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May 14, 2024
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79. Habits of Valuable Employees

79. Habits of Valuable Employees
This week join Jeff in his engaging conversation with Verne Harnish, an acclaimed author and leadership expert. Verne shares invaluable insights on leadership, values, and change. Drawing from his extensive experience, he emphasizes the necessity of continuous learning and remaining open to change in today's dynamic business landscape. Jeff and Verne delve into the critical role of fostering healthy conflict and open communication within teams to facilitate better decision-making and build trust. They also discuss the significance of core values as guiding principles for both employees and leaders, highlighting their role in shaping organizational culture. This episode offers actionable strategies for driving growth and fostering a culture of innovation within any organization with practical advice and real-world examples.


Jeff Hunt:

Welcome to the Human Capital Podcast. I'm Jeff Hunt. One of my favorite things on this show is focusing our content on the meaningful differences that exceptional leaders can make. I'm talking about the differences in things like organizational culture, creating great places to work, as well as delivering peak performance.

Today, however, I'm going to turn the tables. This episode is for every employee, regardless of whether you're just starting out or you find yourself in the C suite. If you are motivated to be your best, then keep listening. I'm honored to kick this around today with the very busy and sought after thought leader and bestselling author Verne Harnish.

Verne has dedicated his career to helping organizations thrive. He founded the world-renowned entrepreneurs organization or EO. Which has supported over 18, 000 members worldwide. And he chaired for 15 years, EO's premier CEO program held at MIT. Verne is the founder and CEO of Scaling Up, a company that provides executive education and coaching services to help businesses accelerate growth.

He has authored several influential books, including Mastering the Rockefeller Habits. And it's very popular sequel, Scaling Up, which has been translated into 26 languages and has won 8 major international book awards. Today, Verne and I will discuss insights from his latest book, 12 Habits of Valuable Employees.

Which offers a road map on how to become an indispensable part of your team. This book is built on comprehensive research, and it features strategies that Verne has refined through the decades of coaching the most successful companies around the world. Welcome Verne.

Verne Harnish:

Hey Jeff, I'm glad to join you. And, you know, I had a couple of co-authors on that as well that really have got some great expertise in this particular space.

So anyway, glad to be on the episode.

Jeff Hunt:

Absolutely. And this episode is a reflection of all of your amazing talent yourself and your coauthors. So thanks for giving me time on the show today and your busy schedule.

Verne Harnish:

You bet. And you know, it's interesting with the topic, just finishing up a piece for cheap executive magazine.

There are media partner and it's titled AI plus a player is the winning strategy. And I think that's where we are as employees have so many books written about what it means to be a better leader. But there's not a lot about what does it mean to be a better employee. And at the end of the day, you've got to take your own career in your hands, particularly because they've thinned out the management levels within organizations.

And as Scott Forkwas said at Atlassian, we need people doing work, not working on work and who's going to be value, and that really ties back to compensation, is the people that are the A players, who then can utilize AI, because if you're a C player, all you're going to do is just. AI is just going to make it more messy.

It is going to split the mess And so our books really designed if you feel like, Hey, you haven't quite become the most viable to your organization. Here are some things that you can do to get up there. And if you're already the, A player, what you can do to maintain that position within the organization.

Cause look. No one's ever gotten the next job for what they weren't already producing. And this is about habits for your career. We're mastering the Rockefeller habits for the company.

Jeff Hunt:

That makes sense. And when you got together with your coauthors, what inspired you all to write this book?

Verne Harnish:

Well, we actually got in front of a lot of the mid market audiences and we put out there. How many of you we kind of put a test out there? How many of you feel like you've got when we ask the question? Would you enthusiastically rehire everyone? You've got within the organization. It wasn't a resounding.

Yes. And we wanted to dig into where was the, the mismatch, the miscommunication between the leadership and the, their team members. And that's what spurred our fundamental framework, which is really the framework we suggest in hiring eight players, which is the reverse of a job description that that's part of the headline is.

And we suggest, first of all, get rid of job descriptions. They're not generally worth the paper they're printed on. We're big fans of top grading and the job score card. And there are the four criteria are first will, does the person have the will first and foremost, first habit to learn. Especially with AI and everything else is changing.

if you don't have the will to keep up, to keep learning, keep reading, we keep growing the learn it all culture instead of the know it all culture that Satya Nidali has really put in place at Microsoft. Now the most viable company in the world, passing Apple and everybody else. First, you've got to have the will to persevere, to push through the pain, to figure it out and that's really hard to train.

