The 4-Hat Hack: How a micro change in your employee portal can yield mega results in Leadership
Most companies have internal employee portals - the one where all employees are expected to or voluntarily sign in everyday. Here, it is easy to search for any employee (via their ID no.). Such a search would uually return something like the following:
How can a tweak to this be a vanguard in transforming the organization to one filled with leaders?
Today, companies sooner or later learn the necessity to identify and develop leaders. Many companies will also understand the necessity to give leaders more opportunities to lead in their organizations. But there exist some fundamental questions to be answered:
Fundamental Question #1: How can an organization identify true leaders? Are many in the organization (in different hierarchical levels) convinced that their current ‘leaders’ are truly leaders?
How to separate the wheat from the chaff so that the wheat gets to lead and not the chaff? Identifying the real leaders in an organization is crucial. Leaders preserve and change for the better the core values of an organization. Identifying leaders and their strengths are a precondition to creating a conducive environment for them to lead. A company which takes the effort to identify true leaders will naturally take the added effort to retain and nurture them.
Do organizations have the resources to identify leaders at all levels in an organization? Should organizations go by the predominant practice of hanging on to the word of the supervisors as gospel? Is there a better and an efficient way to identify potential leaders as early as possible and reduce their attrition (and by extension increase the influx of new ‘true’ leaders) at all levels in an organization?
Fundamental Question #2: How can an organization evaluate where it presently stands with respect to leadership? In other words, how can an Organization evaluate its ‘Leadership Quotient’?
Does the organization currently have ‘enough’ leaders? Have the currently administered leadership programs created enough leaders? In what parameters of leadership does the company lead and where does it lag? How can the organization set annual targets with respect to leadership?
Fundamental Question #3: How can an organization understand the specific leadership aspects in which each employee has to improve? How can the organization use this information for targeted and personalized leadership development in order to raise its ‘Leadership Quotient’? How can an employee receive constructive feedback and recommendations to improve certain aspects of his leadership?
I am confident in assuming that a shift towards personalization of leadership programs to develop better leaders will be a general consensus among successful companies. How to identify the areas of improvement of each individual employee?
Fundamental Question #4: How can a significant positive shift of the mindset of employees about the understanding of leadership be achieved?
How will the employees understand if they are expected to be leaders? How will they understand that leaders can be at all levels in an organization and not just at the top? How can they understand that they are a part of the process to nurture other leaders?
If there is a program or a framework to answer and resolve the above three fundamental questions, an organization can make rapid strides in ensuring that leaders ‘take over’ and row the most significant oars of the organization.
Context – The 4 hats leaders like to wear
Why does a company hire a leader? Let us turn the question around. Why does a Leader ‘hire’ a company?
A leader may ‘hire’ a company for many reasons. For example, he may want to acquire and continuously develop new skills that he believes can help him bring about a new change; he may want an opportunity to collaborate with other talented leaders and employees in the company to create substantial value for different stakeholders; he may share a common purpose and mission with the organization; It may be a combination of the above;
Whatever may be the objective, to achieve the objective, a leader will expect to get the opportunity to ‘wear’ 4 hats (the different active roles he wants to play) in an organization:
1. The Visionary Hat
2. The Collaborator Hat
3. The Mentor Hat
4. The Innovator Hat
The Different Roles a Leader will like to play
· Comprehends the extent of Challenges
· Develops a strong vision that will take the organization or unit to new unexpected heights
· The vision is radical yet feasible and is backed with proper thinking and strategy
· The vision is in line with the shared purpose of the visionary and the organization
· The vision strongly challenges the status quo and gives the entity a new and more compelling strategic direction
· The vision is favourable to the company in the short term and the long term
· The vision is largely original and seeks to give the organization new competitive advantages over its competitors
· Identifies the different likely partners in the vision and shares the vision with them and enrols them.
· The effort needed to bring about the vision to fruition is known
· Identifies and understands the strengths and weaknesses of potential collaborators
· Understands his own limitations and the need for collaboration and is eager for collaborators with complementary skills
· Does not care about hierarchy levels and actively seeks to collaborate with lower levels.
· Sets a higher objective as the purpose of the collaboration
· Has great empathy and understands the collaborators
· Equally comfortable with driving collaboration and being a part of the collaboration
· Comfortable with cutting through various organizational barriers and bringing the best out of the diverse collaborators
· Collaborates efficiently and makes the organization substantially better off after collaboration than before collaboration
· Seeks to mentor more than manage
· Actively participates in the well being and interests of his subordinates
· Has great empathy and understands why his subordinates decided to ‘hire’ the organization
· Is readily recognized as a mentor by the subordinates and the reputation spreads
· A steady stream of talented people value his advice and mentorship and seek to be mentees
· Encourages and inspires individuals and helps them to realize their potential
· Understands the hidden potential of colleagues and subordinates and points it out to them
· Strives to create opportunities for future leaders to succeed
· Leads from the front in helping the team accomplish a difficult objective
· Understands the change in trends and the need to innovate
· Is talented at finding entrepreneurship and business opportunities
· Original and out of the box thinking
· Fearless in challenging the status quo and presenting new innovations
· Has the extra knowledge, hard work and creativity to pull off new innovations
· Is more focused on breakthrough innovations rather than on incremental innovations
· Is not afraid of innovation failure and understands the positive aspects of innovation failure (is there any?). Very Persistent
· Ready to take calculated risks
· Constantly becomes better at innovation
· Very curious, ambitious and thinks big
· Understands the need for complementary skill sets
· Is motivated by the challenge of the problem
· The value add for business is very high
The Four Hats as four badges of recognition in an Organization
A leader is set apart by his ability to wear all four hats with ease at the same time if necessary. But many employees will have the capability to wear one or more hats at a time. For example, some may be very good mentors and others may be very good innovators and still others may be very good visionaries and collaborators.
