Episode 73: Michael Mankins – Time Talent Energy

Episode 73: Michael Mankins – Time Talent Energy

Are you and your team losing ground to unnecessary meetings, emails and bureaucracy? According to Michael Mankins, partner at Bain & Company and co-author of Time, Talent, Energy: Overcome Organizational Drag and Unleash Your Team’s Productive Power, by better managing their scarcest resources–time, talent, and energy–companies can increase productivity by as much as 40%. Discover when you should skip your next meeting, the optimal deployment of your company’s talent, and the attribute you can develop for inspirational leadership.

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Book: Time, Talent, Energy: Overcome Organizational Drag and Unleash Your Team’s Productive Power
Website: TimeTalentEnergy.com
Bio: Michael C. Mankins is a partner in Bain & Company’s San Francisco office and a leader in the firm’s Organization practice. He is also a senior member of Bain’s Strategy and Industrial Goods & Services practices. Much of his work has focused on the strategic and organizational initiatives that drive performance and long-term value.

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Peter: Welcome to the Bregman Leadership Podcast. I’m Peter Bregman, your host and CEO of Bregman Partners. This podcast is part of my mission to help you get massive traction on the things that matter most. Today we have with us Michael Mankins. He is a partner in Bain & Company and he has written, with Eric Garton, Time, Talent, Energy: Overcome Organizational Drag and Unleash Your Team’s Productive Power. I really enjoyed the book. It’s a well written book like some of the other books that have come out of Bain.

Michael, thank you so much for being on the Bregman Leadership Podcast.

Michael: Thanks. It’s good to be here.

Peter: So let’s start with why these three, time, talent, energy? There’s so many different elements of an organization, you chose these three.

Michael: Well, I mean, because so much was written on what drives performance within companies, treating the scarcest resource that a company is being financial capital. We had done some research a years a number of years ago that basically indicated that we’re in the cyclical period of super abundance of financial capital. So it’s hard to imagine that putting yourself out for the next 10, 15 years that that’s the sort of resources we’d be talking about having to manage carefully in order to be competitive versus the competition. So it beg the question, okay, if capital isn’t scarce, what is scarce? We focused on time, an organization’s collective time, how it spends it and invest it. The talent resource the company has as well as the level of discretionary energy the workforce brings, all of which are inherently scarce.

So it was in the mindset of helping executives and companies manage scarce resources by just taking an angle that said it’s really human capital that’s the scarce resource and in particular the time, talent and energy of an organization’s workforce that’s truly scarce and has to be managed carefully.

Peter: If you think about financial resources as not being scarce and human resource as being scarce, why don’t companies just take those abundant financial resources and hire more people? Wouldn’t that address the big part of the time, talent and energy issue?

Michael: Yeah, I mean, there is … There’s no question that the more money you have, you can basically throw it at talent. But actually a team that works together productively and collaborates effectively can take actually decades to build. It’s not a problem that amends itself to just throwing money at it. You have to manage it with a specific end in mind. So all of the work around the war for talent that was popularized in the late 90’s, early 2000’s has produced what we have today which is sort of a stalemate. Like our research would have indicated, we initially thought, “Wow, it must be that the best performing companies have dramatically better talent, better people than the rest of the world.”

It turns out not to be true. We actually found out that about one in seven employees at almost every company is considered an A player. The remaining six-sevenths are considered to be the C players. So the war for talent that has been fought for so hard, fought for so hard has basically produced a stalemate.

Peter: One of the things that you said in the book is even with that same percentage of talent – I think one in seven is probably 13% or 15%.

Michael: 15, yeah.

Peter: That even if 15% of your players are A players, companies that manage their time, talent and energy effectively have a 40% increase in productivity is what your research found.

Michael: Absolutely. So our research says that the best companies that’s the top quartile in our sample of 300 global companies that we included and studied produced about as much by 10:30 in the morning on Thursday as the rest do a week, right, and their workers continue to work. They continue to innovate. They continue to serve customers. They continue to develop new products. They continue to do things for the community that maximize the value of the company to its owners and-

Peter: So from a time perspective, What are they doing differently from a time perspective that’s leading to that 40% increase productivity?

