• Mohamed F. Ahmed

Principles of Scaling Excellence - Part I

This writing is inspired by my readings of Scaling Up Excellence by Robert I. Sutton, and Huggy Rao. It helped me rebuilding some broken teams and scaling their impact through out the entire organization with zero new hires!

Excellence itself is a mysterious creature when you ask someone to define it in a concrete way. I addressed this in my last article: Do The Right Thing Even if No One Is Looking. I'll walk here through 2 of the basic scaling principles that you should think about throughout your excellence journey.

Cut Bad Behaviors Fast (bad is stronger than good)! deadbeat or jerks reduces group performance by 30% to 40%. If you, as a leader, have a high tolerance to such patterns, it will go out of control faster than you think. Before you start with specific team members, identify behaviors that you consider bad for your team's performance and moral. Order them by severity from worst to least. Start attacking these bad behaviors by gradually intensifying your message. Declare your intolerance for these behaviors in public without pointing to anyone, and send the specific messages to the deadbeats or jerk team members. In very few weeks, you will be able to take a decision with more confidence if you need to let go the deadbeat. Once you do that, I guarantee you that the Broken Window Theory will take effect and the next corrective action item will be much easier. In a nutshell, the Broken Window Theory "states that maintaining and monitoring urban environments to prevent small crimes such as vandalism, public drinking, and toll-jumping helps to create an atmosphere of order and lawfulness, thereby preventing more serious crimes from happening."

Link Hot Causes to Cool Solutions. So, let me ask you this: do beliefs affect behaviors, or do behaviors affect beliefs? It is actually both. Some may believe in a cause strongly enough that they're willing to change behavior and drive others to change it. On the other hand, you'll find others mostly skeptical or negative no matter how impactful your cause is. You can still change their beliefs with the right behavior. However, it all starts with a hot cause for your business or team. A hot cause is a goal that is measurable and achievable at a specific time in the near future. Think of IHI's goals to save 100,000 in 18 months. A measurable, achievable, and targeted in relatively in the near future. You need to develop a story that injects positive emotions and make them strong enough to trigger a change. These stories can be your founding stories. For example, at Climate Corp we regularly refer to how our company was founded to link our employees to our cause and our company's DNA.

Your hot cause must be supported by simple and cool solutions. A simple solution is one that reduces any cognitive load to take the right decision. For example, what's the easiest way to make your developers properly document their APIs or their source code? Can you make it part of an automated build? Can you use Mechanical Turk to validate your documentation? A simple way to trigger this solution is crucial to support the adoption of it and at the end fuel your hot cause. Sometimes, you've to start with asking for a change in behavior before changing the belief as I mentioned earlier. I experienced this in AWS. The leadership principles started to get clearer to me as I started working AWS's ways to serve their customers and build products. In that particular case the change in my behavior changed my belief in AWS's mission and I was all in less than 3 months down the road.

It doesn't stop with these. I still need to share with you in my next posts how to:

  • Help your teams live the right Mindset.

  • How you can juice behaviors through the right incentives

  • Cut cognitive load; When in Doubt Take it Out

  • Engage all five senses of your team to immerse them in your cause

  • build, connect and cascade centers of excellence

  • How can you increase your scaling capacity through increasing your talent density and overall felt accountability


© 2016 by Mohamed F. Ahmed