Posted by yoonsie in transformation, tension, team, Saj-nicole Joni, performance, meaningful work, leadership, IT management, IT, Innovation, employee engagement, Damon Beyer, critical CIO skills, conflict, CIOs, Booz & Co.
These days when we talk about effective leadership it's fashionable to emphasize themes of happiness. How often do we hear that happy employees are more productive, or that harmonious teams perform better. These ideas aren't wrong, but without clarification they risk oversimplification. "Happy" doesn't mean cheerful and content, and high-performing teams are "harmonious" in only the broadest sense of the word.
Let's be real: "No organization is without some kind of tension," notes Damon Beyer, a management consultant with Booz & Co. That said, here's another soft skill for CIOs to master: Pick your battles. In The Right Fight: How Great Leaders Use Healthy Conflict to Drive Performance, Innovation, and Value (HarperBusiness), Beyer and co-author Saj-nicole Joni propose how to do just that.
According to the authors, tension is not only inevitable but, in the right form, necessary for performance. They cite studies that show the top two predictors of poor organizational performance are happy employees -- "happy" in this case meaning "complacent" -- and workers who are burnt out. In other words, people need some stress to perform, but not too much. "Finding that balance is an art," says Beyer; "it takes leadership."
The right fights
Right fights share three characteristics, according to the book:
Material issues. Right fights are about issues that matter. It should go without saying, but this means personal conflicts are wrong fights. Fights matter if victory results in value creation, the solution requires out-of-the-box thinking from multiple perspectives, and the result is a lasting, noticeable, and positive change in the way the organization works.
Focus on the future. According to Beyer's experience with senior leaders, 85 percent of their meetings are centered on the past -- reviewing numbers, dwelling on mistakes, pointing fingers, and so on. Consider what "the past" means: figures and facts are about things that happened; i.e. they're in the past. While it's true that past events inform decisions about the future, it's important to dodge the trap of dwelling on the past and actually make the transition to the future vision.
A larger, noble, purpose. When I spoke with Charles S. Jacobs about his book Management Rewired, about neuroscience and management, he told me that neuroscience clearly shows money does not motivate people. It's rewarding and fulfilling work that triggers pleasure in the brain. Beyer didn't look at brain scans, but his own work has yielded the same conclusion: money doesn't motivate. According to Beyer and Joni, right fights energize and engage employees at all levels and garners respect and recognition that further motivates them.
Let the games begin
Using tension to organizational advantage isn't just about choosing which fights are worthwhile. Knowing how to introduce tension to elicit the best ideas encourages the best performance from teams. "All great leaders know when to turn up the heat and when to turn it down," Beyer observes.
As leaders of innovation, CIOs might find creating internal advocacy positions an especially valuable exercise. In a simple example, a CIO deciding whether to use one ERP-system vendor over another might divide IT managers into teams. Each team would advocate for its position in a competition for the best solution.
In order to be successful in making a sport of the right fight, CIOs must truly apply themselves as leaders by setting the rules, establishing a code of conduct, and ensuring fair play.
The Right Fight contains a much more complex, real-life example of a right fight as a well-orchestrated sport in which Johnson & Johnson CIO LaVerne Council leads the healthcare giant's IT transformation to the benefit of the whole company. There are other IT-specific illustrations of right fights and wrong ones. IT scenarios are only one reason CIOs will find the book useful. As leaders, IT chiefs must know which battles are worth fighting, and which ones will waste their time.