Organizational "hot spots", centres of high performance and breakthrough innovation, need a special touch when it comes to management. Lynda Gratton has discovered how executives manage hot spots without getting burned.
Hot spots are crucial to organizational health. Hot spots occur when our energy and excitement are inflamed through an igniting question or a vision of the future. Hot spots come about through a co-operative mindset, the ability to span boundaries, and an igniting purpose. The lack of any one of these three elements significantly reduces the potential energy of a hot spot. The capacity of this potential energy to be translated into productive energy – and hence innovation and value creation – is dependent on the productive capacity of the people within the emerging hot spot.
Hot spots are excitedly emergent rather than tidily controlled. They can happen in the corridor, surprisingly in a meeting, among globally-dispersed team members, even among people who have never met but share an inspiring purpose (think of Linux). However they happen, they fuel continual performance improvements and are the source of breakthrough innovations. Without the energy and focus of hot spots, companies languish and die.
Given the potential benefits, creating and nurturing hot spots is clearly an important issue for organizations and those who lead them. Yet hot spots pose a real challenge for executives and organizations that attempt to craft and develop them. Wherever I have seen hot spots emerge on a regular basis, I have found that the executive group, often working closely with the human resource function, have engaged with five distinct phases of activity.
These five phases form a natural sequence. They are not a one-off intervention but rather a repeating cycle of diagnosis and action that executives should undertake on an annual or biannual basis. This cycling through the five phases is crucial because hot spots and the energy that accompanies them can dissipate rapidly; they can emerge or disappear in the blink of an eye. So to understand where they are emerging and where we need them to emerge, we need to keep a close eye on the energy states within the company.
The first diagnostic phase is about identifying where hot spots are located across the company. How can this be achieved? In my experience, most companies have a plethora of information obtained through employee surveys; what they lack is a diagnostic capacity to make sense of the information that they have. So the goal of the first phase is to use the data a company already has to locate the energy fields in the company.
Energy fields may not be confined to the organizational structures of the company, but may cross the boundaries of formal work groups to project teams and communities of practice. It is important to leave this first diagnostic phase with an idea of where hot spots seem to be emerging and where the energy levels are low due to the absence of one or more elements.