Executive Development: We Need Our Next Generation of General Managers Now!

Geoff Moore

People First is delighted to share work that is relevant to our initiatives. Geoffrey Moore is an author, speaker and management strategy advisor. His work has influenced the careers of many of us at People First and we are excited he granted us permission to share this particular article.

In this second article that Geoff has agreed to share through People First, it was “The ‘T’ for Talent” model caught our eye. While we in People First are not fans of the word “talent”, we recognize that corporations need to find the best and brightest people to spur them onto success. Geoff highlights the need as succinctly as ever.

This article on leadership and management was published on LinkedIn, August 10, 2017.

As technological innovation continues to disrupt industry after industry in waves of what Joseph Schumpeter taught us to call “creative destruction,” executive decision-making is being driven down in the organizational hierarchy, closer to the customer, nearer to the action. This in turn is putting pressure on the HR function to deliver programs to develop executive talent faster and better than ever before. They are going to need help.

All development programs are intended to change state, so as good program designers, it behooves us to answer two questions at the outset:

  1. What is the current state a candidate needs to have achieved to qualify for entrance into the program?
  2. What is the future state a candidate needs to achieve in order to graduate?

Here is a template for getting started:

The seminal idea behind these two sets is a “T for talent” model that values executives both for expertise in a specific function (the vertical bar of the T) and the ability to collaborate effectively across functions (the horizontal bar of the T). Much of the management literature I am exposed to undervalues the former and overvalues the latter. The truth is you need both, and in my experience, they are best developed sequentially.

The good news here is that every profession has excellent resources to help candidates achieve what we have labeled current state. These skills are specific to each discipline, and there is no substitute for mastering one such set. If you never become expert at anything, you can never really grasp the power of expertise nor understand its limits, so when you go to lead, you end up being naïve about both. That said, I think our current systems are clear and powerful when it comes to addressing this challenge. It is with the next one where they start to wobble a bit.

The first thing to say about what we have labeled future state is that it represents an and, not an or. We are creating a T, and that requires both a vertical and a horizontal stroke. Too many so-called leadership curricula dismiss management as pedestrian in their efforts to position leadership as equestrian. Or worse, they oppose leader to manager, making the former a hero, the latter a villain. This is not just a mistake, it is an invitation to a catastrophe. Under most circumstances, organizations are far better off with strong management and weak leadership than the opposite. That said, however, today’s disruptive era is not most circumstances. In an age of disruption, strong leadership is a necessity. So what, then, does an evolution from effective manager to effective leader actually entail?

  • Adding Power to Performance. Functional managers focus on meeting the performance objectives embedded in their funding contracts, consuming the resources they have been allocated in order to do so. General managers do too, but they also take responsibility for increasing the power of their enterprise at the same time. This means they have to cope with the trade-offs involved in redirecting resources away from immediate deliverables to invest ahead of the curve. The whole point of Zone to Win is to provide a framework for addressing these trade-offs in a clear and principled way.
  •  Adding Cross-Functional Perspective to Functional Expertise. Functional managers focus on being excellent at their function—that is their job. General managers have to clear the same hurdle, but they also have to keep a broader game in view, how their organization interacts with others to achieve the outcomes sought by the enterprise as a whole. This often requires subordinating local efficiencies in order to achieve global effectiveness, taking a hit on one’s own KPIs to enable the overall system to function more powerfully.
  •  Adding Creative Situation Assessment to Creative Problem Solving. Solving problems is what makes work fun, and successful functional managers are great at it. But sometimes the problem at hand is not the real problem, and addressing it is at best a Band-Aid and might actually set things back overall. By taking a cross-functional perspective and focusing on power as well as performance, a general manager seeks to first frame a challenging situation in a way that best reflects the dynamics at work, allowing the team to attack it from the most effective angle.
  •  Adding Orchestrating to Directing. Functional managers get things done. They do so by directing their teams to tackle the challenges that fall within their organization’s purview. General managers are able in addition to take on challenges that extend beyond their organization’s charter by engaging and enlisting others in a common cause and guiding them to a mutually desired outcome. Holding people accountable in these situations calls for a clarity of purpose and an authenticity of commitment that transcend reporting relationships.
  •  Adding Trusted Advisor to Go-To Expert. When it comes to fixing things that have gone off the rails, no one is more welcome than the go-to- expert, and the more expert, the better. There is no substitute for expertise. But what about preempting the issue before it happens?  This is where the role of trusted advisor comes in. Leaders who have the experience and understanding to anticipate downstream problems and guide solutions in better directions are hugely valued as trusted advisors by customers and colleagues alike.
  •  Adding Writing the Future Playbook to Nailing the Current Playbook. Let’s be clear here. If we don’t nail the current playbook, there will be no funding for the future playbook, so once again, this is an and, not an or. But sooner or later the current playbook wears thin, and in an age of disruption, this can happen with shocking abruptness. General managers must be able to let go of the strategies and tactics that have been core to their past success and bring a clean sheet of paper and a beginner’s mind to the new reality. They must experiment fast with a “win or learn” attitude and get their enterprise on a new path as soon as possible. Success here represents leadership at its finest.

That’s what I think. What do you think?