Sunday, July 29, 2012

Does Your Organisation Recognise Self-Managed Teams?

Quite a lot has been written about self-managed teams with claims that self-managed teams can increase performance, improve the quality of products and services, and increase levels  of  innovation  (Frankforter  and  Christensen,  2005; Tata and Prasad, 2004;), whereas others question that the connection between self-managed teams and effectiveness does not always happen in practice (Bergmann and De Meuse, 1996;  Mohrman et al., 1995; Verespej, 1990; Wageman, 1997).
Probably the best way to define a self-managed team is one that is a permanent and cross-functional group of employees that share the responsibility and authority for specific objectives attributed to a product or service.
Tata and Prasad ask why some organisations manage to develop teams with high levels of self-management, while other do not? They conclude that the misalignment between team structure and the organisational structure (and not between team structure and culture) can be counterproductive stating that “attempts to implement self-managed teams may cause frustration for both employees and management when organisational systems and structures do not accommodate self-managing demands” (2004:249).
Self-managed teams allow for job enrichment and employee empowerment, while adding to the decision making process. To make this work effectively information must be readily available and shared across functions and there must be a culture that allows for the decentralisation of decision making. A culture that focuses on openness and honesty, employee empowerment and decentralised decision making, will serve to push decision making and responsibility down to the lowest levels of the organisation. The same levels that are often more aware than top management of what their day-to-day problems actually are.
The true success of the self-managed team depends on the existence of a corporate culture that allows for the availability of relevant information at all times (and at all levels); knowledge sharing; delegation of authority and accountability and recognition of results through appropriate rewards.
Self-management is about delegating authority and responsibility to the team, which in turn has been linked to increases in motivation and job satisfaction.
Thus the implementation of successful self-managed teams provide significant advantages which include; increased job satisfaction, improved communication, quicker decision making and through the above greater employee self-esteem. Further benefits to the organisation include improved cost control, faster responses to change, greater flexibility and innovation, improved quality, and an empowerment culture that encourages best practice. (Frankforter and Christensen, 2005).
Effective teamwork does not get enough attention within many organisations, where individual performance is recognised above teamwork. This doesn’t make any sense, as the organisation is one big team working together to meet its strategic objectives.
Winning teams will ensure that individual team members share;
1)     A common understanding of the teams objectives;
2)     The ability to critically self-analyse with respect to team participation, effectiveness and future development areas;
3)     A greater understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of the overall team and how these can be optimised by working together more effectively;
4)     An understanding and ownership of what positively(and negatively) impacts on team performance;
5)     A commitment to knowledge sharing and learning enrichment;
6)     A ‘blue print’ for ‘best practice’ for the entire team;
7)     Tangible measurements for improving team effectiveness; and
8)     A commitment to a winning team culture.
So the question has to be, why wouldn’t your organisation want to employ self-managed teams? Your organisation would need a culture of openness and honesty and need to ensure that the levels of decision making match with the authority levels. In line with best practice, your organisation should want to fully embrace the use of self-managed teams, as in the right organisational environment they will give superior results every time.
Brownbill, N. (2009). Be the Best in Business. ACC: Cape Town, 1st Edition, p. 85-93.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Can Business Learn from the Olympics?

With the Olympic Games starting in London on 27th July, what can business learn (if anything) from this prestigious event? The Olympic creed states that “the most important thing in the Olympic Games is not to win but to take part, just as the most important thing in life is not the triumph but the struggle. The essential thing is not to have conquered but to have fought well." Where there is a strong correlation between a highly competitive environment and a desire to win, along with a mutual respect for ones competitors and a credo of sportsmanship.

But what is sportsmanship and could it be practiced in business? Some people define good sportsmanship as the "golden rule" of sports - in other words, treating the people you play with and against as you'd like to be treated yourself. You demonstrate good sportsmanship when you show respect for yourself, your teammates, and your opponents, for the coaches on both sides, and for the referees, judges, and other officials.

