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Gain 25% Effectiveness by Aligning Your Team Skills with Your Corporate Needs with Jamison West
My guest is Jamison West. He is a deeply experienced Chief Executive Officer from the world of IT and the computer software industry. He is an awful lot like me. When we first got together, the conversation just didn’t stop flowing. I decided to invite him on the show for a very important reason. He is the CEO of Teamatics, which helps align corporate requirements with the competencies of their people. He takes a very interesting approach to optimizing organizations. Welcome, Jamison.
Thanks for having me.
It’s a delight to have you on the show. Let’s talk about your experience in helping organizations do substantially better by making sure the right people are in the right place. Tell me what you’ve learned about aligning the requirements of the corporation with the people that are available.
I am a serial entrepreneur. I own an IT organization for 21 years amongst some other organizations. What we found is we had to pivot and grow our business. We did four acquisitions. We experienced some rapid growth. I had the assumption that I knew this skills and passions and interests of my people. That ran dry when we hit to about 40 people. We no longer had a clear understanding. We had to be operationally mature about how we understood how to align people with our needs and our organization. We found that when we measured it well, we had a bevy of experience and competencies within our organizations that we weren’t even utilizing. People who are very passionate and experienced in specific areas that made our organization better and made our people happier. We realized that was missing in a tremendous number of organizations. It became critical to us to help solve the problem.
Jamison, what you just identified is the traditional breakthrough or break over from an entrepreneurial organization to a genuine corporation. That is when we first launched the company. We know everybody and we chose them because of their skillset, but after a while, we run out of the bandwidth to be able to understand who everybody is as the leader of the organization. Then we have to move to a new set of tools. Everybody who hits that particular point has a decision to make. Do I continue wallowing on with what got me here or do I change modes of transportation? I stop walking and start using a bicycle or using a race car for that matter. Tell me about the things that you learned about how to make that transition from an entrepreneurial organization to a grown-up company.
There’s a great book around it called What Got You Here Won’t Get You There. I love the thought process that as your organization begins to grow, of course, you have to bring in tools to make yourself operationally mature. There’s a trend towards looking at broken processes. They inventory their products, they build better systems for financial processes and all that stuff becomes obviously broken. Organizations as they grow, bring in better systems, and they bring in better IT to solve those issues. What few organizations do is apply all that same knowledge and maturity to their people. It’s critical and there’s a lot of fallout when you don’t do it well. When you start misaligning people skills and more importantly, their passions to what they’re doing in the day, you begin to lose their sense of engagement and purpose within the organization. It’s not just a win for the organization, it’s a win for all the employees within an organization. If you can get those aligned, it’s amazing the power of focus.
I want to get back to this win for the organization because it’s a critical component. We do inventory in our organization to find out the physical value and age of everything that we’re using within the organization. The reason why is because it’s required by generally accepted accounting principles. We don’t have that same drive from the outside world looking in to do this with our people. If we did, we’d probably have substantially more efficient organizations. Companies that spend massive budgets on doing inventory won’t spend a penny to inventory their people. It’s a massive opportunity to disrupt your competition. I would want you to get this, that it is worth the effort to inventory the skills of your team.
It becomes quite interesting. I’m a financial guy. I love looking at balance sheets and profit loss statements. I get it. I love helping organizations read through this. The problem is they look at an asset or they look at an expense and they rarely see people behind those numbers, they think of it in terms of property and inventory and all these pieces you’re talking about. We apply the process to them, but if we back up for a minute, I sit down with a CEO of another organization and say, “What’s the greatest asset of your company?” When you phrase it that way, instead of saying, “What’s the biggest item on your balance sheet?” you say, “What’s the greatest asset in your company?” Inevitably people say, “It’s our people.” CEOs will say, “It’s our people.”
What’s the biggest expense within your company? The vast majority of organizations, especially service organizations, are going to say it’s their people. Specifically, what about your people? It’s their skills, it’s their competencies. Are we utilizing those correctly in our organization? I can tell you when a large corporation owns tons of properties or equipment, they have tremendous numbers of systems to put the right things in the right place at the right time and optimize that capital. We see organizations missing the boat with people. Human capital.
