Challenge society’s robotic programming to shift your perspective, find meaning and change your outcomes in the highly engaged workplace of the future

There could hardly be any doubt about it. The robots are evolving far faster than we are.

This reality makes us an endangered species. Everywhere in the world, it seems, we want to save any endangered species – from ants to elephants. It’s not clear how those saviors will get working humans on that list. But those are the humans who are rapidly becoming irrelevant to the most “advanced” civilizations on earth. In society and economy, those who do the dirty work are fast becoming extinct. Because they are considered interchangeable, they are seen as expendable as people.

Recently, there was an article entitled “Will a Robot Be Your Next Boss?”
That’s catchy, but naïve. Maybe not academically naïve, since those folks long ago have sentenced themselves to being irrelevant, but perhaps more pragmatically naïve. The next category to be displaced by robots, for the purpose of “removing all errors in judgment while producing better outcomes,” will not be your boss, but more likely the engineers who design and build robots. They do, after all, make many judgments in order to create a robot that does menial tasks. Robots are the main workers in a Japanese hotel, even today. Robots have very little sense of how to run a business. That’s primarily because their creators have very little sense of how to create and run a business.

Robots have to be programmed. What we know is that robots cannot be any more intelligent than the human who programmed them. The high-tech people who write code are actually doing a very menial task – albeit a highly creative one. They don’t make better lives than the run of the mill make for themselves. So the logic here says that they will be displaced by the robots they design. If you remember “Hal,” it was Hal the computer who took charge of the spaceship in the film 2001.

If that doesn’t make you a bit skeptical of having a robot for a boss, this will. Apparently unknown to the author of the article, it is most likely the “boss” who would have to sign the document that permits him or her to be displaced by a robot. And for an expenditure of that size, the check would require his signature. It may have dawned on you at some point that humans are not necessarily the smartest critters on earth. But they know what their vested interests are, and will not delegate those even in the name of “progress.” So far, bosses have both created and destroyed more jobs than robots have, or will. It takes a lot of ego to be the boss. Robots, according to Spock, don’t know how to compute that.

It is well to “inspire” people to be more valuable, which the author tries to
do (commendable), so they are less vulnerable to the onslaught of technological progress. But if people are willing to be displaced by an electro-mechanical gadget, maybe extinction is the kindest cut. Some American workers prefer the problem of their looming obsolescence to any solution that would require them to learn and become more competent. So be it. There seem to be fewer and fewer Americans who want to start at the bottom – the grunt work. So it is done by immigrants, both legal and illegal. Or by robots. You can program a robot to pick an apple from the tree. But you cannot program a robot to figure out when one is ripe. Robots will figure out how to make robots and thus make their makers obsolete long before they are capable of nurturing the conception and growth of a head of cabbage.

The virtuoso performers who comprise the award-winning musical ensemble known as the Orpheus chamber orchestra have never had a conductor at a public performance. There are no robots in the orchestra – and more than likely never may be. Would you pay a hundred bucks to go hear a robot play a piano solo with no errors? And what would be a “better outcome” here? The audience comes for a very complex human experience, not for the technology. Picture this: a concert hall filled with robots waiting for (?) a solo piano performance by a robot. What’s missing?

People have always looked for a way of getting done the things they didn’t want to do. Many civilizations – even the Greeks – had slaves for this purpose. From the best perspective, robots are our modern slaves. They may or may not arise from oppression. They may not have the “heart” for it. So I don’t think we have to worry about whether or not a robot will be anyone’s next boss. Bosses are occasionally stupid. It is entertaining but not very cost effective to create a boss who is stupid. We have an oversupply of them. If the only reason a boss might become better in his or her role is to avoid being replaced by a robot, then it becomes more probable that they will be. Robots do not live in a money economy. We do. Obviously robots do not understand how money rules the world – even theirs. They don’t even have a pocket to put their money in. Nor do they have the driverless cars that they might someday own. What would a robot’s lover look like? What would a robot’s offspring look like? How would they resist their parents’ authority? If a robot were fired for cause, would it become despondent, standing in the unemployment lines? Could they invent such things? If you could have your somewhat unsatisfactory life lived by a robot in place of you, would you do it?

