When something's been broken for so long, it’s easy to ignore the problem, because that’s the way it seems it’s always been. But what if we could ask the brightest minds how they would fix a broken system? Maybe we would learn a thing or two from their solutions.
That's exactly what LinkedIn did for its recent series, “Let’s Fix It," which asked business leaders, “If you could fix one thing, what would it be?”
From employment bias and the war on drugs to gender diversity at the C-level, below are some thoughts from seven of today's strongest business leaders on how they would run the world a little more efficiently.
Peter Arvai, CEO and Co-Founder of Prezi
What he’d fix: the need to be perfect
“I’ve often felt the expectation that I need to be perfect to be accepted as a leader, but I have come to realize that revealing my imperfections actually empowers my team," Arvai says. "Being vulnerable changes the conversation from one where team members feel they have to prove themselves to one where they are free to think big and take risks.”
Arvai suggests that if we want our teams to tackle big challenges efficiently, we need to ditch the traditional model of leadership and support vulnerability instead. This will be the only way, he notes, that we can “fuel the creative engines that business requires to thrive at today’s breakneck pace.”
How do we do this?
- Reduce judgment by getting personal. “Fear of judgment is an instant killer of creativity and risk-taking," Arvai says. "When people are worried that others will judge them for their ideas or flaws, they shut down. We can create a safe space for free thinking by being completely open.”
- Share your mistakes. “Another obstacle in the way of big thinking and creativity is fear of failure," he adds. "By openly promoting that mistakes are an important part of adapting and growing, leaders can empower those around them to let go of the stifling need to be perfect, so they can risk more to achieve more.”
- Build a candid culture. “It isn’t always easy to be completely honest, especially when talking about personal flaws," Arvai notes. "Candor, however, is fundamental to building a culture of creativity. When people spend less time thinking about what they should or shouldn’t say, they can spend more time thinking about the stuff that really matters: their ideas.”
Laszlo Bock, Senior Vice President of People Operations at Google
What he’d fix: resume bias
“We all think we're great at assessing candidates," Bock says. "We’re not. We are biased, ask bad interview questions, rarely go back and check if our predictions were correct, and so on."
“The root cause is that we can’t convey perfect information about our own skills," he adds, "nor can employers convey perfect information about what they need. We both say the job is a ‘Color Blue’ job, but we have no way of knowing for sure if we both mean the same thing when we say ‘Color Blue.’“
Bock calls the difference in understanding “information asymmetry,” which is where one party has a different set of information than the other. To fix this, the Google HR chief points to advances in organizational science and behavioral economics where people are matched to jobs.
He offers an example of this scenario: “If you’re a welder in Detroit, you can find out what skills are increasingly or decreasingly in demand," he explains. "Then you can make some informed choices: Should I move to Atlanta where there will be more welding jobs or stay put and go to nursing school since I know there will be demand for those jobs at home? If I go back to school, which schools’ graduates are most likely to end up in the jobs that I want?
“Slowly, we’d become able to not just match people today," he adds, "but also to tell people where to invest to be ready for tomorrow’s jobs.”
Jeff Denneen, Partner at Bain & Co.
What he’d fix: the weekly meetings
“Too many people get together without really knowing why, simply because it was on their weekly schedules," Denneen notes. "Admit it, you’ve been there. You’ve probably called some of those meetings. I know I have. But meetings don’t have to get the best of you. You can manage them as closely as you manage every investment.”
To improve the effectiveness of any meeting, here are three things Denneen suggests doing:
1. Have a purpose. “If you don’t know why you’re meeting, don’t meet," he says. "Most valuable meetings have one of three purposes: inform, discuss or decide. Before calling a meeting, think about whether you could inform people through a different medium, or use a tool to reach a decision.”
2. Manage the invite list. “In many companies, it’s bad form not to invite lots of people to a meeting," Denneen says. "What people don’t realize is that every additional attendee adds cost and gets in the way. Remember the 'Rule of 7,' which states that every attendee over a total of seven reduces the likelihood of making a good, quick, executable decision by 10 percent. Once you hit 16 or 17 people, your potential for decision effectiveness is close to zero.”
3. Change the default time. “Not too long ago, most companies called 30-minute meetings. Now the typical default time has grown to 60 minutes," Denneen explains, "even though every additional minute generates a higher cost. How about a rule that says if a meeting lasts more than 90 minutes, it requires approval by an executive who is two levels above the convener?”
Stephanie Ruhle, Anchor/Editor-at-Large at Bloomberg TV
What she’d fix: the destructive need to always have an edge
The world is competitive. We all know this. But our constant quest to always get an “edge” is leading to disastrous results.
“As a business news journalist, there is a huge amount of pressure to win big interviews," Ruhle says. "Ideally it should be based on great reporting, reputations and experience. But when the pressure mounts, everyone starts to crack, promises get made, and integrity gets lost."
“Make no mistake," she adds."Let's bring our A-game every day. Let's be the best version of ourselves and try our hardest. But let's play fair. When the race begins, let's make sure everyone's got their laces tied before the starting gun is fired.”
Denise Morrison, CEO of Campbell Soup Co.
What she’d fix: non-existent diversity at the C-level
“Consider this," Morrison suggests. "Women make up slightly more than half of the U.S. population, but we account for only five percent of the CEOs in the Fortune 500 … but women aren’t the only people missing in the C-suite. Minorities are vastly underrepresented in the Fortune 500, with African-American, Asian and Latino CEOs each in the range of one to two percent.
Her solution? “The path to diversity," Morrison says, "begins with supporting, mentoring and sponsoring diverse women and men to become leaders and entrepreneurs.”
Elliot S. Weissbluth, CEO of HighTower
What he’d fix: thinking business isn’t personal
“Too often, we gloss over the importance of depth, sincerity and trust in our business relationships simply because we’re too busy," Weissbluth says. "We think our time is better spent ‘getting stuff done.’”
Weissbluth says this is a flawed way of thinking because you’ll never be able to do it alone. “You need a team," he says, "but it’s not as simple as putting a bunch of high performers with the right skills in a room and telling them to solve a problem.
“Successful leaders spend time building rapport, empathy and, most of all, trust among team members," he adds, "and it doesn’t happen overnight.”
Even if you hate activities in which you get to know people by talking about their passions and personal stories, this kind of interaction is critical, Weissbluth says, because we need to learn about and trust one another in order to understand each other’s motivations and the “why” behind what we do.
“The value of investing personally in our business relationships, both with colleagues and clients, is that it gives us a deeper understanding of how we all came together, and how we can use our strengths to accomplish clear organizational goals," Weissbluth says. "If that’s not mission critical for a business, then it’s probably not a business that will be around for long.”
Lou Adler, CEO of The Adler Group
What he’d fix: how we hire
“It’s what you do with what you have—not what you have—that makes you successful," Adler says. "So let’s define what the person needs to do before we define what the person needs to have.”
Adler says there are a few reasons why companies need to eliminate skills-and-experience-based job descriptions:
- They preclude the hiring of high potential candidates.
- They preclude meeting great people who have all the skills listed since the jobs appear to be lateral transfers.
- It’s problematic if the person hired will be motivated to do the work required, if they don’t know what work is required before they’re hired.
- They prevent the hiring of diversity candidates who, by definition, have diverse backgrounds.
- They force the hiring of people for economic rather than career reasons.
- They're discriminatory if there are people who can do the work but don’t have the skills listed.
- They ensure the talent shortage will never be closed.
As a business owner, what one problem would you fix and how would you do it? Share with us in the comments below.
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Photos: Peter Puklus, Google, Getty Images (3)