Take it from the top

first_img Previous Article Next Article Take it from the topOn 1 Jul 2001 in Personnel Today Canthe larger, traditional organisations learn from the leadership styles inherentin dot-coms? Liz Simpson believes they canRegardlessof whether it’s a sales, administrative or technical position they are tryingto fill, lastminute.com looks beyond a candidate’s specialist knowledge andexperience.Thecompany that helps Internet surfers find spontaneous, romantic and adventurousthings to do, looks for certain personal characteristics in its staff – likepassion, self-motivation, having a can-do attitude and “willingness to gobeyond the call of duty”. These are qualities that all companiespresumably want, but which dot-coms have been more successful than most in attracting.The good news is that given the open-mindedness and willingness to do so,larger, more traditional companies can learn from the leadership stylesinherent in successful dot-com CEOs and start-up entrepreneurs such as Amazon’sGeoff Bezos and lastminute.com’s Martha Lane Fox and Brent Hoberman. Checkout Amazon’s Web sites in the UK and the US and you’ll find thousands of bookson the subjects of leadership and unleashing creativity in employees. Cutthrough all the rhetoric and you’ll discover that both topics depend on threekey principles:–Find the right people–Show them how good they are–Then get out of their way.Itis in these areas that dot-commers can teach traditionally oriented businessesa thing or two. After all, many were set up by individuals with little or noexperience of the business world and therefore are not limited by mentalconstraints of how things “should be”.Findthe right peopleAmanagement recruiter for 25 years, working near California’s Silicon Valley,Tom Thrower of Management Recruiters International says the most importantadvice he would give any manager is to surround yourself with people you like,who are fun to work with and inspire mutual caring. This is true of dot-coms,where founders would fish in a relatively small pool of people for those theyhad either liked working with in the past or whose reputation was known to them.”Early-stageentrepreneurs know their employees’ motivations in depth, rather than at the superficiallevel operating in most businesses. The only way larger organisations canemulate this is to take more time over the hiring process and look beyondexperience or even technical skills,” advises Thrower.BradFregger, chief product officer for e-customer relationship management atsoftware company 212 Studios agrees. He explains the rationale behind thecompany, which is based in Austin, Texas. “Our president and co-founder,Ingrid Vanderveldt, has a tremendous ability to discover and hire the rightpeople. My background is in consumer software and although she was starting anenterprise software company – occupying a completely different technology space– she saw in me someone who could create the product she had envisioned.”Themistake most hiring managers make is relying too much on resumes and beingfixated on where a person’s knowledge comes from. One company I worked atproduced interactive 3D multimedia software. The skills we needed for aparticular project were unique, so we started surfing the Internet for snippetsof 3D code and stumbled across a site that looked brilliant. When we contactedits programmer he was a 21-year-old K-Mart worker in Oklahoma who wrote 3D codeas a hobby in the evenings. We invited him to interview and hired him on thespot. Yet we’d never have known about his talent in this area by asking aboutqualifications and employment experience,” says Fregger.Showthem how good they areLeadingby example is the lesson coming out of Google.com, the search engine of choicefor the digital cognoscenti. “Our co-founders are ambitious, creativevisionaries whose goals of organising the world’s information and changingpeople’s lives really inspire our employees,” says Stacy Sullivan, thecompany’s vice-president of HR.”Themantra of Larry (Page) and Sergei (Brin) is ‘think big and differently’. Theyencourage this with their own curiosity about how anyone and everything works –even questioning the janitor about why he lines trash cans in a certain way.When you have hands-on leaders whom everyone respects and admires becausethey’re so bright, successful and innovative, a degree of mirroring goes on.We’ve found that even when they’re not at meetings, those present are alwaystalking along the lines of ‘This is what Larry or Sergei would think or do’.”Anotherimportant aspect of helping employees demonstrate how good they are is byoperating a no-blame culture. We inspire and encourage all our employees totake calculated risks and are planning a recognition initiative that willhighlight and reward the person in any given period who has taken the greatestrisk,” says Sullivan. “Taking risks – an essential precursor tocreativity, leadership and motivation – is one of Google’s core values.”Getout of their wayDot-comfounders, unlike the majority of big company leaders, remain closer to what’shappening on the front line. It is here, according to leadership