Let’s make this specific. We see CEOs missing the boat because there’s only one person in the organization that’s responsible for that. That is the CEO. Let’s get this personal. CEOs, if you’re not doing this, you’re missing the boat. There’s some good reason to do this. In fact, there’s some research that backs this up.
There’s quite a bit of research but specifically, there’s an article from Harvard Business Review that hits the nail on the head and it says, “The best companies are more than 25% more productive than the rest due to the way they deploy the team and lead scarce difference-making talent.” I’m working with a software organization that has 900 employees. If they could be 25% more effective by really aligning everyone, that means that they could either reduce their payroll by 25% or maybe better increase their revenues by 33% doing the numbers. They would think about what happens to the bottom line. Think about what happens to the bottom line when you do that. It’s not minor. This is substantial.
In this world, it’s not just the bottom line. In my mantra, it’s being sustainable, scalable and profitable, in that order. The reason why is because Wall Street rewards things in that order. It’s funny that being scalable is more rewarded by Wall Street than being profitable. If your team is 25% more effective, what it means from an effective standpoint is that you have perhaps a 25% better advantage over your competition, which also aligns to other things that we’ve talked about in the show in the past about how organizations that have better people in place do substantially better than their competition.
It also means the capacity to grow without adding resources can handle the scalability. Most people can’t these days. They can’t scale. That can’t handle the change. It can mean more efficiency and flexibility. It could be all of those things that result in more profitability. Profitability is the end game. It’s not the beginning of the game. It’s the reward for doing everything well.
There’s another great article that talks about your A-players, your key talent and retention of key talent. They found that when you take that key talent and move them across an organization, scatter them appropriately throughout an organization, you can also drive productivity. If you can retain those people, it’s so critical. Creating engagement and purpose for your key employees, your A-players throughout an organization, spreading them throughout the organization and keeping them very engaged and driven, focused on that core purpose of how they’re contributing to the organization so they stay absolutely accelerates an organization. When you turn over those critical employees because you don’t have their passions and competencies aligned with what they do, you’ll lose them.
Worse yet, your competition has them. I thought of a metaphor as you were explaining that. Great highly-talented employees are awful like salt to a chef. Salt concentrated in one area makes the dish inedible, but if it’s spread out across the dish, it makes it extremely savory and delicious. Without it, you’ve got nothing. I don’t know if that’s a great metaphor or not, but that’s what happens when I watch the cooking channel with my wife.
Getting back to this concept of turnover, we see a lot more turnover in organizations. I’ve heard some people say the trend is for people to spend less time in the organizations. I look at that and say that’s absolute garbage. The reality is that companies run by Boomers don’t know how to operate with Millennials and Millennials are saying, “I’m going to find a better place to work.” We have to look at ourselves as Boomers running companies because still most companies are run by Boomers, although that’s going to end in the next decade. How can we fix this keeping bright people in the organization and instead of saying screw you and leaving and throwing a handful of salt in the food, keep them and help all of us grow and be better?
It comes back to one word that I’ve already used a couple times, which is purpose. I firmly believe that if an individual doesn’t understand what their purpose is and how to grow within your organization, they’re going to find purpose in a way to grow in someone else’s. It all comes down to that. What’s critical to me is identifying. If you can identify where somebody is both highly skilled and passionate in specific competencies or skills. This is what they’re driven to do. If you’re not providing them ways to utilize those skills and passions in a way that’s aligned with purpose within their organization, then you’ve got a problem. When you can put those puzzle pieces together, it drives amazing outcomes.
The systems thinker that I know you are, Jamison, has figured out a way to do this. What’s the system?
There are three simple steps. Step number one is an organization has to have clarity. This is critical anyway. Clarity on what their accountability chart looks like, what the roles are in their organization and more specifically, the competencies and skills that are required to drive the success of their strategic initiatives.
How do you do that?
There is a significant amount of systems out there to help you do that. There’s a bevy of them. I love to go through a consultative process with some of our clients. We also utilize some third-party consultative services for larger organizations who want to build out what’s called traditionally a competency framework. The idea is that understanding what every role looks like and how to be successful. How many organizations transparently share what their roles and jobs look like throughout the organization to their employees.