But sportsmanship isn't just reserved for the people on the field. Cheerleaders, fans, and parents also need to be aware of how they behave during competition. Sportsmanship is a style and an attitude, and it can have a positive influence on everyone around you.

There are very many poignant moments that have occurred through the life of the Olympics that we can learn from, but here is one you may not know of, that says so much about us as people and strength of character. Momo Walde won the marathon gold in the high altitude of Mexico City in 1968. One hour later, a little known Tanzanian runner, John Stephen Akhwari entered the Olympic stadium – the last man to do so. Injured after a fall and carrying a dislocated knee, he hobbled up to the track for one last surge to the finish. He then retired to a thunderous applause by a small crowd which was lucky enough to get a glimpse of this gallant champion. It was later written of his perseverance, ‘today we have witnessed a young African runner who symbolizes the finest in the human spirit - a performance that gives true dignity to sport – a performance which lifts sports out of the category of grown men playing in games.’ But Akhwari was far more modest. When asked why he did not quit, he replied, “my country did not send me 5000 miles to start the race. They sent me 5000 miles to finish the race.”

Everyone feels great when they win, but it can be just as hard to be a good sport when you've won a game as when you've lost one. Good sportsmanship takes maturity and courage, when you work really hard at a sport, it's not easy to admit you made a bad play or that someone has more skills than you. In competition, as in life, you may not always win but you can learn something from losing, too.

Not all sports are team sports, but the rules of sportsmanship and character still apply. One may think that business is always a team ‘sport’- but that’s not true. In the last decade there has been an ‘explosion’ of one-person businesses being set up around the globe, from Internet based ‘companies’ based in bedrooms and garages, to business and life coaches, consultants, plumbers, electricians, and the list goes on.

Often for the ‘self-employed’ one-man-band the connection with the emotions of the ‘long-distance runner’ are all too real. Where only those ‘runners’ with real determination, a burning desire to succeed and the ability to ‘pace themselves’ even when other ‘athletes’ go zooming by, are those that actually reach the finish line.

Maybe what’s really interesting about sportsmanship is that good sportsmanship means not having a ‘win at any cost’ attitude. Most athletes who don't have a ‘win at any cost’ attitude are more likely to talk about how much they love their sport and how much personal satisfaction and enjoyment they get from participation. Maybe with the constant revelations of corporate scandals business can learn something from sport and the Olympics.

So I’ll end this article with two simple quotes; "I didn't set out to beat the world; I just set out to do my absolute best," - Al Oerter (the first athlete ever to win four gold medals at four consecutive Olympics); and “Although they only give gold medals in the field of sports, I encourage everyone to look into themselves and find their own personal dream, whatever that may be, sports, medicine, engineering, teaching, whatever. The same principles apply.” – Anonymous.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Does IQ Translate into Job Performance?

Jonathan Leake, the Science Editor for the Sunday Times, reports today that “women appear to have won a decisive victory in the battle of the sexes. Psychologists have found female IQ scores have risen above men for the first time. The findings have been made by James Flynn, a world-renowned authority on IQ tests. ‘In the last 100 years the IQ scores of both men and women have risen but women’s have risen faster’ said Flynn. This is a consequence of modernity. The complexity of the modern world is making our brains adapt and raising our IQ.” But does IQ translate into performance?

Flynn gives one possible explanation as “women’s lives have become more demanding as they multitask between raising a family and doing a job. Another is that women have a slightly higher potential intelligence than men and are only now realising it”.

IQ scores are used as predictors of educational achievement, special needs, job performance and income. They are also used to study IQ distributions in populations and the correlations between IQ and other variables. The average IQ scores for many populations have been rising at an average rate of three points per decade since the early 20th century, a phenomenon called the Flynn effect. It is disputed whether these changes in scores reflect real changes in intellectual abilities.

Whether IQ tests are an accurate measure of intelligence is debated. It is difficult to define what constitutes intelligence; instead it may be the case that IQ represents a type of intelligence.

