Is It All That Interesting?

“What does interest have to do with the behavior of your team members?” I asked. A smile crept across Nathan’s face.

“It’s pretty obvious isn’t it?” he replied. “When someone is interested, they sit up straighter, they pay attention, they have a skip in their step, they ask questions.”

“Is all the work that we do around here, interesting?”

Nathan was quick to reply. “Not really, I mean some things are interesting, but some things are repetitious and only mildly amusing.”

“So, as a manager, how do you keep someone’s interest in a role where the tasks are repetitious and only mildly amusing?”

Nathan had to think on this one. “I’m not sure. I mean it is hard to be interested in some of the assembly work we do.”

“So, if it is difficult to raise someone’s interest, how do you get them to sit up straight, pay attention, have a skip in their step and ask questions?”

Nathan searched his mind for a response, but came up empty. I asked an opposite question. “Let’s look at the other extreme. How do you keep someone from actually resenting the work that you have them doing?”

Nathan’s brow raised, “Well, they do get paid.”

“Yes, but they could take your money and still resent the work that you have them doing?”

“More money?” Nathan floated.

“You could even give them a raise and they might still resent the work that you have them doing? How do you raise the level of interest in tasks that may be repetitious and uneventful? How can you, as a manager, turn the tide of resentment for that type of work?”

Breaking Dependence on the Manager

It was late in the afternoon when I stopped by to check on Nathan. We agreed that he would circulate with his team, asking a variation of one simple question –

“When things are going well, and your job is going well, how do you do what you do?”

“That’s a great question,” I said. Nathan was beaming. I could tell the response from his team had been positive.

“It’s funny,” he shook his head. “When they describe how they do what they do, sometimes they get it right, and sometimes they get it almost right. But since I gave them the chance to tell me first, when we talk about the almost right stuff, it comes a lot easier. They are much more willing to listen.”

“So, what is the lesson for you?” I asked.

“It’s not so important that I be right, or that I be in control, whatever that means. What is important is that my team members are thinking about what they are doing. They are thinking about what they are doing that is right and thinking about what they are doing that needs improvement.”

Nathan stopped cold. A new niche just opened in his thinking.

“It’s like before, they just depended on me to tell them what they were doing wrong so they never had to think about it. They knew that if they were doing something wrong, they would get a lecture from me and that would be that, so they didn’t have to think about it. When I stop giving the lecture and ask them, they suddenly begin to think.”

Tell or Ask?

“I think, when I tell people what to do, acting like a big shot, that does not create trust,” Nathan started. “In fact, I don’t even have to act like a big shot to be perceived as a big shot.”

“Why do you think that?” I asked.

“It seems that no matter how tactful I am, or how I sugarcoat it, when I tell people what to do, I sound like a critical parent.”

“That is quite a discovery,” I remarked. “So, how do you tell people what to do, without sounding like a critical parent?”

“I don’t think I can. I can’t tell them, they have to tell me.”

I knew Nathan was on the right path, just curious if he was putting it all together. “What do you mean?”

Nathan thought for a bit. “Instead of telling my team member what to do, I should ask them how they intend to accomplish the task at hand. Instead of me telling, I want them telling.”

Nathan waited for my response, but he didn’t get the advice he was looking for. “So, let’s go try it out,” I said.

Before Anything Else

Nathan waited for me in my favorite place, the coffee room. “What are we going to talk about today?” I asked.

“You said we were going to talk about the Prime Directive,” Nathan responded.

“Which is what?”

“My role, as a manager is to add value to the decision making and problem solving of my team members.”

“And you were going to bring me a list of ways you could do that.”

“Indeed,” Nathan announced, proudly producing a single sheet with several items on it.

“So, look down your list and pick the top three items that make sense to do first,” I directed.

Nathan was proud of his list, but he had not considered that some things made sense to do before other things. Finally, he spoke. “Well, I have twelve things on my list, but the thing I need to do first isn’t on here.”

“Which is?”

“I think before I do anything, I have to create a sense of trust. In fact, without a sense of trust, none of the things on the list are possible.”

“In your meetings, you invited Rachel, Edward and Billy to run certain parts. Does that create trust or distrust?”

“Well, trust,” blurted Nathan.

“So, you have already started to build the trust that is required to be effective. What’s next?”

A Manager’s Focus

Nathan survived his next meeting. No one walked out. It was a productive ten minutes. Maybe his team was going to give him a chance.

