Dr. Seidman is a recognized expert on how to develop and sustain high performing organizations. In particular, Dr. Seidman is renowned for understanding the processes required to discover and use expert wisdom to create extraordinary organizational performance. You can listen to our conversation here.
Dr. Seidman is also CEO & co-founder of Cerebyte, which gives organizations the ability and the confidence to dramatically improve their performance. Their pioneering technology, based on the latest science of how we think and learn, enables them to quickly capture top performers' "secret sauce" and raise the performance of everyone else to that same high level. Their solution has been adopted by companies such as Intel, Jack in the Box, American Family Insurance, Nike to name a few.
Aligning with the latest research in positive deviance, fair process, neuroscience and mass customization, their solution makes it possible to quickly capture your top performers' expert knowledge, approach and values, and then systematically help everyone else apply them in theit work.
And he is the co-author of Strategy to Action in 10 Days: Creating High Performance Organizations.
Strategy to Action provides a groundbreaking approach that quickly infuses any organization with the skills, attitudes, behaviors and culture vital to extraordinary performance. This practical, step-by-step approach guides readers to create a highly predicable, scalable and engaging environment that will have everyone in the organization performing like a superstar.
After reading it, understanding his principles and his methodology and as important the science behind it...I would have to agree:
This practical, step-by-step approach guides readers to create a highly predicable, scalable and engaging environment that will have everyone in the organization performing like a superstar.
Dr. Seidman reached out directly to me on Twitter which is a positive deviance from the norm of, still, the majority of CEOs and founders.
Bill, thank you for being on the show.
Thank you for having me. It’s great to be here.
Thank you for writing a great book!
There's so much to talk about here. Let's start with your organization, Cerebyte which you co-founded in 1997. I use the following question in all of my interviews:
What was your reasonable aspiration or hoped-for future when you founded it?
I have to say I’m not sure how reasonable my aspiration was but I had a very clear aspiration. I believed that everyone in the world, every person in the world, wants to get better at what they do. Every organization wants to get better at what they do.
I wanted to have our methodology and our technology literally touch everyone; since it was technology then everyone who has a computer in the world.
It might not have been reasonable, but it certainly was ambitious.
What were some of the metrics you saw that reported your progress of global domination.
Of global domination.
Well it was really a qualitative metric. When people are feeling really good about themselves, about the success they create, about the capabilities they have, they talk differently, they act differently, they do good things for the world. And so, our qualitative metric was a sense of people talking differently and feeling great about it.
Our more quantitative metric was really an ROI from organizations. That organization after organization was telling us that they really improved their financial performance due to what we did.
As far as the world domination part, loved the word domination just not quite there yet, we just wanted to see enhanced penetration of companies really aimed at small through huge. And build the list and build the list.
Now your business has been operating for going on 14 years. If you founded it today would there be any difference in your aspiration or hoped-for future?
You know, not really.
I think the basic values we have about people wanting to learn and get better, their organizations wanting to get better...the sense is that when people use our system they just feel great about it. That really has stayed the same.
I think we’ve been through some pretty tough times in our economy and the world during our 14 years. It is not clear that people are as confident, are as clear, are as committed to getting better or as aspirational as they were. So, in that sense the notion of it being a reasonable or unreasonable is a little bit more in question.
But, at heart, we still believe in creating the greater good.
Let’s start with a macro-economic question. A small percentage of companies see the need for changes to their business model. A smaller percentage see the opportunity or the aspirational potential. On the other hand, why do so many companies opt out of the opportunity to be a high-performing organization...if the opportunity exists?
That’s a great question.
Actually, I’m working on an article. The working title is Restoring Executive Confidence in Performance Improvement.
And, I think what comes out is that right now executives are doing a kind of cost-benefit analysis of the value of investing in performance improvement. I’m sure you’ve seen the articles that right now large corporations in the US are sitting on anywhere from 1.5 trillion and $2 trillion in cash. They’re just not spending on any performance improvement including not hiring people. But also, not the kind of performance improvement we’re talking about.
Some of that seems to be very directly related to two factors. One of them is there doesn’t seem to be any pressure on people right now to improve performance. It’s all about cutting costs. Improvements are substituting a less-expensive approach for a more expensive approach. AND they’re sitting on a buckets of cash. You really don’t hear a lot of people talking about the competition and future markets; those kinds of things and issues. It’s more about who to survive the uncertainty.
I think the 2nd thing we’ve seen is that most of these executives have a long history of trying to improve performance. And it hasn’t been a good history. It’s been difficult to get organizations motivated to try things through to effective completion. You know, the statistics on IT projects show that between 60 and 80% of all IT projects failed to meet the objectives.
We had an interesting experience with a Vice-President of Operations for a carpet-store chain. They had previously been focused on providing flooring of different types, carpets and tiles and hardwood floors, things like that, to contractors. But with the housing down-turn they changed their focus to working more with consumers. So, it’s a fundamental change to business.
They tried for a number of years to get their retail outlets to change the culture to fit the consumer. And, they didn’t have a lot of success. And they heard about us and were in discussion with us. And, we told them that we believed we could get his culture changed with an initial impact in a matter of days with a sustained impact in 3-4 months. So, literally change the culture from contractor to consumer in 3-4 months.
And he looked at us and said:
" I just don’t believe that’s possible."