On the other hand (for people, robots wouldn’t understand this): IF you have a “job,” and IF your “job” is largely repetitive and you don’t have to be fully engaged mentally to carry it out, and IF your “job” is not as meaningful to you as are your leisure-time activities, and IF you believe your “job” is boring…then your “job” is a candidate for being taken over and carried out more reliably by a robot.

Those who become robot-like in performing their work (or their play) are replaceable by robots. This is true for people at any level – including bosses. ‘Bots will achieve only what they have been programmed to achieve. If people achieve only what they have been “programmed” to achieve, they can be replaced by a robot. When your love life has become so routinized that you can carry it out without thinking about it, you could be displaced by a more proficient robot.

Some persons have already been displaced, judging from the antics of the “experts” who already are the robots’ minions. If those who design and create robots don’t think hard about the consequences of what they are doing (which neither bosses nor technologists do well), then it is perhaps inevitable that robotics will become their boss.

Lee Thayer, Ph.D., president and CEO of The Thayer Institute, www.thethayerinstitute.org, is a pioneer and influential innovator in the design and development of high-performance executive and organizational leadership strategies.
in the design and development of high-performance organizations and the leadership required to make that happen.

A former Harvard University business professor and Fortune 500 consultant, he keynotes the second annual Thayer Institute Leadership Conference, Asheville, Aug. 27-28, where leaders acquire the thinking tools needed to change their world for the better.

Where leaders acquire the thinking tools needed.

By: Lee Thayer, Ph.D.
The Thayer Institute

Believing Is Seeing

Trying to explain “Leadership” and “Leaders” is like describing the mythical gods who served a purpose for a time.  It is a story based on a perception of reality: that there is a recipe for leading.  I do believe that leaders exist.  I just cannot fully describe how they do what they do until the result has been accomplished.

Throughout the centuries men and women have looked for causality and for purpose.  At the same time, addictions are nothing new in society: sex, gambling, alcohol, smoking, drugs, shopping, hand held devices..….   A large number of people seem to need something to help get them through the day.  Why is it that regardless of the period in history, some find it difficult to live without an external “boost”?  Is there a connection between man’s search for meaning and a craving for purchased pacifiers to live?  Is there a connection between man’s search for causality and man’s ability to create a cause when none is apparent?

When I think about almost every (non-fiction) book that has been written, I conclude that it is either the author’s desire to explain reason and result (HOW it happened), or to explore purpose, why, or WHAT people need to be.  Every book either explains HOW things happened (science and history) or HOW people acted (biography and business); or, the book helps us think about WHAT we need to be if we are to get somewhere (philosophy).

Books that explain tend to have a “shelf life” because the explanation changes as our understanding changes. Apollo moved the sun across the sky until the next group of smart people figured out that the earth stood still.  We make a god of the most current explanation – until we find a better one.  All of this supports the rationale that there are no “facts” there are only perceptions based on our beliefs.  That is, what brought about the result may not be what we believe it to be.  Those of us who want to know HOW IT HAPPENED may have a temporary answer.

Books that help us think about WHAT we need to BE are more lasting because they don’t provide an answer, they provide a way to think about the answer so we can shift our actions depending on what we learn along the way.  The North Star hasn’t significantly changed position in the sky over all recorded time and thus it has been a consistent guide to travelers.  Said another way, Guiding Principles don’t change much over time.  The hard part is to figure out the Guiding Principles.  Books that help us figure this out tend to have much longer shelf life – often many centuries.

Why do we search for purpose–the moral compass and guidance in our actions?  Isn’t it simpler to just go along for the ride and let “nature take its course”?  Isn’t it more comfortable to let the crowd decide what is right rather than take a stand and stand out like a sore thumb? Why is the question WHY so important?  Why is it so difficult for humans to make choices and take responsibility for their choices?  After all, the ability to choose is fundamental to being human.  When we have a purpose, choice is much easier.  If there is no WHY, choice is very elusive.

