I often ask business leaders three simple questions. What are your company’s ten most exciting value-creation opportunities? Who are your ten best people? How many of your ten best people are working on your ten most exciting opportunities? It’s a rough and ready exercise, to be sure. But the answer to the last question—typically, no more than six—is usually expressed with ill-disguised frustration that demonstrates how difficult it is for senior executives to achieve organizational alignment.
What makes this problem particularly challenging is a number of paradoxes, many of them rooted in the eccentricity and unpredictability of human behavior, about how organizations really tick. Appealing as it is to believe that the workplace is economically rational, in reality it is not. As my colleague Scott Keller and I explained in our 2011 book, Beyond Performance,1 a decade’s worth of data derived from more than 700 companies strongly suggests that the rational way to achieve superior performance—focusing on its financial and operational manifestations by pursuing multiple short-term revenue-generating initiatives and meeting tough individual targets—may not be the most effective one.
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