Unfulfilled Promise – The Fault Line!

by Tom Casey, Managing Principal Discussion Partner Collaborative

Just as frequently as we hear the words “they are terrific” and “I am so happy with their performance” we encounter the words “they are a disappointment” or “we expected more”.

In business when we assess the disparity in achievement outcomes we usually blame the employee without a modicum of enterprise self-introspection.

The forceful question of…..”Was it our fault”? Is rarely if ever asked.

The Pygmalion effect whereby we broadcast our faith in success to an incumbent still has merit.  If we show doubt in the remotest way, the end result is likely to be a disappointment.

There is a great scene in The Hoosiers where Gene Hackman says to at best a marginal player whose free throw could win the game “after you sink the ball etc.” He obviously tried to hide the fact that his nose was growing: but he did inspire the requisite confidence.

It is highly unlikely that the raw talent necessary to execute a task is not resident within or can develop in an employee IF the hiring process is rigorous.

While there are of course hiring, promotion, and performance errors do occur….however the rush to judgment the root cause of deficiency resides with the employee should not be an automatic response.

As important to remember is that employee “failure” is not time-bound.  One can be a Prince or Princess one day and a Frog the next.

DPC would submit the least likely excuse for failure is a lack of talent.  The most likely is the failure of the organization to successfully on-board, develop, lead, and measure the proficiencies of the employee.

For most companies this process can best be judged as informal beyond the traditional administrative tasks of logistics, benefits enrollment, etc.

DPC would suggest that the assignment of a longer tenured employee to a new role, geography, and/or circumstance should ALSO be perceived as an On-Boarding event.

To be the most impactful the process needs to be “leader driven” whereby clarity around role architecture, impact measurement, development opportunities, and senior level access form a covenant of mutual obligation vs. a “let me know if you are having any problems “approach.

There is no professional attribute of “perfection on demand”.  Proficiency attainment and sustainability is an arduous exercise that is never ending.

To increase the chances of success it is necessary to engage in a serious Trilogy dialogue encompassing the following:

  • This is what we know you know
  • This is what we know you don’t know
  • This is what the company is prepared to do to bridge the gap0

The true professional regardless of career stage is constantly looking to raise their “IQ”.  It is incumbent on their company to be a partner vs. spectator in this quest.

Clarity of Expectations
In the movie Animal House a fraternity was informed after the fact that they were on “double secret probation”.

Unfortunately for many employees regardless of tenure there is a moving target on which they are being assessed.

Beyond the fairness of this, it is south of sensational as a leadership strategic behavior.

Employees crave clarity along the lines of President Regan’s assertion of his public policy goal with the then Soviet Union, “we win, they lose”.

The psyche of an employee whom is committed is not abstract…..they want to understand what they have to do to be successful…..and they don’t’ think in terms of disappointment.

The two most critical elements to embed the above into an organization’s human capital posture include Feedback and Reward.

Reward is simple…..if you get superior performance recognize the energy and outcome in a generous way!  Sanctions should be utilized if and only if the achievement level is not at standard AND it is adjudicated to be the consequence of incumbent proficiency.

Feedback is not….it requires leaders to step outside their comfort zone and confront problems, deficiencies, and disappointing behaviors.  None if which is easy!  However it is essential!

People fail to meet expectations….such is professional life….what should not be automatic in the leadership mentality however is the pre-supposition that the enterprise is blameless and the outcomes were pre-ordained.

Publication Announcement-Discussion Partner Collaborative is pleased to announce that our upcoming book “Inflection Points-Risk Readiness & Failure Fearless!” will be available in mid-June in the States and Globally July 1st.

The focus of this book addresses the question “are their common denominators to consider between and among senior executives, career focused South American women, and returning military veterans as they assess and plan their career options”?


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In Praise of the Youngest OR Count Yourself Lucky

Welcome to 2015!

Over the holidays my wife and I enjoyed a long overdue dinner with family members.  We had just finished a cruise, and candidly during the dinner I realized this was not my “first” as I  had erroneously been communicating.

In point of fact I had been on a family cruise 50 years ago!  I had forgotten!  This was not an issue of repressed memory or trauma.  Well maybe a little trauma!

The catalyst for recollection was the dinner discussion regarding family sequence, oldest child, middle child, and youngest child.