If they’re a grownup organization, they do but if they’re an entrepreneurial organization, typically they don’t.
Even grown-up organizations oftentimes have very stale job descriptions. We haven’t rebuilt it because we haven’t had to hire there in a number of times or they’re disconnected to the resurgent strategy of the organization. I would argue that we see as much or more failure in larger organizations as we do in smaller entrepreneurial ones because that cascading strategy of what’s our renewed initiatives, how we are going to structure our teams and jobs to try to get folks with the right passions and competencies in the right places in the organization, to drive these initiatives, we see it continues to fail except for that handful that right along the lines of the Harvard Business Review quote I gave you. “That handful that has figured out that if they build a strong competency framework, they can begin to now align their people with their strategy.” We see that fail a lot.
Reader, I want you to nail this down. Give yourself a grade on a scale of one to ten. How well have you built out your competency framework where you know clearly you have clarity on the accountability chart, roles and the competencies required to get your job done? On a scale of one to ten, it means it sucks and you’re about ready to crash and burn and ten means we could make you a case study for the Harvard Business Review. Where are you? Hold that number in mind because we’re going to take you to the next step.
I’ll layer one little thing on top of it before I go to the next step. What does it look like for someone to grow within your organization? If you’ve designed all those roles clearly, career pathing is a huge conversation right now. You and I come from the IT world. I’ll take an IT example. There’s a help desk guy. He sits down and he’s doing his job doing help desk level one work. We’ve completely designed this role in a way that we know we have the right person in the right seat, but now the next piece is, “Now, where can I go?” I’ve had multiple help desk people in my organizations. Some have extremely strong technical chops. They’re fast learners. They’re not great with people and you know that as they grow, they’re headed for the NOC. They’re going to be incredibly strong engineers or network folks.
NOC stands for Network Operations Center and it’s where the best of the best live because they can troubleshoot instantly. I want you to know that the NOC is heaven for those in the world of technology.
It’s the strongest of your engineers. By the same token, I’ve had those help desk guys and girls, but I’m making an example of Harry Helpdesk who had a high level of EQ, enjoyed talking to people, and incredible amounts of empathy and there was a lot of clarity that this guy was going to head over to the account management and sales engineers’ side. He was less interested in going into a high-level engineer. The point is that people can grow in a variety of ways and mature organizations have started to create clarity around that competency framework of where my passions and interests can align not only with my current role but with where I want to be next year and the year after that. Not only do I want to know that I have a purpose in my job, I want to know that I can grow here. People are leaving because they’re stuck.
They don’t feel like they can develop. Millennials choose culture over career but career is still an important element of that. I want to take what you just said and I’m going to turn it into a tool for a reader, a leading indicator of employee retention is the answer to this question, “What does it look like for someone to grow in your organization?” If you haven’t got a clear answer, that’s a leading indicator of employee turnover. If you have a clear answer, that’s a leading indicator of employee retention. As a systems guy, I love questions that give me leading indicators of where somebody is going to go in their organizations.
You shifted the root cause from Millennial activity or Millennial thinking to an employer issue and I think it is.
Keep in mind, Millennials fire their boss. It’s very simple and it’s one of the reasons why I love Millennial thinking. They spun the world on its head and said, “I’m not putting up with this garbage. It’s just not going happen.” As a Boomer, I was raised by, “Three strikes and you’re out.” Millennials, my kids are one and done. If you don’t have my back one time, I am gone. Let’s talk about step number two.
Step number two is it’s one thing to understand your design. That’s critical. Step one’s critical. Understand your design, but there’s the next piece which is now we need to understand your people. It really comes down to assessments. There is an incredible number, a bevy of tools out there to help understand where people sit in alignment with corporate values, hard skills, and soft skills. Measuring those so that you can compare your reality against your intent or your plan is really critical.
That’s so true because if you have your people asked to do one thing and their talent is completely misaligned, it frustrates you both.
It’s like banging your head against the wall. We’re asking somebody to do something that they’re not skilled at and not passionate about. It drives frustration and eventually, they’re completely ineffective. Eventually, they’ll leave if they don’t see a path out of there.
