Friday, April 28, 2023

A Leader's First 90 Hours


As a new leader at any level, what will you do in your first 90 hours on the job?  Fascinating question.  A very important question in my view.  HBS Professor Emeritus John Quelch wrote a thought-provoking piece recently for HBS Working Knowledge on this topic.  He reminds us of the terrific book, First 90 Days, written two decades ago by Mike Watkins.  Quelch argues that the world is moving so quickly that new leaders need to focus on their first 90 hours; they simply can't wait to take certain actions given the pace of change.  Whatever you think about Quelch's arguments and recommendations, there's one piece of advice that resonated with me.  He advocates for careful consideration of actions during those first 90 hours that will signal your values as a leader.  I wholeheartedly agree.  

Think about how people throughout your team or organization will interpret your words and actions during those first few days.  They will be reading between the lines, chatting with their colleagues, and reflecting on the meaning behind your actions.   Through it all, they are trying to discern what is important to you, and what your priorities will be.  Who and what do you value?  

Therefore, consider carefully the way others will perceive those initial actions.  Who are you meeting with during those early days?   What are you emphasizing in your communications?  What small changes will you make to signal your values?  Are there any immediate investments you can make that suggest a new way of leading?  How open and transparent will you be in relation to what prior leaders have done?  Considering these questions carefully will be highly important as you set the tone in those first few days in a new role. 

Wednesday, April 19, 2023

Have You Become Too Reliant on Star Performers?


Tom Taiyi Yan
 and Elad Sherf wrote a brief article this week in the Wall Street Journal describing their fascinating new research regarding team over-reliance on superstars.  They cite a terrific study of National Basketball Association players.  Here's an excerpt:

To investigate how team dynamics worked, we started by looking outside the world of business—at basketball. In our study, published in Organization Science, we examined competitive teams in the National Basketball Association across more than 60,000 games, spanning 34 years. Leveraging motion-tracking-camera data, we examined how teams’ passing patterns and shot distributions changed after wins and losses.

We found that after winning, teams became more reliant on their star players. Teams passed the ball about 6% more to the stars, and their shot distribution skewed 15% more toward the big performers. Although doubling down is intuitive (“We want to exploit what worked before"), it ended up decreasing teams’ chances of winning the next game. The increased reliance on the star players made teams more predictable to the next opponent and easier to defend—and therefore less likely to win the game.

This tendency to stick with stars doesn’t just hold true in competitive sports. All teams—particularly ones in the business world—tend to double down on what has worked. And it is often a bad idea.

Tuesday, April 18, 2023

Big Data AND Consumer Anthropology

We shouldn't be choosing between leveraging big data to make decisions vs. conducting in-depth qualitiative research about our customers.  We should be using both methodologies, as they are often quite complementary.  As market researcher and Kellogg Professor Gina Fong states, "“Big data’s having a real moment right now. Numbers don’t lie—and big numbers sometimes give people more confidence in the data. But they only give you the what. Consumer anthropology and qualitative research are there to address the why behind people’s choices.”

Qualitative research can be most effective when we study people in their natural environment - retail stores, homes, workplaces, public parks, mass transit stations, etc. The key is to see what they do, rather than relying simply on what they say. After all, as Margaret Mead once said, "What people say, what people do, and what they say they do are entirely different things.”  Fong offers a wonderful example of how qualitative research can deepen our insights into consumer behavior and even prevent us from jumping to the wrong conclusions. Kellogg Insight describes her powerful example:

For example, a colleague of Fong’s loved eating avocados, but he had stopped purchasing them in the grocery store. Looking solely at patterns in the data, the store’s brand team might conclude that he and others like him didn’t like avocados anymore, or that avocados had become too expensive. Armed with this information, the team might react by discounting avocados or displaying them in another part of the store.  But his motivation for passing up avocados was more complicated.

“He really liked avocados, but he didn’t know how to pick one when it was perfectly ripe,” Fong says. “Either the avocado would ripen too fast and spoil, or it would take too long to ripen, and he would forget about it. This was frustrating to him, so he just punted the whole activity.”  On a recent store visit, he saw a display with avocados categorized in three groups: “ripe today,” “ripe in a couple of days,” and “ripe in four to five days.” This has led to him once again buying avocados.

Monday, April 10, 2023

How You Handle Low Performers Can Hurt Morale and Drive Away Your Best People

I recently re-read a post from The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) about a study conducting by Eagle Hill Consulting.  The post focuses on the highly detrimental impact of not acting to address low performers in your workplace. Here's an excerpt from the SHRM blog post:

These findings, drawn from a survey of more than 1,700 professionals from across the private, nonprofit and government sectors, are detailed in a research report by Arlington, Va.-based Eagle Hill Consulting, Are Low-Performers Destroying Your Culture and Driving Away Your Best Employees? The researchers found that:
  • Low-performers hurt morale in the workplace and increase the workload for others. When asked to pick the greatest problems created by low-performers, the top concern was that they reduce overall workplace morale (cited by 68 percent of respondents). Forty-four percent said that low-performers increase the work burden on high-performers.
  • Low-performers stifle innovation and contribute to a standard of mediocrity. Some 54 percent said that low-performers contribute to a lack of initiative and motivation, resulting in a work culture where mediocrity is accepted.
Addressing low performance does not mean you have to fire people.  It does mean you have try to understand WHY certain individuals are not performing to expectations.  What are the causes? Don't assume you know.   Then, you must provide concrete, actionable feedback to people who are not achieving their goals.  It means putting in place a specific plan for coaching and developing low performers.  Finally, it means having key milestones at which you can check in on the performance of these individuals, measure progress or lack thereof, and take additional steps to address performance below expectations.  Failing to have the hard conversations will not only harm the organization's effectiveness, it will lead to a deterioration in employee morale.  Ultimately, it might lead to the departure of your best employees, who become frustrated and upset with the situation.