An oil change trumps new engine parts

Recently, I was at a party where I met some smart and lovely people. At one point, I was talking with a Sales Manager (let’s call him Nick). We were talking about what he does differently compared to the guys he works with, and those in his team (this is a diplomatic way of saying that Nick was having a moan). I responded by remarking that the other’s may have been technically proficient but lacked Nick’s people skills. Nick responded by saying that none of them were ‘technically’ any good at all, as they were just ‘sales people’, and the Techy stuff was done by the Tech Dudes.

At this point I had to excuse my language; “Sorry, I meant that in every job there are technical skills, or hard skills that we use, and then there are people skills. It sounds like your people skills are effective in your work while the others struggle in this area”.

Nick nodded knowingly.

I am constantly in rooms with people that are technically brilliant. They have high intellects, a keen eye for industry insights, and high levels of expertise in their specific industry areas. Technical ability has never been so high, but the age old battles with productivity, inefficiency, and work efficacy continue or even grow.

So, what is the answer for organisation’s like Nick’s looking to leverage the technical talent in the team for better business results? And furthermore, how do organisations sustain this?

The classic study named The Standford Project from the late nineties proved that the Commitment Model led to less organisational failure (22%), and was responsible for the fastest growth to a successful public offering compared to other models. Tracking IT Start-Up’s through the Tech Boom and Bust of the same era, it is still considered one of the biggest bodies of study in the area of Organisational Culture Modelling. The descriptions of each model are below:

Stanford Project.png



Damian Hughes writes about this in his book The Barcelona Way which follows Pep Guardiola’s journey of leading Barcelona to a cultural evolution taking the club to a haul of trophies and creating a legacy that has drawn adulation worldwide transferring well beyond silverware. This can be compared to their ach rivals Real Madrid’s ‘Galacticos’ era of the 2000’s (based on the Star Model) that had to be ditched by the club as the little success they achieved came at an extraordinary financial cost and was not sustainable. 

Commitment in our intelligent, talented, and experienced team members is therefore critical. But how can we draw this out of our people?

A good place to start, is what not to do. If your car engine is not running well you don’t add more ‘engine’. You don’t add more carburettors, more pistons, more air filters, or another radiator. What you do is take it for a service. The oil is changed so that the engine parts are lubricated and run better. The coolant is topped up to make sure the engine parts don’t overheat. The vitals are checked and cleaned. The same engine is able to run smoother with more efficiency, and with less degradation. It will run faster for longer.

This is similar to getting the best out of all the talent in our teams. Capability training loaded on top of the already technically proficient team has limited effectiveness. The curve will plateau.

Looking at the interpersonal skill level of teams, and more importantly, team leaders is the equivalent of the car service. These skills are harder to understand and measure, and therefore are treated as ‘nice to haves’. However, the reality is that these skills are the common denominator. When these skills are high, results tend to follow. A study in Chicago showed an 11% increase in school results when social and emotional competency programs were run. It is easy to understand as these skills impact critical thinking, problem solving, decision making, and the ability for us to tap into higher levels of commitment amongst other benefits.

By seeing this in the same way we service our car, there is an opportunity to build momentum and eventual culture change to stabilise an entire department or organisation.