and creativityexpert Dr Alan Robinson, that most of the ideas that will make a difference toan organisation come from – if only companies realised it.Robinson,currently on the faculty of the Isenberg School of Management at the Universityof Massachusetts, explains, “Most managers are completely unaware of thefact that 70-80% of innovative ideas originate from front-line employees. Ideasstart with problems – something bugs you and you want it solved. Hierarchicalmanagement is not conducive to either hearing employees’ opinions or actingupon them quickly enough. An informed leader creates an environment in which everyoneis encouraged to take responsibility for innovation and ensures thefacilitators of creativity are spotlighted and rewarded.”Headds, “Dot-com leaders provide a gigantic training ground for theiremployees by encouraging them to test out their ideas. This stimulatesmotivation and trust. Big companies can do this too. For example, a flightattendant at Delta Airlines had a wonderful idea after seeing then-PresidentClinton pass a law overturning the liabilities preventing institutions passingon unused food to the needy. She wrote to her bosses explaining how they coulddistribute food that usually gets thrown away on flights and got a call fromone top manager who told her he’d been assigned to help her implement her idea.Not only did she learn all the ramifications of her plan, enhancing herexperience of the business, but this sent out a clear, motivating message thatsenior management took employee initiative seriously.”Lettinggo of the reins so that employees can demonstrate their leadership andcreativity is a skill that Steve Rosa, president and chief creative officer ofRhode Island bricks-and-clicks agency Advertising Ventures, understands is hardfor most managers to do. “Myinstinct was always to micromanage employees, especially when I could do thework quicker or I had more experience,” says Rosa. “I realised thatif I didn’t pull back I would inhibit my employees’ potential for leadershipand creativity – which are all about freedom of thought and actions. Creativitycannot be managed because it’s synonymous with risk-taking. I think it’spossible for large, more traditionally oriented companies to encourage greaterpassion, motivation and self-responsibility in employees, as those of usworking in the new economy are doing – but only if leaders send out a messagethat people won’t be sacrificed or made scapegoats for trying something new ormaking mistakes.”Dot-comentrepreneurs, for all their failings, have a pioneering spirit. They encourageemployees to look at situations with fresh eyes and ask, ‘Is there a betterway?’.”Levellingthe layersAccordingto TJ Linzy, head of global operations at lastminute.com and former head of UKcustomers services at Amazon.com, both companies have benefited by havingflatter management structures – in those areas in which direct comparisons canbe made – than those found in most other companies. “Lastminuteand Amazon have similar approaches with regard to hiring the right people,encouraging individual leadership and risk-taking – even though one isservices-based and the other product-based. Certainly the personal qualities ofcharismatic, visionary, energetic founders offers a distinct advantage withregard to the leadership of an organisation, but not exclusively so. “Aswell as clearly articulating what they are trying to do, our co-founders Martha(Lane Fox) and Brent (Hoberman) need a highly adaptable, self-motivated,technologically focused workforce that will drive that vision forwards. Andactions – such as having a no-blame culture and publicly celebrating individualsuccesses – always speak louder than words.”ToptipsJudithRich, executive vice-president and chief creative officer worldwide for globalPR firm Ketchum (clients include BP Amoco, Nokia and Visa USA) offers thesethoughts on managing for innovation:–There should be no such thing as a “creative department”. Innovationis everyone’s business and everyone should be encouraged to get involved.–You never know where good ideas will come from, but they definitely won’t comefrom people who know they won’t be listened to.–Send out the right message the minute a person joins your company. Makeleadership and creativity part of the staff orientation and review procedure.Establish goals appropriate to the position and never let successes gounheralded.–Give employees thinking time in a space where they can go to reflectcomfortably and quietly without feeling they’re not doing their job.–Put people in new partnerships. Working in the same teams or departments eventuallyleads to mental blocks. The less you circulate, the less you stimulate peopleand the more challenging “thinking outside the box” becomes.Furtherinformation–Corporate Creativity: How Innovation & Improvement Actually Happen, by AlanG Robinson and Sam Stern (Berrett-Koehler, 1998)–What Leaders Really Do, by John P Kotter (Harvard Business School Publishing,1999).–The Centre for Creative Leadership: www.ccl.org–www.groundbreaking.com/leaderdef.html Comments are closed. Related posts:No related photos.last_img read more