I was forwarded this article the other day not knowing who the original author was. I liked the message though:

Want a more innovative company? Get rid of these folks. Today

We (your authors) teach our children to work hard and never, ever give up. We teach them to be grateful, to be full of wonder, to expect good things to happen, and to search for literal and figurative treasure on every beach, in every room, and in every person.

But some day, when the treasure hunt is over, we’ll also teach them to fire people. Why? After working with the most inventive people in the world for two decades, we’ve discovered the value of a certain item in the leadership toolbox: the pink slip.

Show of hands: How many of you out there in Innovationland have gotten the “what took you so long?” question from your staff when you finally said goodbye to a teammate who was seemingly always part of problems instead of solutions?

We imagine a whole bunch of hands. (Yep, ours went up, too.)

These people—and we going to talk about three specific types in a minute—passive-aggressively block innovation from happening and will suck the energy out of any organization.

When confronted with any of the following three people—and you have found it impossible to change their ways, say goodbye.

1. The Victims
“Can you believe what they want us to do now? And of course we have no time to do it. I don’t get paid enough for this. The boss is clueless.”

Victims are people who see problems as occasions for persecution rather than challenges to overcome. We all play the role of victim occasionally, but for some, it has turned into a way of life. These people feel persecuted by humans, processes, and inanimate objects with equal ease—they almost seem to enjoy it. They are often angry, usually annoyed, and almost always complaining. Just when you think everything is humming along perfectly, they find something, anything, to complain about. At Halloween parties, they’re Eeyore, the gloomy, pessimistic donkey from the Winnie the Pooh stories—regardless of the costume they choose.

Victims aren’t looking for opportunities; they are looking for problems. Victims can’t innovate.

So if you want an innovative team, you simply can’t include victims. Fire the victims. (Note to the HR department: Victims are also the most likely to feel the company has maliciously terminated them regardless of cause. They will often go looking for someone—anyone—who will agree that you have treated them unjustly. Lawyers are often left to play this role. So have your documentation in order before you let victims go, because chances are you will hear from their attorneys.

2. The Nonbelievers
“Why should we work so hard on this? Even if we come up with a good idea, the boss will probably kill it. If she doesn’t, the market will. I’ve seen this a hundred times before.”

We love the Henry Ford quote: “If you think you can or think you cannot, you are correct.” The difference between the winning team that makes industry-changing innovation happen and the losing one that comes up short is a lack of willpower. Said differently, the winners really believed they could do it, while the losers doubted it was possible.

In our experience, we’ve found the link between believing and succeeding incredibly powerful and real. Great leaders understand this. They find and promote believers within their organizations. They also understand the cancerous effect that nonbelievers have on a team and will cut them out of the organization quickly and without regret.

If you are a leader who says your mission is to innovate, but you have a staff that houses nonbelievers, you are either a lousy leader or in denial. Which is it? You deserve the staff you get. Terminate the nonbelievers.

This may come as a complete surprise to many, but I’ve decided where to call my “vocational home” for the next several years. I’m sure it isn’t a shock that I moved on as I seem to get the 4-5 year itch if I’m not starting something new. I guess I have Attention Deficit Disorder to some degree, though I’ve always said that ADD (or ADHD apparently) is a common, and perhaps even positive, trait of many consultants.

Anyway, I’ve decided to take a role at Microsoft. Specifically the role of Engagement Manager within Microsoft Canada’s Consulting Services organisation.

This role will help me to develop two clear gaps in my professional profile, specifically:

Large Company Experience

I’ve never worked for a large company. In fact, outside of working for a few different companies that had acquired my companies (and a handful of small start-ups), I’ve never really had a “proper job”. In some senses this role at Microsoft is my “first job out of University” (even though that was almost 18yrs ago).

A former business partner of mine and still close friend always said that we are in an ideal demographic. The opportunities that will be available to us in our 40s and 50s will be substantial given the leadership vacuum caused by the baby boomers leaving the work market en force. As such, he would say, we need to start preparing ourselves to be qualified for those opportunities as they come up.

The glaring gap in my profile is demonstrated success within a larger organisation.

Performance in a Focused Area

As an entrepreneur that has founded, developed and sold three different companies over the past 17 years, I’ve always had a role that could only truly be measured by the overall success of the company. The adage of “chief cook and bottle washer” is always correct insofar as you are simultaneously head of sales, finance, operations and delivery … even if you have a head of sales, finance, operations or delivery.

For some time I’ve always wondered how I would do if I was only measured on a few key areas vs. all key areas.

Why Microsoft?

