‘Hot Spot’ Rules

By Lynda Gratton

Apr. 16, 2007

During your career at work you will encounter situations when the inspiration is flowing. Colleagues chip in with great ideas. There is a real feeling of teamwork, a genuine spirit of collaboration and progress. I label such moments “Hot Spots.” They can happen momentarily when a group happens to be together around the coffee machine or they can take place for a prolonged period, even across an entire organization—think of the collaborative and industry Hot Spot created by open-source software development at Linux.

    Hot Spots come into being when our energy and excitement are inflamed through an igniting question or a vision of the future. They are times when positive relationships with work colleagues are a real source of deep satisfaction and a key reason why we decide to stay with a company. As such, they are hugely motivational. Would you work for an organization where there are no Hot Spots? And, they are incredibly productive. Hot Spots are where innovative and industry-shaping ideas are likely to originate.

    The trouble is that Hot Spots provide a challenge to the way we have managed and thought about organizations and the people within them over the past 100 years. From scientific management at the turn of the last century to the modern-day call center, much of our thinking about the role of management has centered on the rules of command and control. Supporting the emergence of Hot Spots requires a whole new set of rules and an entirely new way of approaching the challenge of getting the best out of people.

    To take a mechanistic approach to the emergence of Hot Spots is to miss the point of their development. Command and control doesn’t work with a Linux software developer working late into the evening for no financial reward. Nor would it work at Google or a whole host of other such companies.

    This does not mean that nothing can be done, but it takes a more subtle, more nuanced and I believe more sophisticated approach. It requires unlearning some of the old rules and learning a whole new set of rules. Executives who create a space where Hot Spots can emerge live by the nine rules of Hot Spots, and employees act and behave by them:

    Value creation. Value within companies is created by exploiting what is already known through strong bonds. Novelty and innovation emerge through exploration, facilitated by relationships and networks of relationships that cross boundaries. Be absolutely aware of what is appropriate and where, and design networks around this.

    Ignition and leadership. The energy which comes from the boundaryless cooperation characteristic of Hot Spots is ignited with a spark. It could be the spark of a compelling vision, the stimulus of a question, or the excitement of a complex and meaningful task. The responsibility of the leader is to ensure that this spark is created.

    Emergence. Hot Spots emerge; they cannot be ordered forth or directed. People choose freely to give of their human capital (intellectual, emotional, or social), or they volunteer.

    Rhythm and timelessness. A Hot Spot is marked by periods of intense activity that fuels its productive capacity. The creative output of a Hot Spot is fueled by times of reflection and timelessness. Without these moments, the Hot Spot burns out and the creative endeavor fizzles then fades.

    Signature processes. Much can be done to create an environment in which boundaryless cooperation will emerge. But importing best practices only gets you so far. It is important, but not sufficient. The new rule is to move beyond best practices to signature processes, ways of doing things which are unique and distinguished from the competition.

    Relationships. The value of Hot Spots is created in the space between people. Hot Spots are fundamentally relational, whether the relationship is between close friends or acquaintances. The focus of resources with regard to support and development needs to be on the individual and on the network of relationships.

    Boundary spanners. Hot Spots become moribund without boundary spanners, people who bring insights from outside the Hot Spot group. But the role is complex and at times distracting. Be committed to boundary spanners; nurture and cherish them.

    Commitments. Hot Spots are formed at the nexus of a network of commitments that establish what actions will be taken and by whom. The responsibility of Hot Spot participants is to make and keep the commitments public, voluntary and explicit.

    Purposeful conversation. Conversation is the source of igniting purpose. Leaders support and shape conversation with insightful data, an emphasis on values and space for reflection. Without purposeful conversation, commitment to Hot Spots is likely to be all talk.

Schedule, engage, and pay your staff in one system with