I am almost nothing like Liam Neeson’s character in the Taken franchise. I’m certainly not handsome or dashing, I’m no hero capable of taking out a criminal organization and rescuing the heroine single handedly. What I do share with the character, is that I too “possess a very particular set of skills. Skills I’ve acquired over a very long career.”
My particular skill set is building the best TA organizations. It was a mentee that actually brought that to my attention, by noting that it’s the one thing I’ve done over and over again. She actually got me thinking about what some of the core principles I’ve followed, and to share them so others may apply them.
So here are three that I hope will help others build or rebuild their TA functions.
- Don’t try to be like anyone else, be better. I personally don’t believe in reaching for “best practices.” My belief is best practices are the starting point, but that my mandate is to go beyond to “better” practices. You can learn a great deal studying the best practices of others, but if we all strive for the same best practices, aren’t we really creating a state of mediocrity? I don’t want to be a follower; I want my team to be followed. When you start building or rebuilding a function, use those best practices as not a point to reach, but a point to overcome and surpass. This is how we as a profession evolve and position ourselves just as much for tomorrow as today.
- You can’t have enough intelligence. I’m not talking about IQ, I’m talking about good ol’ S-2 type intelligence (that’s the Army staff group responsible for gathering and providing intelligence). I’m an avid student of military history, a former tanker, and particularly a researcher of Gen. George S. Patton. Patton’s Third Army didn’t effectively battle its way across Europe based on pure strength. It accomplished so much based on the most effective use of intelligence and analysis. He was the only U.S. General to put so much stake into intelligence, and that created a direct impact on the results of Third Army. If you want to achieve excellence, then you have to invest in intelligence, and more importantly in the time to analyze that intelligence. This isn’t just “big data” and metrics. You need an intimate knowledge of your competition, the market, and new and emerging tools and techniques. Don’t limit yourself to thinking that innovation and ideas only come out of TA. Look at all areas of creativity. As an example, part of our new social media strategy isn’t based on what other TA orgs have done. It’s based on how a consumer goods company’s design team interacts with customers.
- Fail fast. When you are pushing boundaries and moving forward fast and hard, you are going to make mistakes, and when you do you must be able to readjust quickly or you will certainly terminally fail. The fear of failure or of making decisions without “all of the data” holds a lot of people and their teams back. However, you can’t expect to have all of the info when you are the one blazing the trail. I love discussing the concept of TA existing in a VUCA world with my teams and help prepare them to operate in this new ecosystem. I’m going to add a corollary to this. Don’t just fail fast, but fail fearlessly! If you are not sure if something will work or not, try it. If it doesn’t work, fix it or move on, but don’t belabor the failure. Be proud you had the courage to try. Never focus on why something can’t be done, expend your effort in solving for how it can be done, and believe me, just about anything can be done.
If you can bring these three ideas to bear, you can drive and lead change not just for your employer, but also for our profession. My final tip (bonus tip!), is you don’t have to do this alone. There are a lot of folks out there who aren’t just talking about how to move TA forward, but they are actually doing it. Reach out to them — they are all happy to share experiences and to give you a sounding board for your thoughts and ideas.