could brag on that a bit more. But, you know, we talked about the idea of accountability flowing down and, in that regard, I think the model of HLC technologies in India, that Venette Neir pioneered is a great model. Basically, what Venette Neir said is that we need to identify that what he called the value zone, which is the frontline employees or the, that directly interact with the customer. They’re the ones that create the value. Everyone else should be seen as a support role to those people. And they even created sort of a secondary customer service system. You know, you complain about a product that customers my Apple headphones aren’t working, or something like that. I contact them. I start a support ticket, right and then there’s a flow of emails until I get the answer that I want. And then the last email they always send is, can I close out this ticket? They did the same thing inside the organization where if you were in that value zone you could create a ticket, that could go all the way up to the CFO or the chief marketing officer to get you the answer you need to satisfy that client’s problem. And you, the person who started the ticket, were the only person that had the authority to close the ticket. In other words, this would still be a priority until you decided you got a sufficient answer, right? That’s turning the pyramid inverted, that’s creating accountability downward. They paired that with the idea that they were already doing 360-degree evaluations in any management tier. And they voluntold people to make them public, right. So, in other words, they said, managers, do you have the option of making it public, by the way, as the CEO I’ll be making mine public, which means that, you know, everybody else is suddenly making there as well. So, you have that twofold combination that really sets the idea that yeah, management’s role is to support these other people. So big fan of that one. I’m also, there’s a couple of different companies hired manufacturing in China is running a really, really interesting has been for 10 years now, a really interesting experiment into the idea of creating these micro units, rather than this massive hierarchy of all sorts of crazy logistics. They’re creating these smaller entrepreneurial units that are designed to do different things.
So even the HR function is its own little business that then contracts with the factories, right? The factories and even inside the factory, if you’re working on different products to your own little micro unit, I think that’s really fascinating because that’s the smallness of that creates that group identity we’ve been talking about and makes the autonomy. It really emphasizes that autonomy piece as well. And then I mean, that, that model in itself is not new. Burt Zog the nursing industry in the Netherlands has been doing that similar thing for a while. Handel’s Banking in Sweden is a multi-multi location bank, where there is no home office, every bank, even though it’s all connected is its own location with managers given their own budget, et cetera. I’m fascinated by these models right now because I think that’s going to be, as we all move into this, working from anywhere role, I think that’s probably going to be the better way to keep people engaged is to think about how do we create community on the unit of people that directly used to be responsible to that manager. They’re going to see those people, at least digitally every single day, they’re going to feel much more community to that group of people and this larger organizational that might be people they see once a year. Right? So, this idea that we’re giving these visual teams, autonomy, they’re already working individually as well. I think that’s probably where we’re headed. So those are a lot of the businesses that I’m paying attention to now.
Andrew Newby: David, thank you so much for your time. It’s been fascinating listening to you and I’d like to invite you on another podcast if, when you’re willing and able. But thank you so much for your time today as been…
David Burkus: Oh, it’s my pleasure. Thank you so much for having me.
Andrew Newby: Thank you.
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