Leadership in the Age of Personalization
Glenn Llopis Group (GLLG)
“There’s nobility in individual contribution to society and in what someone achieves, and there are a lot of different ways to get to that place.”
Every organization has a mission/vision/value statement and employees will buy into it on the surface because there is no freedom not to.
Employees may join the organization because they share the mission, or they might just need a job. But why should that matter, if what they really want is to contribute?
What is most meaningful to people is to know they have a chance to contribute their unique skills and strengths – no matter the mission. How can we restore passion throughout our organizations by enabling individuals to personalize the way they serve the organization’s mission and values?
We tackled this topic at the Leadership in the Age of Personalization Summit, where senior leaders from industries spanning healthcare, automotive, finance, consumer packaged goods, retail, technology, apparel and more, gathered to explore the tension we’re all feeling as our society transitions from an age of standardization to our current age of personalization. We discussed building economies of scale around human dignity, how to escape the extremes to achieve balance, how assimilation destroys individuality and inclusion restores it, how to allow personalized values to influence your brand identity and Wall Street’s perspective on how companies are not prepared for what is about to hit them.
And why aren’t companies prepared? Because they’re stuck trying to force their mission onto employees rather than inviting people to contribute in their own ways. They’re stuck measuring things like engagement when what really matters is well-being. They’re stuck hiring only from certain universities when talented people who are eager to contribute can come from anywhere.
In a session titled “From Mission to Contribution,” we heard three different perspectives on shifting our focus from the limits of our standardized expectations to the possibilities of recognizing and elevating individual contribution.
People are not machines.
Gustavo Canton is the Vice President of People Analytics at Schneider Electric, where he manages a global analytics team of 25. The problems he most enjoys solving involve helping society evolve so we can maximize human potential. At Schneider Electric he’s doing that by evolving the organization’s approach to employee analytics.
He shared with the summit audience his favorite quote, from neuroscientist Antonio Damasio: “We are not thinking machines that feel; rather, we are feeling machines that think.”
And he tied that quote directly to the traps of standardization.
“Organizations are trying to standardize and program you to do things in a way that is meant for a machine to do,” said Canton. “And they are not allowing you to use your decision-making as an individual to make the best decision or influence the outcome for your company.”
Canton started his career in analytics about 14 years ago, and he’s seen a big shift toward people analytics over the past few years. Organizations are starting to understand the value of knowing employees as well as they know customers. Leaders are starting to go beyond the traditional metrics of HR – things like turnover, productivity and engagement – to explore things like wellbeing and work-life balance.
“When I started in HR analytics, we never used to talk about those things,” said Canton. “Now, wellbeing is one of the most talked-about topics in my current organization. In fact, the organization is making commitments within the industry – with programs for things like maternity/paternity leave. So now they have a responsibility to show that these kinds of programs make a difference in the lives of employees.”
Gustavo Canton, Vice President Of People Analytics At Schneider Electric, during his presentation at … [+]
GLENN LLOPIS GROUP, LLC (GLLG)
But how do you measure wellbeing? That is a challenge he embraces. But it’s hard to get a large organization to move beyond the things they’ve been tracking for decades.
“It’s hard to shift the mindset, but we have to do it,” he said. “Because we know, based on research and data, that wellbeing is one of the primary drivers for our workforce to be productive.”
One trend is helping. Five years ago, the industry focused on segmentation – looking at a segment of the population to understand their wants and needs. But today they’re not just looking at segments. They are looking at individuals.
“So, instead of saying I want a model to predict turnover in North America, we are actually looking at a model to predict turnover for Anna,” said Canton. “Based on how much time is Anna is spending on iLearn, how much recognition Anna is getting from her managers and her network, we can determine the probability of Anna staying in the company.”
He said it’s been interesting to see how the results vary by culture, since he’s looking at data from a global company. For example, in the United States, if you give an average of five recognitions a year, you have a much higher probability of retaining top talent. But in China, it is seven or more.
