A good manager can manage anything right? Take for example Jack Welch (i.e. former CEO of General Electric), who is universally renowned for his management skills. Can you conceive of a business or government project that Jack would not manage effectively? I can. Jack was a good manager, but he probably would have done a poor job of managing The Manhattan Project (responsible for building the first atomic bomb). Why? He was a world-class executive but not a world-class theoretical physicist. He would have had a heck of a time trying to discern a great atomic bomb design from a disastrous one. And even if this feat were remotely possible, we certainly would have lost the war by the time Jack made a reasonable determination.
If you are going to manage, let alone lead, any non-trivial population health initiative (and most trivial ones for that matter), you better be an extremely knowledgeable (i.e. a combination of clinical, healthcare information technology, and managerial expertise) and a respected member of the team. Otherwise, the troops and their respective bosses are going to chew you up and spit you out. Design sessions will turn into popularity contests or position power plays, neither of which is likely to produce great results.
No, Jack Welch, being a world-class chief executive, would have immediately recognized that he was not the right man for the job, and quickly would have gone out and hired the best available talent that money could buy. It seems obvious in this example, but over and over again I have seen individuals put into positions of management or leadership where they have, at best, a rudimentary understanding of the underlying technologies and/or subject matter domain. It is as if charm, good looks, or social graces were enough to get the job done when it comes to leading an inordinately complex population health initiative.
This is not to say that being a technically competent individual with excellent managerial skills is enough either since I have already expounded at length on the importance of leadership. But if you have these skills, at least you are qualified to be in the game!
FOR THE LOVE OF THE GAME
Most people, at the top of their profession, derive some intrinsic value from their work. It is probably one of the reasons they excel in their chosen vocation. Usually, such a calling satisfies significantly more than their financial needs. They derive an extreme sense of satisfaction, and at times, inspiration from the work itself. Ernest Newman noted:
The great composer does not set to work because he is inspired but becomes inspired because he is working. Beethoven, Wagner, Bach and Mozart settled down day after day to the job in hand with as much regularity as an accountant settles down each day to his figures. They didn’t waste time waiting for inspiration.
All the truly exceptional project managers that I have had the pleasure of working with displayed an intense passion for their craft. They got off on the work. Just like exceptional musicians get off on their music. Passion for your craft is a pre-requisite for greatness. If you want to hire the best of the best, learn to look for a certain fire in their bellies and sparkle in their eyes.
THE ECONOMIC UNIT OF VALUE CREATION
Successful projects drive competitive advantage, and in healthcare, the need for competitive advantage is growing day-by-day. The creativity that impacts activities of the value chain yielding marketplace advantages is almost always unleashed within the context of a project. Therefore, it follows that you want to staff your mission critical projects with the best available talent you can find, wherever you can find it.
Mission critical projects should define and guide your employment practices. Much of the talent you would love to hire would probably want to work on your mission critical project, given that you are willing to pay them what they’re worth, however, they may not be as interested in a stewardship role for the next five years, once the project’s objectives have been met.
In other words, there are people who love to continuously create, and there are those that create and then to nurse their creations. One is not necessarily better than the other, but they are different. To be successful, you must learn to recognize individual differences and then hire world-class players for each category. Mission critical projects will only yield sustainable results if you are astute enough to hire the right combination of both.
PAY FOR PERFORMANCE
By now just about everyone understands that lifetime employment, with the same organization, is a thing of the past. It may still happen in a very small number of cases, but the majority of workers (of whatever color collar), either out of necessity or by choice, will wind up working for many employers over their lifetime. Whether they are employed as permanent employees (whatever that means nowadays) or freelance consultants will make little difference.
One thing is certain; top talent will continue to insist on pay for performance at high market rates. They will also be in a position to negotiate more vacation, flexible hours, and anything else that the current market will bear. If organizations insist on playing thefool’s game of squeezing their best talent financially, the moment things turn a little tight economically; they will be rewarded with mass exodus when the economy improves. You reap what you sow.
“Did anybody think it would be just the people who were downsized who would start thinking like free agents? This is capitalism. If you create a free market for anything, including talent, the people with the most value to sell are going to leverage it for everything it’s worth. And that’s what’s happening. The most valuable people are leveraging their talent in the marketplace for everything it’s worth. Success now is defined by the open market, and that means that the sky is the limit. No single organizational hierarchy puts a cap on your potential. Go wherever opportunity takes you. That is the essence of the free-agent mindset.[i]”
Of course, it is prudent to point out that free agency is not without risks. You may have to accept lower market rates and/or less work whenever economic conditions dictate. It is not all upside by any stretch of the imagination. However, even in a bad employment market, free agents tend to have distinct advantages. Since they often have better skills and are economically motivated to keep them honed, they remain aggressive competitors in good markets as well as bad.
[i] Bruce Tulcan, Winning the Talent Wars (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2001) 24