By James Santagata
Principal Consultant, SiliconEdge
Select, develop, deploy & manage your people right & you can have the advantages of a high-tech economic center right at home.
Simply hearing the words Silicon Valley can evoke an image of cutting-edge innovation advanced by an army of daring, if not slightly mad, entrepreneurs who feverishly seek to develop the world’s next technological marvels.
But what exactly makes Silicon Valley so successful and, more importantly, can it be replicated? China has Zhong Guan Cun, India has Bangalore. Where is Japan's “Silicon Valley”? Japan, the third largest economy in the world, still lacks any type of large, formal tech epicenter like the one in California.
Does this even matter for business success in the 21st century? Many people, including Silicon Valley industry insiders, will immediately and perhaps misguidedly say yes.
A more reasoned and introspective analysis, however, demonstrates that this type of success is not about location but more importantly about talent. And even more specifically: it is not just about talent, but about how that talent is selected, developed, deployed and managed.
To create a Silicon Valley atmosphere, a company needs employees who possess these three skills:
1. Business acumen to identify huge opportunities;
2. Leadership to seize those opportunities; and
3. The ability to select, develop, deploy and manage talent to quickly exploit these opportunities.
Once we understand this, what then are the core skills that we should be focusing on when developing talent that can rise to and perform at the level of Silicon Valley’s?
If we look closely, it’s clear that this boils down to five core skills, all of which can be readily developed in our existing employees:
The ability to take risks, to develop a vision and to lead others to the successful path. This is not just for senior leaders, but for all key players so that they can learn how to lead across all levels: from senior management to their peers or to those below
them. And it includes the ability to reframe what are commonly perceived as failures as mistakes and missteps with important lessons to learn. Steve Jobs had success in a variety of diverse areas and products, from the iMac, iPod, iPhone, iTunes and Pixar. This wasn’t
accidental nor was it surprising, as each of these areas was ripe for a true leader to identify and then pluck the low hanging, yet
massive fruit. His move into iTunes alone was pure leadership as he had to overcome the lawsuit Apple had lost to the Beatles record
label prohibiting engagement in music-related businesses. His success with iPod was further made possible by Sony’s reluctance
to move its Walkman franchise forward into developing solid state devices including technologies such as microprocessor chip,
crystalline semiconductors and RAM.
The ability to clearly communicate through a variety of media ranging from one-on-one and group meetings to formal reports and presentations to business emails and video conferences. Very often, the best ideas as well as the pulse of the market comes from those closest to the customer – support engineers, sales and customer service. And yet, most often this information does not get captured and clearly communicated back to product managers and the executive staff (see also Ogushi Matrix Communication
3. Influence & Persuasion:
The ability to get others to want to support a project or, if they won’t actively support it, to at least make sure that they don’t actively
resist it. Previously we mentioned the need to capture and clearly communicate opportunities and obstacles a company may face
or is facing. Yet, there are plenty of instances where even a clearly communicated issue or opportunity falls on deaf ears, such as
Kodak’s need to move from film-based to digital cameras. There are many reasons for resisting opportunities or ignoring
warnings about obstacles, including that this information or proposed shift in business may benefit the company but specifically
expose or harm one person’s or department’s operations, ego, status or bonuses. For this reason, clear communication is
only a starting point. Beyond this, influence and persuasion must be utilized as well.
The ability to negotiate not only externally but, often more importantly, internally. This is critical during situations such as when a green light is needed for a feasibility study, to request funds and resources for product development or to get approval and buy in for the launch of a product that will potentially cannibalize an existing cash cow product. Influence and persuasion can only take us so far, and at some point it can be expected that we will need to negotiate. This requires the ability to craft a win-win solution as well as to ensure
that the other party sees it that way. It is not only possible but extremely common for a win-win to be misperceived and subsequently blocked, simply because the other person has become psychologically opposed resulting in a classic “cut your nose off
to spite your face” scenario. In these scenarios everyone loses including employees, managers, shareholders and customers.
The ability and confidence to speak up and share opinions or ideas or to challenge another’s opinions or ideas in a professionally affirmative manner. Assertiveness (often confused with aggressiveness) is a critical skill that is especially important for those who may have key insights and knowledge, such as engineers or service people, but not the personality or interest in speaking out nor the title or
standing within the company. Instilling this skill in a firm’s employees can unleash great productivity and opportunity while also
identifying problems or obstacles before they become dangerous or expensive.
By developing these 5 core skills sets and Valley Values in your existing talent you will ensure that your employees’ inherent
creativity and innovative nature do not go to waste and that the people with these ideas have the tools and skills needed to
bring this forth to their peers and superiors and ultimately to the market place.
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