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Joseph Kim 조셉킴 ジョセフキム 约瑟夫金

Author: josephkim

Employees and competition

I once heard Jack Welch, well-known former CEO of General Electric talk about employee performance clauses during his time at GE. He gave details on how he would reward/promote the top 10% of his employees based on certain metrics, and then fire the bottom 10% of his employees. There would consistently be new employees being hired, and then the next year the top 10% of the entire pool of employees would be rewarded/promoted, and then the bottom 10% again would be fired, etc.

Some, however, have questioned whether this is the best way to get the most out of one’s workers. After all, if you knew that out of 10 people on your team one of you would get fired you may be tempted to sabotage or just do the minimum so that you wouldn’t get fired. Prospect theory is a theory on loss aversion developed by Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky. The basic idea is that humans hate losses more than they love to win. If their research is correct, rather than striving to be the best or be in the top 10 % the focal point of most of the employees will be on not being in the bottom 10%. Of course if that’s the focal point, then the workers will be doing the minimum rather than the maximum for the company. And of course, nobody wants a company filled with minimum effort workers.

The Ultimate Scarce Asset

What is the ultimate scarce asset for any corporation? Money? Gold? Human Capital? Petroleum?

Some, like Tarun Khanna, believe that the ultimate scarce asset is “being clean in a sea of corruption.” The idea is that all other resources can be bought or if one is lucky, it can fall into one’s lap. However, being clean – especially in an era of corporate corruption and ethical mudslides – is an individual and organizational choice. It requires someone (or many people in the case of an organization) to make the choice to work and conduct business a particular way. It requires organizations not to pay bribes or go about doing business in an unfair manner. This is easier said than done, since one mistake or one bribe can derail an entire organization.

This is a significant challenge in emerging economies. However, there is a strong commercial value to doing the right thing since a clean organization often draws much more business from outside investors and even from the general public. The problem is that if one is clean only for commercial reasons, eventually the temptation will probably prove too great. Clean organizations in corrupt economies often have great profits. Of course if profits were the only goal, then the organization most likely wouldn’t be very clean since they would most likely cut corners to achieve greater profits. Once they achieve these greater profits in the short-term, it would lead to less profits in the long run since investors and others would know they’re not a clean organization and would not be able to trust them.

So it seems that being a clean organization ethically is important to an organization’s profits, but they must have other values that are equal to the goal of profits for them to maintain being a clean organization. Organizations and individuals who make up the organizations need something more the mere goal of profits to continue and maintain their cleanliness. Again, this is not an easy thing to do for a business. It requires a strong conviction and actions beyond the conviction for the long-term. This is probably the very reason why Tarun Khanna is convinced that “being clean in a sea of corruption” may be the ultimate scarce asset. I wholeheartedly agree. Going further, perhaps one can argue that “being clean in a sea of corruption” may be a very important strategy in addition to being a scarce asset.

Recruiting from the lower tier

If you had the choice to hire someone from a top-tier school or a lower-tier school, which would you choose? This is usually not even a serious question, since the answer seems obvious to most: hire the best possible candidate with the best possible training which typically includes the criteria of having attended the best possible schools.

The Taj Group, however, believes they’re better off recruiting from lower-tier schools for their top management positions.1 Here’s why:

“For the company’s topmost echelons, the Taj Group signs up 50 or so management trainees every year from India’s second- and third-tier B-schools… It doesn’t recruit from the premier institutions, as the Taj Group has found that MBA graduates from lower-tier B-schools want to build careers with a single company, tend to fit in better with a customer-centric culture, and aren’t driven solely by money.”

The Taj Group has decided to strategically recruit in this manner because they believe that a potential leader’s commitment is as important as their educational background. The fact that these recruits have graduated from lower-tier business schools is enough, they believe the minimal business/technical qualifications have been met. Yet, they’ve seen humility and commitment from this group that they have not seen/or have seen rarely in graduates from top-tier business schools.

This is a bold move, since most organizations are blinded by the more visible qualifications such as educational background when in fact there exist other valuable qualifications that are often found in those who are not from top-tier schools. Perhaps, some companies have overvalued the prestige factor or have simply overlooked the fact that there are other qualities of a recruit that are equally valuable.

All and Some quantifiers

A common mistake made by many people in drawing inferences from an argument is to confuse the the quantifiers “all X” and “some X.”

[The next part is technical so please feel free to skip it.]

Universal quantification, or all X, can be symbolized by ∀x. The upside down A means “for all x.” For example. ∀x P(x) = for all x, P(x) holds. Suppose x = unicorns. ∀x P(x) = for all unicorns, property P holds.

Universal quantification is very different from existential quantification, some X. Existential quantification can be symbolized by: ∃x. The reverse E means “there exists an x” or “there exists at least one x.” For example. ∃x P(x) = there exists an x, such that P(x). Suppose again x = unicorns. ∃x P(x) = there exists a unicorn (or there exists at least one unicorn), such that property P holds.

Compare sentences 1) and 2) below:

1) All unicorns have a white mane.

2) There is a unicorn, such that it has a white mane.