Michael: So as the research that we’ve done basically says the average company loses about a day a week to what we call organizational drag which are the processes, procedures, bureaucracies that essentially consume time but do not lead to productive output. We all know what the symptoms are. It’s the meetings that you didn’t need to attend but you were invited to and felt you needed to anyway. It’s the endless chain of emails that show up in your inbox everyday that you need to respond. But all of that is a reflection of the complexity of the organization itself. So in managing time, that is trying to [inaudible 00:06:30] productive time, companies basically do two things very well.

They simplify their organization so that they have the minimum number of people involved that have to interact with each other to produce the decisions that are necessary to both develop and execute a company strategy and they take more specific steps to overcome what I call a culture of collaboration in collaboration’s sake. So they basically provide information to their executive teams on how much the demands that they make, what load that places on the organization.

Peter: On the one hand, you have organizational drag of meetings and emails that we really don’t necessarily want to deal with that’s taking our time. It’s collaboration for collaboration’s sake.

On the other hand, you hear about the importance of engaging people and bringing them into the process and creating ownership by involving them from the beginning and you also hear people who say, “I can’t believe I’ve been left out of that meeting and I think I could be really helpful,” and how can you balance these two elements which says from an efficiency standpoint, we only need three people in that meeting but from an ownership and engagement standpoint, from a standpoint of helping people feel like they are part of the bigger picture, we really need to have more people even when they complain about it.

Michael: Well, first of all, I would argue with the basic promise that says engagement comes from involvement. There’s nothing that saps your energy more than being involved in an activity where you know you don’t meaningfully contribute to the outcome. So part of the companies that actually have the highest level of engagement and inspiration in their employees typically have the lowest level of organizational drag and that’s because they don’t want to be involved in things where they don’t meaningfully have any accountability for the outcome. They don’t want to be invited to meetings to kibitz on actions that other people need to take so-

Peter: Is the measure then if I have accountability for an outcome then I should be in that meeting or I should be involved in that email but if I’m not accountable for the outcome, I’m better off left out?

Michael: Or responsible for managing the process that produces that outcome. You can think of there’s a responsibility, accountability, authority. If you don’t have one of those then chances are you don’t need to be engaged in that specific decision. If you’re continually engaged in areas where you don’t have responsibility, accountability or authority, that what leads actually to a culture of collaboration for collaboration’s sake where prestige is gauged by the number of meetings you’re invited to, et cetera.

Peter: I guess also, if you’re someone who’s sitting here listening to this and saying, “I don’t have that problem but I worry about not being invited to meetings because I’m not involved in enough things or I’m not involved in meetings or I’m not involved on emails that I should be,” maybe you have to look at yourself and say, “Am I taking accountability, am I responsible, do I have authority to move things forward? Am I contributing organizationally in a way that supports our movement towards the larger purpose and if not maybe I need to figure out from a role perspective what I need to do to shift that so that I could focus on a particular piece of what the organization’s doing and make it effective?”

Michael: Yeah, I completely agree with that. I also believe though that it’s not exactly fair to leave that up to the individual, right? So the individual can self assess. They can say, “I don’t seem to be responsible or have accountability or authority to do very much,” that’s an organizational issue, right? That either says you have the wrong wrong or the role itself doesn’t need to exist, that it isn’t exactly fair to ask you to solve that problem on your own, you’ve basically got to … That is an organizational issue that requires an organizational solution. But if that’s the task, you should ask yourself, “What do I meaningfully contribute to this or am I just desiring to go to the meeting for the sake of attendance?”

Peter: To your point, as the leader, we should be looking organizationally and saying, “Do I have effective work groups of people who are meaningfully moving things forward who are in the right meetings because they have authority, they have responsibility, they have accountability?”

Michael: Yeah, I totally agree. That’s the ultimate test.

Peter: Let’s talk about talent. Tell me a little bit about what you found in the area of talent.

Michael: What we found is that so we’ve already talked a little bit about the mix of talent between the best and the rest are basically the same. What is very, very different is the way that talent’s deployed, the way that talent’s teamed and the way that talent’s lead. Those three elements drive big, big differences in productivity. I’ll explain each of them really quickly. Deployment, we found that the typical company pursues a model that we call sort of unintentional egalitarianism. That is they spread their A talent evenly across all the roles in an organization.

The best companies actually pursue a model we call intentional non-egalitarianism which says for those roles that are most critical to delivering the company strategy and executing it effectively, no matter where they are in the organization by the way doesn’t necessarily mean the most senior roles, every single one of those is filled with an A player. So they may have 95% of the talent in certain roles are A players which leaves less for the less important roles. So deployment matters a lot.

