THE CATALYST CONUNDRUM
“Success comes to the person who does today what you were thinking about doing tomorrow.” Unknown
Jack Welch, the legendary CEO and Leader of General Electric said, “The team with the best players wins.” Welch created a culture dedicated to performance by finding and developing a group of drivers to meet Welch’s strategic goals. He called these people “Black Belts”; I call them Catalysts. Welch and his “Black Belts” led General Electric in an extraordinary transformation. During his twenty-year tenure as CEO, the value of General Electric went from $12 billion in 1981 to $280 billion in 2001. Welch’s strategy for growth and uncompromising excellence was spearheaded by his uncompromising leaders and their cadre of “Six Sigma” trained “Black Belts.” At GE, Jack Welch focused on recruiting, developing, and retaining business stars – Catalysts. All business leaders should examine this process in order to find their own Catalysts.
Every business needs Catalysts to challenge the status quo, solve problems, innovate, and lead. Most business leaders know what they need but haven’t taken the initiative to create the process to make it happen. Everyone is looking for people who will take initiative. These action-oriented risk takers are the Catalysts for business growth. They create opportunities, solve, problems, and set the standard of excellence for the rest of the team. They get it done while others are deciding what to do. The organization’s future leaders will come from this group. So the questions business leaders need to answer are: How do I create a process to identify people with extraordinary personal initiative and recruit them for my team? How do I effectively develop their personal initiative to help grow my business? How do I keep them on my team?
Detractors will challenge the notion of spending additional time and expense in the selection and training process. They wonder, “Why would we spend that much time and money before they hired? We’re having a hard enough time filling our key positions – won’t this take longer?” The company will have to invest more time and more money in a process to find the right Catalysts. It will be worth it, but you should do a financial analysis to be sure this process is worth your additional investment. Here are a few questions to ask yourself. Where do I need Catalysts in my company? Why do I need them? If I had someone who outperformed my
current team by 20% – 30% each week, how much would that be worth to the company? How much would it be worth in tangible value in the short and long-term? How much would improve our business performance that would improve the value of the company? How much would it be worth in intangible value? How would it impact the rest of the team’s performance? What problems would be avoided? What opportunities would be created beyond our current mindset? Once you have determined what you are willing to invest, it’s time to go to create your process.
If you’ve decided the investment will be worthwhile you need to identify what a Catalyst is to your organization. Carl Freeman, my first business mentor, said he wanted PSD’s – Poor Smart Guys who were Determined to get rich. Jack Welch described a leader as someone that possessed his famous 4E’s – “Has Energy, Energizes Others, Edge to make tough decisions, and Executes the plan. A person with the 4E’s never failed to deliver financial results. Every business leader has to develop the definition of a Catalyst that is appropriate for their culture. What are the characteristics of a Catalyst we need? How will I identify these characteristics?
While there is no exact profile for a Catalyst, I have observed the following characteristics that separate Catalysts from their peers:
Self-assured – they are not afraid to ask questions or stand out from the crowd. They are not afraid to be wrong.
Intellectually curious – they want to understand how things work and why that’s important. They try to figure out ways to make it better. They ask “what if” questions.
Enterprising – they are not afraid of difficult assignments, unproven ideas. They energetically attack new opportunities.
Opportunistic – They see or find the opportunity for learning or personal growth in each assignment.
Overachievers – they consistently do a little bit more than what is expected, what is asked or what is considered their job.
Achievement-oriented – they have high personal goals for themselves.
Everyone acts like a Catalyst in the recruiting and interview process. But as we know, there are very few that are true self-starters. The recruiting process must sort out the pretenders. Here are three suggestions to find real Catalysts during the recruiting process.
Make them put in some real work before you meet with them. Ask them questions that would show you if they have the characteristics of a Catalyst. Ask them to write you a two-page paper or send you a five-minute video about their personal goals, about their proudest achievements, about what they could bring to your company that is extraordinary. This will be a daunting task for the average employee; this will be an exciting challenge to a Catalyst.
Plan time during your interview to give them a real business problem to solve. “How would you get more customers for our business? What’s a product or service you think we could add?
How would you improve our product or services?” You want to observe how they consider the problem. The Catalyst will have an opinion or they will be willing to ask questions to get to an opinion. They won’t be afraid of the challenge; they are self-assured. The average employee will be worried about being wrong or having the intellectual depth to propose a thoughtful or interesting solution. The goal is to see how they react and think under pressure. The Catalyst will enjoy the test.
Make personality assessments part of the recruiting process for key hires. If you need a Catalyst in a position to improve your company, you need to incorporate personality assessments into your recruiting process. Ultimately, you won’t know what people really think and who they really are until you apply a statistically reliable, and validated personality assessments that can determine someone’s true behavioral tendencies, strengths, and weaknesses. The right personality assessments are well worth the investment. Assessments will save your organization time and money by eliminating the waste and damage that occurs to your plans and culture when you make the wrong hire. There are many kinds of personality tests on the market. To find Catalysts, I would use an assessment based on the Five Factor Model (FFM) and that is focused on the workplace and how they relate to others in the workplace. These assessments will definitively show you if an individual has the desire and inherent characteristics to be a business Catalyst.
