Adsum Insights Blog


Using the Tools Beyond the First 100 Days: Developing People and the Famous Silicon Valley Thought Experiment

first 100 days / career leadership: developing others/building teams

The tools in my First 100 Days program are not one-offs to try to impress people and get them to like you.  They were/are management best practices that can be used anytime.  

The next few emails/blog posts will focus on developing the people on your team individually and as a team.

I have referred to developing others and team development as the “runts of the litter” when it comes to the components of Executive effectiveness.  There are many reasons for this…business education does not focus on it, companies tend to emphasize more the “what’s" (technology, financials, outcomes) than the "how’s" (how work gets done and how we work together to get that work done).  Also, some regard people and team development as “softer,” harder to measure, and/or a long term problem.  

Whatever the reason, it is kinda weird it gets so little attention when you consider the bulk of your outputs come from the people working for you.  

CEOs however seem to recognize people development is important as they often talk about how they dedicate 25, 30, even 40% of their time to developing people, organizational leadership, and the long-term capacity to execute throughout the organization.  Now on the one hand, maybe when you are CEO, you get that luxury.  Another possibility is the chicken-and-egg notion that it was that kind of prioritization that helped them stand out and get picked for the job.

So here is the roadmap for improving individual and team effectiveness that will be covered over the next several emails:

  1. Do the Blank Piece of Paper exercise about your "Dream Team" that would leave you knowing if you had it, you would crush your goals
  2. Conduct the Famous “Silicon Valley” Thought Experiment with Existing Players
  3. Get Aligned with Boss and HR on your Evaluation of your Team and the Development Plan or Next Steps for Each member
  4. Apply my Five-Step Framework to Develop the People on Your Team…if you already have a mental model of how to develop the people on your team that you feel is working, stick with that.  Just make sure the people around you are raising their game in way they, you and others can see.
  5. Build the Individuals on your Team Into the Right Kind of Team (a “group" (relatively independent actions) is not the same as a “team" (has to work closely together to accomplish tasks) and you need to make sure your team building approach is tailored to the kind of group/team you have)


I covered the Blank Piece of Paper exercise in my last email/blog.  But just to say it again:  it’s a critical step…and it really needs to be done first.  Given your vision for what you want/need to build, what’s the ideal structure?  What would perfection look like?  Skills? Structure? Size? Roles? Rhythm?  You are there when you feel in your bones that if you had this, the next three years would be a slam-dunk.

Too many leaders take their orgs as “a given,” and they are not.  If you took another job, your replacement, if s/he is any good, will come in, see what’s working and what’s not, assess what needs to get done, and will make rapid decisions about the structure and people.  Why wait for your replacement to make the tough calls?  Pretending you just walked in from the outside is a powerful lens.

With an image of the Dream Team in mind, let’s turn to the second step, the famous Silicon Valley thought experiment.  I don’t really know if it was created in Silicon Valley or not, but it was all over the Valley when I was there.  It is sometimes attributed to Jeff Weiner at LinkedIn, but that could be apocryphal as well and/or he could have gotten the idea somewhere else.

Here it is:

Get a strong cup of coffee and a nice view to look out at.  One at a time go through your direct reports (and depending on your organization, maybe even critical roles that report into your team) and imagine they call you or come into your office and tell you they just found their dream job and are leaving in three weeks.  

What is your gut reaction to what they just told you?  Not what do you say to them…that is something else.  What is your immediate gut response?  

Is it, “OMG! I’m completely hosed.  We are never going to achieve our objectives without her/him!  And how am I going to explain this up the chain?”  Or is it more like, “It’s my lucky day!  One less problem to deal with and now I can get someone better (or two for the price of one).”  Or is your reaction somewhere in between.

This gut reaction is an important guide to your next steps with that individual.  If you are panicked about losing them you might need to step up your game with them.  Do they know how much you “love,” respect, and appreciate them?  Do you need to give them stuff off of your plate so they can feel like working for you and the company is still a place they can grow?  If they are that critical, are you confident their title/pay/options are right?  Do you need to do a total comp and title review with HR to make sure they are leveled and paid properly?

If you are relieved they are leaving, it might be worthwhile to look in the mirror and ask yourself why are they still in the job.  Do they know how you really feel about their performance or what a drag it is to work with them?  What is your logic for tolerating a mediocre to bad situation?

As you can see, the individual and team development approach outlined previously starts with two hypotheticals…the Blank Piece of Paper exercise and the SV thought experiment.  The Ideal team and your gut reactions gets you out of the day-to-day and the tactical and beyond your history and sunk costs and into your dreams and feelings to start to identify where the biggest opportunities and gaps are.  In other words, they can help you break free of the inertia you may be operating with.

The next three steps in the approach I previously outline, which will be in subsequent blog posts, will get to practical, concrete actions.  I promise.