Varsity Management: A Formula for Maximizing Potential in People
By Jeannie Ruhlman, Senior Practice Consultant, Gallup
Many years ago someone asked Don Clifton, “So just exactly how does a person go about turning talent into outcomes? Do you just need to identify what it is they do well?” If only it were as simple as identifying strengths and talents to unlock human potential. Knowing what a person is naturally good at and positioning them to leverage those strengths and talents is a critical first step, indeed. But this is only the first installment of a lifetime investment. People don’t really develop in a vacuum, do they? We only truly develop in response to another human being.
As Don’s conversation unfolded that day, he encouraged people to consider the opportunity to leverage talent as an equation, and so what is now called the “Varsity Management Formula” was born:
Talent x (Relationship + Expectation + Rewards/Recognition) = Per Person Productivity
T (R + E + R/R) = P3®
Talent is the multiplier. What lives inside the parentheses is essentially the amalgamation of three key components that, when positioned well and delivered according to the uniqueness of that talent, can have exponential results, or heightened per person productivity.
Let’s put this to a practical application — let’s use Michael Jordan — arguably a gold standard in basketball. Great talent in the right role — on a scale of 1 to 10? Talent positioned correctly? 10. When he played in the NBA he often commented that he was only interested in playing for legendary coach Phil Jackson, so when you think about that relationship, I think we can safely assume that’s a 10 as well.
Moving on to expectations: I’m quite certain it was more contained than “run around and jump a lot.” Michael was expected to provide floor leadership and score as many points as he possibly could. Expectations? 10. Now, in the end, it probably didn’t hurt that he was a gazillionaire, but while he was playing, what did he have? He had an arena full of raving fans, and he had a scoreboard above his head providing instantaneous feedback. Rewards and recognition? 10. So, let’s put it together:
T (R + E + R/R) = P3
10 (10 + 10 + 10) = 300
In our Michael Jordan world? Our per person productivity: 300.
Now let’s say you have a manager or coach who does all the right things: Builds beautiful relationships where the players feel completely understood (10), the expectations are made crystal clear and are well understood (10), and that player is always “caught in the act of doing great things” — feedback is timely and specific (10), but you put me, Jeannie, in to play basketball! 1 (10 + 10 + 10) = 30
Here’s the deal — I grew up in a very large family on a dairy farm. You name it, I’ve carried it — buckets of grain, baby calves, the lot. I guess that gave me a good deal of upper body strength. When I was a 13-year-old freshman in high school, my mother told me I could try out for one sport. I picked volleyball. The coach asked us to overhand serve. I asked how to do that. He said, “Throw the ball up and hit it as hard as you can.” So I did. The ball bulleted over the net and dropped. The coaches’ eyes grew wide, and he asked me to do it again — about 20 times. Then, with great excitement, he said, “With an arm like that you’re going to spike!”
As an eager 13-year-old I scurried along behind him to the front of the court and asked what that meant. Here is where the plot so quickly thickens and then unravels. Turns out I cannot jump. I can’t actually clear a curb. I simply have no idea how Michael Jordan and those with his vertical aptitude can have their feet above people’s heads. No idea. I pummeled that net, I did. Was it an issue of motivation? Not at all. No one wanted me to jump more than I wanted to jump. It was an issue of talent. I simply cannot jump. So, all the encouragement, expectation, and recognition in the world will not make up for the absence of a critical capacity. (I could dig a ball out of anything, as I apparently lacked depth perception — hello bleachers, but that’s another story.) So again — talent? 1 (10 + 10 + 10) = 30
Flip this one more time and think about a person positioned correctly, but lined up with a coach who doesn’t believe in building relationships (1), assumes people should magically read their minds to determine expectations (1), and who thinks no news is good news when it comes to recognition (1). 10 (1 + 1 + 1) = 30
We all know that As don’t play for Cs, and they shouldn’t have to. What lives inside the parentheses is the kind of culture that allows that talent to root, grow, and thrive. Still, it’s essential that we get the talent positioned according to what it can do, not what it cannot do. Our long-term responsibility as strengths coaches is to first help people know their talents, but also to continually help them think about how they can leverage that talent to win.
Jeannie Ruhlman is a Senior Practice Consultant with Gallup. She consults with clients on strengths development and employee engagement and assists in selection decisions regarding leaders, directors or managers, and professional staff. She focuses a significant portion of her consulting time as an executive coach.
Jeannie’s top five strengths: Arranger | Strategic | Relator | Command | Focus.
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