“Now what?” he asked.

“Prime Directive,” I stated flatly.

“Prime Directive?”

“Bring value to the decision making and problem solving of each team member.”

Nathan’s face became a jigsaw puzzle. “What does that mean?” he asked.

“Look, Nathan, there are a number of things that are required of an effective manager. Some things you do will work against you. Some things will work for you. Remember the Prime Directive.”

I detected a glimmer of understanding in Nathan’s eyes.

“You are a new Manager. You were a successful supervisor, but your focus needs to be different, now. Over the next 24 hours, I want you to make a list of what you think your role is, related to the Prime Directive.”

What Else Can You Delegate?

It was a big difference in Nathan’s meeting. Instead of barking out the quota numbers for daily production, he had assigned that task to Rachel. The team had responded.

“What else could you delegate during the meeting?” I asked.

“Well, when Rachel announced the quota number, the first questions were about raw materials and machine setups. So, I was thinking about asking Edward to get with Rachel before the meeting so he could report on the status of raw materials. And I was thinking about Billy, he is our line mechanic, to get with Rachel to plan the machine setups for the day. So he could report those in the meeting.”

“Sounds like an agenda is coming together for this daily meeting and you are having other people become responsible for each line item?”

Nathan laughed. “You know, I thought, as the manager, that I had to do all the talking in the meeting. I am beginning to think, maybe, I should just call the meeting to order and sit at the back of the room.”

They Began to Ask Questions

“So, what was the big difference?” I asked. Nathan was getting pushback in his production meeting whenever he went over the schedule. Especially when he talked about the daily quota number for production.

“I assigned Rachel to announce the number,” Nathan replied. “It was the funniest thing. When I talk about production, people grouse and mumble. When Rachel described the quota number, people began to ask questions. Did we have enough materials on the floor and how many different setups would be required on the machine. It was like they wanted to do the work.”

“So, what did you learn?” I asked.

“I learned that I don’t have to do all the talking. I can delegate out important stuff. Instead of me telling people what to do, when they become involved, they actually step up and participate.”

Delegate It Out

“But, I still feel there is some tension in the meeting, especially when I start talking about quotas for the day and some of the production problems that need to be corrected,” Nathan explained.

“So, delegate it out,” I said.

“What do you mean?”

“Look, Nathan. Where do the quota numbers come from?”

“Well, there is a Production Release report that gets posted at 5:00pm for the next day. That is the number that I go over in my morning meeting.”

“So, it is just a number that comes off of a report? And, you are the bad guy because you know the number and report it in the meeting?”

“Exactly,” nodded Nathan. “I feel like a tyrant, when it is just my job.”

“So, assign the Quota Number report to another team member. During your meeting, ask them to talk about the number from the Production Release report.” I could see Nathan pondering my proposal. “Who could you assign that to?” I asked.

“I could assign that to Rachel,” Nathan replied. I could see a sense of relief wash over his face.

“Let me know the difference in your meeting tomorrow.”

State of Mind of the Group

“It’s the difference between work and non-work,” I said. “Both work and non-work are states of mind. Non-work is an unconscious state of mind. Work is a conscious state of mind. Non-work just happens on its own with no particular direction. Work only happens when there is a purpose.”

Nathan and I had been discussing a simple start to a meeting where he asked each team member to contribute a piece of good news to start the meeting.

“So, I am connecting this exercise at the beginning of the meeting with a state of mind?” Nathan asked.

“Absolutely,” I responded. “Thoughts drive behavior. And if your thoughts connect to a purpose, then you are more likely to engage in work. If your thoughts are not connected to a purpose, then your behavior is likely to be unconscious and non-productive. How you think is everything.”

One Simple Change

“So, tell me how your meeting went,” I said.

Nathan was a bit cheery. “It was really different. We have never had a meeting like that.”

“What was different?”

“I only made that one simple change at the beginning. I started with that exercise at the beginning. Good News. I asked everyone in the group to share one piece of Good News from the previous week.” Nathan was finally smiling.

“And?” I asked.

“At first, some were having difficulty. You know, thinking of something positive. If I had asked for Negative News, that would have been easy. But Good News was a struggle.”

“So, what did you learn?”

Nathan was finally seeing some progress. “Thinking about something positive requires work, but it moves people in the right direction. Once they began to work, the rest of the meeting stayed with the same momentum. It’s funny, the only thing I did differently was the way I started the meeting.”