Peter: I’ve read some research that says if you bring a bunch of really smart, talented A players together in a room, they actually decrease productivity, that you need some level of mixture of A players and B players and C players.

Michael: Yeah, so I know it’s a common, I would say it’s a common misperception that all star teams basically can’t work together because egos get in the way. It’s not to say that there aren’t all star teams that you can point to that don’t get anything done because egos get in the way. But there are many mechanisms that one can pursue both in terms of the selection of people as you indicate, an A player has to have the ability to collaborate in particular with other A players as well as formal mechanisms in the company that can overcome that. So the biggest one is comp.

Candidly, we used an example in the book that talks about the difference between Apple in the development of OS 10 where it took 600 engineers less than three years to develop, debug and deploy OS 10 which was a massive overhaul to a company’s operating system and that’s an stark contrast to the 10,000 plus engineers, it took more than five years to develop, debug, deploy and ultimately retract Microsoft Vista. One of the biggest differences that’s sighted there and this is historical, this has been changed at Microsoft was comp, basically the way teams are rewarded, Microsoft-

Peter: Individual versus team?

Michael: Team, right. So if you believe that you can’t succeed unless the team succeeds, you tend to keep your egos in check. The example is the Dream Team, the basketball team of Barcelona Olympics, why is it that all star team delivered was because nobody’s going to get a gold medal unless the team got a gold medal. Apple’s rewards were entirely tied to team based performance where Microsoft historically used a stacked ranking system which they subsequently abolished that essentially discourages A players from teaming with other A players.

Peter: So this is the question that I had as I read through the book and it’s often a question I have when I’m looking at best practices that are based on certain cultures. You talked about Netflix and the sort of open culture of people being adults or you’ve talked about Apple. I wonder, your experience or your perspective on whether you could take these particular combinations of cultural elements that make a particular organization successful and draw up from them lessons that you can then apply to organizations.

The challenge, I mean, I’ll give you an example of a company that I know that had a pretty authoritarian culture but they wanted to be more like Google so they put pool tables in … Pool tables don’t change a culture. It’s just one element of that culture. So how much of this … Can we really take lessons from Netflix and apply them to our cultures and organizations … If we suddenly take a company that isn’t open like that and say, “Okay, now all of you can choose all your vacation time by yourself.” Have we done enough or are we taking pool tables and putting them in an authoritarian living room?

Michael: Yeah, yeah. Well, I think that there is a lot of, “Let’s put the foosball table in and have a espresso machines in the lobby and we’ll call ourselves inclusive and pray for engagement.” But there are things that I think you can draw which is the basic question is when are you substituting policy essentially for sound judgment and do you need to do that? The Netflix example in the book I think is powerful because it illustrates with many folks take for granted that you have to have a expense policy, right? You have to have a vacation policy. Otherwise, what will happen as a result? They have none, right? Their expense policy is behave in the best interest of Netflix. As a result they don’t have a lot of people auditing expense reports. They don’t have a lot of meetings talking about expense policy. They don’t have a lot of meetings looking at outliers on expense policy and so they have lower organizational drag candidly as a result of that decision.

I’m not saying that every company shouldn’t have a expense policy but I do think every company should ask the basic question, “Are we substituting policy in replace for judgment and is that, are the returns on that worth the cost because there’s a lot of costs to it and it adds up over time to huge lost in productivity?”

Peter: Let’s talk energy. So you make this distinction, maybe I almost recall it the early 2000’s, the whole focus was on engagement versus satisfaction. You’re raising the bar to inspiration and this idea that inspired employees are far more productive than engaged employees. Can you talk a little bit about that?

Michael: Yeah, I’m not so big on engagement by the way. Engagement’s still a lot of objective. We did find that engaged employees are about 45% more productive than satisfied employees. But the biggest difference between the best and the rest in our research came from inspiration where an average of the best inspired employee’s about 125% as productive as satisfied ones so you’d have to hire two and a half or two and a quarter satisfied employees to match the production of one inspired one. Not surprisingly then, the biggest difference in productivity between the best in our company was actually the mix of inspired employees. The mix of engaged employees, I’ll highlight for the audience was exactly the same between the best and the rest and that’s because Gallop and other organizations have done a great job of getting folks focused on the importance of engagement.