Canton said the average tenure of employees at the top tech companies is one or two years. Two of the main reasons people leave are:
- Career opportunities – they don’t have awareness of what is available in the organization.
- Learning opportunities – it’s not that they don’t have resources to learn. It’s that they don’t feel that they can apply their unique perspective about what they learn to the organization.
“The way you are looking at talent today is dramatically different from how you looked at talent in the past,” he said. “Not only that, you are actually working today on policies and programs for HR that are taking you years to develop and implement. By the time they launch, people have already left the organization.”
Canton left us with this challenge: “When you think about big data – what actions are you going to take, or what decisions are you going to make, with that data? What is the point of having all this data if you don’t have a plan for using it to make decisions? How can you use it to look at individuals as opposed to just teams or groups? How can you measure significance? Because it’s not about what is going to be happening in the next quarter, it’s what’s going to be happening in the next year or five years.”
He said sometimes it’s not about the data, it’s about the story. “And a big part of the story is that it’s not only about retaining talent, it’s about the value of that talent over time.”
Indeed. And most organizations don’t experience the full value of talent because they don’t know how to let people contribute to the mission in their own unique ways.
The data says – we’re more effective when we know what we solve for.
I’ve written in the past about discovering what you solve for. It’s what you enjoy and consistently think about in a big way. It’s the problems you are typically drawn to, and the kinds of solutions you favor and are especially suited to offer.
My organization measures four things (among many others) that are relevant here: the ability to see opportunities, sow them, grow them and share them. The data tells us, in general, people are really good at sowing – getting things done, especially doing the things we’re told to do. We’re not great at seeing opportunity, growing that momentum or sharing it.
But when someone knows what they solve for, after six months they start seeing more opportunities. After 18 months, they start getting better at growing and sharing. Their ability to execute has much more meaning, because they know why they’re being asked to contribute – because they know what they are uniquely suited to solve for.
When people and organizations are trapped in standardization, people don’t know what they solve for. And those people and the organization miss out on the power of being able to connect what people solve for with individual needs of departments and the goals and objectives of the organization.
Grabbing the talent reins.
Jeff Pilof is the Senior Vice President of Supply Chain for the retail division of CVS Health. His team is comprised of about 8,000 people covering purchasing of product to picking orders to driving trucks and all the underlying strategy and support required to run a large scale supply chain operation. Pilof said they were struggling to find talent and enhance leadership capability for multiple parts of the team, yet he was bumping up against standardization within the hiring process and talent development offerings that was making it even harder.
Pilof made a bold move. He decided that his team had to set the agenda and guide the efforts in areas like college recruiting and leadership programs to ensure the pace of progress needed to keep up with his transformation agenda.
“What I’ve encountered at multiple companies is that we’re so focused on standardization,” he said. “We’re told, ‘These are the colleges that we recruit from. Here’s our process for recruiting. Here are the leadership programs we have inside our company.’ It’s everything you have to do to assimilate.”
The Supply Chain organization wasn’t well-understood. As Pilof shared “I looked around my team for peers who had a passion for this, and we birthed our own acquisition strategy, our own development strategies, our own internship programs.”
He said in the first year, of course, they were met with considerable resistance. “People told us, ‘we don’t recruit at that school. We want MBA candidates.’ But I don’t need MBAs. And, most of the target schools don’t have the best supply chain programs and students.”
In the second year, other leaders started to see his team’s success.
“Now, in year three, our corporate partners are engaging with us, saying ‘maybe we should be doing more of what you’re doing,’” said Pilof. “It’s not because we were brilliant, but we had passion for what we needed to solve for. And we knew that the standardization approach that was in place was never going to allow us to become the organization that we wanted to be.”
Jeff Pilof and Tyjaun Lee during their panel discussion at the Leadership in the Age of … [+]
GLENN LLOPIS GROUP, LLC (GLLG)
What Pilof and his team are doing is constructively interrupting the processes that are deeply embedded in most hiring systems – processes of standardization that maintain a corporate culture that values efficiency above innovation, and values the corporate brand over individual contribution. His team is building a system of inclusion – a system that will allow them to get beyond someone’s experience and hire for capability and potential.
