Question: Reducing dysfunctional peer competition among managers

I oversee the HR function in a large Process Consulting/ Outsourcing firm. We plan to grow aggressively in near future as our Fortune 500 clients recover from the downturn and initiate new projects.

Our company culture is very performance driven. As we promote our A-players to managerial positions to handle growth, we want to engender in them a spirit of cooperation. We feel this will help us win/ handle more business by coming up with innovative solutions for complex client needs.

How can we accelerate collaboration/ co-operation in these new managers who come from high-pressure single contributor roles?

9 Expert Insights

If what you want is a spirit of cooperation then build that into your context/culture by, for instance:
+ Accomplishing projects in teams
+ Doing simple 360 reviews in teams of individual's contribution to each team
+ Promote those who add more value to more teams.

Thirteen years ago in Teamwork Is An Individual Skill, I wrote that the future of career management and performance management would be based on how many teams one adds value to.  We're getting there.

You are so right to focus on building a spirit of cooperation.    Top talent is only as good as the team and the leader, in most cases.

"A" players need strong leadership in order to play as part of the team.  Strong leadership means that the leader clearly understands her responsibility to the talent, can engage the team in a common vision, can redirect the talent if they stray too far from the vision, and teaches the talent to build solid relationship up, down and across the organization.

An "A" leader can develop an exceptional team of "B" and "C" players, but a "B" or "C" leader can lose the attention of their "A" players.

This is sometimes in conflict with the metrics aspect of a performance driven culture, as it focuses on getting the right work done through the individual talent.  This requires lots of dialogue, great questions and collective thinking.  In other words, the solution to building a spirit of cooperation is to help leaders be clear on their responsibilities, continuously learn and build leadership, communication and relationship skills, and have the courage to have open and honest dialogue with their teams.

In today's busy work environment, this is often a challenge because building skills and building relationships take time.  But consider it an investment because it will pay off in the long run.

Internal motivators will drive their performance more than external incentives -- get them to want to cooperate for their own reasons, rather than for what they might 'earn' if they do, and you'll likely see a much faster and easier acceptance.

As Ms. Anderson cites, above, the metrics of an organization often contradict the desired culture.  In other words, you can espouse collaboration, build teams, enhance communications, incorporate knowledge sharing into leadership academy courses, and multiple other activities; however, if the measurement system is still based on the individual evaluation, all of that good work will go by the wayside when performance reviews are done and raises/bonuses are defined by individual effort.

The solution?  Ensure that the measurement and rewards system is consistent with your collaborative value.  Measure based on team results and outcomes that are aligned with corporate needs - rather than individual performances.  Establish "performance reviews" that are based on individual contribution to team success.

Concisely, you'll need a systems approach - and not simply a set of feel-good teaming retreats...

Your effort is necessary to grow a competitive 21st century organization - WE wish you success!

Larry Hiner, PsyD
Workforce Equanimity (WE)

Your situation lends itself to the implementation of the Results and Behaviors Performance and Rewards similar to the one implemented at GE as part of their culture change process.  As part of this you will need to develop and communicate a clear competency model that includes descriptions of the behaviors you want.  You can also look at the process used at Proctor and Gamble, a best practices company for team work and collaboration.  Part of the implementation of the new model will be to conduct an initial performance appraisal for all of the people you mentioned and provide candid feedback regarding which of the 4 quadrants they fall into (Get Results and Demonstrate the Behaviors; Get Results but don't demonstrate the behaviors; Don't get results but demonstrate the behaviors; Don't get results demonstrate the behaviors).

You will also need to be prepared to deal with 2 common scenarios:  

1) those who love the "survival of the fittest" style and don't want to work in a collaborative culture;
2) those who are top performers but are significantly deficient in their behaviors.

Your first organizational test will be whether you are prepared to deal with this 2nd group in particular because if people sense that you are willing to give people a pass on bad behavior as long as they deliver results, you have lost at least 50% of your ability to be successful.

Lastly, seriously consider increasing the value weight on the behavioral aspects of performance for all forms of compensation to ensure that their are financial consequences of behaviors.

I was a C level exec in a consulting company in a similar environment.  What improved our collaboration and improved our revenue (and personal compensation) was the integration of a Balanced Scorecard.  It worked for our leadership team because it required us to focus on two parts: our areas and  what we needed to do  to support the overall corporation and each other.

We also worked through a RASCI exercise which also helped us  to focus on how we would collaborate and support each other.  It provided much clearer lines of accountability.

It was painful at first but because we saw the value from investing seriously in this it delivered the outcome desired.

This is both a simple and complex issue.  Simple, because providing a system of direction and compensation toward a common goal is a must in this situation.  Complex for many many reasons.

Four main components of a pay for performance system are:
1) Metrics
2) Goals
3) Communication
4) Human Nature

Good metrics require an understanding of your strategy and culture.  They also require evidence, and not just anecdotal, that the metrics either link to driving performance or are the result of performance.

Good goals require good, and honest, modeling.  Best Case, Worst Case, Mathematically Modeled and Gut Expectations must all be combined to create a range of reasonable and acceptable goals.

Communications are what makes sense of the above. There are many paths to the top of each mountain.  Your individuals and teams may be climbing from different directions but they must all understand that they are headed to the same location. Early climbers must understand that leaving a well set path helps everyone succeed.  Slower climbers must understand that they may need to carry more supplies to provide the early teams with replenishment when they must rest.  We sometimes explain the entire process in the context of the ecosystem of the industry that the business supports. It helps people understand things from their day to day perspective. Imagine a brewery where everyone component of pay and reward is linked back to the types of things the company produces, the people who produce them and the process used to produce them. Even the language used can be similar.

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What a fun and tricky challenge.  One culture is set to establish "A" players and then the definition of "A" player changes.  Summarizing several comments from my colleagues above, what I have seen to be the most effective is the following 2 steps:

1. Set a clear set of competencies at each level and tie those to the selection and evaluation of individuals at each level (individual contributor, manager, sr. leader).  Make these transparent so freshly-minted managers know on day 1 that the rules of the road have changed.

2. Administer 360 reviews annually with all managers (and above) and tie the results with promotions / raises (Ex: Managers that score poorly with their peers will be slowed in their promotion schedules and will receive less-than-stellar raises).  This will show a level of seriousness re: cooperation and collaboration from leadership.  To be clear, tying 360's to promotions / raises will likely reduce honesty by evaluators and result in some score inflation but it will likely get managers cooperating (even if it means they are conspiring against the instrument).  

Good luck!

Organizations are perfectly designed to get the results that they get. This means that if you want collaboration and cooperation, you must design that into your organization. There are two ways to do this, but they should both go hand in hand:

1) from the top leader down, management must drive and embody a culture where collaboration and cooperation are valued. If this doesn't happen, you need to either change the leader(s)/manager(s) who are not on the same page or "change"them.

2) look at the way work and your supporting systems and processes are designed in your organization. Do they support collaboration/cooperation or inhibit them? Are they properly aligned to give a consistent message? If not, you need to change them.

For example, if you have units overseen by an all-knowing boss, it will encourage people to merely do what they are told and not work together. Consider building teams of leaders see where everyone takes ownership for their teams results. If your rewards system only recognizes individual behavior, you are going to discourage teamwork. Consider establishing rewards goals at both he individual and group levels. If you employees work behind high partitions, it is not going to foster cooperation/collaboration. Consider having low partitions when they make good business sense.

The point here is that in order to build collaboration/cooperation into your company, you need both leadership/management to walk the talk and have systems/processes in place that will send a clear message that collaboration/cooperation is valued, expected and encouraged.