There are three reasons I took this role at Microsoft:

  1. Familiarity. I’ve been partnered with Microsoft for over 10yrs and have developed dozens on dozens of great relationships in the Microsoft Canada subsidiary as well as down at corporate headquarters in Redmond. Not only that, but I have a very intimate knowledge of most of the products, services and solutions and feel as through I’ve almost been an insider anyway for most of my career. The team that I will be working directly with is in particular one of the highest performing teams within their practice globally at Microsoft… and I love a winning team.
  2. Potential. I believe that Microsoft has lost much of its “mojo” in the last 10-14yrs. I won’t go into my personal position on the why, but I can say that Microsoft is poised to either surge ahead past some of its key competitors or cede further ground all the way into effective oblivion. I’m certain the next five years will be a crucial period for Microsoft. I’d like to be a part of it either way as there is a lot of change coming.
  3. Lifestyle. This role at Microsoft addresses both key gaps in my professional profile, but still allows me to a) remain primarily customer-facing, b) be home most nights with my family and c) work within the community that I have invested heavily in for years.

Anyway … as with anything, this is a measured risk, but I want to throw everything into this.

Here goes …

(and if you’d like to contact me, you can reach me at Jame.Healy@Microsoft.com).

Some of my most challenging and rewarding experiences have come in the last 3-4 years and I wouldn’t trade them in for the world.

Recently I decided to step down as Managing Director at Avantage Partners (www.Avantage.com), effective October 31, 2011 for several reasons:

  1. Term-based Leadership Assignments. At Avantage, we believe that leadership is not management and management is not leadership. We therefore instituted a policy from the very beginning that all leadership roles, or “leadership assignment” as we call them, would be term-based. My role as Managing Director for instance was a four-year term. I am now at the tail end of that term and this year has been one of transition to a new leadership team.
  2. Avantage has never been in a better position. Avantage today is stronger than it has ever been both financially and operationally. Our strategy of careful, measured growth has paid off through a period of economic uncertainty, while still allowing for the development of an extremely deep and skilled core consulting team.
  3. Avantage has a strong leadership team. I recognise that the company that I founded over four years ago is in great hands. A team led by Stephanie Hayes will continue to grow the company and ensure that it continues to be a preferred place to work for years to come.
  4. New Challenges. Ultimately though, after four years, I look forward to new challenges and opportunities. Avantage, in a sense, is an extension of two prior organisations that I co-founded, Form Consulting and Sunaptic Solutions. In a way I have been in this business (through all three organisations) for over 15yrs and I look forward to new challenges.

I am proud of some of the unconventional aspects of the Avantage business model that I developed, including “term-based leadership assignments” (vs. a management track), “total objectivity and transparency” (for ALL team members, including one organisational compensation model for all; total access to financials, accounting, legal and internal documents), and “open partnership” opportunities for all of our consultants, based on a completely objective and performance-based model.

We also demonstrated commitment to the concept of a “consultant’s consulting firm”. What we mean by that was providing a preferred place to practice for highly skilled professional consultants, within a narrow, specialised field. This allowed us to demonstrate that we were the best at what we do, deliver premium value at a fair price, and continue to develop deep capabilities in business integration as opposed to broad IT and business services skills.

We provided an extraordinarily flexible work environment, encouraging telecommuting and even pursuing “alternative markets” of skilled consultants (including stay-at-home professional mothers and remote workers outside of the Vancouver area).

I’m particularly proud of the research and development I led on The Connected Business Framework will no doubt continue, with further development of the various methodologies, tools and models that are included within the framework. Central to the Connected Business concept was that we felt that the key to commercial success in the present economic and political environment was a greater degree of “connectivity” between workers, trading partners and the services that we leverage internally and externally. The concept of “connectivity” was defined as a function of integration and of alignment. Our framework provides tools that helps to measure the current state of “connectivity” within the enterprise, develop a development strategy or roadmap to achieve a target state of “connectivity” as well as methodology on developing key underlining capabilities of the organization. We argued that organizations needed to look at internal processes, workflow and activities as services, each with unique contributed value, underlying cost and by extension “service margin” (value, less cost to deliver). It is only when we shift our thinking to a service-oriented mindset that we can find opportunities to drive greater integration and alignment of services between our workers and our trading partners, which delivers enhanced cost efficiencies, improved service delivery and a better overall competitive outlook.

Finally, I am most proud of the great name we have developed in the market place. We are known as highly skilled specialists that are clearly the deepest in the field of business integration, including shared service integration, service and process automation, application integration and workforce alignment.

As of the writing of this post, I have not yet committed to another opportunity, but have complete faith in the new leadership team to take Avantage in the direction that they deem best without the distraction of my continued involvement.

The team at Avantage remain, in my opinion, the best in the business and they have my complete support. I look forward to watching them succeed.

