Who Do You Have in Mind?

The ball lifted off the tee with a wobble before moving sideways from right to left, arching into moderate grass off the fairway. Harvey’s next shot went vertical, over his head, then smack into the turf at his feet.

“Who were you thinking of?” I asked.

“No one. What do you mean? It was just a lousy shot.”

“I mean your second swing. Who were you thinking of?”

“I was just letting off steam. Wasn’t thinking of anyone.”

“If you were thinking of someone, who would it be?”

“I don’t know. I was thinking about the guy who taught me how to play. He would have been a little disappointed.”

“Who is this guy? Do I know him?”

“No, he was a pretty old guy when I learned. And I was only nine years old.”

“I was just curious.”

Kurt Lewin tells us that individual action is a myth. Our behavior is always influenced by groups or individuals, even if they are not physically present. To gain insight into a person’s behavior, all you have to do is find out what group or person the individual has in mind.

Who do you have in mind, that is affecting your swing?

No Drill Sergeants in the Jungle

Drill sergeants yell and scream and get results. Why can’t a manager?

Most of us have either worked underneath or know a manager who behaves like a drill sergeant. The descriptions come easy. He runs a tight ship. He manages like his haircut.

But, it occurred to me, there are no drill sergeants in the jungle. Let’s say a squad is on patrol in hostile territory and one team member falls behind, cannot keep the pace. There is no drill sergeant around to demand 50 pushups. There is no yelling in the jungle. Communication may be whispered or signaled, but there is no “I can’t hear yooouuu!”

Drill sergeants work in an artificial environment called training. Their purpose is to instill discipline to exact trained behaviors. Managers work in the jungle. It’s real in the jungle. Production is real. Quality is real. Customer satisfaction is real.

As a manager, the next time you have the urge to yell like a drill sergeant, you might find a whisper more effective.

Might Still Be Legal In NY

In the area of behavior modification, the most, perhaps only, effective means are psychotropic drugs and frontal lobotomies, which may still be legal in some places in New York.

There are so many round people in square roles. Get out of the behavior modification business and get into the talent selection business.

The most effective managers are not those who are expert in motivation, or coaching, or process improvement. The most effective managers are those that are expert at defining roles and selecting the right people to fill those roles.

Look at your team. How long have you been trying to modify behavior? Any wonder why this is driving you nuts. Stop it. Get better at selecting talent, then go build your team.

Treat People Like Machines

It took six months to make the decision to spend $65,000 on a new machine. It replaced another older machine that had finally retired. A committee conducted research on the new board technology. Another team of two shopped lease arrangements and term equipment loans. The transition team worked hard to determine how work-in-process would be diverted during the installation and burn-in period. The training department coordinated a technician training program with the manufacturer. This equipment purchase was going to be a real game breaker.

What I was most interested in was the last Project Manager hired into the company. The salary was about the same, $65,000. Three people were involved in the interview process, but when I looked at the documentation from those interviews, it was mostly subjective statements:

  • I think he has a good personality and will fit in well with our culture.
  • In the next five years, he wants to excel in project management. That’s what we need him for.
  • Demonstrated a great attitude the during the interview.

The job description was a photocopy of a similar position with some notes scratched on the bottom. The training program consisted of shadowing another project manager for two days. So there is no wonder that the new Project Manager was NOT going to be a real game breaker.

Perhaps we should create a process that takes recruiting as serious as buying a piece of equipment. We would do well to treat our people as well as we do our machines.

The Difference in Performance

How many of your team members, do you suppose, drove to work this morning, thinking, “I will come to work today and do a really crappy job?”

Wipe that smirk off of your face, you know it is not true.

What makes the difference in the performance of your team members? Each morning they arrive at work, ready for the day. They could perform well, or they could perform poorly. What makes the difference?

Managers will most often agree on this management challenge: How do I motivate my people? My team seems to suffer from a lack of motivation. If I could just figure out how to motivate my people, everything else would fall in line.

The difference between poor performance, good performance and superior performance is the simple result of a choice. Managers cannot motivate their teams into high performance. Individual team members choose high performance. For every manager, the challenge is to create the circumstances where people most often choose the high road.

It’s a Trap

There were twelve incredible opportunities staring at Roger, all of them saying, “Pick me!”

Once an organization gets some traction in their market, over the hump of cash flow and all that, the next biggest trap is the incredible opportunities.

As your company grew, everyone said, “You’ll never make it,” but your company did. Who is to say that your company cannot be successful at all of the other opportunities staring down at you?

