• Priya Venkatesan

Staffing across the horizons of growth



" A successful person finds the right place for himself. But a successful leader finds the right place for others"

~John C Maxwell


One of the things that is very close to my heart right from the time I started leading teams is to discover strengths in people and map them to right roles.


I do not disagree with finding the right person for the role, but proactively, I would like to find the right role for the people that worked with me. That would also mean adding elements on to the role because of the person who is performing the role - making your role yours.


Now that I wear the coach's hat, this interests me even more.


I observe a tendency for leaders to read too much into the adage, "get out of your comfort zone" for themselves and their teams. While the saying has a definite merit that helps people grow, I do find sometimes, that we ask the fish to climb a tree and the lion to wade in water. This is not a stretch goal - but a change of identity and a jumbling of people's strengths.


We need to know that our reptilian brain is not dead yet and Maslow's hierarchy of needs has "safety" as one of the primary needs. When we force fit a change in identity, the sense of "psychological safety" is lost and the person will not be in his best elements to help the organisation grow.


Well, I do get the point that there is an unprecedented pressure on organisations to perform.

Rampant changes and economic uncertainty move a lot of businesses to their twilight years without notice.

This forces organisations to always question whether they are alive today and whether they will be alive tomorrow. The tug of war between the present needs and future needs creates this un-organic deficit in organisations. This deficit leads to a lot of trouble including staffing.


Let me explain with the help of 2 models that have been around for sometime to explain Present Vs Future tradeoff and a derivative based on my experience of coaching and leading large teams.


Theory 1: The three horizons of growth emerged as a theory to understand timeline of organisational growth. The credit to this goes to Mckinsey for evangelizing its consumption. The three horizons are described in the figure below.

Figure 1: Mckinsey’s Three Horizons of Growth


Horizon 1 is about the bread and butter business that brings money to the table today. This is the value of the business in the present.

Horizon 2 represents emerging business that can scale up to at least 10 % of the revenue within the next year.

Horizon 3 represents the completely futuristic new business/technology that could help the company stand on its feet in a couple of years when Horizon 1 goes down the curve of becoming obsolete. This ensures that business remains valuable in the future.


Theory 2: Geoffrey Moore, in his seminal book ‘Zone To Win - Organising to Compete in the Age of disruption’ articulated the playbook for each of the horizons which hold true for today’s context as well tomorrow long after it was written as seen in Figure 2. More can be read here.

Figure 2: From Zone to WIN (Courtesy Geoffrey Moore)


As you can see, Horizon 1 is split into Performance Zone ( Operations) and Productivity Zone (Support) both enabling today's business.

Horizon 2 creates the Transformation Zone which is disruptive & mission critical (short term emerging business)

Horizon 3 creates the Incubation Zone which is enabling the future life of the organisation through innovations.


What Geoffrey Moore articulates very well is that the playbook for each of these zones is different.

Hence people's mindset that is required to flourish in each of these zones is also different. This needs to be considered while staffing each horizon apart from the technical competence. Even if it is not considered during staffing, it definitely needs to be considered while planning the capability development of these individuals.


Lets look at the characteristics of people & their values that would a good bet for being in each of these zones. Figure 3 gives a summary of the characteristics & Values.


Fig 3: (c) People characteristics & mindset for Growth


As we can see from Figure 3, Performance zone requires a ‘do or die’ mentality. This zone is the cash cow of the entire organization & hence failure here is not taken well. Efficiency is recognized & effectiveness is appreciated. This zone hustles & we need hustlers who will get things done in an efficient way. This is all about planning & execution. The customer for this zone is really the king & lights always have to be on here. People who excel in this zone have high stress tolerance & execute for customer satisfaction.


The Productivity zone has all the support groups supporting the product organization including Admin, Finance, Legal, Process Excellence etc. The mindset of people in this zone is to collaborate & support the Performance zone. This zone also specializes in productivity tools, continuous improvements that lead to efficiencies in the overall system. People in this zone work with multiple stakeholders, conflicting priorities & excel in collaboration. They supply the oil for the running machinery in the Performance zone.


The Incubation Zone is the place of research – a peak into the future, years ahead.

This can be work of years or it could be disruptions in context of the industry. It has all elements climbing up the Gartner Hype cycles of the world. It’s where the greatest & latest is invented. People here are always in search of the next best thing. They have hardened themselves to face failure. They work in labs & create possibilities. ‘Creatives’ & deep researchers characterize this zone. They have deep expertise in one or two critical elements. They dislike bound by timelines & always look at the ‘horizon’ where there is no end in sight.


The Transformation zone takes the ‘creations’ from the Incubation zone, builds on top of it to context & showcases it to the existing & potential customers. This is where the rubber hits the road. People who envision & can turn their visions into reality thrive here. They take risks to prototype for context & evangelize. They are the sandwich between the Performance zone & the Incubation zone. They have the best of both worlds, & thrive in accomplishments.


Before going into how to staff these zone based on capabilities, characteristics & values, given below are few scenarios on how not to staff the zones

  • Mapping people who value safety into the incubation zone where there is a high risk of failure.

  • Mapping creative people to Performance zone where repetition is required to build expertise and there is pressure of deadline.

  • Mapping Drivers & Influencers to Productivity zone where efficiency and process are valued over risk taking ability.


Now that we know where we are going & what can happen wrong, what can we do to make it right.

Most organizational heads sort on capability first. That’s ok to have as a first step. Once that is done, map them to the four zones. Once mapped, check for alignment of mindset with the zone. If there is alignment, good job! If there isn’t, then coach them for mindset (if you spot some characteristics) or train them for technical capability whichever is most efficient & effective. In my experience, work that is aligned to the mindset, values and strength of people yields better results in the long term.


What ways work for you while you map people to tasks?


#coaching #leadership #staffing #resourcing #growth

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