I’m no political pundit, but a few observations from the sideline:

  • Attack Ads and Negative Politics. Frankly who isn’t sick of this? I’d say the Conservatives have been more effective in their attack ads, but certainly don’t have a monopoly on them. The “Contempt for Canadians” ads (Liberal depiction of Harper) are about as blatant and personal as any of the Conservative ads. If only we as constituents would reward those that would run a campaign exclusively on the issues… we have only ourselves to blame. The campaign managers are simply exploiting a tactic that works. And seems to work well.
  • Liberal Meltdown. It seems that the Liberal meltdown is not an issue of vote splitting. If you look at the Liberal seats lost this past election, more than half of them went to the Tories. That isn’t Leftist vote splitting… that is moderate “small L” liberals sending a message. It seems to a lot of people that the strategy the Liberals employed was to cover as much of the centre-left as possible by matching NDP policy (except for Afghanistan) so as to minimise the loss to the NDP. Unfortunately this played well for Jack Layton, clearly a strong leader and communicator, while Michael Ignatieff was considered a “me too” candidate”.
  • The “Orange Wave”. Again, the NDP’s success is almost exclusively in defeating the Bloc in Quebec. The challenge for Layton will be to be an effective Opposition Leader with a National/broad focus, while maintaining his (now new) political base in Quebec.
  • Increased Voter Turnout. So a 2.6% nominal increase increase in voter turnout isn’t something to celebrate over, but it is in fact about a 4.5% increase from the 58.8% levels of only a few years ago.
  • Increased Youth Participation. From personal observation I’ve seen more youth under the age of 20 engaged and participating in this election than I ever have. Perhaps this is an indication that we could “safely” lower the voting age to 16, knowing that those that DO exercise their right to vote, will likely not take that right for granted … besides, we only have 2 in every 3 people OVER 16 voting anyway!
  • Social Media. I don’t think any of the Canadian political parties took a page from the Barack Obama social media playbook… they should have. There were a few examples of guerrilla tactics (e.g. http://www.ShitHarperDid.ca), but by-and-large there was a wasted opportunity to have a consolidated, structured and focused engagement of the “digital demographic” leveraging younger people… by any party.
  • Quebec Sovereignty. It doesn’t seem that the Quebec Sovereignty issue is dead. The Parti Quebecois’ main platform is effective sovereignty, but this election seemed to be a resounding rejection of the Bloc’s track record, strategy and/or effectiveness to date. To be clear, the “Orange Wave” of NDP support in Quebec has more to do with an NDP platform that resonated the best of the three national parties. Maybe the Quebecers are tired of being represented by a regional party?
  • Only 40% of Popular Vote Makes a Majority!? Oh my! The number of comments on this is ridiculous. This is a “first past the post” parliamentary system… the chance of an absolute majority is almost impossible. Those on “the left” need to look at Cretien’s majority governments … each around 40% of the popular vote. I personally would love to see a Single Transferable Vote system in place, but unfortunately it seems to be too confusing for most to fully understand (and it would NEVER be embraced by the political parties).
  • The Green Party. Wow … Elizabeth May. More than a 7000 vote victory over a cabinet minister? That is deserving of praise and it will be good for a “green voice” (which in my estimation is consistent with most Canadians viewpoint) in Parliament.

All that said, congratulations to Jack Layton, I expect you and your party will form a very effective Official Opposition (albeit a rookie caucus); farewell to Michael Ignatieff, you’re gracious in defeat and I don’t think you own 100% of the failure … not by a long shot; and congratulations to Elizabeth May… I personally hope that they gain credibility and voice, though admittedly I didn’t (and won’t likely) vote for them for practical reason (I will however contribute to the Green Party).

A colleague of mine mentioned a curious and “unscientific” observation today regarding the organisational effectiveness of team members “liking” each other.
The example he used was a meeting that recently took place where two mid-level managers from different departments who obviously knew each other fairly well, coming in to take their seat at the conference table. One said to the other, “you should sit right there so I can throw darts at you all meeting”.
This struck my colleague as not only an odd statement, but certainly the wrong foot to start the meeting on. Even though the comment may have been thinly veiled in humour there was an uncomfortable air in the room among the other attendees.
This got us to thinking… Is it possible for team members to subconsciously affect the outcome of a project, activity or task based on how much they “like” the other team members?
My colleague mentioned another “unscientific” observation: His son plays on a fairly competitive baseball team and he has noticed that the number of errors that the team committed when the pitcher is well liked by his fielders is dramatically less than the number of errors committed when the pitcher is less popular.
We’re now thinking about how we can measure how much team members “like” each other (which may consist of anything from trust level, attractiveness, affability and other factors) and how that may impact overall outcomes and performance.
Any thoughts?