- Create hurdles and challenges
Hurdles and challenges are at the heart of a self-driven culture, and it’s amazing how well people respond when you free them up to tackle a challenge. If you want to selectively invest in people, then start with self-nomination. “Have you got more to offer? If so click here.” Once they’ve put their hands up, provide a selection of relatively easy hurdles, and ask them to jump one of them. For example, one of the challenges might be “Write a page about a mistake you made, how you dealt with it, what you learned from it, and how it has changed your approach.” Provide a sample of what good looks like. What you are testing is A. “Do they have the drive to complete a non-urgent but important task even when busy?” B. “How much effort do they put into learning to do a good job?” You’d be surprised how many people never get around to leaping the hurdle. Later, you’ll be raising the game – challenging them to organise a senior mentor or a secondment, or to teach someone else what they learned.
- Create tortoise routes
Most ways of selecting people for investment create winners and losers. You can’t afford to make half your people with good potential feel like losers if they don’t initially succeed. So you have to introduce a key self-driven principle: ‘Sometimes I win, and sometimes I learn. There is no down side.’ Anyone who tries to leap a hurdle, but doesn’t quite make it, needs to be given the chance to learn and try again. Sometimes the ‘tortoises’ – who didn’t immediately shine, but put a lot of hard work into learning and growing – ultimately turn out to be some of your best and most committed talent. Equally, some of your ‘hares’ – who immediately impress – prove not to have the stamina or humility to make full use of learning opportunities. Every time there is a hurdle where some people are disappointed, set a challenge – “If you do x, y, and z over the next 6 months, you will earn a ticket to the next stage.” This removes the sting and allows tortoises to show their (often splendid) capabilities over the long haul.
- Make people accountable
You need to create commitments where if people don’t deliver, it’s visible. For example, make people responsible for organising a session at a conference – they have to source a guest, plan every aspect, act as host, lead the questioning and manage audience participation. Tell them that if they don’t succeed, they’ll have to make the announcement to the audience about why this session won’t be running. Another example of making people accountable is where we told a cohort of 8 that in 3 months they would attend a Leadership Assessment Centre with 4 exercises (which we described). Their task was to learn from people in the business how to handle these kinds of issues, and to find ways to practise the skills involved, so that the entire group performed well at AC. The AC directly made people accountable for the workplace learning we wanted.
- Make it explicit what you are looking for
Create a vision through discussion about what success looks like on the talent programme or learning challenge. For example, with one emerging talent programme, we shared the results of our research into what senior managers say about how they spot potential; then created groups with diverse backgrounds, and asked the groups to go through the plan for the programme they were on, and draw up the behavioural indicators that would demonstrate potential or lack of it at each stage. This was great for social mobility, as it created a level playing field of understanding about ‘what good looks like’. Equally, you might need to discuss how the self-driven culture will apply during training – for example establish up front (in an equal to equal way), that the self-driven culture will involve every session starting on time (whether or not everyone is there), and that when there are break out sessions, each group is responsible for getting back to the main room on time – it’s not the workshop leader’s job to manage their time. As with the previous article, sometimes it’s the minute-to-minute implementation of small things that underline the self-driven message.
- Earn the right – create Talent Streams
Talent Pools are static; you get placed in one, and then everyone gets the same investment. Could you instead create a Talent Stream full of a series of challenges, where seizing and handling one opportunity well unlocks other opportunities? Talent Streams are dynamic – you leap upstream by tackling a number of challenges. You earn the right to more investment, by showing how well you’ve used the last investment. The most expensive investments (whether that is money, e.g. attending INSEAD, or time e.g. having a Director as your mentor) are given to those who have proven that they deliver a great return on the money previously invested in them. Did they apply what they learned in the workshop they attended? Have they taught others how to use the techniques? Have they repaid the time spent shadowing that senior manager – by offering a reciprocal deal where members of that department can shadow you or attend meetings in your department? This involves making people accountable for proving a return on investment.
- Create a successful experience
In order for people to shift attitudes and behaviours towards a self-driven culture, they need to have an immediate successful experience of how liberating and rewarding it is to work in this way. This means setting challenges at the right level, and preparing very carefully so that the experience works first time. Later on, you can progressively increase the challenge and reduce support, so that people are constantly building on earlier experiences. A big mistake companies make when trying to create a self-driven culture is to throw people in at the deep end without enough support. If early experiences are frustrating it will lead to blaming – “It wasn’t fair” “You didn’t organise it properly” – because people feel that they were unable to show themselves at their best. One of the key areas of judgment in creating a self-driven culture is to set the levels of challenge correctly and progressively.
Creating a self-driven culture requires a very strong mental image of what you want to see, and a consistent way of acting. It involves being very explicit about the behaviours you want to see, and creating a nursery in which people try out the new approach and have a great experience. This involves careful crafting of initiatives.
But the good news is – self-driven attitudes stick. Once people discover their own power to create success – they never go back.