“There are a lot of career paths that we need to look at differently,” he said. “There’s nobility in individual contribution to society and in what someone achieves, and there are a lot of different ways to get to that place.”
Retention is not from year to year. It’s from today to tomorrow.
Leading in the age of personalization is about shifting your entire business model and the way you think about talent – where you can find that talent and how you can nurture it.
Dr. Tyjaun A. Lee serves as the campus president of Penn Valley and Maple Woods campuses at Metropolitan Community College in Missouri. In other words, she works directly with the next generation that will be employed by those of you reading this article. I asked Dr. Lee about the mindset of her students.
“Our students, they are resilient,” said Dr. Lee. “They persevere. They have to be so motivated just because of how this world has become and what they’ve lived in. People are afraid of Millennials, but I love having Millennials around because they help me understand what we need to do in order to prepare the faculty for who’s going to be coming into the classroom.”
She talked about what colleges and universities are doing to prepare students to contribute to a company’s mission.
“As community colleges we have the opportunity to pivot when the needs or demands of our industry partners arises,” she said. “Overall, education is more standardized because we have standardized tests, so it’s not personalized on that level. But for us as educators we have to then look at what the student is bringing into the institution and then how do we help prepare them for the work that they want to go into.”
She gave the example of a young woman who wants to be a medical doctor.
“She went from Metropolitan Community College to the University of Missouri, and she is having a hard time getting past the biology classes where she is the only brown child in a room of 400,” said Dr. Lee. “So I have to help her understand you have to use your own internal capabilities and your own motivation to get through these classes, and we have to get you a tutor. We as educators have to personalize how we deal with our students, to help them understand how to move and navigate so they can get to their own mission, which is to become successful individuals in this society.”
Dr. Lee told me that community colleges are actually more prepared than universities when preparing those students who come from minority backgrounds.
“We serve multi-generations, and we serve individuals from more than 100 nations, so we have to be prepared for them,” she said. “When a staff member tells me our students aren’t prepared, that the students need more than one developmental course, I always ask that staff member: are WE prepared? And if we’re not, how can we prepare? What do we need to do for our faculty and staff to be prepared so they can serve those students?”
That’s exactly what all organizations should be doing – evolving and preparing to serve individuals, rather than making individuals conform to us.
Dr. Lee explains why: “Because higher education is browner now,” she said. “It’s not the same as it was 20 years ago, and it’s going to continue to get brown and it’s going to continue to be mixed generations because our society continues to change.”
Tyjaun Lee and Jeff Pilof during their panel discussion at the Leadership in the Age of … [+]
GLENN LLOPIS GROUP, LLC (GLLG)
Exactly. And every one of our organizations is experiencing those same changes. Yet, we’re so stuck in this vicious cycle.
“It’s comfortable,” Dr. Lee said, when I asked her why it’s so hard to escape those traps of standardization. To be more personalized, you have to start having conversations about people’s lives. “I ask the question of my team all the time: when we make a decision, how is this decision going to impact the student?”
You only know answers to that if you’re having those harder conversations.
For Dr. Lee, there’s a particular urgency: “Retaining our students is not from fall to fall, or even from fall to spring. It is from today to tomorrow. Because they may not come back if they don’t have the resources in place in order to be successful.”
On the importance of contribution, we’ve heard from an expert in people analytics, a leader who has taken the process of recruiting and developing talent into his own hands, and an educator who is helping prepare that next generation of talent to tackle your organization’s mission. They’re all telling you that your standardized way of hiring and developing talent does not work anymore.
If you continue in this standardized approach, with the business defining the individual, you’re limiting your own possibilities. If you continue to measure individuals on how well they execute based upon how the organization wants them to think, they will play not to lose, rather than play to win. Individual contribution will be stifled.
When individuals define the business, the individual now has freedom to practice their own methods based on what they solve for. They play to win. Possibilities for innovation are unlimited.
Make sure your company mission is not more valuable than your people’s contribution to it.
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