Aligning The Stars

I first read this book in 2003.  Tom Tierney’s wife, Karen, is an alumna of Georgetown College where I served as President.  At that time, he was the Chief Executive of Bain & Company and Chairman of The Bridgespan Group, Bain’s nonprofit affiliate.  Jay was the Louis Kirstein Professor of Human Relations at the Harvard Business School.  I had several opportunities to be with Tom and had great admiration for his insights and passions about leadership.  I have learned from both of them and have just re-read their book with a new set of eyes.  It is powerful!

Page 2-3: “Our book’s title reveals our bottom line:  Outstanding firms (organizations) are consistently able to identify, attract, and retain star performers; to get stars committed to their firms (organizations) strategy; to manage stars across geographic distances, business lines, and generations.  These capabilities are what give their great firms (organizations) their competitive advantage.”

“Stars are those in critical jobs whose performance is crucial to their organization's success. What stars have in common is not only a record of past accomplishments but also, more important, the potential to continue contributing to their firms (organizations) success.  Whether the value is realized depends on the degree of alignment the stars have with their organization.

“Alignment means creating organizational practices and structures that simultaneously fit the strategic requirements of a business and the needs of key employees. It makes sense that the more people are motivated to achieve the company’s goals, the greater the likelihood that the organization will succeed.”

Note:  At Crouch & Associates, we feel it is critical for an organization to articulate it’s “WHY.”   By doing so, a focus can be on creating a workforce of “believers” in the why.  This alignment helps a nonprofit recruit better talent and allows them to keep top performers.  One of our clients has recently created its belief statements and had a plaque commissioned to go above all team member’s desks as a constant reminder of why they come to work.

Page 56: “A firms (organizations) external strategic identity is its cumulative profile in the marketplace:  the way the market defines its capabilities, shortfalls, character, and personality. “

Note:  Often, nonprofits spend all their time identifying how they feel about themselves.  It is crucial to PAUSE and to seek insights from those in the marketplace to learn about this external identity.   While seeking the insights of others, you are also cultivating a relationship that could lead to financial investments.

Pages 64-65:  “Starmaking is an organization’s competency at attracting, retaining, developing, and motivating star talent – the future professionals and leaders who build your sustainability.  The people you pay are more important over time than the people who pay you.  Which comes first, the star or the client (success)?  The star comes first every time.”

Note:   We have found that most nonprofits and educational institutions do not invest the resources that the corporate world does in developing talent.  A significant percentage of money is spent sending staff to conferences in big cities in hopes that one great idea can be found to bring back home.  These outings are expensive, and often the insights learned remain with that individual.  At Georgetown College, Dr. Todd Gambill, my Vice President of Student Affairs, had a monthly “star” luncheon for the staff members he felt had great potential.  He determined that an investment of mentoring and exposure to other stars was more beneficial than more conferences.  The key is an investment of time and resources to develop talent!

Page 71-73: “Great firms (organizations) win because, relative to their competitors, they constantly play with the first string, and everyone in the marketplace knows it. For young stars, the time with senior people is the most valuable currency.  When Allan Levenson, the senior partner at Fulbright & Jaworski, lets associates know what he thinks of their work (which he does right away, in real time, when he works with them), he is not only teaching them how to do things “the Fulbright & Jaworski way,” he’s also showing them that he cares about their progress and is interested in them as individuals. Why, then, do great firms (organizations) invest so heavily in stars?  To put it bluntly, they understand the cost of mediocrity.”

Note: At Crouch & Associates we use two tools to allow for the real-time feedback to our stars.  The first is the 6 x 6 report that allows a supervisor and employee to determine the six priorities for the next six weeks.  This keeps everyone aligned.  The second report, we call the 5 X 15 Report, is a weekly correspondence between the supervisor and their employee.  Both are designed to give clear and immediate feedback. The results among our clients have shown these tools have a significant impact.  If used appropriately, they do not allow for mediocrity.

Pages 78-79: “While young professionals will have their own particular needs, there are some we can generalize about:  First, they want to learn. They have been learning all their lives, they’re good at it, and they like it.  Second, they want career options. They are not thinking of their job as an end point, a destination.  Third, most young professionals value affiliation and teamwork. They especially like connections with senior staff. Finally, some young professionals value the flexibility that enables them to balance their professional and personal lives better.”

Note:  In the 2013 EAB study of development top performers, they identified that 78% of them were curious chameleons meaning they had high vertical learning skills –

emotional, relational, cultural and social.   These skills can be learned if a person is intent on rising above mediocrity. Potential stars need training in all these areas.

Pages 110-111: “All the positive feedback in the world won’t make a stitch of difference to professionals who are bored or unhappy with their work.  If they are just not having fun, they’ll leave or “quit” on the job and underperform.  That’s why deployment – putting the right person in the right job at the right time – is the most powerful lever a firm (organization) has for retaining, motivating, and developing senior stars at every stage of their careers.

Note: The Crouch & Associates Development Star assessment tool has helped our clients make sure everyone was where the data showed they found the most energy.  High levels of energy come from being appropriately aligned with skills, passion, emotional traits and individual job positioning.  We have many examples of finding development employees in the wrong roles.  Helping them get aligned is one of our great joys.  It also significantly impacts the productivity and success of an organization.

Page 139 - 142: “How can a firm (organization) maintain its vision when so many forces are at work eroding them?  Ultimately, the answer lies in their culture. A strong culture can weave new strategic and organizational choices together, and hold them in alignment, despite revolutionary pressures. A strong culture can also provide enormous help in attracting, retaining, and motivating stars.

Culture is intangible. But it directly affects the behavior of every single person in your organization.  Culture is dynamic.  You manage it on a daily basis. You shape the culture of your firm (organization) by the decisions you make or facilitate, which then affect behavior, which subsequently becomes part of ‘how things are done around here.’”

Note:  We have learned from top performers in many professions that the ability to “pass the baton” is a crucial part of high productivity.  This is achieved through a trusting, safe environment where individuals are respected, valued and celebrated for their role in the organization's success.  Our clients that are achieving at high levels work diligently to create a powerful culture.