According to Frank Schmidt and John Hunter, "for hiring employees without previous experience in the job the most valid predictor of future performance is general mental ability." The validity of IQ as a predictor of job performance is above zero for all work studied to date, but varies with the type of job and across different studies, ranging from 0.2 to 0.6. The correlations were higher when the unreliability of measurement methods was controlled for. While IQ is more strongly correlated with reasoning and less so with motor function, IQ-test scores predict performance ratings in all occupations.

That said, for highly qualified activities (research, management) low IQ scores are more likely to be a barrier to adequate performance, whereas for minimally-skilled activities, athletic strength (manual strength, speed, stamina, and coordination) are more likely to influence performance. It is largely mediated through the quicker acquisition of job-relevant knowledge that IQ predicts job performance.

In establishing a causal direction to the link between IQ and work performance, longitudinal studies by Watkins and others suggest that IQ exerts a causal influence on future academic achievement, whereas academic achievement does not substantially influence future IQ scores. Treena Eileen Rohde and Lee Anne Thompson write that general cognitive ability but not specific ability scores predict academic achievement, with the exception that processing speed and spatial ability predict performance on the SAT math beyond the effect of general cognitive ability.

Eliza Byington and Will Felps highlight how, “over the past century, numerous studies have documented the link between cognitive assessment scores and employee performance (see Schmidt & Hunter, 1992, 1998, 2004 for overviews). The strength of these findings has made intelligence “the most important trait or construct in all of psychology, and the most ‘successful’ trait in applied psychology” (Schmidt &Hunter, 1986). Few areas of scholarship produce such unequivocal findings and prescriptions for managers. In a chapter advocating the principle that employers should “select on intelligence,”Schmidt and Hunter state: “Intelligence is the major determinant of job performance, and therefore hiring people based on intelligence leads to marked improvements in job performance –improvements that have high economic value to the firm” (2000: 3). The assertion that intelligence leads to job performance is echoed in the titles of recent articles in which management researchers describe their findings: “Intelligence is the best predictor of job performance” (Ree & Earles, 1992), “The role of general cognitive ability and job performance: Why there cannot be a debate” (Schmidt, 2002), and “Predicting job performance: Not much more than g” (Ree, Earles, & Teachout, 1994). Building on this empirical foundation, researchers have gone so far as to provide methods by which managers and HR professionals can calculate the positive economic value of employing IQ-based selection in their organizations (e.g. Rauschenberger & Schmidt, 1987; Schmidt, Hunter, McKenzie, & Muldrow, 1979; Hunter &Schmidt, 1996; Schmidt & Hunter 1998).  

The industrial psychology literature has also reached a consensus on the explanation for the strong IQ – job performance relationship; namely, that individuals who are more intelligent (as measured by IQ scores) can learn job relevant knowledge faster and better, resulting in improved job performance (e.g. Ree, Carretta, & Teachout, 1995;Hunter, 1986)” (p.176).

However Byington and Felps weren’t totally convinced that the relationship between IQ and performance was a simple as past research had made it, stating “we suggest that the relationship between IQ and job performance is strongest in contexts where institutional architects have already adopted this edict, and in so doing, helped create its validity” – a bit like a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic probably sums it up best when he mentions that “there is a clear discrepancy between the scientific research evidence and what laypeople, and even some professional practitioners (HR departments, managers, recruiters, etc.) tend to believe. Thus scientists concluded long time ago that IQ is the most powerful psychological predictor of job performance, whereas laypeople tend to think of IQ as something that is useful only when it comes to predicting how well you do in a maths or general knowledge quiz - indeed, people with extremely high IQs are almost always portrayed as being geeky, weird and socially inept (an urban legend that has made Goleman, Gardner, and Sternberg rich and famous)”.


Byington, E and Felps, W. (2010). Why do IQ scores predict job performance? An alternative, sociological explanation. Research in Organizational Behavior, Vol. 30, p.175-202.