I wonder, isn’t the human need to create gods to explain what is inexplicable and the human need to find leaders to invent and create purpose the same? Humans invent a cause when they don’t have a factual explanation. Much of what was attributed to the whims and activities of gods we now understand as our knowledge has evolved.  We no longer believe that thunder is the sound of warring gods.  We no longer believe that rainbows are painted or that wind is caused by the four Anomi gods who were always up to something.  Don’t we look for leaders when we don’t know what to do?  Won’t we become engaged in a possibility that seems unrealistic if we believe in the leader?  Do we make the leader the god who has the answer that we couldn’t find ourselves?  If the leader is a “good” (in our perception) god we continue to follow; if the leader is a “bad” (in our perception) god, we find a replacement or we just get out of the way. The leader, like the mythical god, is always up to something (good or bad, in our judgment).

If it is human nature to explain and understand, then the advances of science and knowledge have eliminated the need to worship the multiple gods who controlled the environment.  Education has allowed society to become more secular. So why has the study of Leadership become so prevalent in the last few generations?  Is the Leader the new god?

If humans seek purpose, then are pacifiers the replacement that enable them to wake up each day, do what has to be done, and stay alive to live another purposeless day?  And when they don’t know what to do, do they worship the leader-god who offers an answer –  because it is easier to blame someone else than to make a choice yourself?

Return to the original thesis: humans create a cause (gods) when they do not understand, they look for a purpose in life, will default to pacifiers when they cannot find a purpose, and leadership is not a one trick pony – it is completely situational.  To accomplish, one must have a philosophy of life, an important purpose that includes a wide range of stakeholders, a belief that leaders leverage through others, and a passion to do what is necessary to advance the purpose.  The virtuoso leader has a purpose that is far-reaching, a clear understanding of what is important to think about to achieve that purpose, a path for how to think about it, competent people, an organization structure that is right for the given situation (and can change as the situation changes), and the communications skills to give meaning to what happens, no matter what the situation.

None of this can be “taught” per se because every person performs the role differently and every situation is different.  If we cannot describe the HOW of Leadership, then leaders must be gods who just make things happen.  Or, we can assess the situation in light of our purpose, possess the thinking and have the tools to make the best choices.  And then hope that luck is on our side.

Jeannette Hobson

Fellow, The Thayer Institute for Performance Virtuosity

May 30, 2016

Who’s Responsible?

There has been much talk in recent months about how there may be better methods for selecting future leaders. There have always been failures, and these days, we are simply more aware of them. Most of all that palaver hinges on making the wrong person responsible.  Here’s a more realistic take on the problem.

It is ultimately the candidate’s problem – or should be in a world right side up. Besides, it take two to tango. Few would-be leaders walk into the arena with a gun to their heads. They worked at getting cast in the role – probably even fibbed a bit. So how did unilateral selection get to be the problem? Here’s how it should be seen in a world right side up.

If the candidate isn’t smart enough to figure out that he or she is likely to be a failure in that role, then that person is not a very viable candidate for that role. That’s most people. If the candidate is smart enough to know that he or she could be a failure in the role, then that person has the primary qualification for the role. If you know why and how you would be likely to fail, then you’re probably smart enough to avoid doing so. So many leaders fail. If they’re smart enough to be leaders, why wouldn’t they know if they are one of those?

It’s mainly a matter of who owns the problem of choosing. If it’s the selection committee or even worse experts, the choice will be wrong more often than it is right. If we play at being grow-ups, and approach it as if it were (it is) the candidate’s problem, then the candidate has to reveal wheter or not she has the “right stuff.” The “right stuff” is knowing oneself well enough to avoid choosing oneself for the role.

Getting the person who ought to own the problem to own the problem is the first step in building a high-performance organization.

How many interviewers do you know who got fired for making such a critical mistake? Where the wrong person owns the problem (whatever it is), the outcome is usually bad.

