It’s the team you build

Patty Azzarello has written what is, in my opinion, one of the best books to help manage your career : Rise – 3 Practical Steps for Advancing Your Career, Standing Out as a Leader, and Liking Your Life. She also authors a great blog which I regularly quote in Share the Knowledge, my roundup of the best articles I come across on the web.

Yesterday her piece particularly resonated with me. In The blank-sheet (ideal) org chart, she talks about how to manage your team for best results – for you and the organisation.

She opens with a question that is much deeper than it seems : “Are you leading the team you need? Or leading the team you have?”.

She reckons that often, we manage mediocrity. We keep our team as is, even if it doesn’t deliver optimal results, because we don’t want to go through the hard work of designing what the ideal organisation chart would be from scratch and managing the outcomes of mapping of the new roles against the profiles of our existing employees.

As Patty writes : “Oops! It is likely that your current team does not fit into this ideal structure.

Two things will likely become clear at this point:

  • Some of your current people will people obviously map into the new roles. Put them there.
  • You will end up with both some empty boxes AND some extra people.”

So yes – as she says, you have to take care of the extra people and help them find another solution. It is not because they have a performance issue, but because their profile does not fit any longer with the needs of your team. And yet at the same time you have some unfulfilled roles.

This happened to me. It can happen to any people leader, but especially when you take on a new position, because you come fresh to the role and you quickly see things you want to change (some, you want to keep too).

This is a very tough time to be in, as a person because you don’t want to hurt your existing team members – hard-working but not right for the new job, and you don’t want to hurt yourself as a manager with empty seats at the same time as big ideas and projects that you are impatient to see off the ground.

I inherited a small team of 2. I went through the exercise described by Patty in the article, and concluded that I needed 3 managers and 1 more junior person. The more senior person on the job was not right for the new needs of the organisation – I needed a manager, someone to whom I could delegate projects, but the existing employee was way less experienced and could only be delegated tasks, not end-to-end, complex assignments.

Eventually my employee left the organisation. I could easily have recruited someone junior to replace her, after all there are many C&B professionals in the region with just 2/3 years of relevant experience. But I needed a candidate with at least 10 years of international exposure to real C&B, not glorified admin as is unfortunately too often the case in local and regional companies, ideally some consulting exposure as well (for project management, delivery on time DNA and communication skills), and of course the right personality to fit the company as well as my team.

And that specific combination, my friends, is very rare in the region ! So it took a long time before the right person was able to come on board.

In the mean time, I “suffered” through the lack of resources to deliver on my projects, which meant more work for the rest of us. I was regularly encouraged to hire someone quickly (hint : a recent college graduate) but I resisted because I knew if I caved in, I would pay a higher price in the long run. Finally, many months later, the team was complete. I was super happy as you can guess, and we were able to get to full speed quickly.

Later on, my manager and I were having a discussion as he wanted to expand the scope of my role. As part of the negotiation with him, I asked to have an impact on the rest of the HR teams. He thought I wanted to transfer some employees to my own team, but to his surprise I said :

“You told me my team is the best you have. Did you ever think there was a reason for that ? I recruited the right people for the job even if it took time and a lot of discomfort and sacrifice in the mean time, instead of just putting bums on seats. I need the other teams in HR to do the same, or at least let go of the poor performers and replace them with real high calibre employees. Why ? Because the work of Compensation & Benefits relies on the quality of the work of the other teams, such as administration, HRIS, talent management and even resourcing. Make the right people choices in these other teams, and we will be able to deliver on the lofty goals you want us to achieve”.

Really, Patty is right. Read her post. Take the time to think about your goals. Draw your ideal org chart and map your employees to the true needs of the organisation. You will have to go through difficult times maybe, but in the end you will be reaping the benefits of your actions, with better results, a truly engaged team, and the comfort of knowing that you have led a positive change for the organisation.

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