And so we suggest there are three things that you can do to kind of up your will. In the organization, the first one being a commitment to learning. The second is the focus on values. Those are really the rules of the game. And, you know, I don't care what the team is and what culture you're in.

If you're playing a sport, everyone's playing by the same rules. And if you're not willing to play by those rules, you're going to get a yellow card and maybe a red card. The third then is results. Can you actually really deliver on what it is that job needs you to do? And then what's interesting is last is skill.

And it's changing so much as you know, Jeff, that you go back to number one. Do you have the will? To continue to learn. So will values results and skill is really the four attributes of being a valuable employee and what you ought to use. And then we put detail underneath each one of those.

Jeff Hunt:

This is great. You almost flip it on its head because companies often think I've got to go higher skill. Like if I can just hire skill, it's going to solve so many of my problems. And you're saying that's really not the case.

Verne Harnish:

Right. It's one of the four. So I don't want to discount it. Again, when we see job descriptions, all they do is list a set of skills.

And it's one of the reasons why we just hosted Ginny Romney, the former CEO of IBM and our virtual summit. And I love the fact that they are identifying 16-year-olds in a program called P TECH that have great capabilities around tech and they're getting them the skills they need as. Juniors and seniors in high school, and then willing to hire them without a college degree, without that piece of paper, that's supposed to endorse a set of skills that you supposedly have been trained on.

And now many of those go on to get college degrees, but they've really freed themselves up from some of what was criteria that has not really proven to be useful. And it's some of these other attributes. that people are really selecting on more than just skill.

Jeff Hunt:

I really appreciate that. And when I think about this will and this habit, I think you also call it habits of desire in the book.

Verne Harnish:


Jeff Hunt:

One of the things that you mentioned Verne was getting a peer coach. So, our brains are neuro plastic, right? We've now learned that we can learn to do things differently. Even if we don't feel like we have a lot of will and motivation, involving other people and peers in our lives can help change that.

So, I'm wondering if you have recommendations for our listeners, how would somebody go about finding a peer coach?

Verne Harnish:

Yeah, I, think it's really the single most important decision that you can make. And Hey, I got to give credit as we do in the book to Marshall Goldsmith. You know, Marshall is now, I think the undisputed number one coach to CEOs around the world.

And even he was brought in for Hubert Jolie, you know, when he turned around Best Buy, who bears like, I don't need a coach. And he served him well as he took that stock from $11 to $110. And so the first thing he requires is you to get a peer coach and I have one. And the idea is first, if anyone's ever trained.

You know that you get further faster if you've got somebody holding your feet to the fire. This accountability, maybe another term for peer coach, is an accountability partner versus trying to do it on your own. It's so easy to kind of just slough things off. And the real practical part is that it's a peer.

It's not a mentor. It's not an advisor. It's a peer. So somebody, and it's not your spouse. I think that's great if you're in business together, , it's not one of your other executive team members, it's a peer. So if you're a CEO, find another CEO, as I have, who's kind of roughly in the same point of your life has got, you know, family and children and involved in the same issue, my peer coaches, Sebastian Ross, my co-author of the book I wrote scaling up compensation.

And the way Marshall suggests it is that we choose five things that we want to do more of, less of, or different every day to be a better father, to be a better significant other, and obviously be a better leader, or I'm going to call care ship instead of leadership for our companies.

And then Marshall said, you should talk every day. Sebastian, I never gotten that to work out. But we email and say, Hey, did I do the five? Like one I have to do every day is reach out to one key influencer. And I have to name who that is. And look, I've got a choice. Do I want to lie to my friend?

And having to write down who it is really spurs you on to make sure you do it. I've got a commitment to get back to my breath work. And I can lie to him that I did it or not. And what's interesting is you find that if you've gone a few days and you report out every day, except weekends. Then maybe you're like, well, maybe that's not my path.

Like I knew I needed to work out, but I couldn't really find a way as much as I traveled till I found this muscle booster app, seven minutes. And that worked when I could tell because I did it and he could hold my feet to the fire. And then we generally, when I was in Barcelona, moving back there, we would then have lunch.