Perversity and the Stock Market

Perversity is an obstacle to real achievement. If you look it up in the dictionary, you will find that perversity refers to the illogic of what goes on in the world. Best interpretation: if refers to the common experience of living in a world that frequently does not coincide with your expectations about it. (Hello, Wall Street.)

Perversity refers to the fact that people are inconsistent, always improvising, changing their minds, putting a spin here and there on what they heard or what they saw. It refers to the obvious; that in the real world things are forever evolving – not randomly, in a technical sense – but with no predictable pattern. Our imaginations about the future are as flawed as our recollections of the past.

 

So, perversity arises in the disconnect between outcomes we believe will occur, and the realities that do occur. Our perceptions may be full of wishful thinking. Our predictions even more so. What we call perversity derives from the fact that the actualities of the world – past, present, or future – are not obligated to be consistent with our hopes, our fears, or our mental models of the way they should be.

Consider this. Perversity has three fundamental sources:

  • Neither the people nor the world you co-habit with them is obligated to be the way you think they are, or to behave in the way you expect them to.
  • The way other people see the world and think about it, and the way other people make decisions and take actions in the world, is something you can neither control nor predict with much accuracy.
  • The world you live in with lots of other people is forever generating happenings and outcomes and effects other than what you intended.

Perversity is what can be said to be at work behind every situation where your reaction is: “I can’t understand how that happened!”

Perversity, Cooking, and Leadership – Let’s Just Order In

I love perversity. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t be in touch with reality very often. The rationality that we try to impose on the world doesn’t often work. The assumptions through which we observe the world more often then not, “spin” what we see out of shape.

For example, people have lost interest in food preparation at home. Or maybe they are just increasingly incompetent to do so. Or maybe (if yo’ve got the wherewithal) it’s just easier to go out or order in. All we can know for sure is that there has been a steep decline in home cooking. At the same time, there has been an increasing number of cookbooks published, and the number of cooking shows on television have increased significantly too. Seems a bit perverse, doesn’t it?

But where I want to go with these cultural perversities is this: As people have become less and less capable of leading themselves – for whatever reason – there has been a huge increase in the number of books published about leadership, as well as a surfeit of seminars on that subject. In other words, the spate of books about leadership might be interpreted as a loss of the capacity for providing it, coupled with an increase in simply reading about it (see the parallel with home cooking and cookbooks in the previous paragraph). People who have no intention of equipping themselves to prepare to be leaders are enchanted by the notion of reading about it. Most leadership books either offer pages and pages about the obvious, or emulate the writers of science-fiction (or of soap operas).

All this might suggest that what today’s so-called leaders do best is try to apply the latest ideas about leadership (there are none) without understanding how to create an idea or make any real contact with the reality in which they attempt to apply those fads. People who can’t think for themselves are fair game for the predators who want to peddle ready-made recipes. People who can’t cook buy cookbooks that promise to make it “easy” – that is, that require no thinking on their part. The popularity of the “Dummie” books” makes the point.

About all such matters, we live in a cookie-cutter world. More and more would-be leaders fake their way along –  not by being the cutter, but by being the cookie.

I Did This on Purpose

 

PhilLiebman

Phil Liebman

The idea that leadership should connect to some sense of “purpose” is clearly in vogue today. There are several business bestsellers and numerous esoteric titles suggesting as much on Amazon.com alone. Enlightened leadership is a broadly appealing thought. Who can argue against having a noble purpose in life, or for your company? But as nice at is sounds, what does it actually mean? How does a person – much less an organization attain a sense of real purpose? More to the point, what do you need to know about having a purpose —or knowing as much about “why” you lead as “how” you lead others?

It’s easy to dismiss the “need” for a clear sense of purpose to drive businesses as the fodder of self-help books and the mumbo-jumbo of self-proclaimed business gurus. No person or business ever became successful by simply writing a vision or mission statement. How we think may be critical to how we perform, but the idea that we “Think and Grow Rich” – is no more plausible than believing that “hope” is a viable method or strategy.