Two of us at the table were the “oldest” and our spouses “middle”.  So we thought it only fair to be hypercritical of the benefits derived from being the youngest.

So what does this have to do with a cruise 50 years ago?

During the cruise we had a respite in a Canadian resort which the young staff referred to the guests as “the newlywed, the nearly dead, and the overfed”.

Being invaded by an American Irish family of 7 children, with a particularly gregarious and loud father, concomitant with a tolerant mother, one would think would be disruptive.

And it was for the guests: but the wait staff and others went out of their way to be assigned to us because we were fun!

Granted based on observation their definition of “fun” may be described as us having a pulse….

But back to the topic of this opus…..the benefits accrued to being the youngest.

During out stay our four year old sister thought it would be a brilliant idea to pretend to disappear.  This prompted a search of the hotel, the waterline, etc. by family members, hotel staff, etc. We eventually found our Princess hiding under the bed.  All the while thinking this attention was just fantastic!

What struck me at the time beyond universal relief was the lack of recrimination ventured in her direction by our parents. Notwithstanding some minor “don’t you ever” sentiments, I  thought if it had not been her the associated punishment would have bordered on Capital!

Years later as I was entering the military I asked my father who was the youngest in his family why the difference??

His response was “I can speak from experience the younger you are in most if not all families the more tolerating are the parents”.

Of course in his family he was the youngest!  The oldest in his family, once admonished her daughter, “you were born into the #1 slot in the family-your siblings will spend the rest of their lives trying to get there”.

I have always appreciated the wisdom of my Aunt and Cousin!

So my conclusion remains….”timing IS everything”.

For those of you who are the oldest, I feel your pain!

For the middle child I would concur that you are often overlooked however …..Suck it up……if you are looking for adoration download Paul Simon’s Slip Sliding Away!  As often you also are pardoned as well!

For those of you who are the youngest…..don’t venture too far out on the ice when it is sunny!  You also can be surprised by Timing!  Cute isn’t everything!

In closing I want to revert back to my youngest sister.  She was always quiet to the point we had to make sure she was not left behind in restaurants, hotels etc., given the numerical disadvantage she suffered having 6 older siblings.

At given times each of us was assigned the task of “not forgetting your sister” by our parents.

On one occasion she did however slip away and was later found sitting in the dressing room of the Four Seasons, sitting in Frankie Valli’s lap explaining how he should comb his hair.

As one of my brother’s once said…..”often forgotten…..but never lost”.

I and my Partners want to wish you an outstanding and prosperous 2015!

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They Lost Us At Paperclip

On behalf on myself and my colleagues at Discussion Partners and Next Generation Advisory Services we would like to wish you and your families a terrific Holiday Season!

As we exit Black Monday and scramble for the perfect gift for the holidays, it is helpful to reinforce the issue that an outstanding customer experience is sometimes less about the product: but the level of service that supports the transaction.

There is an oft repeated line from the Jerry McGuire movie…”you had me at hello”!

Unfortunately I have an alternative less glowing rejoinder based upon an experience with a former cable company “they lost me at Paperclip”!

Several months ago on a Sunday night our TV started acting up in a manner that clearly indicated a problem with the provider.

Unfortunately this episode was in addition to diminished capability at predictable hours, and the fact that the wireless capacity seemed to run out of steam if it had to climb stairs!

On the above two issues we had the “Tech” out several times with no discernible improvements.

The problem with the TV however was new!

We called our provider and asked for some assistance.  They told us to for them to help “first you will have to put a paperclip into the Cable box!”

We were stunned on two levels a.  in these days of high technology why should the effectiveness of a machine rely on a paperclip and b. in the world of e-files did we even have a paperclip?

Turns out we did….and got the TV back…..eventually, but the ridiculousness of the situation was dormant in memory.

It resurfaced when to avoid looking ridiculous to grandchildren we bought a larger TV.  The Retailer and Installers both indicated that the Cable Box was “old style” and our provider had a new model recently available.

Ever hopeful we went to get this new model with the objectives that not only would the picture be better…..but other deficiencies would be mitigated.

You have to envision going to a provider in a strip mall, whose offices look like they were created when Leave it to Beaver was a hit!

When we asked the service rep for particulars on the capability of the new machine she was clueless…..her response was “the new one is more high tech”.

