Occasionally I stray from writing about good food, travel or new small businesses dedicated to quality craft beer to try to help get people more engaged in what’s going on in the San Diego region. That is my focus with the upcoming craft beer debate on education (details) and the reason I’m straying to talk about a group that just may lead the San Diego region in a direction that benefits us all. This week the San Diego Regional Economic Development Corporation will bring together many people from various groups and industries for its Annual Dinner. I’ve been spending an increasing amount of time around this group and thought I’d share a bit more about who they are and what they do (and—of course—what I hope they’ll do). Let’s get started…
The Economic Development Corporation (“EDC” for short) is a non-profit group dedicated to making San Diego attractive to businesses—both those that are here and those that are looking for a new home. But more than that, it is a group looking to improve people’s lives by bringing better job opportunities to the region. How, you might be wondering, does the EDC actually do that? Here is one answer. And here is a list of the EDC’s initiatives. The idea here seems to be that finding and retaining quality businesses is at least in large part about finding, developing and retaining talented people for those businesses. That model, splashed with a focus on helping people safely on to their bikes, seems to be working well in places like Portland. I plan to keep an eye on the EDC and the way it is leading us forward to see if this concept of attracting talent and inclusion drives its actual decisions. A good place to start that watchful eye is with the people who run the EDC.
I’ve had the good fortune to get to know a few of the team at EDC. It’s CEO, Mark Cafferty, has been written about in the UT San Diego and the San Diego Daily Transcript recently. Like most leaders, Cafferty is smart and capable and passionate about what he does. What I think will prove to be the difference in his success is that he has genuine compassion and empathy for people across the wage spectrum. Don’t believe me? Watch this short interview and see how many times he mentions housing affordability, quality of life or concepts that are inclusive to all San Diegans. This isn’t just some feel-good point, it is reflected in the people he has hired and the things that drive them as well. Having spent an increasing amount of time of late listening to his staff, what immediately becomes clear is that, like Cafferty, they are driven not just by some generic notion of enhancing the business climate, but by a specific desire to open the process of business growth so that more people can enjoy the benefits of that growth. This is a shift that I think comes from that team’s values. And it’s a shift that would seem to be better for the overall health of our region than the historic model that had less of a focus on improving quality of life across the whole income spectrum. One issue, of course, will be to keep a close eye on whether the other centers of commerce in the region and beyond buy into the team’s more inclusive view of economic growth. Time will tell.
The Jim Clifton Factor
The interesting thing about the EDC’s choice in Annual Dinner speakers isn’t that Jim Clifton is internationally known for running a successful business. And although he has written a new book, The Coming Jobs War, about the importance of creating good jobs for our citizens, that’s not it, either. The really interesting thing about EDC’s choice is that Clifton’s company, Gallup, is responsible for bringing the world of StrengthsFinder to employees and leaders (and even kids) across all sectors of economic and civic life. Wait, what am I even talking about? The concept of Strengths in leadership and management can and is changing the way businesses and other large organizations operate. And this particular choice for a keynote speaker demonstrates a belief about the importance of knowing how to attract and retain talented people. Here’s my point:
Raise your hand if you’ve ever had a boss you thought was an awful manager…(pause)…there’s actually a decent explanation for that.
One reason is that in most jobs the reward for being good at that job is a promotion to managing other people who do that job. However, the abilities that make someone a good software engineer are not necessarily the same ones that make a person a good manager. Seems obvious, right? Second, the classic model for managers is to sit down with employees, identify everything they are doing well and everything they are doing poorly and then focus on how to improve the weak areas. The Strengths-based approach says instead, here are the things you do well and are naturally inclined to be good at, let’s focus on making those the largest part of your work and shift the things that aren’t natural strengths to someone else. Imagine how much happier you’d have been with that awful manager if she understood how to manage towards your strengths. The concept of Strengths-based leadership is based on quite a bit of research (details here) and can really create a breakthrough in many workforces—and most importantly in this context, in attracting and retaining talented people. Imagine if San Diego was known not just for great jobs, but for having companies that were great places to work with professional development and growth opportunities and really great managers of people. This is the benefit of a Strengths-based approach to talent. It is why companies like Qualcomm have created entire divisions dedicated to the topic. Qualcomm isn’t just great because it has incredible benefits, yoga studios and farmers markets (though those things are certainly cool). It is a great place to work because, increasingly, it’s leadership puts focus on creating a work environment in which its employees are engaged.
Fortunately for me, my wife does this stuff for a living so I have a Strengths consultant across the dining room table. It has shaped the way I interact with people I work for and with professionally and personally and has profound impacts on business and government. And it is one reason I think EDC is poised to really help shape San Diego’s economic future. That Jim Clifton is keynoting the EDC’s Annual Dinner on May 29th amid a push by EDC and other regional groups to create good-paying jobs for all San Diegans and in our bi-national border region is no surprise. What may surprise some is the unique perspective Mr. Clifton and his Gallup colleagues bring to the world of talent management and leadership and how that may really be the key for shaping San Diego’s future ability to attract and retain talent.