But very rarely, in any company do we identify formally an employee as a great mentor or collaborator. His or her great qualities are known to a few people in his team or project and a few supervisors. It would be great if a manager who is a business unit away or a geography division away knows about this individual who he may badly need to lead his team or a project.
Let us make an attempt to correct this.
I am proposing a minor tweak in the company's internal employee portal (or the portal which all employees of the organization are expected to sign into everyday).
It is often very easy to search for specific employees. And a search for an employee will return an employee’s information in a basic structure similar to below:
The company can implement the 4-hat IT project to make the following changes.
We add to an employee’s profile one or more of the following 4 badges (hats) to recognize him as a visionary, collaborator, mentor or as an innovator as the case might be. An employee might also have zero or no badges.
An employee who has all the above 4 hats will get another hat added to his profile – The Leader Hat
So the Employee’s new profile page will have an extra tab showing the basic information and a tab showing his Leadership Credentials.
When you click the ‘view details’ or the badge that he has already acquired, the following relevant information can pop up.
Some important remarks about the process of rewarding the hats:
1. Anyone in the company can view any other employee’s leadership credentials. He can ‘fan’ the employee as a visionary, collaborator, mentor or an innovator based on his experiences and opinions about the employee (irrespective of hierarchy levels).
2. Each employee will have only 5 credits per hat each year. These credits must only be used to fan and recommend other employees. So an employee can at the maximum recommend only 5 other employees as (say) visionaries and twenty employees in total.
3. Each employee can recommend another employee only once.
4. The credits will expire every year.
5. When an employee fans another associate, he records ample reasons as described below
Note that the contribution recorded can be viewed by other employees who can then just click on it if they choose to observe the same contribution.
6. The company can give example profiles of visionaries to guide the employee who recommends his associate
7. The company then sets a threshold number of fans for each hat (say 30)
8. Once the threshold is hit for a hat, the company then decides to mandatorily review the employee’s contributions.
9. Once the contributions are reviewed, the company can make a decision to award a particular hat to the employee. The new profile page will look like:
10. Also some dashboards can be generated which can be displayed in the home page of the employee portal.
Using the 4 hats
A. Identify Leaders... and?
The company will have the clear record of the number of black hats (equivalent to all 4 hats put together) in the company and hence the number of leaders.
The company must also utilize to the maximum a leader's core strengths, i.e. his capability to wear the 4 hats.
This would mean that:
1. He must given an opportunity to lead in projects that are crucial to the company
2. He must be given the opportunity to challenge the barriers that he currently faces in the company. And he must be involved in breaking those barriers. In fact, he must be given the responsibility to lead the top management in breaking those barriers.
3. He must be involved in the long term strategy and planning in the company
4. He must be actively involved in developing future leaders
5. The company must revise upwards its rewards and benefits for a leader
B. Measure and Improve the Leadership Quotient
The 4-hat hack actually gives the companies an opportunity to measure where they stand in terms of leadership by the following:
a. The number of leaders currently present
b. The number of associates who are on their way to become strong leaders (1-3 hats)
c. The number of associates who need to accelerate their path to becoming leaders (0 hats)
d. The hats in which the company as a whole is particularly lacking
For example, if the company has a huge percentage of its employees with zero hats, then the company must rethink its fundamental work culture, its rewards and incentive systems, the bureaucracy present and the command system, the leadership programs currently present etc.
Sometimes, the company may do well in a particular hat (say innovator) and it may do really badly in another hat (say collaborator). The company now gets the information that they must really set the groundwork for improving collaboration since it is an important precondition to the success of innovations in a large company.
The CEO must first and foremost draw a sample profile of the associate who he thinks is a visionary, a mentor, a collaborator and an innovator (individually). These profiles must be communicated to the employees and they must be encouraged to use their creativity in bettering these profiles. Such an exercise sets a minimum expectation among employees.
Change the nature of the job description when attracting talent. Frame it in a way that is written to attract leaders than to attract just a knowledgeable employee. The job description must reflect the work done by a successful leader in the company and not what is expected of everybody.
The company must also engage in an annual collaborative exercise with its employees to understand and kill the different barriers. For example, the usual employee engagement survey can be replaced with a hackathon that bears resemblance to the ones run on Management Innovation Exchange.
