How to reduce dysfunctional peer competition among managers

Question: I oversee the HR function in a large Process Consulting/ Outsourcing firm. We plan to grow aggressively in near future as our Fortune 500 clients recover from the downturn and initiate new projects. Our company culture is very performance driven. As we promote our A-players to managerial positions to handle growth, we want to engender in them a spirit of cooperation. We feel this will help us win/ handle more business by coming up with innovative solutions for complex client needs.

How can we accelerate collaboration/ co-operation in these new managers who come from high-pressure single contributor roles?

Dan Walter's Answer

This is both a simple and complex issue.  Simple, because providing a system of direction and compensation toward a common goal is a must in this situation.  Complex for many many reasons.

The four main considerations of a pay for performance system are:

1) Metrics

2) Goals

3) Communication

4) Human Nature

Good metrics require an understanding of your strategy and culture.  They also require evidence, and not just anecdotal, that the metrics either link to driving performance or are the result of performance.

Good goals require good, and honest, modeling.  Best Case, Worst Case, Mathematically Modeled and Gut Expectations must all be combined to create a range of reasonable and acceptable goals.

Communications are what makes sense of the above. There are many paths to the top of each mountain.  Your individuals and teams may be climbing from different directions but they must all understand that they are headed to the same location. Early climbers must understand that leaving a well set path helps everyone succeed.  Slower climbers must understand that they may need to carry more supplies to provide the early teams with replenishment when they must rest.  We sometimes explain the entire process in the context of the ecosystem of the industry that the business supports. It helps people understand things from their day to day perspective. Imagine a brewery where everyone component of pay and reward is linked back to the types of things the company produces, the people who produce them and the process used to produce them. Even the language used can be similar.

Human Nature is the biggest factor. The program must be able to have multiple aligned and intertwined threads that allow you to explain it from many perspectives. They importance and impact of the program cannot be explained from your perspective and result in any level of success.  It must be able to resonate with each individual.  This is especially true in a professional services organization.  You people are solution providers. They are idea people.  Let them help you craft your solution. If they are involved they will feel ownership. If they are involved it will be hard for them to explain how they "would have done it better."  This will make the process harder at the start, but must easier over the long run.

A couple of other thoughts:

First, every A player you have is not necessarily suited to be a team leader.  You must be willing to accept the fact that some of your best performers will likely best serve you as individual performers.  For these people providing metrics and goals that appeal to the individual nature (or self-interest) is a must. The onus will be on you to ensure the metrics and goals also align with, or support, the broader group and company goals that apply to team leaders.

For those A players that have the skill set or potential to be leaders of groups you must take the time to clearly communicate what is meant by a leader in your culture. Leadership may come naturally to some, but the combination of leadership and your culture will come easily to almost no one. Give them a strong foundation and follow it with consistent and frequent messaging, additions and clarifications.  Even professional athletes need to be reminded on a regular basis of the "right" way to do things.

Most importantly you must be able to show how individual performance ties to group success and how group success ties back to individual rewards. Be honest and critical when you evaluate your structure and pay approach. Be willing to change components that worked well when you were smaller and more individualistic. Understand the pieces that got you where you are that will also stop you from moving to the next level of your evolution.

We have found that a good approach is to create a group of stakeholders from a level below the top of the company.  Your top leaders are likely to be successful with the old approach and since it worked for them, it may be hard for them to see a different/better way. The next level down is where your strivers exist. This is often where your "culture carriers" make their home.  Most importantly this is the group that will provide the idea that will take you to the next level.

Read the original question on MentorsGuild

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