Over at the HBR Blog Network author Michael Schrage says that CEO’s should assign their top creative thinkers to fix up the organization’s most boring and ineffective processes. He says that this shift in thinking—putting the brightest employees on the “most trivial/scut work” projects will send a powerful signal to the organization: “Improving efficiency and effectiveness for the entire organization — for everybody — should be a top management and top talent priority, too.”
OK, I’m on board with the premise. But here’s where this idea could potentially break down: many of those “top talent” types that Schrage is talking about abhor the mundane. My experience tells me that many creative types aren’t wired for perfecting processes. Even if an executive could convince the high-performers of the project’s merits, the daily grind of ferreting out the inefficiencies of the process would probably drive most “idea people” insane.
For a “put your top talent on your worst business processes” strategy to work, a leader needs to understand that there are four basic project roles* that people enjoy. The key is, not all people enjoy the same roles in equal measure and not all people are equally good at all four roles. Here’s a rundown of the 4 roles every process improvement project needs:
Create – this role is about ideation. People who naturally “create” love coming up with ideas (some of them outlandish) and then handing these off to people who will organize their copious and somewhat random stuff into a workable solution.
Advance – creating connections is this role’s strength. A person who loves the role of “advancer” loves to bring people together, create coalitions and ensure that all stakeholders’ voices are heard.
Refine – think of this role as the “red pen” editor. People who naturally gravitate toward this role are able to take an existing idea and make it better. They can easily spot the gaps or inefficiencies in a process.
Execute – “Get ‘er done” is this role’s motto. Milestones and action plans are this role’s sweet spot. People who are skilled in execution can keep the project moving along, and will deliver on time and under budget.
Here’s my caution to a leader considering Schrage’s recommendation to put the “top talent” on clean-up duty for messy company processes: be sure that the talent you select not only can create, but can advance, refine and execute. Most likely, this is going to require a diverse project team, because most Creators love ideation but abhor refinement. Likewise, most Refiners love to edit the process, but find ideation tedious. And so on.
All of these roles must be fulfilled if an organization is to succeed in shedding what Schrage calls the “computational crap and digital detritus that inevitably occur when organizations try to keep going and growing fast.”
*Disclosure: These four roles are described in Inscape Publishing’s self-assessment tool called Team Dimensions Profile. My consulting company SkillSource is an authorized independent distributor of Inscape professional development assessments. I’ve used this model to help project team leaders identify and select project team members to ensure that all 4 project roles are thoroughly represented for optimal team peformance.