And we said:
" Look. Here’s all the evidence and the science to support it. "
And then he came back to us, and this is the relevant issue, and said:
" I’ve been trying to change this company for 5 years. I’ve tried to change other companies before. We’ve done training; we’ve done videos; we’ve done road shows. We’ve done all those things. I gotta tell ya: nothing works."
So, you find people with profound cynicism that they can get the results they want. And a lot of that has to do with many of the approaches weren’t that good. Training could get people excited for a little while but wasn’t sustainable or scalable. They really didn’t have the impact.
So, you then have the executives making a cost-benefit evaluation about the investment for performance improvement right now. Not much pressure, not much notion of a good upside. People aren’t asking about it. And, a lot of perceived downsides. So, the perceived cost-benefit ratio doesn’t look right to the executives so they’re not investing in it.
Now, you have a solution to this over-emphasis on the cost-benefit analysis and being conservative and the decline of aspirations in business. You address this in your organization change model.
What are the 4 steps of your organizational change model?
Well, before I even go into the model, let me tie it back into the discussion of your first question which is the whole purpose of the model and the whole science behind the model is to show the executives that their whole preceived ratio of risk-to-benefit has clearly been changed by the science. What the model does is it gives them the means of getting performance improvement that both cuts cost but allows them to re-position in markets in a way that really just changes that ratio. So, they can do it with a lot less risk.
The model itself has 4 component parts. The first one we call:
Setting the bar. That is to create an image of extraordinary performance. that image is based around a body of science called the Theory of Positive Deviance. And positive deviants are people who consistently and systematically out-perform even with the same resources, the same conditions. So, they are really your top performers.
This body of research began in the 1980’s. A lot of the work was done with several faculty members. We tied it to the private sector and virtually any organization in any role you can find these top performers.
And what’s important about these top performers is they carry a disproportional amount of true tribal wisdom of the organization. They really know how to make the organization great. And, they really organize their attitudes and their cognitive patterns into 4 main domains. The first and most important is:
They tend to love what they’re doing. They bring a passion and excitement to what they’re doing that really is different than anybody else. Turns out, that passion and excitement is driven by a commitment to what you might call a greater social good. They’re not about doing things for themselves; they’re about creating something better for society.
A simple example was we worked with a pharmacy chain. And the positive deviant managers thought about themselves and these are their words:
"...as a critical part of the family emergency response system."
So, they were all about helping families in distress. Whereas everybody else was about doing a 120 prescriptions a day.
So, positive deviants were very transformational and everyone else was very transactional.
And then the positive deviants were operationally excellent because they were driven by this very strong sense of purpose. This notion of purpose and the social good are very much what Dan Pink wrote about in his book Drive. So, it really has a good research foundation to it as well.
So, you start with the purpose of the positive deviants, their operational excellence, these become the image of how you can create a great organization. And it has all these properties like energy and excellence to them.
And, it turns out you can create this in 3 days. We’ve developed a technique called Wisdom Discovery Workshop that, with only about 6-8 people, at the end of 3 days you literally have a set of best practices. From a best practices point of view it takes very little time and very little money and it captures the best of what’s in the organization.
So, that’s the first step in the model: Setting the bar and getting this image.
The 2nd part is about:
Motivating people to embrace this image. We were working with a space company that was engaged with the launch of microspace ships to the planets. So it was literally rocket-science. Very, very cool. And we conducted the discovery and we built a model for who you evaluate these boost packages.
And at the end we said to the group sponsor:
" What are you going to do with this knowledge?"
" Well, we never thought about that."
And it led us to the simple question:
"What is the value of great expert knowledge that no one ever uses? "
It has no value.
So when you then start to talk about how do you get people to actively embrace the positive, to be motivated about a new idea, you have to look at some new science here.
One of the things that is historically looked at by executives is that it’s hard to motivate that organization. It’s hard to get ‘em to change directions. So knowing how to motivate a large organization quickly and effectively starts to change that ratio quickly.
So, motivation occurs basically through two bodies of science. One is called the fair process. That says simply that if you treat people through the change process with a sense of honor and dignity they will tend to embrace it. And if you diminish them, as happens with heavy-duty financial rewards or negative assessments, they will tend to reject it.
So, you can take the passion for the social good and you can present it in such a way to people that they say:
" Wow. I could be that great. "
And you start to see people physically change. And it turns out that image of being great causes people to release dopamine that’s associated with an enhanced sense of learning and openness to new ideas; so you actually see a learning spike.
If you have people write that positive image down it actually suppresses portions of the brain associated with resistance and activates portions of the brain associated with empowerment. And if you do all that in a group you have a release other endorphin like substances that cause this huge burst of learning and energy.
You start to see that the positive deviant content becomes a catalyst for this highly organic, individual, but fiercely biological increase in motivation. You can literally see the dopamine hit people. They stand differently. They speak differently. They change their posture. Everything about them changes as they become engaged and excited.
So, to come back to your original question, one of the big barriers to success in these initiatives is getting positive motivation. The science has told us how very, very, clearly.
I’ve spoken for awhile and I wanted to pause to see if you had any further questions or if you wanted me to do the rest of the model now.
Part two of this conversation will be published on Friday, September 2, 2011
Part three of this conversation will be published on Saturday, September 3, 2011.