Chamorro-Premuzic, T. (2011). How Many Successful Entrepreneurs Would Fail an IQ Test? Psychology Today.

Leake, J. (2012). Women really are cleverer. The Sunday Times, 15th July, p.1.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

How Do You Define and Identify Real Talent?

Talent has become a common topic in business and academic journals, where the main focus is on what’s called talent management, yet if you look for clear definitions of what talent really is, you might be surprised to find that definitions are often vague or ill-defined, especially in the context of business. Yet to be able to manage something, you first need to be able to clearly define it and then be able to identify it. The danger of not doing this first is that you create a ‘generic statement’ that has little bearing on the real facts.

There are many key issues with ‘talent’ as a topic which need to be examined. First, talent will mean different things to different people and different organisations, because they can have different needs, where for example, a ‘talented’ manager in one organisation may not be considered ‘talented’ by another; or a footballer who is talented in a lower division, might not be considered talented in a higher, premier division – but does that make them ‘less’ talented? I assume the answer is, yes, if one benchmarks them against all the players in the world – but no, if on benchmarks them against other players in the league that they play.

Second, the environment has to be right to allow a person’s talent to be seen and become ‘active’ in the first place – otherwise a person’s true talent could lay dormant until the right ‘opportunity’ and ‘environment’ presents itself. Therefore whose responsibility is it to ‘identify’ a person’s talent – do we assume that it’s an individual’s responsibility to find out what they are ‘talented’ at and if they don’t – well that’s just bad luck.

As talent often relates to some form of ‘knowledge’ and ‘skill’ then it might be fair to assume that it’s a person’s parents and educators, who are responsible to identify what ‘talent’ or ‘talents’ a person might have – and to do that you would have to be able to let them experience ‘everything’ possible, otherwise how will you really know.

Thirdly, is there necessarily a correlation between ‘talent’ and what a person ‘enjoys’ – meaning a child might be ‘talented’ at football, for example, but does that mean the person will enjoy football and hence naturally pursue their talent? I don’t think there’s any evidence to suggest that correlation exists – in fact I’ve often heard parents talking about how talented their children were when they were younger at a certain activity and how disappointed they are that they didn’t pursue that ‘talent’.

Fourthly, talent isn’t timeless, as once found it needs to be nurtured and developed if it has a chance of being recognised as a talent over a significant period of time. As Andrew and Valerie Stewart highlighted many years ago, “the relationship between performance and potential is not a simple one. The best performers of today are not necessarily those of high potential. Hence promotion solely on the basis of past performance (one’s past talents) inevitably leads to promotion to the person’s level of incompetence”.

So it’s clear from the above that talent is a complex issue, with many key influencing factors that can contribute to identify someone’s real talent and then allow them to pursue it, such that it is recognised as talent by those that matter.

But does this match up to the definition of talent? What’s interesting is that there appears to be wide variations in how talent is defined and how it is used in the business context. As talent can be defined as ‘a special natural ability or aptitude’ or as ‘a capacity for achievement or success’.

Of course both of these definitions already assume the environment exists for the natural ability’ to be ‘noticed’ in the first place and second for it then to be ‘nurtured (or developed)’.

With the above in mind and the importance of ‘talent’ in the workplace it would seem that business needs to interact much more with the education sector in order to be able to offer the opportunities to identify real and latent talent at an early age. This is of vital importance, since once a ‘basic’ talent has been identified, ‘we’ need to be able to offer the individual an opportunity to then show a ‘passion’ for their talent – and if the two match, then a much more focused development programme can be put in place – in a sense matching individual talents and desires with business needs, both for the short and long term.

I often wonder how much latent talent is actually out there, just waiting to be found, because we haven’t been able to match the right individuals with the right environment for their true talent to shine through. I also wonder how much potential talent has been lost because although identified by an organisation, they then haven’t taken the time to nurture and develop it?