I resisted asking “so now we don’t need paperclips”, but instead we focused on the capabilities of the new machine in the context of our problems…..again we heard “high tech”!  We probed again “what does that mean” and got mostly a befuddled stare…..to the point where we walked out.

Within 2 hours out of frustration and hopefulness, we switched providers……

At the moment, we are not certain if that was the correct move…..we only know that continuing with a “high tech” machine that apparently does not require us to have a paperclip handy, seems the wiser course.

Most importantly in our decision making process was that uninformed and unsupportive people ostensibly there to be of assistance should NEVER be subsidized when their services are found wanting!

I hope you find the above useful n some capacity if for no other reason than paperclips do in fact retain a purpose in life.

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Pilobolus…A Collaborative Shining Example!

by Tom Casey, Managing Principal Discussion Partner Collaborative

The term Pilobolus refers to a fungus whose spores propel with extraordinary speed, accuracy, and strength…..it is also a creative Dance company founded by Dartmouth College students in 1971!

The Dance Company has survived and prospered on a global scale for 45 years incorporating innovation, education, and creativity!

My wife and I attend many Dance company presentations from Ballet through Modern platforms. Yet the recent performance of this troupe in Boston was unlike any we have ever seen.

The degree of collaborative precision and feats of strength were magnificent to behold.

The 6 dancers are incredibly strong, and flexible. Your emotions range from envious wondering how come you’re 3 times a month visit to the gym for 30 minutes does not have a similar outcome. In addition, but certainly not least you sit in wonder questioning whether or not their skeletal frameworks are calcium or silly putty based.

Unusual for us, we decided to stay to participate in the cast post performance Q&A.

The conclusion we drew, and the derived lessons learned for commercial enterprises were three-fold.

  1. Each member of the company was encouraged to contribute to the choreography process regardless of tenure, or role….it is not a “leader led” organization
  2. Each member of the company felt a degree of ownership due to this approach therefore raising their already high level of accountability for and proficiency in the performance
  3. The mutuality of respect and encouragement raises the level of creative input, excitement and innovation

This feedback from the Company was unambiguous in respect to the above creating a “community” or “family” feeling.

How they approach their craft has many lessons learned for commercial enterprise leaders! The scary truth based upon Discussion Partners advisory experience is for the most part global leaders are slow learners.

The five principles that we often see in tutorials on Collaboration were present in the experience and are not surprising in their substance:

  • Clarity Regarding Roles
  • Exhaustive Preparation
  • Mutual Trust
  • Creative Input Encouraged Regardless of Tenure
  • Shared Mindset for Success Delineation

What the experience did underscore based upon Discussion Partner’s work in global companies, is that in collaborative processes, EGO IS THE ENEMY!!

If not why are we so challenged in the commercial sector to achieve collaboration beyond lip service and generous self-serving interpretations of the word!

What was most compelling in the Pilobolus experience that for Collaboration to be achieved their shared mindset is, egos must be minimized, engagement maximized, respect optimized, and mutual trust achieved.

Among many of life’s mysteries, one that hopefully we can resolve soon, and Pilobolus has, is how to translate the abstract thinking as to how Collaboration can be achieved….. moving it to reality from aspiration.


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To Plan Or Not To Plan

Decades ago I went to a movie where one of the character’s made the statement “we Indians have a saying…..no matter where you go, there you are”.

Over the years I thought this statement was philosophically reassuring but strategically idiotic! I validated this with my son in law Neil whom is of Sioux descent…..who responded “Custer would have won if that was the belief”.

One of my former colleagues from Arthur D. Little Peter Ellis is an expert in Strategic Planning. After working at McKinsey, and ADL, Peter went on to a distinguished career in multiple enterprises.

Peter over his career has collected a series of planning principles that I thought you may find of interest.

  • Your failure to plan does not constitute an emergency on my part (Anon)
  • All plans are firm until changed (Steve Key)
  • Miracles performed immediately…the impossible takes a little longer (Anon)
  •  If you don’t know where you are going….any road will take you there (Lewis Carroll)
  • Plan the work and work the plan (Anon)
  • Where there is no vision the people perish (Proverbs 29:18)
  • I believe in plans big enough to meet a situation which we can’t possibly foresee now (Harry Truman)
  • Those who plan do better than those who do not plan even though they rarely stick to their plan (Winston Churchill)
  • Plans are worthless. Planning is essential (Dwight Eisenhower)
  • A goal not written is a wish (Anon)
  • Goals are dreams we convert to meet plans and take actions to fulfill (Ziglar)
  • By failing to prepare you are preparing to fail (Benjamin Franklin)

I hope you find the above insightful….

