Seven Means For Scaling Up

26 July 2017 | Sutton & Rao suggest seven means for scaling up organizations and projects that are filled with talented people who feel and act as if they own the place and it owns them.

Talent x Accountability = Scaling Capacity

1. Squelch Free Riding
When people feel accountable to their colleagues and customers, they feel obliged to expend extra effort and make sacrifices for the greater good. Making this happen, and keeping it going, isn’t easy.

The problem is that whether or not a single person acts unselfishly usually has a small—often minuscule—impact on the overall performance of most social systems. As a result, each member of an organization or project has a relatively small incentive to work hard and make personal sacrifices—and a big incentive to get a “free ride”on others’effort. Olson shows that, even when everyone in the system benefits, it is often rational for each person to contribute nothing, or at least far less than he or she is capable of, because the personal costs of action outweigh the personal benefits.

Stanford colleague and venture capitalist Michael Dearing studies more than 60 startups since 2006 and reveals that once a start-up grows to about twenty people, if the right precautions aren’t taken, newcomers start “feeling like just employees rather than owners.”

If you don’t find ways to offset and reverse free riding, be ready for a blight of that “I don’t care and neither do most of my colleagues”mindset. Savvy leaders and teams stock their tool kit with every incentive they can find, borrow , and invent—and blend them to spur collective action and squelch free riding. Money isn’t the only tool for boosting accountability, but it helps—especially when reinforced by hiring, firing, and promotion practices.

Accountability to others plays a central role in scaling up excellence.

Exceptional financial incentives aren’t required to squelch free riding and create accountability; they just need to be big enough to motivate employees given their needs and other job options.

2. Inject Pride and Righteous Anger
Mancur Olson Jr. emphasizes that collective pride and aggressiveness (especially toward outsiders who deride and can undermine a group) are effective countermeasures to free riding. These emotions turn people’s attention toward concerns that are larger than themselves, bind group or organization members together, and are contagious. When people are surrounded by others who feel and act proud about scaling something great, are angry at others who are— or might—impede their righteous efforts, or experience both feelings at once, they think and worry less about their selfish desires and concerns.
And they are also more willing to take difficult, even personally risky, actions for the greater good.

3. Bring in Guilt-Prone Leaders
A 2012 study suggests that, when leaders are prone to feeling guilty, they are especially likely to display concern for others and to put the greater good ahead of their personal goals and glory. Stanford’s Becky Schaumburg and Francis Flynn found that guilt-prone leaders have a strong sense of personal responsibility for their actions and are attuned to the impact of their decisions on others. They feel especially bad about past mistakes and worry constantly about messing up in the future, which they compensate for by being action oriented, constantly taking preventive measures to avoid future mistakes and steps to repair the damage done by their past errors. Schaumburg and Flynn propose that guilt-prone people often emerge as leaders because—to avoid feeling bad about not meeting their responsibilities or hurting others—they work hard and selflessly to help their groups and organizations achieve goals.

Shame-prone leaders are different: when they make mistakes, they feel sorry for themselves, are filled with and frozen by worries that they are bad people, and run from the messes they make.

Schaumburg and Flynn did a series of studies that confirmed guilt-prone people are more likely to emerge as leaders and to be more effective leaders than otheGuilt proneness appears to be a vaccine against the brazen self-interest that can plague leaders. Many studies show that when people gain power they tend to put their own needs first. They ignore others’ needs , act impulsively, and act as if rules are for “the little people,” not them. Guilt-ridden leaders are less likely to display such “power poisoning”: doing so would make them feel bad about themselves.

4. “I’ll Be Watching You”: Use Subtle Cues to Prime Accountability
Scaling mantra “Engage all the senses” highlights how beliefs and behaviors are bolstered by small, seemingly trivial, and often unnoticed cues. Such cues can be harnessed to trigger accountability.

5. Create the Right “Gene Pool”
“A company becomes the people it hires” because founders and first hires create the culture—and thus founders should focus on bringing the right mix of people to tackle the primary risks a company faces.

Also the place makes the people! Many organizations use formal programs to “build” the people they need. One tried-and-true approach is to rotate “high -potentials” through diverse and increasingly challenging jobs.

Organizations can also be restructured in ways that multiply talent.

Scaling up an organization also requires constantly reconsidering the kinds of talent that you have, need, and ought to hire and incubate.

6. Use Other Organizations as Your HR Department
Using other organizations to screen and train talent is a tried-and-true approach.

For over seventy-five years, the U.S. military has selected and developed pilots— who are then hired by commercial airlines. The Air Force Times reports that “45 percent of the 6,100 pilots at Southwest Airlines are veterans or reservists”; their pilot hiring manager is Rocky Calkins, a former F-15 pilot. In Silicon Valley, many high-tech companies use Stanford University as a kind of HR department.

7. Hire People Prewired to Fit Your Mindset
Bringing in people who are prewired with personalities, values, and skills that mesh well with whatever mindset and moves you aim to scale can amplify your odds of successful scaling.

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