Suppose 1) were true. It does not follow from 1) that unicorns exists. So simply because 1) is true, does not mean that 2) is true. Suppose 2) were true. It does not follow from 2), that all unicorns have white manes. 2) claims there is at least one unicorn and that unicorn has a white mane.

So the truth of 1) and 2) are independent of one another. An effective communicator must not confuse 1) or 2) or assume they are the same.

It’s, its, your, and you’re

Look at these sentences can you pick out the incorrect ones?

  1. Its raining outside.
  2. It’s raining outside.
  3. Your car is being towed.
  4. You’re car is being towed.

Both 1 and 4 are incorrect. (2 and 3 are correct.)

The most common grammatical error I see on presentations is between it’s and its. The second most common error I see is between your and you’re. The difference between its and it’s is simple. It’s (with the apostrophe) = It is. If you use it’s, be sure that you can replace it’s with it is. So sentence 2 is correct because you can substitute It’s with It is. Sentence 1 is incorrect. The confusion is that we often add an apostrophe for other words which have a similar meaning to its. For example, Jenny’s car is outside. The apostrophe indicates that the car belongs to Jenny. It is possessive. However, the possessive form of it = its (without the apostrophe). If you remember this it will help you not to confuse the two terms.

The difference between your and you’re is also pretty straightforward. You’re (with the apostrophe) = You are. So sentence 4 is incorrect since if you replace you’re with you are, the sentence is nonsensical – You are car is being towed.  The word your indicates possession. Your mother, your father, your job, your car, your house, your apple, your computer, or your apple computer. You’re = You are.

You’re done reading this post. It’s important to remember that it’s easy to confuse the words ‘its’ and ‘it’s.’ I hope your day is filled with joy.

Give up what you’re good at

Something interesting about leadership is that the higher you go up an organization, to be promoted, you must let go of the very thing that got you there. Here’s a statement about this transition from Harvard Business School‘s Executive Education Program:

Most managers achieve success in the early phases of their careers through increased specialization—continually refining their expertise in a single functional area. At some point in their careers, however, the best of these specialists face a difficult challenge: to re-create themselves as generalists. Almost overnight, they must develop new skills and adopt a business wide perspective to become effective strategists, organization builders, and leaders.

Suppose you were an engineer and had a Ph.D. in engineering. Or perhaps you have a background in finance or IT. In your first position, or perhaps even your second position, you would be hired because of your expertise in engineering, finance, or IT. However, in your third promotion or beyond, you would most likely have been promoted for reasons that had nothing to do with engineering, finance, or IT. You may have gone from being an engineer, to head of an engineering unit, to head of a division, to becoming a VP, and then into the C-suite. The further you go up this chain, the further you are from that first specialization/first job.

What will get you promoted? The most clear answer is that it has nothing to do with your speciality. So you do not get promoted by being an excellent engineer, though that may be the very reason they hired you in the first place. At this point something else is required, leadership. What do leaders know that others do not know? What do they practice to get that promotion or raise? The most obvious first step is that they have to give up what they are good at to become a leader in their organization. This is a hard thing to do. Can you give up the very thing that you excel at? Can you give up the years of education, training, and mindset that you have put into your specialization? If not, you may be an excellent engineer or finance whiz but it’s very unlikely you’ll truly become a high level leader in your organization.

Feedback to superiors

If you are a leader and want to grow as a leader, then feedback from others is a very crucial component to your growth. However, the higher you go up your organization’s leadership chart you will find that few people are willing to give you feedback. It’s one thing to give feedback to a peer or to someone who works for you, but it’s not easy to give feedback to a superior. If the feedback is positive, it comes devalued as flattery. If the feedback is negative, then there is fear the feedback could get you fired. This is why leaders need feedback from others to grow since they rarely get this kind of constructive and honest feedback from those who work for them.

So the key question is, who is giving you feedback? If the only feedback you are receiving is from superiors then you are not really getting all the feedback that is so crucial to your growth as a leader. It’s not easy to let go of one’s ego and tell someone in a lower position than you to give you honest feedback. Feedback that will help you grow. Of course this can only be done in an environment where there is much trust. And of course there can only be trust if the relationship has been developed and built up to a degree. There lies the key.

Do you have enough trust in your employees/juniors/lower ranks to ask them to give you feedback?

The invisible man

Invisible is an option, of course. You can lay low, not speak up and make no difference to anyone. That’s sort of like dividing by zero, though. You’ll get no criticism, but no delight either. – Seth Godin

Some qualities of being invisible:

It’s safe. No one can hurt you because no one can see you.
It’s easy. Laying low means never putting anything out there.
It’s quiet. If you speak up, people may know where you are so to be truly invisible is to be quiet.
It’s comfortable. You’re accountable to nobody, just yourself. Most of us are usually easy on ourselves.

Safe. Easy. Quiet. Comfortable. If you want to be a difference maker, in particular a leader who makes a difference in this world, then these four qualities are probably the qualities you most want to avoid. However, if you want to be a difference maker in this world then we need to be visible. How? Simply look at the qualities of being invisible and consider when you need to be the opposite of safe, easy, quiet, and comfortable.

How can you be more visible in your life today?


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