Worst yet, the customers leave because they’re not getting what they need out of it. Reader, you and I and Jamison have all quit doing business with people because of the situation were just describing so we got to fix it.
We want to understand where people’s skill levels are, what their proficiencies are around various competencies and skills in an organization, where their passions lie, and where they wish to learn and develop. Not only does it give them a tremendous amount of clarity around where they sit in their current role, but we can begin to see along this spectrum of growth that we’ve talked about. Are people ready to move and they haven’t yet? Are people ready to move next step in a certain direction and they haven’t yet? As the Peter Principle occurred, if somebody moved so far that they’re starting to fail, they were so good at one job that they moved into the next role and they were completely unprepared and unskilled to take on that role and they’re beginning to fail. If we can see how that alignment works and get people on the right path, they stay. That’s really critical.
The Peter Principle, in my experience, is much an indication of a person hitting their cognitive capacity limit. They can no longer handle the complexity of their role. That’s an important element and the leading indicator or a pure indicator of somebody hitting Peter Principle is simply this, they start to micromanage. The reason why is because if they are overwhelmed by their role, they go back to what creates comfort, which is to drop back down a level and do their job through the proxy of others.
Reader, if you’ve had somebody in your organization that’s micromanaging, they’ve hit their capacity. You got to do something with them. You got to get them into a role where they are back operating within their capacity and not drowning. We can do that with assessments as well. It’s important to identify where a person is and when they speak out. There are lots of things we can do with people and keep them well engaged in these organizations in this situation. That’s beyond this conversation, but it’s so important to understand somebody’s skills, passions, their attitudes, their abilities, and the actions they can take right on.
I love the phrase, “Delegate and elevate.” The idea of micromanaging, you’re precisely right. Some folks will step into a role, they immediately understand what it looks like to delegate and elevate themselves to where their passions and skills lie and some fail. I will point out that one of the most common Peter Principles that I see happens within a sales team is when you just want to scream. Somebody takes their absolute best salesperson then makes them a sales manager, which is a completely different role with different skills. All of a sudden, the sales performance drops tremendously and people are scratching their heads and wondering why. You took somebody who’s doing 30% of your sales for your organization and you took them out of the picture. Now they’re micromanaging the rest of the team and frustrating them and it becomes a huge problem.
Understand your people. What’s the third step?
The third step is to transparently share this data with your people. You asked a question at the beginning how many people on the call have done a great job building their competency framework. I’m going to take the next question here which is, how many people share transparently exactly what it looks like to be successful in every role and all those opportunities?
Let’s reshape this a little bit because what we want to do here is put this into the terms of our reader. We asked you, as Jameson pointed out, to think about this. How well are you doing in understanding your people? Let’s just back up and do that little self-assessment. On a scale of one to ten, how well do you understand your people? One is you suck at it, number ten is you’re brilliant at it. My bet is that you’re not anywhere in there, but you’ve got a lot of room for improvement. The next question is how good are you at sharing this data with your team on a scale of one to ten? One is we share absolutely nothing. Ten is we share everything so that people could know where they need to navigate to in the organization. Is that where we’re going with that?
Yes, precisely. I find that some organizations start to dip their toes in these waters and they do one of two things. They either start measuring their employee’s skills or they design what the roles need to look like. They rarely do both. If they do both, it’s extremely difficult to overlay that data and see the gap to optimize your capital. The power comes in the transparency of saying here’s our design, here’s our reality, and when we lay them over each other, here’s what it looks like. We’ve got people who are vastly overqualified for certain skills that they need and there are people that have huge gaps but desire to develop and the passion, when you lay that all over the top of each other, this clarity happens.
Step three is transparently sharing and utilizing this data to align your organization and reassessing and constantly using the data. Step two is about assessments. There’s one thing that becomes critical in step three, which is storing, reusing and reassessing. I would argue that many readers, I know this is absolutely true for myself as have gone through various types of assessments. I’ve done personality assessments, DISC, Myers Briggs, Profiles XT, you name it. They were big one-and-done assessments to get a little juice or alignment into my team. It was like a shot of adrenaline to the organization. Six months later they were PDF files that disappeared in the bottom of somebody’s inbox, never to be seen again.
