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Review: The Alliance – Managing Talent in the Networked Age by Hoffman, Casnocha and Yeh

alliance coverThis review first ran in the July 28th edition of The Hamilton Spectator.

The Alliance: Managing Talent in the Networked Age

By Reid Hoffman, Ben Casnocha and Chris Yeh

Harvard Business Review Press

$28

Congratulations on your new job. We’re sorry to see you go.

Your coworkers throw an Irish wake. The boss says kind words. They give you a gift.

There are handshakes, hugs and promises to stay in touch.

But that doesn’t happen. It’s out of sight, out of mind.

And that’s too bad because not staying connected is a missed opportunity for you and your former employer, according to the authors of The Alliance: Managing Talent in the Networked Age.

Building a corporate alumni network is one of three big ideas for building employee loyalty pitched by LinkedIn cofounder and executive chairman Reid Hoffman, along with Ben Casnocha and Chris Yeh.

“A business without loyalty is a business without long-term thinking,” warn the authors. “A business without long-term thinking is a business that’s unable to invest in the future. And a business that isn’t investing in tomorrow’s opportunities and technologies is a company already in the process of dying.”

So how do you build employee loyalty when you can’t guarantee lifetime employment and the competition for top talent is fierce in Free Agent Nation?

One solution is to launch an alumni network for valued former employees.  A study out of the Netherlands founded that 15 per cent of surveyed companies had formal alumni networks and another 67 per cent of companies had ex-employees who wanted to stay connected and independently organized informal networks on their own time and dime.

Your alumni network can help you hire new employees by making referrals. You can stay connected with boomerang employees who discover the grass isn’t always greener.  Alumni can be a goldmine of business intelligence on everything from competitive information, emerging trends and best practices being adopted outside your organization. Alumni can steer business and customers your way.  And alumni can be enthusiastic and convincing brand ambassadors.

While alumni networks keep you connected with former employees, you can build an alliance with new hires by offering tours of duty. Recast careers in your organization as successive missions that develop an employee’s skills while also building trust and mutual investment. Most importantly, these tours tend to appeal to sought-after entrepreneurial talent who want to transform their careers and the organizations they work for. “Today, entrepreneurial thinking and doing are the most important capabilities companies need from their employees. As the competitive pace increases, it becomes more and more critical.”

A third way to build a strong alliance with loyal employees is to help them grow their professional networks outside your organization. As the authors point out, there are far more smart people outside your company than inside it. Your organization can’t afford to be inward looking so encourage your employees to connect with all the smart people they know and then share what they learn.

“Your most driven employees are going to build their professional networks anyway. It’s up to you to encourage them to do so for their jobs.  So don’t treat tweeting on the job like an infraction – encourage it. Ask your employees to expense lunches with interesting people.”

Taken together, these three strategies help build an alliance that benefits both employers and employees. “The business world needs a new employment framework that facilitates mutual trust, mutual investment and mutual benefit. An ideal framework encourages employees to develop their personal networks and act entrepreneurially without becoming mercenary job-hoppers. It allows companies to be dynamic and demanding but discourages them from treating employees like disposable assets.

“We can’t restore the old model of lifetime employment but we can build a new type of loyalty that both recognizes economic realities and allows companies and employees to commit to each other.”

So at your next farewell party for the high performer you didn’t want to lose, make one of your gifts a lifetime membership in your organization’s alumni network. And then stay in touch.

Review: Moments of Impact – How to Design Strategic Conversations that Accelerate Change by Ertel and Solomon

momentThis review first ran in the July 14th edition of The Hamilton Spectator.

Moments of Impact: How to Design Strategic Conversations That Accelerate Change

By Chris Ertel and Lisa Kay Solomon

Simon & Schuster

$32

Welcome to VUCA World.

It’s an amusement park for organizations where all the rides are thrilling, few are fun and most leave you nauseous and terrified. VUCA is military-speak for an environment marked by nonstop volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity.

In VUCA World, forces like technology change, social change and globalization converge and conspire to throw waves of adaptive challenges your way.  Adaptive challenges are messy, open-ended problems that are as tough as a $3 steak and pack enough punch to wreck organizations and ruin careers.

“When adaptive challenges appear, many organizations waste time and energy trying to argue with the future,” say authors Chris Ertel and Lisa Kay Solomon, who’ve spent 15 years helping leaders solve these kind of challenges. “They deny facts and pine for the past. But sooner or later, the future wins.”

Your CEO or senior executive team can’t solve an adaptive challenge on their own. With these wicked problems, it’s near impossible at the outset to say what the right question is, let alone figure out the answer.

You solve an adaptive challenge through collaboration. And you don’t get that collaboration through standard “salute and mute” meetings with overstuffed PowerPoint slide decks or brainstorming sessions where 100 ideas are tossed out by the usual suspects.

What you need is a strategic conversation. “Effective strategies don’t come from spreadsheets, slide shows or detailed agendas,” say authors. “Effective strategic choices come from great conversations where people combine their best ideas in new ways. They come from people sharing moments of insight so compelling that they demand action.

“If you want to make progress against adaptive challenges, you have to harness the best thinking and judgment of your best people – especially when they don’t agree.”

The best strategic conversations are carefully designed and built around five core principles.

  1. Declare the objective and define the purpose. Strategic conversations have only three purposes – building understanding, shaping choices or making decisions. Focus your conversation on only one purpose at a time.  And don’t jump to making decisions without first building understanding. Seems obvious but you’d be surprised how often this doesn’t happen.
  2. Identify participants and engage multiple perspectives. Assemble a dream team of the right people with the right perspectives, steer clear of groupthink and genuinely listen to what they have to say.
  3. Assemble content and frame the issues. Help your dream team see the same things at the same time to arrive at shared insights more quickly and effectively.
  4. Find a venue and set the scene. You won’t get open dialogue in a room set up for passive listening. “While it’s theoretically possible that a breakthrough idea could come out of a windowless conference room…we’ve never heard of it,” say the authors.
  5. Set the agenda and make it an experience. Take your team on an intellectual and emotional journey that delivers a powerful, shared experience to their heads and guts.

You ignore these principles at your peril. “Lots of strategic conversations turn out okay – neither home runs nor disasters,” say Ertel and Solomon. “But okay strategic conversations are not okay. They carry an immense price.”

Strategic conversations that miss the mark waste time and money. You demotivate the troops and leave them worrying that your senior leaders don’t have a game plan. There’s no follow-up or sense of urgency to change course. And you can find yourself saddled with some spectacularly awful, half-baked decisions that only make matters that much worse.

“Look closely at any organization that’s failed to seize an important opportunity or to respond to an adaptive challenge and you won’t find a bunch of clueless people. More likely, you’ll find good people struggling with too-timid experiments and unproductive strategic conversations.”

To design productive strategic conversations, the authors have included a 60-page starter kit that’s loaded with proven tools and tips. This is a must-read manual for anyone who’s wrestling with a work or community problem that’s as tough as a $3 steak and looking for a new and better way to strike up a conversation and find the best answer.