Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Are Leadership/Management Skills Portable?

The May 2006 issue of the Harvard Business Review has an article titled Are Leaders Portable? by Groysberg, McLean and Nohria. They studied a bunch of ex-GE trained/indoctrinated (I'm not saying that in a bad way) managers and their ability to produce results once they moved on to fairer hunting grounds.

They break the managers' skills and experiences down to what they refer to as the Model of Human Capital. It is the HBR, they can't just call them "skills". There are five of them:

  1. General management skills
  2. Strategic skills
  3. Industry skills/experience
  4. Relationship skills
  5. Company-specific skills/experience

General management skills involve the ability to find and use financial, technical and people resouces. It also includes basic leadership and decision making ability. These are all portable according to the authors but new skills must be acquired when the manager moves into a more senior role.

Strategic skills (cutting costs, driving growth, etc), gained from situational experience are highly portable but ONLY to companies experiencing similar situations. Cost cutters will do well cutting costs in other organizations.

Industry skills are defined as the "technical, regulatory, customer or supplier knowledge unique to an industry." These skills are portable within an industry. But performance will wane if say, a telecom manager tries to run a company in the medical industry. Makes sense.

Relationship skills are key. Managers in their survey, that could bring colleagues along with them, did much better. If you can't bring your people with you, make sure you can build relationships and social capital in a hurry.

Company-specific capital includes knowledge of the ways a particular company does business. Its culture. Its processes. Its mores. Etc. This is the least portable of the five but "CEOs...are uniquely positioned to capitalize on this knowledge by implementing familiar systems and processes."

This article has allowed me to reflect on my own career path. When I look at my own experience and the skills I have developed along the path, I see the insights from this article. I have always had a common thread of "customer service" and I have been fortunate to translate that across three industries: financial services, high tech and telecom. I have had the ability to bring along people that I trust and am familiar with in prior work situations. I expect that to happen again in my current role. It is just easier to bring in people that you know. Know their work ethic. Know their abilities. And can tell what they will do.

I have also been fortunate to develop strategic skills as well. I am good in a turnaround. I am good in a startup. Both are very similar yet different in many ways as well. I have gone from startup to turnaround to startup to a hybrid in my current role. Launching a new 500 seat site is more like a startup than business as usual.

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