Every Friday. By the way, we did not discuss. It was more just to connect nice with each other. And so the importance of having an accountability partner, a peer coach, and you can Google that Marshall Goldsmith, and there'll be a nice outline.

Jeff Hunt:

I appreciate your reference to not lying because that would go against your part two values, which is habits of character.

Yeah. Okay, Verne. So when we think about some of these other habits, one of the ones that you have in here that was interesting to me was being aligned around vision and absorbing your vision, aligning your priorities and rolling your colleagues. And in this habit, as an employee, Sometimes organizations don't have their vision really clearly articulated.

And if they do, it might be in the CEO's head, and he hasn't really communicated that well to the rest of the organization. And so, I'm curious, Verne, about what your advice would be for employees that find themselves In companies without a clear and compelling vision.

Verne Harnish:

Well, we encourage the employee then to advocate for themselves.

Look, if you're not going to advocate for yourself, who is first and foremost, that's why it's important. Also, I think to get a sponsor or get somebody in the organization, maybe higher up. That can give you air coverage if you need that. And I can give you a specific example there at HP, but if you, if it's not clear, go ask, and I got it.

You've got to trust that the CEO will be impressed that you cared enough to ask. No question. And that is going to shine a light on you when nobody else. Is asking, and that's what you want to do is get visibility. It's, it's one of the reasons why people are going back to the office. The research is really clear that if you're hanging at home the whole time, you're not getting the visibility that you need.

If you want to continue to move up in your career, uh, inside the organization. So if nothing else, just ask.

Jeff Hunt:

And one more question about this, this topic of will. You mentioned in here this concept of creating growth committees. What do you mean by that?

Verne Harnish:

You know what? I don't remember. I think that was my co author, Kevin Doms, like, we've written so many books. I don't want to lie about that either. Uh, that's part of, no, that's part of the integrity piece is, Not making stuff up, absolutely work hard not to make stuff up to admit that, Hey, I don't remember that, or I don't know that and go seek out the answer and that level.

I'm not trying to, you know, say anything about myself, but that's what you want as an employee to be in a meeting and literally say, You know, I don't know, let's go find out and not make stuff up. And that's when you can get organizations and your career. In a lot of trouble. So I absolutely don't remember.

Jeff Hunt:

Well, listeners are going to have to go get the book and read that section to learn about it. So we're going to leave it to be a little bit of a mystery. I love how you just pivoted and you turned that into an opportunity, which was a teaching moment because the best leaders are filled with vulnerability, which builds trust.

So they're, they're not concerned about as much about what other people think they're willing to be authentic and let the chips fall where they're made and whether where they may, and still they end up being and producing top performing teams as a result.

Verne Harnish:

Well, what it reminds me of is, so let me share the story of So Dick is An engineer, Hewlett Packard, and he's working up in their Idaho office, and he sees this opportunity for HP to move into printers.

Now, and HP had a rule. That they don't want to use anyone's outside products in their own. But Dick knew that Canon had a really good printing engine. And so we literally snuck them in Idaho. And the important thing is he had a friend, he'd made friends with somebody on the board. And I think it's part of what we're talking about at the growth committee, which is who are going to be your sponsors, who are going to be your support team, your peer coach.

His, uh, sponsor on the board would warn him if Lou Platt and the, and the team was visiting Idaho, he literally would hide it until it got launched. Long story short, it became one of the most successful products. It caused HP to split into two companies. Agilent took the old, uh, HP culture. HP then became really a printer and Dick went on to become chairperson chairman of Hewlett Packard. That's how you move from being a engineer in the bowels of an organization to chairman of HP. And, but it's because he built relationships around the organization and had the support and air coverage he needed in order to take a risk like this.

Jeff Hunt:

So much of what you're speaking about goes back to kind of values and these habits of character you were talking about earlier. Yes. And it's just a good reminder for everyone of how important they are. Not only because it's the right thing to do, but because there's an ROI on it as well.

Verne Harnish:

Well, and, uh, this weekend I was back up at MIT with our reunion class, and, uh, a topic came to my mind called N of 1.