I believe it is clear that nothing worth accomplishing has ever been achieved without the dedication of hard work, commitment – and like it or not – some luck.  So why, then, does having a deep sense of “purpose” make a difference in achieving your best or realizing your potential? How is having a purpose all that different than hoping for the best?

I would address the question by suggesting that purpose is what aligns our thinking with whatever actions we take. Purpose links directly to planning. In fact – it is what guides our plans. It speaks to what is necessary and why. Without purpose the actions we take tend to be random or misguided. Luck becomes a more needed ingredient in accomplishing what we set out to do. But by leading with purpose we can understand what we need to “be” in order to do what needs to be done. In other words – the characteristics that enable us to plan for what we want to have happen, plan around what we do not want to have happen – and even plan for the unexpected – all come from understanding the purpose behind our actions.

On a day-to-day basis, most of what we plan for amounts to decisions we make by habit. A good example could be when to have lunch and what to eat. The simple purpose is to make sure there is time to grab a bite – and then make a choice based on what you “feel” like or would prefer to eat – or sometimes just what is simply convenient to our circumstances. I don’t really feel like eating my yoghurt – but don’t have time to go out and get a sandwich. Or I don’t have time to sit down and have a sensible, healthy lunch – so I’ll whip through the McDonalds drive-through – and eat while driving to my appointment.

But having a greater purpose provides further guidance. Rather than a Pavlovian reaction to it either being noon – or simply that we are hungry (followed by stuffing our face with either whatever is convenient – or tempting) we might instead determine that eating is really about health and nutrition. A Big Mac, fries and a Coke – would solve the hunger, and perhaps be an efficient use of time – but not be at all efficacious if the purpose driving my thinking about “lunch” suggests that I need more and better than fat and empty calories. In fact, I might prefer to stay hungry than make a poor choice based on how I see the need for a mid-day meal to “perform.”  Or, I might even “be” prepared with some healthy choices packed with me in my car for just such circumstances. My choices become driven by something bigger than what is simply expedient – and in the long run in this example, my ultimate goal and greater purpose to be healthy and vital is being served. Purpose is what helps us replace bad habits with good ones.

The same is true with every set of choices and decisions we face. We can up the level of performance only when we have a clear idea of what is truly important. That translates into understanding not only the purpose of our actions – but what it is we ultimately intend to achieve or accomplish. This is efficacy.

There really can be little doubt that for any company to sustainably perform at a high level – there must be a driving force. That driving force is a matter of leadership. For leaders to perform in a highly effective manner, you must connect to some sense of purpose and then be able to instill that purpose into the DNA or the habits of the organization. The greater the purpose is, the stronger the driving force will be.

It is imperative to separate cause and effect when thinking about purpose. Making money or profits is not the purpose-driven cause – it is the consequence of having accomplished something that is ideally valuable and hopefully worthwhile. Making money might be the goal to a mint or a counterfeiter – but for most of us it is the harvest of all the planning and execution that goes into doing whatever it is our businesses are designed to accomplish.

Knowing why your company is designed to do whatever you do is the foundation of purpose. The more noble the purpose is, the less the possibility that the cause is contrived. In fact, the greatest causes tend not to be had by people – people tend to be had by them. The cause has its teeth in the leader of the organization – and she cannot shake its grasp. That might be a lofty notion – and I am not suggesting that success in what we do requires that kind of passionate engagement with a cause – but I am quite certain that to improve your company’s performance – and yield greater profits as a result, you must have a sense of purpose beneath your feet and in front of the people you lead. Once you have defined your purpose and the purpose for your organization, not just why it exists, but why it must exist – you can then fully define your role and the role for your employees in accomplishing whatever it is you do. This is the key to driving the highest level of real performance possible. It may be the single key to unlock the greatest potential of yourself, your people and your organization.

Recommended Additional Reading: Harvard Business Review published a piece by Nick Craig and Scott Snook titled “From Purpose to Impact.” It is available at www.HBR.org. It furthers the thinking as to why “purpose” is vital to any organization’s success in wonderful and explicit detail.

