Finding and cultivating finishers

May 08 2009 by James M. Kerr Print This Article

Have you ever watched an NFL football game on television? If you have then you have probably heard commentators refer to certain players as "finishers". The term describes s player who doesn't let up until the game is over. Denver's John Elway became legendary for his "never give up" attitude and his ability to inspire his teammates to persevere. Baltimore Raven's Ray Lewis and the Arizona Cardinal's Larry Fitzgerald are examples of today's finishers.

These competitors finish every play. They don't let up in the face of adversity. They never quit until that last whistle blows. NFL teams want and need finishers to successfully compete on the gridiron.

Today's global businesses need finishers, too. Finishers are the missing ingredient to sustainable growth. Without them, the tough work involved in designing ground-breaking products and services, pioneering revolutionary new markets and transforming stodgy corporate cultures into electrifying fresh ones, does not happen.

So, how do organizations find and cultivate finishers?

The Best Practices Enterprise
It's no secret that finishers want to win. Winning is what motivates finishers to never give up Ė even when the odds are stacked against them. We use the term called best practices enterprise to describe the organizations that cultivate finishers. They are winning organizations that employ a suite of best practices to ensure success.

Organizations like Microsoft, 3M and Procter & Gamble are best practices enterprises. They can be characterized by optimized organizational structures, enhanced product and service delivery models and unmatched market reach.

Such organizations operate in a state of continual transformation. Their finishers allow them to be limber and quick, ever prepared to do what it takes to respond to a rapidly changing and, often, turbulent marketplace. They are nimble, interconnected, diverse, service-minded and virtually independent of physical location. These organizational characteristics attract finishers and, not surprisingly, best practices enterprises aggressively recruit, select, develop, reward and retain finishers.

Creating Your Team of Finishers:
Through strong leadership, any concern can become a best practices enterprise. It's done through solid recruiting/selection, empowering job design, aggressive individual development, outstanding reward/recognition programs and a winning corporate culture.

Recruiting and Selection: Best practices enterprises recognize that recruiting and selecting finishers is essential to success. Any open position represents a prized opportunity to acquire another finisher that can help the organization achieve competitive advantage in their market place. Carefully designed, robust and intense processes minimize costly hiring mistakes and improve retention in the long run. Aggressive Competency-Based Recruitment, Behavioral Interviewing, and Realistic Job Previewing allow insight into each job candidate's orientation towards finishing and winning.

Apple Computer is known as an organization that puts immense effort into their recruitment and selection processes. This effort allows them to continuously feed an innovative culture with finishers who are oriented to innovation, product development and change. These players become critical to Apple's means of achieving competitive advantage.

Empowering Job Design: Best practices enterprises carefully design roles in their organization so as to allow autonomy, responsibility and accountability. Players within best practices enterprises develop a sense of ownership regarding their roles and continuously receive feedback regarding their performance from the job itself.

BPE players are encouraged to broaden their roles in ways that directly contribute to organizational success. Every job is designed to facilitate the realization of the primary strategies by which the organization's vision will be achieved. Best Buy has designed many of the jobs in their organization so that the jobs focus solely on the "results" needed to operationalize their strategies.

This strategic way of designing jobs has led to numerous innovative human resource policies and practices that have made Best Buy extremely attractive to the high performers in today's labor market. Newly hired staff members within a best practices enterprise understand the corporate vision and the means by which that vision will be achieved. They all understand their role on the team, and how their role contributes to the game plan.

Aggressive Individual Development : Providing systematic opportunity for growth and development is a key to retaining and grooming finishers. Few finishers are satisfied with maintaining their personal "status quo." They desire to broaden their skill sets, display their abilities and continuously add to their list of accomplishments. When every individual's skills, abilities and accomplishments are aligned with an organization's strategies you have a recipe for continuing organizational success.

Best practices enterprises invest in their people and assist with this alignment of development efforts and the Company's strategy. Pfizer Chemical is an example of organization that makes this investment. Pfizer systematically produces robust individual development plans that help employees plan and manage their progress on career paths that align with the Company's direction. Each of their player's competencies is periodically assessed by more than just their supervisor. Thinking regarding career progression is shared with employees, and the organization assists the employee in achieving goals that are shared by all; the employee, the team and the organization.

This investment in employee assessment and development is analogous to the well run professional athletic organizations that employ an array of strength coaches, trainers and nutritionists who help their athletes develop in ways that enable the team to achieve its goals.

Recognizing and Rewarding Finishers : Best practices enterprises recognize that finishers crave increased responsibility and continued opportunities to win. Nothing is more perturbing to a finisher than to be stifled by bureaucratic controls. Systems that categorize employees and apply the same job descriptions and promotion opportunities to every employee in the subject category hamper a finisher's orientation to constantly improve and excel. Systems that make "Time in Grade" the primary promotion criterion, or systems that assign prized project roles based largely on seniority or rank, do nothing but promote job dissatisfaction in a self-starting finisher.

In best practices enterprises, individual strengths are recognized and capitalized upon. If a rookie is the player who can best contribute to the organization's success, the rookie gets put into the game and given the opportunity to perform. Indeed best practices enterprises conscientiously consider the readiness level of their employees and then ensure that every player gets the opportunity to display their talents. Successes are rewarded in a timely manner, and failures are leveraged as learning opportunities.

Creating a Finisher Oriented Culture : In order to create a culture that nourishes finishers, firms must ensure that the Vision for the organization, and the major strategies by which to achieve the Vision, are collaboratively developed AND commonly understand by everyone in the organization.

While many executives like to believe that everyone in the organization buys into the goals for the team, and fully understands the game plan, this is seldom the case. "Vision Socialization" programs that ensure every player understands both the Vision, and the Company's strategies, by which they will achieve the Vision are becoming increasingly common in our best run Companies.

Disney's deliberate efforts to ensure every employee understands its founder's vision have enabled success for over 50 years. Jewelers Mutual Insurance, a rapidly growing firm in the commercial and personal insurance industry, saw its annual revenues increase of nearly 10 % following a year long series of events that socialized their growth-oriented vision across their employee base. Best practices enterprises invest in the deliberate socialization of the enterprise's vision and competitive strategies with all of their employees.

This enables finishers to become human manifestation of the Vision and allows every employee the opportunity to exercise self-initiative in order to promote and further the strategies at every opportunity. Continuous transformation of the Company's policies and practices results in a vibrant culture emerges which is ideally suited to the furtherance of the Organization's Goals.

The founding of a best practices enterprise organization that will attract and retain finishers must be deliberate and focused. It doesn't happen by accident. A formal program that encompasses the elements described above is essential to changing the culture. It is the only way that a company can drive desired results.

James Kerr wrote this piece in conjunction with Robert Albright, a partner at AIM Consulting

Once the program is under way, it must be managed aggressively. It makes no sense to set the program into motion only to let it die on the vine. Corporate culture shifts slowly, and, management's commitment to the program can wane. So, tactics are needed to track and celebrate progress as the new "Finisher" paradigm takes hold and flourishes.

In time, with an appropriate plan and the right level of commitment, any organization can establish a work environment that finds and cultivates Finishers, and, in business as in the NFL, it is the Finishers that are the key ingredient to long-term success.

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About The Author

James M. Kerr
James M. Kerr

James M. Kerr is a long-time author, management consultant, vision maker and coach to some of today's best leaders. His latest book, Indispensable: Build and Lead A Company Customers Canít Live Without was published in February 2021.