And I think it's important that we stand out individually as an N of 1 at times. There's, uh, And Elon Musk spoke to it. There's no way that AI would have ever validated Galileo.

No. It took a singular individual to stand up and say it. We're seeing it with the whistleblowers at Boeing, being willing to, through character, stand up and expose a bad situation that could put all of us at harm, especially those like you and I that travel all over the world.

And so, in this new world of AI, I come back to a player plus AI, it's even more that you in a singular way, and that's why it's important to have support that you stand up for something that, because all AI has given us an average. That's right. And so I think enough

Jeff Hunt:

said, yeah, where character comes in.

And one of the things I was thinking about with this character topic and values is, is it important for an employee to understand their own core values before they can really integrate with the company's core values?

Verne Harnish:

Yes, but I, I like to see core values more as the rules of the game. And if you're going to choose to play football.

And there's a rule book and no matter what your personal values are. If you're going to play the game, then you've got to agree to play by those rules. And so I think we get caught up too much in there being this perfect alignment versus just an agreement that I can live by those rules and play by those rules.

And that way you can still have a very diverse workforce. And that's where I think folks can confuse core values with being against the criticality of diversity of thought. Which is important to drive the number one driver evaluation, creativity and innovation. And so I think see it that way. And when we hosted Scott Forqua with Atlassian, he said something very interesting.

Core values is not culture. The rules. Yep. They have five core values at Atlassian and they hire based on them. If you're not willing to live by those, then don't come to work for us. But the cultures. Of their office in Sydney is much different than the culture of their office in Netherlands versus the culture of their office in San Francisco.

So, I think sometimes we get those two confused as well. And I think your personal core values often tell you whether or not I can blend with this culture that exists in the office in the Netherlands, whether or not I can agree to play by those five rules that they've got at Atlassian.

Jeff Hunt:

Yeah, I appreciate that.

It's almost like sometimes as employees, we have to disagree and commit. You know, we might not totally agree with the approach that's being taken, but we still have to commit. And if we commit, then we become more valuable employees.

Verne Harnish:

You got it?

Jeff Hunt:


Verne Harnish:

Yeah. And as long as we've created that environment, and we do have a section in the book for the employer, for the leadership team that says, Hey.

You've got a role in this. Uh, we tell the employees though, you, you can't give that as an excuse. You own your career. And if you need to make a job move, make it to a company that will appreciate you. So it is a two way street and the employers have got to be as cognizant of these things as the employees.

Jeff Hunt:

No question. One more question for you around this whole concept of values and character. Yeah. And it's related to conflict. Which is awesome, often misunderstood in organizations. Healthy conflict can really create a level of debate and better decision making and improved trust and relationships. But I'm curious about your thoughts on this topic of conflict and managing conflict.

And what if there's not enough conflict in your organization?

Verne Harnish:

Yeah, well, that's why, as you saw, Jeff, one of the things we did in the book is We provide ample resources and references to people much smarter than us. I mean, I referenced 40 other books in my book, scaling up by, I hardly have all the answers and the same in this book.

And so we point to crucial conversations, which is such an amazing set of capabilities. Uh, you know, understand we're huge fans of Pat Lynch. Five disciplines of a team and their framework. And we point to very short, usually Ted talks that we find that in a few minutes will help ground, you know, ground you as an employee and get the party started in learning more about that.

But we do know that a, without a healthy level of debate, let's just use that term. Even our language, we have to be careful about. Dave's got a great book about. How to use the right language around this, just the importance of bringing a diverse set of opinions and ideas to an issue is critical if you're going to find the right solution.

And that requires a team that's healthy and that's where the leadership has a role, but so do the employees to be able to be willing to speak up in the right way and, uh, and contribute to that healthy culture. So everybody feels safe. If you're making fun of people behind their backs, you know, and you have to own that, then that's an unsafe culture that then keeps everybody from not being able to speak up.

And you're not going to find truth.

Jeff Hunt:

No question. Yeah. It makes me reflect on, I interviewed Patrick Lencioni on the podcast about his working genius model in his book. And I was just reflecting on how actually taking that type of assessment can really provide A very improved understanding of not only our own self awareness, but how other people are wired.

So when we come into this topic of debate, if you will, or conflict, we can work better together really around it. So just to plug there for Pat.

