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Managing the 'Van Halen effect' in companies

Inder Sidhu is the senior vice president of strategy and planning for worldwide operations at Cisco. He is also the author of Doing Both: How Cisco Captures Today's Profits and Drives Tomorrow's Growth. Follow Inder on Twitter at @indersidhu.


Here's a blast from the past that might rock your world next year: Rock-and-roll hall-of-famers Van Halen are reportedly reuniting in 2011 with former front-man David Lee Roth for a new tour and album.

The last time the band recorded with Roth was 1984. Their collaboration produced the band's only chart-topping single, "Jump." A year after its release, however, Roth told brothers Eddie and Alex Van Halen that he was ready to do just that.

The band's lead singer, Roth had developed an ego as big as his bleach-dyed hair. Believing he could achieve more success as a solo artist, he left the band in 1985 for movies, TV and more. But things didn't work out as planned. Although a superstar in his own right, Roth did not attain the success as a soloist that he did as a band member with Van Halen. And, no surprise, the band didn't reach the heights without Roth that it did with him.

Now older and wiser, Van Halen is reportedly together again. Like many entities, it's trying to make the most of its superstars and work cooperatively.

Sound familiar? It probably does if you've ever tried to manage a business, a sports team or, yes, even a rock band. If you have, you understand that organizations dominated by superstars can encounter a loss of unity and purpose, leading to internal strife. Without shared goals, individuals focus more on their own glory than on team pursuits.

Through his career in the NBA, 11-time All-Star Allen Iverson prioritized his achievements over those of his team, much to the chagrin of fans in Philadelphia, Detroit and other cities where the shooting guard played. Despite MVP performances, Iverson's individual style never produced a championship for his teams--or a permanent spot on any roster for himself. After wearing out his welcome in the NBA, Iverson had to go all the way to Turkey this season to find a team that would take him.

Fate isn't any kinder to those that value only the collective.

In environments where individual accomplishments aren't respected, new ideas are often smothered and groupthink frequently prevails. This can limit an organization just as much as a lack of teamwork. Take Nokia, which named a new CEO in September in part to overcome the complacency and risk aversion that took root inside the company. Recent reports have revealed that Nokia had a prototype of an Internet-capable, touch-screen phone years before Apple's iPhone debuted. Lacking a dynamic leader with the vision of Steve Jobs, however, Nokia's executives collectively agreed to kill the project rather than risk upending the status quo.

The lessons of Van Halen, Iverson and Nokia? Organizations need both high-achieving superstars and productive teams in order to prevail. And they can't allow one to compromise the other. As a manager, there are several things you can do to help achieve this.

Take teamwork. The first step to improving team cohesion is identifying a common objective that individual members can rally around. While this sounds basic, it often isn't. It requires creating clear expectations for each team member. These should be openly and frequently communicated so individuals understand exactly what is expected of them. Doing this will reduce overlap and eliminate confusion.

But it won't ensure that collaboration flourishes. For true success, a manager must go one step further and create an environment in which individual team members are encouraged to share insights and concerns alike. Teams benefit when individuals believe their input matters. They tend to work harder and achieve more. And because their morale is generally higher, they often collaborate better.

This is especially helpful in today's work environment where teams from different functions or business units are often asked to work together to solve broad problems. As any manager knows, getting people who do not report directly to you to work together is one of the most difficult tasks in business. But cross-functional collaboration can be achieved where both common objectives and collegial environments prevail.

But what about superstar development?

For all the benefits of teamwork, organizations need to develop superstars with equal enthusiasm. But too few do. Consider the results of a recent survey by the Corporate Executive Board. Despite the dreadful job market, one in four "high potential" workers plans to leave their employers this year, according to the study.

Top performers cite a poor relationship with their manager as the top reason they quit, according to Robert Half International. To keep them engaged, good managers must take a personal interest in the careers of their stars. They must also make sure their superstars are compensated for their unique contributions, even if it means paying a 20, 30 or even 40 percent premium for them.

Finally, smart managers need to understand that superstars can come from anywhere. So they must constantly encourage individual contributors to think beyond their current roles and consider longer horizons. To that end, they should provide training programs that help individuals expand their skill sets and develop new capabilities. Ultimately, they have to create an atmosphere in which people will see themselves both as loyal supporters who can perform tasks assigned to them and also as innovators who can disrupt the status quo.

With proper leadership, a leader can nurture both superstar performers and build productive teams--without compromising either. This requires rethinking performance metrics, incentive structures and resource allocations, which must be designed to build harmony, not friction, between individuals and teams. The same is true of an organization's culture: It must be structured to develop both equally. This is critical, because some initiatives require the passion, creativity, and quick thinking of a single individual, while others depend on the cross-functional skills and diverse resources of a collaborative team.

Superstar performers or winning teams? Organizational excellence, like music, depends on both. Just ask Van Halen.

