Most business leaders today realize that smart management of scarce resources is the key to competitive success. That's why they manage money so carefully. Yet the truth is that a more scarce resource is really the time, talent, and energy of your team.
Leaders who are able to optimize these find multipliers of 20 percent up to nine times the average productivity.
Like most investors in startups, I rank the credentials of the team well above the value of an idea in deciding where to put my money. Many venture firms go even further, by insisting on investing their own key players in an interesting startup, before they commit any funds.
But how to grow these difference-makers has always been a bit more nebulous to me than how to make money.
Thankfully, I just saw some great insights on this subject, in a new book, "Time, Talent, Energy: Overcome Organizational Drag and Unleash Your Team's Productive Power," by Michael Mankins and Eric Garton, partners at Bain & Company and frequent Harvard Business Review contributors.
I've paraphrased a few of their key points here that I support and often recommend:
1. Invest team member time as carefully as you invest money
Time investment standards fall directly on the CEO. Start by ruthlessly setting and sticking to priorities, controlling meeting length, and promoting more efficient protocols for e-communication.
As a role model, what you practice is more important than what you preach.
2. Reduce organizational drag on every team member
Organizational silos, limited spans of control, and too many layers of management can dramatically reduce the productivity of even your best people.
Simplify the structure and reorganize regularly to eliminate groups not adding value, and to minimize the interactions between groups.
3. Determine where key people can make a difference
Place difference makers only in business-critical roles. Most often, these roles revolve around a company's major assets, including intellectual property, leading brands, key production assets, and unique routes to market.
Don't allow key people to be pushed down and lost in the organization.
4. Find better ways to identify and nurture difference makers
Every organization needs a talent pipeline that holds leaders at all levels accountable for identifying and developing internal difference makers, and nurturing networks of external talent.
This starts with instilling the discipline to build a robust, focused set of objectives for every team member.
5. Help make the difference makers even more effective
This means revisiting your human relations (HR) practices and procedures - training, promotion, job assignments, and compensation, with difference makers in mind. It also means setting up a personalized coaching and mentoring system, and accelerated rotations for top talent.
6. Build a culture guided by principles, not rules
In today's dynamic markets, it's virtually impossible to enact and update rules with sufficient frequency. Use your high-level principles to establish behavioral frameworks to guide ways of working, rather than a scorecard enforced by culture vigilantes.
This also builds trust, and fosters risk-taking.
7. Balance organizational needs with high employee autonomy
Allowing autonomy fosters accountability for results. The first step is to communicate a strategy and purpose that provides a context for employees' action.
That must be followed with measurable objectives, consistent measurements, feedback systems, and smart activity monitoring.
8. Develop leaders who deliver results and inspire
Inspirational leaders are the ones with the greatest connection to customers and mission, a large set of relevant strengths, and active engagement with team members.
The most productive and inspiring leaders demonstrate an ownership mindset, and build real relationships with difference makers.
How effectively you manage the time, talent, and energy of your team dictates how well you can respond to today's key business challenges, which include shorter business cycles, and growing productivity as the business grows (rather than watching it decline).
More capital can be found from constituents, but difference-making employees must be grown and nurtured. Only you can do that.