Sunday, July 1, 2012

How Do You Create a Successful Brand in the ‘Service Sector’?

“In an era of rapid growth of service firms, both researchers and practitioners have come to acknowledge that employee performance plays a vital role in the success of a service brand. Unlike with product brands, for which consumers’ perceptions of a brand derive predominantly from a product’s tangible features, customers’ perceptions of a service brand depend highly on the behaviour of frontline staff. Thus, the task of getting employees to build and strengthen an organisation’s brand image -  to act as “brand champions” - is a challenge for service firms in many industries,” (Morhart, Herzog and Tomczak, 2009, p.122). 

The concept of ‘brands’ and ‘brand building’ is mostly associated with products, or is discussed where a ‘service brand’ has already been established. But when it comes to the service sector, actually developing a strategy to develop and create your own ‘service brand’ is often left out of most discussions. For some reason it’s assumed that your ‘brand’ which can be mistakenly assumed to be the same as ‘reputation’ is something that either does or doesn’t develop over time, where you have little influence over the speed of the service brand in the market place. But this is a mistake. 

Building a brand in the service industry is just as important as building one in a product driven industry. This means firstly you have to know what service you’re building your brand around – as often the ‘service’ you describe yourself as and on which you build your brand, can in itself be your competitive advantage in a highly competitive market segment.  

Take ‘dentists’ for example – this service industry has been mostly associated with pain and suffering in the past – so the opportunity to build a ‘brand’ around your firm in this industry may appear impossible to some. Yet some dentists have already been able to differentiate themselves from their competition by refocusing their primary service offering, seeking to ‘promote’ positive aspects of their full range of services that will attract the attention of the consumer – where you’ll find certain dental chains and practices that focus their attention on promoting  services that improves ‘your smile’. A service offering that is attractive to many in today’s image conscience society.

Through differentiating the service they offer – they already start to differentiate themselves and create a more positive expectation in the eyes of their potential customers.  

The next thing service firms must look at, though sometimes I’m not sure if it’s done consciously or not, is creating a ‘brand name’ that is attractive and can be used as the foundation to creating a global service brand. 

One of the obstacles for many service firms when it comes to brand development is that they already have a company name and through pride, ego and stubbornness, don’t want to consider changing it, even to create a ‘new’ service brand. So Joe of Joe Plumbing will often not even consider a name change, even when it’s shown that Joe’s Plumbing is unlikely to become a global brand as it stands…. 

So looking at your ‘operating name’ and creating a unique ‘brand name’ that can be developed in the market place is something every service firm should consider as part of its strategic process. 

Then once you have the basics in place – a potential ‘brand name’ and an exciting ‘service offering’, then the brand will be developed through the service you and your firm offer - where the greatest influence over creating a positive or negative brand image with your customers will be your front line staff.  

What can organisations do to enhance brand-building behaviours among their employees? 

Morhart, Herzog and Tomczak (2009) found that different leadership styles had either a positive and negative impact on employees being brand champions, where “a highly transactional style was counterproductive in terms of followers’ motivational condition. Owners and managers would do much better by opening their minds to a transformational leadership approach, which would entail behaviours such as articulating a unifying brand vision, acting as an appropriate role model by living the brand values, giving followers freedom to individually interpret their roles as brand representatives, and providing individualised support by acting as a coach and mentor. This would allow followers to experience the feelings of relatedness, autonomy, and competence in their roles as brand representatives, which would ultimately spill over into the commitment, authenticity, and proactivity that characterise a real brand champion,” (p.138). 

So if you run an organisation in the service sector, however small you may be – it’s worth spending the time to look at your brand strategy – as you may be pleasantly surprised the impact this has on your growth, when you get your brand and your brand image right. 


Morhart, F.M., Herzog, W., and Tomczak, T. (2009). Brand-Specific Leadership: Turning Employees into Brand Champions. Journal of Marketing, Vol. 73, Issue 5, p.122-142.