By Inder Sidhu

 |  December 13, 2010; 10:46 AM ET |  Category:  Business Leadership , Corporate , Culture , Leadership advice , organizational culture Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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Admire the devotion of the artist to the divine idea of Liberty. Take it like a man, publish it like a woman and enjoy it like a child. There are going to be profits and drives. Sadness can prevail, so silver it over. Quality pays for itself. A comforting thought.

Posted by: jobandon | December 22, 2010 3:49 AM

Obviously some disgruntled fans here, but the band is not the issue. It is the concept of "too big to fail" concept.

This happens all the time. The analogy is on target when considering the point of view. Get over the band issue and look at the end results. As the author said, it takes both the star and a star team to make things work as well as VH, or any other group.

Look at the take away, not the way you take it.

Posted by: educ8er | December 16, 2010 7:53 AM

Yep, DLR did not quit the band, but merely was trying some side projects. Apparently Eddie and Alex went a little nuts and kicked him out.

Fast forward 20 years an Eddie kicks out Michael Anthony. Anthony's unique background vocals and laid-back attitude were as much of Van Halen's signature sound as Dave's over-the-top vocals, Eddie's pyrotechniques (and under-rated rhythm playing), and Alex's Ginger Baker-inspired jungle beat,

The take-home message in this case is that the sum is greater than it's parts.

Posted by: steve1231 | December 15, 2010 9:45 PM

I saw the 2007 show in Dallas w/ DLR and Eddie's son on bass, it was the best VH performance I have ever seen.

Can't wait to hear the nasty new album with that lineup. It will be big.

Posted by: danw1 | December 15, 2010 12:08 PM

Dorkiest comments ever!

But yeah this author is just pulling together a narrative. Forgiving Eddies drinking and wild moves and blaming only Dave's ego. You sound like an old fashioned motivational speaker who lives in a van down by the river and just makes up stories to make them sound better.

Posted by: taomka1 | December 15, 2010 9:55 AM

Just to pile on, "1984" was recorded in 1983, so even if the 1996 "Best of" recordings had never happened, the author would still be wrong.

Posted by: musicsnob | December 14, 2010 7:11 PM

Another corporate management organizational pay your superstars huge money....until they get pissed off and leave story. Roth got paid but he thought he could earn more. Just like the corporate exec who gets promoted,,,receives a big raise...gets accolades..boss tells him he is THE Man..then he cheats on his wife...starts an office romance, causes strife and turmoil at home and the office,finally gets hit w/ a big divorce settlement and has to leave town. Sounds like a David Lee Roth biography...Happy Holidays...:-)

Posted by: mikald | December 14, 2010 1:46 PM

Just let me get this straight - the writer uses Van Halen as an analogy to make some pretty decent points about management theory, and how to handle individuals and teams in the business world, right?

And most comments that are made regarding the article are relative to his perception of Van Halen's success?

Can you say "missing the point"?

(Full Disclosure - Van Halen was one of those bands that I just never "got", even though I'm a fan of everyone from David Bowie to ZZ Top. They were just way too cartoonish for my tastes, I guess, though I utterly respect Eddie Van Halen's guitar playing talents

Posted by: JohnDinHouston | December 14, 2010 12:27 PM

'Jump'...boring! Now 'Panama'...that was a rock-n-roll song. And for my money, VH con Sammy may have had more success...but VH con DLR will always be the way I remember them...'have you seen junior's grades?'

Posted by: PanhandleWilly | December 14, 2010 10:53 AM

Maybe its sour grapes but Valerie Bertinelli said the break up was Eddie's doing and Alex had quite an ego ...

Posted by: pejochum | December 14, 2010 8:46 AM

As others have already pointed out, this article is full of false information. 1984 was not the last time that VH recorded with Roth. 2 songs..'Me wise magic' and 'Can't get this stuff no more' were recorded in 1996 for the 'Best of Volume I' album.

Posted by: maddogjts | December 14, 2010 8:41 AM

As with any organizational management spew, this article is garbage.

Posted by: TooManyPeople | December 14, 2010 8:31 AM

KNAME2 is correct, Van Halen had much more success with Sammy Hagar. In addition the article states that DLR quit the band which is not correct. Both Sammy and Dave state that they were fired by Eddie. Hey author why don't you check your facts before writing an article. Talk about BS journalism.

Posted by: D-bag | December 13, 2010 6:33 PM

grrrr,...Hearst...yes, I know I spelled it wrong

Posted by: kname2 | December 13, 2010 4:36 PM

Actually, Indir Sidhu is dead wrong using the Van Halen analogy here. Despite my disdain for the Sammy Hagar era of the band they had more success post Dave. Mr. Sidhu you should do your homework before trashing others. It's trivial to point it out but, this is a prime example of how far journalism has fallen from the purer faith of fact checking. William Randolph Hearts is smiling a yellow smile from his sensationalist perch.

Posted by: kname2 | December 13, 2010 4:35 PM

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