Phil Liebman is Founder and CEO of the BullFrog Group, a tenured Vistage Chair- and a Fellow at The Thayer Institute for Leadership Virtuosity. You can reach him at Phil@Strat4.com – or visit his Website at www.TheBullFrogGroup.com. Phil is dedicated to making the world measurably more socially just, economically sustainable and culturally vibrant through cultivating the fullest potential and best possible performance of organizations and the people who lead them.

Casting the Right People in the Right Roles: Part II

The first source of the problem (of recruiting, interviewing, and choosing) (casting) a potential hire is, more often than not, stems from the candidate’s assumption that getting a “job” is a decision made essentially by the organization. That’s the wrong way of looking at it. It works best when both the candidate and the organization are each 100% responsible for the outcome. For the organization, it is merely a casting decision – critical but rarely life-changing. For the candidate, it is life-changing.

The second source of the problem on the candidate’s side is that he or she is improperly or inadequately prepared to interview the organization. Most fail to do the homework required for such a major life decision. Before initiating contact (or responding to contact), the candidate needs to have decided:

  1. Where in all the world does he or she want to work and to live?
  2. In what industry or type of business does he or she want to pursue their life’s work?
  3. In which specific organization of all of those possible does she want to pursue her life’s work, and why?
  4. Which specific person in that organization does she want as her boss, and why?

Problems arise later if the candidate hasn’t answered those questions. A 50% failure rate using conventional methods that do not include these conditions is not much better than chance. Having done this homework before making contact puts the candidate in the position of being prepared to interview the organization. It becomes a project for which each is responsible for the outcome. The organization has to have a clear picture of the role (documented) to be filled by a potential candidate. The candidate needs to have a clear picture of how that role might fit their long-term needs or interests. If the potential candidate is not thus prepared, she may not be a worthwhile candidate for the role to be filled. Casting directors for films do not cast people unilaterally. The director and the actor each have a vested interest in the outcome.

Any “recruiting” must be done with a clear and comprehensive role description of the role to be learned and performed. Any “interviewing” needs to be conducted with a copy of that role description in front of the candidate and the person who would be the candidate’s “boss” in that organization. Do not use 3rd-party interviewers. That makes about as much sense as the candidate sending in someone else to interview for them. The initiative should be the candidate’s, not that of the interviewer. Any organization that has not provided potential candidates with some sort of brief, detailing this unconventional process (and its rationale), will in all likelihood encounter the otherwise conventional results.

If it is the conventional results and problems you want, then by all means you must conduct this vital process in the conventional way. There is nothing more important in the success of an organization than getting the right people cast in the right roles. No doubt, profitable customers or clients are your main business. But if your organization is not designed and staffed by competent people performing in efficacious systems, those customers might well prefer an organization that does what it does better than your organization can.

1st Annual Thayer Institute Summit

[nggallery id=2 template=caption]  Click on Show Picture List to view captions.

Business woman looking at business diagram

Casting the Right People in the Right Roles: Part I

It would seem that one of the most universal problems in building and growing competent organizations is having just the right roles for your purposes, and then getting the right people cast in those roles. There are two major sources of this perennial problem. One source is on the organization’s side, and the other is on the potential candidate’s side.

The primary source of the problem on the organization’s side lies in a common failure. It is the failure to have a compelling and cogent picture of where the organization is in fulfilling its reason for existence. What is it for? What is its larger and worthy purpose in the scheme of things? What roles need to be carried out for it to tell its unique story? What will its legacy be? What is the story it needs to tell to fulfill any worthy cause for its existence? To make a profit is but a means to an end. If that is its reason for existence, why would anyone want to belong to it if they had a choice? Every organization’s story lies in the contribution it makes to the society and its destiny.

Every story needs certain roles to turn out the way it is supposed to. If you don’t know where you are in that story, then you don’t know what roles are needed to fulfill the reasons for its existence. So you hire people more or less haphazardly for some “jobs” that you assume you need done to survive. If you haven’t got a compelling story to tell, then you have little to attract people who want to put their competencies to work for a worthy cause. “Flipping burgers” by the hour (and the thousands of corollaries of this) is not how most people would want to spend the better part of their lives.