A Catalyst needs an accelerated career development track. They want to do their job and be able to learn how to contribute more. The right process will be mutually beneficial. The Catalyst will have a challenging environment where their extra effort will be recognized and rewarded and the company will benefit from the new ideas, energy, and solutions that the Catalyst provides. To succeed, a Catalyst needs training, mentorship, and progressive challenges.
A specialized training process is essential to build a foundation of critical specific business knowledge. Business fundamentals, metrics, principles, history, industry standards, best practices, customer information, competitive intelligence, process improvement, innovations, budgets, capital investments – these are the pieces of the business puzzle the Catalyst needs and wants to understand. A combination of access to information for self-paced learning and organizational training programs is necessary to fill the knowledge gap as quickly as possible. When the Catalyst understands how the business works and how investment decisions are analyzed and determined, they will introduce new viable solutions to the management team.
The Mentor provides the Catalyst with wisdom gained through experience. The Mentor encourages, educates, and shapes possibilities. They are a sounding board that explains “why things are the way they are”; they allow the Catalyst a safe place to ask “what if”; they provide information and guidance that connect ideas to practical plans. They explain the subtleties of relationships, power, egos, and timing that cannot be learned in a classroom. They help the overachiever navigate organizational and cultural obstacles to progress. The right Mentor will enable the Catalyst to deliver real value to an organization.
Catalysts need something to do. They want to stay busy. They want to create value. It’s a business leaders job to position the Catalyst for success. Business Leaders need to envision the next projects, the next assignments, the value added challenge for the Catalyst. They have to stay one step ahead of them and anticipate where the best place to utilize their strengths to solve problems and increase the value of the business is. If a Catalyst is bored, they will look to find ways to fill their idle time. They don’t want a break; they want a challenge.
As all business owners know, keeping your best people is a challenge. The most talented people have the most job and career options, so keeping them engaged and connected to your business should be a priority for business leaders. To have a long-term mutually beneficial relationship with a Catalyst a business leader must understand their needs and goals, work to align their goals with the business strategy, give them new opportunities that are mutually beneficial, and try to stay one step ahead of their needs with progressive rewards that meet their priorities and goals.
To keep Catalysts engaged, business leaders will need to understand how they define success. Keep in mind that there are many different definitions of success – some want more responsibility, some want a more challenging project, some people individual rewards short-term rewards, others want public recognition, others want titles and authority to make decisions,
others want more tools or support; others want more flexibility with their time or they want to work on a different schedule. The definitions of success will be as unique as the people. The point is that it’s imperative that your reward system meets their goals. If you are utilizing assessments, you should be able to ascertain key drivers but leaders must stay connected to their Catalysts. You have to know what their thinking to make sure they are challenged and fulfilled. If their energy or results wane, there is a problem.
Be careful to avoid the tendency of business leaders to assign their good people to solve every business problem regardless of the Catalyst’s strengths and goals. Initially, the Catalyst will do what they’re asked because that’s who they are, however, if the Catalyst is in the wrong position for too long, they will become frustrated, disgruntled and ineffective. The classic example is taking your best salesperson and making them a sales manager even though they don’t want to manage people. This choice has a compounding negative impact. You have taken your best salesperson away from sales. You haven’t found the best sales manager and you have a Catalyst whose natural enthusiasm is being drained daily. Leaders must work to match the needs of the situation to the specific strengths of your Catalysts or you may unwittingly drive your best people away.
To keep a Catalyst focused and engaged, offer them a plan that allows them to visualize the rewards for their extra effort and make sure the plan meets their unique definition of success and their career goals. This takes time, patience, and negotiation but if you can retain your experienced Catalysts it will be worth the effort. Align the Catalysts’ career goals with success milestones that need to occur in your business strategy. Create mutually beneficial goals that are based on new business success and growth. The hardest part of keeping an experienced Catalyst is to stay one step ahead of their high career goals. Address their specific needs and priorities as much as possible to keep them engaged. Ultimately if their priorities are focused on financial gain, smart business owners figure out a way to connect them to the financial success of the company. They offer profit sharing, performance-based incentive bonuses, stock options, ownership interests, partnerships or some combination. If the Catalyst is a significant player in the success of the business, reward them appropriately. Most people do this after the fact. Try to stay one step ahead of your Catalyst’s expectations. Take the time to do a little extra planning in order to retain your business drivers.
In some cases, the Catalyst is destined to leave and become an entrepreneur or leave for a larger organization that will fulfill goals that your organization simply can’t match. It’s natural to be disappointed in this situation, but don’t allow yourself to slip into more negative feelings. Be a Leader, be a professional, be positive and take the time to recognize and appreciate the contributions of the Catalyst as they leave your organization. How you react to their departure is the foundation for your new relationship with this rising star. Take the smart road and create a new possibility to work together in the future.
Mark Twain said, “The secret to getting ahead is getting started. The secret of getting started is breaking your complex, overwhelming tasks into small manageable tasks, and then getting on the first one.” I suggest you identify what kind of Catalysts you need, find them, create a process to find them as soon as possible; develop their knowledge, confidence, and skills with progressive challenges and mentorship, and create a mutually beneficial relationship that allows you to align important goals to achieve success together. Remember – “the team with the best players wins.”