The company must set targets in leadership each year to improve the number of ‘hat-holders’ and must roll out new programs and initiatives that will help it to meet these targets. It must publish internal ‘Leadership Annual Reports’.
C. Target customized delivery of Leadership Development initiatives
From the information and data collected by the above 4-hat initiative, it is possible to understand the strengths of any employee (the current hats that he has) as well as his opportunities for improvement (the hats he is yet to receive and in which he has very few ‘fans’). And different individuals may have different combinations of strengths and opportunities for improvement. This will mean that the nature of improvement becomes more individualized and unique.
Let us illustrate this with an example:
Note that the objective of the targeted leadership initiatives and hence its nature changes not only with respect to the hats that the individual want but also according to the hats that the individual already has.
The company can draw up the ten most important desired outcomes and the dominant combinations (strengths and opportunities for improvement) in the company. It can then develop different initiatives to tackle the different combinations.
D. Create opportunities to tap the new desires for collaboration
The new completely transparent data and information on the leaders across the company, the different strengths and contributions of employees etc. will lead to new desires for collaboration among different employees – especially among those with complementary strengths.
Let us consider a sample:
1. Different managers may want to bid for the different leaders across business units
2. Visionaries may look for innovators to accelerate their vision
3. Innovators may want to look for mentors suited to their objectives.
4. Visionaries may look for collaborators to bring people together and help them drive their vision
5. Mentors may shortlist few visionaries in their unit or domain and help them to refine their visions.
The desires for collaboration are endless.
The C-suite and business unit leadership must work to encourage such collaboration. They must set targets for such collaboration and must incentivize it. They must in fact themselves set an example. They may also give publicity to success stories of such collaborations internally to the organization to encourage more employees with different and complementary strengths to collaborate.
1. The current state of the company with respect to leadership and its important aspects is clearly known and hence allows for targeted corrective action.
2. ‘Natural leaders’ are identified by consensus by the employees of the company. Measures can be taken to retain and utilize them.
3. It is a grand collaborative exercise which involves potentially all the employees in a company to reward and nurture the different ‘hatters’
4 It breaks down hierarchies due to participation of employees from all levels and this is a crucial precondition for ‘Leaders everywhere’
5. There is a significant shift in the perception that ‘leaders are only at the top’. Employees will strive to be leaders wherever they are.
6. It incentivizes people to connect and collaborate with each other. For example, you cannot get a ‘visionary hat’ unless you share your vision with many people and take action. These people would then be able to judge the vision and the related efforts taken.
7. The best of talent will get the opportunity to work in the best and most important projects. The ‘natural selection process’ induced by the 4-hat will be more efficient than just the word of supervisors.
8. The feedback to an employee due to this is very strong. Employees will be able to take steps to accelerate their process of becoming a leader.
9. The contributions of employees are verified, ‘heard’ and certified by other employees. More importantly, the outcomes due to these contributions are transparent. This is a significant improvement to the traditional Resumes and CVs. It makes the practice of overlooking important accomplishments redundant.
10. The easy discovery process helps employees to find like-minded partners in the organization and unleash creativity.
1. Many managers, especially those who have ‘grown-up’ in the ‘command and control’ organizations will find it uneasy to see the subordinates ‘judging’ them as to whether they are good mentors and visionaries or not.
Suggestion: The CEO must ensure that the managers are convinced about the necessity of having leaders everywhere in their organizations and about the benefits of having a flat transparent one. This communication effort must be taken before the 4-hat hack is rolled out.
2. Employees initially may not know how to think in the 4-hat paradigm. They may overestimate or underestimate accomplishments and contributions and are highly subjective.
Suggestion: Employees will eventually learn how to think but this initial confusion is an opportunity to get them to clearly understand the expectations of the company from a leader. The company can publicize sample profiles of ideal leaders on the company portal or intranet. Employees can be invited to comment on the profiles and their opinions on the high expectations.
3. Employees may initially begin to reward their own friends and special interests rather than on company expectations of leadership.
Suggestion: Conduct a test run of the 4-hat project for 1 month. Encourage and teach employees to discover employees unrelated to their teams and evaluate their contributions. This will help them to look beyond their circle. After the roll out, moderate the contributions and the activities for a few months and send notifications if very incremental and insignificant contributions are being rewarded (though it is unlikely).
4. Another challenge might be the short-term expectations of the program from senior executives. Note that the purpose of this program is to instil a long term fundamental change in how the organization and its inhabitants work. The program will yield great dividends once the ‘learning’ phase on using the 4-hat passes.
1. Involve well known and recognized leaders in the organization as well as employees from all levels in the design of the 4-hat project. Encourage them to collaborate with the Information Technology team in every stage of the design and implementation of the program.
2. Communicate to the senior level managers in different business units about the 4-hat program and the necessity to adapt quickly to the changes. Understand their various apprehensions and clarify doubts about the program.
3. Create a new micro-site well in advance of the live roll-out of the project and send emails to all employees to educate them about the new initiative and encourage them to give open feedbacks on it.
4. Pilot-test the project in a department with size less than 50 employees.