An organization is successful at fulfilling the reason for its existence only if its worthy story is being carried forward by the right people in the right roles. A “job” is not an indispensable role in a compelling story. You need a compelling story to be told from wherever your organization is now on the trajectory of that story. This requires strategic roles to be played by people who are continuously becoming more competent to perform those roles day after day…forever.

It follows that you should never try to fit a “job” to a candidate. A “job” is comprised of activities. A role is defined by the need for certain accomplishments. Mere activities – no matter the candidate’s qualifications – won’t get you where you want to go. That requires well-performed roles in a compelling story.

The last but probably the most important source of the problem on the organization’s side is that of assuming responsibility for getting the right person cast in the right role. It works far better if the candidate owns the problem of being cast in the right role. After all, for the candidate it is a choice that has consequences for his or her life. For the organization, it is often viewed as only an economic one – an expediency: How can we hire someone we like for this “job,” at a price we can afford? It’s conventional to assume that the responsibility for getting the right people cast in the right roles belongs largely or solely to the organization. But such conventional thinking as that always and inevitably produces conventional results. Even if that were not the case, it’s wrong-headed.

In Part II, we will look at how to change the whole process of getting the right people in the right roles for the better. The onerous problem of recruiting, interviewing, and selecting people can be obviated just by thinking about it differently, and by going about it in a slightly different way that produces profoundly better results.

 

 

 

 

 

Why Role Descriptions Are Important

I’m often asked, “What’s the big deal about role descriptions. You’re just describing the job….”

 

The answer is, “No, they don’t ‘just’ describe the ‘job’ in another form.” Here’s how to think about Role Descriptions: When someone wants to write a story, they have to think deeply about what the story is about, and what roles need to be played if the story is to turn out the way intended. Whatever else it does, every on-purpose organization tells its story by the roles that move the story along. A role description is not a “job description.” The best performing organizations don’t have “jobs.” They have only the role that each member of the story has to play and play well for the story to turn out as it is supposed to turn out.

 

Neglecting the story that is to be told through the roles that comprise that story is why so many organizations either fail, or limp along being barely mediocre. The people who do the work of your organization want to be relevant to the story the organization is intended to tell. They don’t want job descriptions and all of the hypocrisy that goes with “performance appraisals.” Any people worth keeping on are perfectly capable of appraising their own performance – IF they know what their role in the ongoing story is, and if they are competent to perform their role.

 

There are two critical “Ifs” at stake. One is that people can’t own the problem of their own performance unless they know what their role is in the story to be told. A role description describes what a virtuoso in that role would be able to accomplish even under adversity. A role description, unlike a “job” description (which is a list of activities) either states or clearly implies what is to be accomplished.

 

The other “IF” has to do with competence. Casting directors make a lot of money. They know what it takes for a person to play a particular role (like that of CEO). They cast people in those roles who are most likely to be able to learn how to perform that role to the benefit of the story. People should be cast in specific roles, not hired for often ambiguous “jobs.” If a person can’t learn how to perform a given role masterfully, there are always others who can. The organization’s story unfolds based on how well the roles are cast and played.

 

The starting point is the organization’s role in the nation’s destiny. It pays many times over to know what that is. And what is the CEO’s role? Not to be “the leader” for personal gain. Since “the leader” (a much-abused term) contributes but a small portion to the organization’s

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performance, as was reviewed in the last post, it pays to know what a generic role description for all CEO’s might look like:

 

Role of the Chief Executive Officer:

 

  • To master himself or herself in order to play the role superlatively
  • To compose and orchestrate the organization for its destiny
  • To be the exemplary people-maker in the organization
  • To be at all times the meaning-manager for the organization and its people

 

Those are the basic ongoing tasks of the role of CEO. This can be done for every role needed in any organization. There are many CEOs and other “executives” who are miscast.