Thank you Peter!


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Let’s Get Serious About The Organization of Human Resources

The July/August edition of The Harvard Business Review featured and article by Ram Charan entitled It’s Time To Split HR.

I embrace the sentiments contained in the article that a. the C-Suite is becoming more hyper-critical as to the value of HR due to its perceived weakness of embedding function outcomes with the business case, b. that C-Suite incumbents are desirous of having a consultative advice giving relationship with senior HR executives, and c. that there is tremendous value in having had “line experience” as a foundation for career progression as an HR executive.

Mr. Charan’s assertions are on target with Discussion Partner Collaborative research and client experience regarding the need for dramatic change for how the function is organized and populated.

We do take issue with his recommendation that for the most part that Leadership Effectiveness be populated by executives coming from the line.

DPC experience suggests where C-Suite executives want to have meaningful dialogue and be the recipients of innovative advice are in two areas which in our opinion require outstanding content knowledge, and a consultant style:

  1.  What is our approach and effectiveness thereto of our Compensation Strategy?  We believe the key effectiveness metrics are a. ability to attract terrific candidates in the external market, b. insurance that those whom are performing the best are rewarded above their peers, and c. retention particularly of HiPo’s is enhanced by the competitiveness of the strategy.
  2. What is the status of our Leadership Effectiveness approach?  We believe the key metrics are the ability to deploy and redeploy talented assets on an as needed basis and moreover have an approach that links this essential need with a posture of “replenishment” by always recruiting while selectively hiring.

Approximately three years ago as a result of our research for an upcoming book and client work we began advising organizations to disaggregate the Human Resources Function into two separate and distinct entities both of which would report to the CEO!

The two entities we recommend are similar to those contained in the HBR article, one for administration and the second for leadership.

At the time we wrote a blog on this topic focused on the management of the “Leadership” function: “The Emerging Role of Human Capital“.

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Counting the Months to Medicare OR Why I Miss Spiderman

This morning I was up at 4AM for a flight I take weekly from Boston to JFK in to meet with clients.  This project has been on-going for about 10 months….

For those of you who fly to Kennedy via American Airlines you know once you have landed your assaulted by advertisements for Broadway shows…..one of which is or was Spiderman!

This ad holds special significance for me as my youngest nephew, Pierro thinks he is Spiderman!  This perspective is reinforced constantly by his Peruvian and US family whom are shameless in buying every conceivable accessory to reinforce his image as the sticky savior of NYC.

This morning as I was readying myself to wish Pierro a Buenos Dias, I realized the sign was removed and replaced with a Mutual Fund ad with the caption “in 1960 your life expectancy was 67…..now it is 78”!

Being 64 and being facile in simple though not complex math, I thought “oh !@#* I only have 14 years!

Not the way to for an early morning and long day to kick off!

The rudeness of the reminder of my imminent demise did however prompt me to spend some time on-line at the Social Security web-site.

The good news is that according to the web site I “have” until 84 and a statistical shot at 92 if I put down the cheeseburger and pick up the salad fork…..I hope the Retirement Advisors are better at investing than demographics…..

In my perusal I did learn that I am categorically eligible for Medicare when I turn 65.

I don’t know how the rest of you feel, but 65 doesn’t feel that old to me.  I look at Paul McCartney, Elton John and the Stones and think maybe the fact that they don’t get Medicare is the reason they keep touring!

Please don’t get me wrong, I don’t reject the Senior discounts at movies nor when in Peru due to my age get to the front of lines (I guess in the States this would be the longest line!): but the aging process does require some adjustments in thinking.

We can’t reject aging and when you consider the alternative it is preferable.

We can however reject feeling old like a watch that is winding down slowly….

I have had the personal philosophy of looking forward not back with the assumption that whatever decisions I made then were considered….and I have already incorporated lessons learned into how I behave….

I would rather look forward to the minutes, days, and years ahead thinking positively and enjoying the ride!

However, I do miss Spiderman!!!!!

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