Verne Harnish:

Yeah, in a, in a, an idea that I got to the first time from Hubert Jolie's book, The Heart of Business. Oh, yeah. Love that book. One of the most important books. I've highlighted almost every sentence in there.

He teaches and our CEO some last year at Harvard when they did their personality assessment. They got in a physical room and they drew the grid on the line on the floor and they had people stand Oh, I love that where physically stand where they were like on disc or whatever Geniuses and very quickly you see wait We got way too many people over there and nobody there.

I can see who I'm opposite and who I'm like, and it's not about us changing. It's about appreciating the differences. And are we missing? Are we a balanced team? And so that visual I thought was very powerful that the consultant to, uh, Best Buy used to illuminate that for Hubert and his senior leadership team.

Jeff Hunt:

No question. Okay. One more question for you before we switch into some lightning round questions. Yeah. And it's really the skills section, these habits of influence, and you just mentioned change. I'm curious about how much of creating value as an employee is in the ability to affect change.

Verne Harnish:

Well, there's a really two critical pieces here. I encourage every employee and every leadership team to watch Clay Christensen's Job of a Milkshake. It's four minutes because what you realize is that change for change sake can just screw stuff up. It can really make a bigger mess. And so the only way to know how to change is first to be very clear what is the job of that milkshake.

And if you watch the video, it was morning commuters. The most thing it needed to do was entertain the commuter for 20 minutes. Therefore, the viscosity. And the size of the straw were the two places where they most needed to affect change. And the worst thing you could do is listen to customers and say, you know, could you make the straw bigger?

Now the milkshake doesn't last 20 minutes and it lost value proposition. So first, that's why we come back to part. A big part of our vision summary is knowing what the three brand promises are, the promise. And if there's not clarity. Around what is the promise that where is a company delivering on the innovations and suggestions and changes that you want the employees to make is going to just screw stuff up and waste a lot of money and time.

The 2nd is, and I do want to give a shout out again to Ari Weinsweig. So Ari is the founder of the iconic Zingerman's Deli. I mean, if you Google best deli, at least in the U S if not the world, it's this Ann Arbor, Michigan, singular location, 80 million a year. Oh my gosh. You know, thousands of college students as employees.

Ari has the best change management process I've ever seen. And we highlighted in the book, and it's a very simple four step process, but it allows somebody working in the warehouse to say, Hey, this is idiotic. I love the idiot index and Elon Musk book. It's why is the mailbox across the parking lot, especially in the bad weather of Ann Arbor, Michigan, instead of right next to the door.

And they have a process that allows. An employee in the warehouse to affect that kind of change and in the process, really get a cross functional look at the organization. And what's one of the most important things we all need is this line of sight, how what we're doing connects to the bigger vision and direction of the organization.

So there's a lot in that chapter that I think is critical for both the employee and the employer. Mmm, really comes down to purpose. Well, that's one of the four components of a vision. So we got to be clear, the purpose, the bigger than just trying to make you rich. We got to be clear. What are the rules of the game?

The core values. We got to be clear where we're headed. The big, hairy, audacious goal that Laxman, the new CEO of Starbucks outlined just the beginning of this year for everyone in Starbucks through 2030. And then we got to know what the promise is, what are those promises? And if I've got a clarity around those four components.

And that is on the leadership team and the employees to demand. I want to know it now we can begin to make change that's effective instead of just spinning our wheels. And that's frustrating employees. Jeff Hunt:

No, they do wasting time. They do. That's a great structure. I very much appreciate that. Okay. Are you ready for some lightning round questions?

Let's go. You did not send it to these two ahead of time. So I'll see, I'll admit if I don't know, you're in the hot seat, Verne. So the first one is what are you most grateful for? Verne Harnish:

I am most, well, I'm most grateful obviously for my children and for what I'm seeing they're bringing into the world as the next generation.

And I'm very thankful for all of the colleagues and friends I've got around me through EO and our own organization. So at the end of the day, it's always about people that I'm most grateful for and the support I've received.

Jeff Hunt:

What's the most difficult leadership lesson you've learned over your career? Verne Harnish:

When to get out of the way, you know, there, I joke, but it's real. I really can't stand to implement any of that, which I teach, which is why I teach instead of do and why. There are three much better experienced CEOs running our three major companies than me. And when I get in the way, it's not good. So it's one to get out of the way.