It’s a tremendous expense, and maybe a little value of that initial culture hit, but we can keep this data alive. I would argue any organization should be utilizing all of this input and utilize it to optimize their human capital. We also see people do a fairly good job sometimes of assessing pre-hire candidates, but then they drop that data. They aren’t doing the same work within their organization. The data often doesn’t even come into the organization, but you’ve learned all of this information about these candidates. You’ve hired a few and for some reason, we have this tendency to leave the data in that pre-hire state. We should be doing that level of assessments and understanding across our existing team to make our engine work for us.
The important element you have pointed out is a lot of companies are doing reasonable jobs at one of three of these. If you’re going to hit that 25% more effective, you have to be doing all three of these consistently. The person who’s responsible for this is the CEO. The CEO has to drive this. If you’re responsible for a department, you have to drive that for your department. Whoever’s responsible for the team, the outcome of the organization has to be doing this. How do people put this into play?
Traditionally what we’ve seen folks do is step one, building the competency framework. We see a lot of folks utilizing Excel or various tools to do that. We’ve built a platform to help folks build out their org chart and their competency framework in a way that’s digestible and manageable over time. It’s very critical, scalable. Step two is assessing your people may and we’ve seen organizations utilize surveys of various types, keep the data in Excel. It’s something that we also tackle in Teamatics. Ultimately where the rubber hits the road is being intelligent about how you take this data and use it in a transparent and strategic way. In my prior organization, part of the reason we built Teamatics in my IT organization, we were fairly mature about the process, we just simply didn’t have the tools. We utilized Excel to build our competency framework and accountability chart, role design, which it spits out into Word and PDF files.
We assessed our people in Excel as well, but it’s tremendously difficult to overlay that data and do something smart with it. It worked for twenty people maybe if you could look at it and try to digest what was in front of you, but as soon as you go to this more operational, mature organization that needs to dig into the data, those systems began to fail you. That’s why we built Teamatics.
You have put together a platform that helps organizations do this and keep it accountable and keep it fresh. These three steps are not one and done. It is a moving parade. The skills required are always changing. The people that are coming in are always changing and so we have to be able to do this in a comfortable, and sustainable fashion. Teamatics is the way to make that happen. If the audience is interested in learning more about how to get this involved in the organization to get this installed, to think about this, to figure out the process of how to bring this in, what’s the next step for them?
The next step for them is to send me an email. What I would like to do is connect with any of your listeners who are interested in learning a little bit more about this process and how we do it. If they send me an email, I’d love to have a conversation with them. Email address is JWest@Teamatics.com.
That makes things simple, doesn’t it?
I get a tremendous amount of joy talking to CEOs of organizations who know that they need this and light bulbs come on during the conversation or they’ve done 60% of these pieces and they just haven’t found a way. It’s sitting in six systems. They haven’t found a way to bring the data together, do something powerful about with it. I always learn something from these conversations, which makes it enjoyable because the unique experiences of various CEOs have gone through growth and reorgs and M&As. They’ve run into this. All of them have run into this and the problems that it creates and we continue to learn and grow with our clients and prospects through these conversations.
What’s interesting about this, Jamison, is that you were a CEO who had this problem and decided to build something to solve the problem, which makes your experience from both sides of the desk. Reader, if this is interesting to you, I suggest you have a conversation with Jamison. I’ve always enjoyed my conversations with him as well. Do something about this because when your good people leave, you lose twice. They don’t work for you and they work for your competition. Thanks, Jamison. What a great conversation. It’s a delight to have you on the show.
Thank you very much.
About Jamison WestExperienced Chief Executive Officer with a demonstrated history of working in the IT and computer software industry. Skilled in SaaS, Sales, Leadership, Entrepreneurship, Cloud Computing, and Strategic Partnerships. EOS® Implementer. Consultant and Speaker focused on vision for future of Cloud Computing & SaaS platforms and also Human Capital. Strong entrepreneurship professional with a BA focused in Business Administration, Human Resources, and Marketing from University of Washington.
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