But that doesn’t actually determine relative performance anymore. In order to be a great performer today, you have to have a higher mix of inspired employees and that’s where a lot of our work on energy has been focused because how do you that, how do you-

Peter: You talked about 33 attributes

Michael: Yeah.

Peter: That’s a lot. But one of the attributes, the one that rose to the surface which I find very interesting is what you call centeredness.

Michael: Yeah, so it’s very hard. If you look at the primary driver, there’s humility, vision and selflessness are the three that are most critical in driving performance across organizations. But you can’t have any of those three without centeredness so you have to be able to center yourself, assess a problem, see it sort of outside of your body in order take action on it. That’s what gives you the ability, that’s what gives you vision, that’s what gives you selflessness if that’s what’s required in that situation. That’s what requires, that’s what gives you humility. It basically is the source of all other … All of the 32 other attributes.

The reason why we focused on that was because everybody thinks that you’re either born inspirational or you’re not. I think the important thing that comes out of our research is that’s not true. Actually, inspirational leadership can be taught and it can be learned. It’s a focus on getting a few of those 33 attributes right and being an outliers on those, a few of them, and that gives … That would enable you to inspire more of others and engage others.

Peter: Could you share an example of an uninspirational leader who you either saw develop a critical attribute that helped him or her really become inspirational?

Michael: Yeah. I think, I won’t give you the name, but there’s an executive I’m working with now who has spikes basically on humility, selflessness but sort of wasn’t able to bring that forward in the way he lead. The difference for inspirational leaders isn’t the fact that they don’t have these attributes, it’s that it’s not driving the way they lead organizations so they’re not putting them out front. So by becoming more centered, being able to look at situations and analyze them objectively and then leveraging this individual’s strengths, they became much more inspiring and that’s objectively measured.

Peter: How did you help them to become more centered?

Michael: Well, I mean, there are exercises. I mean, a lot of it seems like yoga 101. But part of becoming centered is actually breathing, those are series of exercises you need to go through that are very yoga like that basically allow you to separate yourself from a situation and-

Peter: Become the witness.

Michael: Yeah, exactly, exactly. For those in your audience who don’t know me, I’m a very hard nosed person. So the first few times we went through this, I thought, “This is hokum. This is not, this is not going to work.” But the reality is that that’s the core and what you need to do in order to get centered is just as much physical as it is mental because you have to separate yourself from a situation before you can objectively assess it and move forward.

Peter: How has the research of this book and writing this book changed the way you lead? You’re a partner at Bain. You lead teams and project teams. How has that changed for you?

Michael: For one, we had had historically had a bias towards balanced teams and that’s because nobody wants to say that certain tasks are more important than other tasks. The research in this book made me question that and has made us as a firm question that. So a big push for us has been to essentially prioritize, understand what differentially requires an all star team versus it can be successfully executed with an average team.

Peter: Do you then take a certain project or certain clients, say, “Okay, we’re working with Netflix. We need an all star team. We’re working with ABC Company, for them, we can maybe use like not so much an all star team?”

Michael: Of course we do. That way, I think everybody, I think everybody does or they don’t make that choice in which case they’ve misprioritized. The other thing I would say though, the biggest change for us as a firm is that all of our managers and partners have now gone through inspirational leadership training because people are our only assets. If we really believe that the biggest difference in productivity is driven by the mix of inspired employees competing against the likes of Google, Facebook, et cetera, we’ve had to put all of our partners and managers through inspirational leadership training.

Peter: The book is Time, Talent, Energy: Overcome Organizational Drag and Unleash Your Team’s Productive Power. We’ve been talking with Michael Mankins who’s the author along with Eric Garton. Michael, thank you so much for being on the Bregman Leadership Podcast.

Michael: Thanks, Peter. If you enjoyed this episode of the Bregman Leadership Podcast, please subscribe and leave a review on iTunes. For more information about the Bregman Leadership Intensive as well as access to my articles, videos and podcasts, visit peterbregman.com. Thank you to Clare Marshall for producing this episode and to Brian Wood who created our music. Thanks for listening and stay tuned for the next great conversation.


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  • Túlio Böck May 11, 2017 Reply

    It’s a great job you are doing through the podcast. I’m hearing you for a long period and I also share it with some friends of mine.

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