Jeff Hunt:

Drinking your own Kool Aid. It reminds me of, it reminds me of the, uh, Ikea's founder syndrome, which is basically the startup that the founder CEO is putting together the Ikea furniture, but then if he's still doing it in 10, 15, 20 years, we know we really have a problem there.

Verne Harnish:

Yeah, it is actually one of our core values as a global coaching organization. Ours is practice what we preach. It's. Really people want to know, all right, what's your purpose? Then what are your core values? What's your brand promise? What's your BAG? And if we aren't doing those things, then it's, it's difficult for us to teach it.

Jeff Hunt:

Who is one person you would interview if you could living or not?

Verne Harnish:

Oh, it would be Einstein. And I, he came to me when I was in college, gave me the unified theory, but I didn't write it down. So I recently went on a journey. And I asked him to come back to me and he did, but I'd love to, he kind of gave me what was the key to the universe. It was, I know a little foo foo, but I would love to sit down with him.

Jeff Hunt:

I'm a physics buff. Yeah, absolutely. I want to know what your top book recommendation is. I'm, I'll say my top book recommendation right now is 12 Habits of Valuable Employees, but anything, anything that you've read that you want to recommend to our listeners. I am in the middle. Well, yes, no doubt right now. Verne Harnish:

It is Elon Musk's biography by Walter Isaacson. I'm going through it. I can show you my Kindle. I got a dozen books teed up. I'm going through, but I'm going through that book a third time and the lessons in there. And I trust Walter Isaacson when he said, cause he has got such a reputation that Elon didn't get to edit a word.

In fact, didn't even get to read it before it was published. So I think we're getting a real great insight Transcribed Into somebody who let's just be real straight is put more stuff and people in space, for instance, in five years and all countries combined in 50 years for one 30th, the cost one 30th, not 30 percent less remarkable 30th, which means if us citizens are listening to this broadcast, we should be mad as heck.

Jeff, we got to know that what's breaking our backs. Cost of healthcare, the cost of education, the cost of our military, that we're being overcharged by a factor of 30, not 30%, 30. It's breaking our backs. So anyway, that book I think is particularly entrepreneurs and leaders of companies. Lots of great insights in there.

Jeff Hunt:

What's the best piece of advice you've ever received?

Verne Harnish:

That was Regis McKenna. Regis was the advisor to Steve Jobs, Intel, Genentech. And in 1983, I called him up and said, Hey, I want to build the world's largest entrepreneur organization. You help Steve go to 2 billion while you help me.

And he asked me a question that Bill Gates considered the best question he'd ever been asked. And it was a question Steve Jobs used throughout his entire career. And that is, what's What are the top you want to get anything done? What are the top 25 influencers, 25 relationships you need to bolt on to your vision that'll help it scale further, faster, and by the way, that's at the heart of Ari Weinsweig's change management process as well.

Inside Zingerman's deli. And so that tool, that idea served me so well over all the years and our clients.

Jeff Hunt:

You've given us so much wisdom today on the show. What's one or two like really important takeaways you want to leave our listeners with.

Verne Harnish:

You know, leaders are readers, they're learners, and I think you're either winning or learning, or we like to say either earning or learning there's no losing.

So let go of this idea that you're, there's a win loss. It's just earning or learning and you've got to keep that curious, childlike, childlike curiosity going and look at things with fresh eyes, uh, as much as you can. And that's why you need lots of people around you telling you that you don't have clothes on and as a CEO, I appreciate when my team.

Does that because we're always the last to know. And that was something that the great Jack Welch said, the CEO, a, we hosted him at fortune with this whole group of CEOs. He'd retired and he, and we, he was asked the last question. All right. What's your final piece of advice? He, the CEO, you will always be the last to know.

So as an employee, understand that and appreciate it and inform the CEO.

Jeff Hunt:

That is a great takeaway. Uh, we are going to put a link to Verne's book, 12 Habits of Valuable Employees, on our podcast website and the show notes. Feel free to go there and take a look. Verne, thank you so much for spending time with me today.

Verne Harnish:

Jeff, and thank you for your preparation around all that. Beautiful questions.

Jeff Hunt:


Human Capital — 79. Habits of Valuable Employees
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