Disruption can be a powerful personal tool, but as we discussed during the re-launch of Disrupt Yourself earlier in the month, disruption is not limited to individuals looking to jump into the entrepreneurial life. Significant disruptions can come from within large organizations, leading, as Kaihan Krippendorff pointed out, to important innovation. But how do you disrupt from within a large organization?

My guest today is one of the foremost experts on this very topic. A professor at the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan and partner at the consulting firm RBL Group, Dave Ulrich has published over 200 articles and 30 books, including his most recent collaboration with Arthur Yeung, Reinventing the Organization. He is, as he describes it, obsessed with organizations, even going so far as to tell chefs in restaurants how they can increase productivity (he is also a self-proclaimed horrible dinner guest).

This obsession leads Dave to question everything, and embrace seeming paradoxes in how organizations operate in order to have the best impact.

“I don’t think we solve paradoxes, I think we have to become comfortable navigating and living with ’em. And it’s the ability to navigate that tension that creates change, because if I solve a paradox, I got it, “Go do this.” If I navigate a paradox, I’m constantly debating within myself, “Should I move this way a little bit? Should I move that way?” Innovation comes out of that tension.

One such paradox is the need for employees to have autonomy, but also accountability, in order to become more effective and efficient in their work. As Dave points out, no one washes a rental car before returning it, but everyone fills up the gas tank.

“And it finally hit me as I listened to try to learn, “It’s not about the system.” You can have any system in the world, but if there’s not a relationship between the manager, who’s responsible for accountability, and the employee, the system is not gonna work.”

Relationships also run as a through-line in Dave’s work, with special emphasis placed on the employee and customer experience—both deeply interconnected.

“Profits through people, not profits and people; it’s through people. And people become the antecedent, or the lead indicator, of creating that sustainable profit.”

This episode also boasts the most questions answered by me on-air outside of my interviews with Macy Robison. Dave couldn’t help himself. He had to know what made me tick, just as I am driven to help others understand how they tick (I’m somewhat of a compulsive coach).  Join us for a high-energy interview filled with nuggets of wisdom from Dave’s deep understanding of how organizations work and how people operate inside them. If you’re currently part of a larger organization (or hope to someday be running one), this episode is for you!

Listen to the episode in the player above, or download and enjoy it on iTunes. If you’re so inclined, please leave us a review!

Takeaways from this episode:

  • As an undergrad, Dave’s imagination was captured by an Organizational Behavior course, and his mind hasn’t let him stop obsessing about organizations ever since. He likes to refer to it as OCD—Organizational Compulsive Disorder.
  • In Dave’s new book with Andrew Yeung, Reinventing the Organization, it focuses on accountability as an important component in the efficiency of an organization. Managers should examine the following questions:
    • What is it you are trying to accomplish?
    • What objectives are employees accountable for?
    • What actions need to be taken?
    • Is there a process for growth-mindset learning?
    • Is there a positive conversation happening between the manager (themselves) and the employee?
  • “[A] positive conversation is saying, “Focus on what’s right not what’s wrong. Focus on the effort, not just the outcome. Link your effort to the outcomes you want.” One of the tests that I give leaders who I coach is, “What percent of the time do people leave an interaction with you, particularly a, an accountability interaction feeling better about themselves?””
  • Despite varying trends in HR, performance reviews are still important. Employees need to know what they are accountable for so they can grow.
  • Tough decisions, such as determining whether to let someone go, should be gut-wrenching, but it is important for the sake of your employees that you take action. If you don’t, you’re hurting the respect of all the employees that are counting on you to make decisions for the good of the group.
  • Don’t be afraid to communicate why you are doing what you are doing.
  • When you sit down with an employee, to have a positive conversation ask them to help you understand the data to improve. For example, “Help me understand why you have been late for the last four meetings so we can improve the situation for everyone.” No judgements, just understanding. This helps the leader become a coach instead of a controller.
  • Talent is equal to competence times commitment times contribution.
  • “In talent, there’s just so many books and it’s a broad issue. How do you simplify that so that a leader, or an organization, can improve their talent and help ’em win? Competence. Do we have the right people, with the right skills, in the right job, at the right time? Have we brought ’em in, have we moved ’em through, have we moved ’em out?” Competence, Commitment, Contribution
  • “Reinvention is not who we are and what we do, it’s what others get from who we are.”
  • “This is the best thing HR, or leaders, can give an employee, and it’s an organization that wins in the market.” Incentives, rewards, and relationships are all important, but they are all part of winning in the market, which gives customers and investors the willingness to “put their energy” into the marketplace tomorrow.

Links Mentioned in this Episode:


Download a Transcript

Download on iTunes

Click to access the login or register cheese