Sometimes, the most important decisions that you make, are the decisions about what not to do. The growing organization needs to focus its efforts on becoming more successful at their core business. There will be plenty of time, later, to chase down that incredible restaurant deal or that mail order pharmacy company.

Disciplined focus, execution, not opportunities. Stay out of the trap.

On Your Left

It was a late weekend morning. I was headed south on A-1-A, returning from a solo bike run to Boynton inlet. The headwind was light, but enough to knock the speed to an even 19mph. Three hours into the ride, I was in no position to hammer the wind, yet impatient to keep the speed up.

“On your left,” was a friendly heads-up as an unknown rider with fresh legs slipped in front. I downshifted and picked up the reps to catch his wheel. I settled into the quiet space of his draft at 21mph. Seconds later, I sensed a third rider on my tail. Now we were three.

For thirty minutes, we snaked down the road, changing leads, holding 21, taking turns on the nose. I was struck with the purity of teamwork between three people who had never met before, with only three words between them, “On your left.”

A team will never gain traction without a common purpose.

This was a team with nothing, except a common purpose, executing skillful manuvers, supporting each other, communicating precisely with each other. There was no orientation, no “get to know you session,” just a purity of purpose.

When your team works together, how clear is the purpose? What is the commitment level of each team member to that purpose? You don’t need much else.

A Shell Game for Amateurs

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

You talk about time-leverage. You talk about working one hour to gain two hours productivity. How does that work?

No manager can afford to work at a time ratio of 1:1. Working one hour to gain one hour’s productivity is a shell game for amateurs. Even working managers need a significant focus on time-leveraged activity. How does a manager work for one hour and gain two hour’s productivity, or work one hour and gain five hours productivity?

The central element of leverage comes from delegation. With a five hour project, rather than do the work yourself, try this –

  • Call a 20-minute meeting with three of your team members.
  • In the meeting, you describe your vision for project completion.
  • Describe the performance standards for project completion (including quality and time frame).
  • The rest of the twenty minute meeting is a discussion of the action steps and who will be responsible for what.
  • Schedule two follow-up meetings (ten minutes each).

As the manager, you end up with less than one-hour of meetings, while your team members work five hours to complete the project. You work one hour, you get five hours of productivity. Ratio (1:5).

Here’s is the challenge, what does (1:10) look like? I consistently work with executives whose goal is (1:100), one hour’s work to produce one-hundred hours of productivity. How about you, what is your ratio?

Henry’s Feedback System

Henry took the pushpins out of yesterday’s report and tacked today’s report in its place. This was a new initiative to provide statistical feedback to the floor. On the report were numbers indicating percentage of capacity, scrap overages and mean time to complete. Next to today’s number were the accumulated numbers for the month and the year. Each section of the report had a snappy little graph in color.

When Henry told me about his idea to provide daily feedback to his production floor, I was quite interested. When I saw the posting, I had more questions. I asked Henry to identify his three weakest links on the floor. That was easy, Henry pointed them out immediately.

I asked Henry to take the posting and get some feedback from his three chosen technicians. “How are we doing?”

Individually, the three studied the sheet, then slowly shook their heads. “I don’t know, I guess we’re doing okay, my supervisor isn’t yelling at me.”

Henry was disappointed. He worked hard on his charts. I asked him, “In what way could you present something that everyone will understand, quickly and easily?”

Henry finally settled on one number, today’s units produced. If the number was better than target, it was green. If it was below target, it was red. Next to it, in black, was tomorrow’s target. One week later, everybody understood. Henry’s feedback system was a success.

Stand on the Chair and Scream

As the team left the room, Mandy had a sinking feeling in the pit of her stomach. There were lots of promises from her team, but in her heart, she knew that only ten percent of the project would be complete on time. It was, as if, Mandy should stand on a chair and scream at the top of her lungs, “I really, really mean it this time. We have to get this stuff done.”

Those of us who have children know the futility of standing on chairs and demanding. It is pretty entertaining for the children, but hardly effective.

In what way could Mandy create an atmosphere to drive higher performance toward the goals set by the team? If standing on chairs and screaming doesn’t do it, what does? Most Managers are not aware of, or do not leverage team accountability. Managers assume the role of the bad guy and essentially let the team off the hook when it comes to holding each other to account for performance.

Turn the tables. In your next meeting, when a team member reports non-performance or underperformance, stop the agenda. Ask each team member to take a piece of paper and write down how this underperformance impacts their part of the project. Go around the table and ask each person to share that impact in one sentence. Around the table once again, ask the team to create an expectation of how the underperformance should be corrected. Finally, ask the underperformer to respond to the team and make a public commitment to action.

Team members, holding each other to account is a very powerful dynamic.