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Challenging Environment

What do talents want and need from your organization? If you already know the answer to this question, then your organization must be brimming with talents. If you enjoy a market leadership position, you have a strong foundation from which you can build faster than your competitors. If, however, you are having difficulty attracting and keeping talents, perhaps it is useful to review the wants and needs expressed by talents from other organizations.

People factors dominate. Talents consistently cite three needs above all others. The first is coworkers and bosses with whom they can develop a mutual respect and trust, learn from, bang around ideas with, and collaborate with. The second most-cited need is freedom from micromanagement. Few people enjoy being overly managed. Talents will not tolerate micromanagement and bosses constantly looking over their shoulder and providing unsolicited "how to" advice. Talents want and need—and often demand—freedom to work, freedom to make mistakes, freedom to learn, freedom to innovate, and freedom to pursue the joy of work. The third key need is freedom from fear. Talents shy away from organizations that exhibit even tiny amounts of fear. Fear is a strong negative attribute, and it instantly repels talent.

Other needs include freedom to pursue ideas and passions; a strong culture of values like honesty, trust, respect, fairness, love, kindness, and compassion; freedom to participate in outside activities such as professional societies or universities to stay current and continue to learn; pay for performance; competitive compensation and in some cases opportunities for large awards for large contributions; and a dynamic, changing organization with a winning attitude.

You can attract talent and manage talent, but the question at the end of the day is, "Are your talented people growing, or do they feel that they don't need to grow?" This is a growth rule that applies to people who are not talented as well as to people who are talented. Many people are too fearful to challenge their bosses. Historically, this has not been a winning move. Sometimes bosses may not challenge talented people due to lack of knowledge.

Most managers talk about challenge, but few really practice it. When I talk to middle and senior managers, they talk about creating a challenging environment, but when I talk to them individually and ask, "How many times do you challenge your boss? How many times do you say, 'We aren't doing this right, this is the way it should be'?" I don't find that. An environment of fear will stifle the creativity of the people and will allow bad processes to continue. Talented people respond well to positive challenge. Talent has a "what's next?" mentality. If somebody challenges me, I can learn something from it, and I can do something better.

Positive challenges enhance the performance of talent. Challenging someone based on knowledge represents a positive challenge. Sometimes bosses criticize their subordinates without the proper knowledge or data—a negative challenge. When colleagues challenge each other, they learn from each other and share their knowledge. This is a positive challenge.

Positive challenges increase the knowledge of talents. Knowledge grows faster within the company. Intellectual assets appreciate faster. A continuous learning environment is created, bureaucracy is limited, and trust is built, allowing talents to share more with each other.

Rather than kiss up to their boss, talents seek to challenge their boss. Some people always want to please their boss by accepting their boss's strategy and directives without question. They always obey their boss—wrong or right. They think that if they blindly follow their boss, they will be rewarded. If talents don't believe what their boss says, they do not accept it.

Every corporation faces competition in every aspect of business, and this competition will only increase in the future. To compete with these outside challenges, organizations need to create an internal challenging environment where talents challenge each other positively and create the right strategy, the right products, and the right services. Positive challenges help a company face challenges from competitive organizations by increasing efficiencies, performance, and knowledge of the people. Positive challenges create better products, strategies, and services. Positive challenges create a sense of urgency to create something better.

To create a challenging environment, organizations must

  1. Bury bureaucracy and rigid hierarchy.

  2. Try to attract and keep true talents.

  3. Create a continuous learning environment.

  4. Reward performance.

  5. Remove color, race, age, and gender barriers.

  6. Create a fearless environment.

As a manager without challenge, you may not know that what you believe is right. What happens if you do not know the solution to a specific problem? If you have been constantly challenged, you will know whom to go to for the right answers, the honest answers. Challenges help validate or refute beliefs. You have a team whose ideas and opinions you value. The team will help you solve your problem. But when you face a challenge, you will have to prove your viewpoint based on knowledge and performance. Challenge is also a way of finding talent or understanding what level of talent you have in the organization. Nontalents avoid challenge because they fear that if somebody challenges them, and they don't have an answer, they might lose their jobs, or their boss won't be happy. You have probably seen the "I don't know" dance. The challenged person dances all around the question or challenge without responding directly to it in an effort to cover his or her ignorance. You can create an environment that has just the right challenge. Every talent has to be held accountable for performance by earning a high talent score, knowing that the organization needs a high return on talent.

Create an environment with little bureaucracy. Yes, you will still have a boss, but you can open your boss's door or send him or her an e-mail anytime. If you believe you have a better idea than your boss, then your boss should be totally open to it. However, much of the time the boss is not so open to new ideas that challenge his own thinking. He may even withhold rewards for exceptional performance. If people do their jobs much better than expected, they should be rewarded for their performance. When nontalents see that talents are bringing challenges to the environment and that they are being rewarded for it, then the nontalents will either improve or self-select out of the environment.

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