16 May 2019
NOT BY CHANCE, BY DESIGN: 4 LEADERSHIP LESSONS FROM BIG TECH TO CREATE A WINNING CULTURE
When the average CEO thinks of any big tech firm, a culture of endless innovation, synergy and collaboration is what springs to mind. And they would be absolutely right: tech firms lead with drastically-different work environments, work patterns and collaboration-heavy business models. But is this by chance, or careful background planning?
When the average CEO thinks of any big tech firm, a culture of endless innovation, synergy and collaboration is what springs to mind. And they would be absolutely right: tech firms lead with drastically-different work environments, work patterns and collaboration-heavy business models.
But is this by chance or careful background planning? Yes, this winning culture is planned. But many CEOs and project managers may not realize – with the right implementation – that these same leadership methodologies can be integrated into their own organization.
#1 WHAT CAN’T BE MEASURED CAN’T BE MANAGED
This may be the biggest distinction between the start-up and the multinational tech-firm: one is purely data-focused, and one is yet to create that structure.
This ‘data-focused’ approach to making decisions not only equips your firm to model and measure project outcomes more accurately – but is also a more productive feedback system for motivating the progress of your employees.
In the case of a big tech firm such as Google, this involves a business management methodology referred to as OKRs (objectives and key result indicators): this data collection system borrowed from the sciences not only allocates project tasks and schedules using experience data from project members – but also designs an incentives and rewards system to optimize employee performance (Francisco Mello, 2016). But how this system is implemented makes all the difference: according to Laszlo Bock (SVP, People Operations at Google), as this management methodology is designed to evolve in response to new data, this also requires ‘behavioural manifestation’ in leadership throughout the organization.
And to go further: project managers that integrate set metrics into scheduled performance review sessions of their employees also find it easier to behaviorally separate employee feedback from the relationship-building activities that make employees work harder towards the same project milestone.
#2 SWAP ARCHAIC HIERARCHY FOR SYNERGISTIC COLLABORATION
When we think of the average multinational tech firm, it can be easy to imagine a rigid ladder of hierarchy and tasks that are micromanaged by the minute.
But when we actually look at the data, we see quite the opposite: yes, large tech firms are designed to create the conditions that ensure the right output for every employee at any given time – but the real ‘innovative flare’ that firms really look for comes from a religious encouragement of idea-sharing and collaboration.
According to a study at the University of Carolina (2017), this ‘teasing out’ of creative flair in tech firms is achieved using a combination of an ISS (information management system) and a leadership methodology that includes planning of ‘experience sessions’: these sessions are in reality planned to collect organic ideas from project members, which in turn reveal new insights that enhance project results as a whole.
But in addition to scheduling sessions that encourage this idea-sharing in advance, elevating this process to a trained leadership behaviour is giving tech firms the edge: integrating the habit of idea-sharing through leadership creates the effect of ‘meta-awareness’ among employees (Crawford, 2010) – and this is especially important for tackling the threats that are unique to tech firms on the outside.
#3 LEAD WITH THE LATEST CUSTOMER INSIGHT
It would be easy to imagine that the average employee at a large multinational tech firm would feel little connection to the latest needs and perceptions of the end consumer. But although that may be true for similar-sized firms in other industries, leadership in big tech firms encourages quite the opposite.
A ‘real-time’ focus on customer incentives through effective leadership enables large firms to adapt quickly to changing consumer trends and respond to new competitors. This makes planning one-time solutions only half of the battle: active ‘in-person’ leadership is needed to keep all employees aligned culturally to the ultimate goal of the organization.
The best example of this would be Amazon’s seminar-style enrichment sessions (often by Jeff himself!) that are conducted periodically to compare project data against the latest customer insight and encourage modifications collectively. However, although this strategy is designed to amalgamate rich data collected through focus groups and qualitative questionnaires, the events themselves set a strong leadership example to project managers from the firm’s different departments: Customer data and experience comes on-top – and that is ultimately what should direct all department decisions.
#4 UPDATED TRAINING FOR BEHAVIORAL TUNING
Ultimately, any leadership methodology is only as effective as the training platform you use to train your senior management team. First, this means actioning these lessons as direct modifications to your training material and projects starting today:
Consider Google’s OKRs and project management system as the benchmark for measuring the success of your own employees: project KPIs and directives should be updated to include new performance milestones, and a rewards system that encourages employees to acknowledge, meet and exceed project targets.
Consider combining your ISS with planned ‘experience-sharing sessions’ for your own employees: this will obtain key feedback on general employee experience within your firm – but tech firms already recognize the by-product of synergy and new project ideas for your project, so you should use this too.
Don’t just plan for improvements – step in and lead by behaviour. If Jeff Bezos of Amazon recognizes that the productivity of his 647,000 employees can be influenced by his in-person seminars, then you should too.
Making one-time modifications to your training literature is only part of the picture: applying these strategies with the ‘real-time intuition’ found in tech firms requires behavioural tuning – and means tuning of your leadership too. This ‘tuning’ of your leadership skills means a continual commitment to personal development and education from outside of your field of expertise.
A commitment to learning about methodologies from leaders in completely different sectors: i.e. which processes in completely unrelated spheres such as the sciences and the military can be applied analogously to your own business model?
A commitment to seeking both virtual and in-person mentors: i.e. industry experts from in and outside your current industry who could save you time from the learning curve.
Attending large invite-only events that combine the insights and leadership methodologies of experts from different industry sectors. We at CONQA Group, host invite-only events that you are welcome to apply to and learn more.
Click here to see what we are up to: www.conqagroup.com