It’s All About the Work

“Look,” I started. “You took a course in psychology in college, but you don’t have a degree in psychology. You are not certified by the state to practice psychotherapy. So, stop trying to judge a person by climbing inside their head.”

I could tell Roger was tensing up.

“But, tell me,” I continued, “can you spot positive behavior on the plant floor, in the field? Can you spot negative behavior? How long does it take you to tell the difference?”

Roger began to nod.

“Your best judgement of other people is not to understand their internal motivation, it’s whether or not they can do the work. It’s all about the work. Ask about the work.”

Misinterpretation

“I just wish I understood people better,” Roger complained.

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“Sometimes, when I interview a candidate, I wish I could better interpret what they say. You know, their underlying motivation.”

“So, sometimes, you misinterpret what a candidate says?”

Roger thought for a minute. “More than sometimes. A lot.”

“In the interview, why do you think you misinterpret a response to your question?” I pressed.

“I told you,” Roger replied, “I just don’t understand people.”

“I think the reason you misinterpret responses, is because you ask questions that require interpretation.”

How People Think

“What do you mean?” Roger replied. “How am I going to know how people think?”

“In the interview, why do you want to know how people think?” I asked.

“I thought that’s what the interview was for,” Roger protested.

“If you want to know how people think, watch what they do. Don’t ask people questions about how they think. Ask about what they did. Ask how they did it. The more you get wrapped up in their psychological motivation for this or that, the more likely you are to misinterpret. Don’t play amateur psychologist. Stop it.”

Don’t Listen to What People Say

“And, why would you trust the outcome of a project more than a response in a promotion interview?” I asked.

“You told me before,” Marissa explained. “Don’t listen to what people say, watch what they do.”

“And, the two big lies in every interview?”

“Yes,” she nodded. “The two big lies. Yes, I can. And, yes, I will.”

It’s a Test

“I don’t want to go through the same experience I had with John, promoting someone to a role only to find them flailing about,” Marissa said.

“So, what are you going to do differently?” I asked.

“There is a person in another department, I don’t know him, but his manager says he is ready for promotion,” Marissa thought out loud.

“So, what are you going to do differently?” I repeated.

“I am certainly not going to trust the situation when I don’t even know this guy. I will, at least, interview him.”

“In addition to the interview, because this is an internal candidate, what else do you have the opportunity to do? How will you test him before you get wrapped around the axle?”

Marissa nodded. She knew the answer. “Project work. Task assignments with the same elements in the new role. I had a failed promotion and a chocolate mess. A failed project is only a failed project, and I can manage the risk in a project.”

Relieved

“I spoke with John, he is going back to be a team leader,” Marissa explained. “He was relieved, said he never wanted the promotion to supervisor in the first place. He thought he was going to get fired in his new role.”

“And, what did you do about his compensation?” I asked.

“I took your advice. I am the one who made the mistake. He was already at the highest technician rate before his promotion, so there was only $1 an hour difference. I kept his pay at the supervisor rate. He shouldn’t have to pay for my mistake.”

“Most importantly, you are on the hook for finding a new supervisor, what are you going to do differently?”

What Are You Going to Do?

“Well, I promoted him,” Marissa replied. “His former supervisor got promoted to another department, and, so, for three weeks, I had to cover. I promoted John because he was the best on the team, and, everybody liked him.”

“So, you assumed that because he was a standout performer doing one thing, that he would be a standout performer doing something else?” I asked.

“I assumed it would take a couple of weeks to get the hang of it, but it’s been a month and he is still a lost puppy.”

“So, what are you going to do? Now, that you understand the problem more clearly.”

“I don’t want to fire the guy, he’s been with us for six years. But, I don’t know if his ego would allow him to take a demotion?”

“You are in quite a pickle, aren’t you? Are you better off with him, or better off without him?”

“I would hate to lose him. I would be better off with him, but only in the right role.”

“So, what are you going to do?”

Not a Matter of Skill

“I don’t understand why John doesn’t do better,” Marissa complained. “I constantly have to give him critical feedback, and I know he doesn’t like it, I can see it in his face. If he would only pay attention to the problems right in front of him, I wouldn’t have to correct him.”

“What do you think the problem is?” I asked.

“Well, he got promoted to be a supervisor because he was a great team leader, best machine operator we have. All he has to do now, is make out the work schedule for the department, order materials and supplies, schedule preventive maintenance on the machines, keep overtime in check, how hard could it be?”

“What do you think the problem is? Where does he struggle?”

“He struggles with all of it,” Marissa replied. “And his attitude is in the dumper, he mopes around all day because he thinks I yelled at him for doing such a crappy job.”

“What does he do well?”

“That’s part of the problem. We had a machine go down yesterday and he spent the entire afternoon tearing it apart and putting it back together. All the while, we don’t have next week’s schedule and we are almost out of materials. I had to put in a rush order so we can keep production online next week.”

“So, who promoted him?”

Unconscious Skip

The problems you have with other people will largely depend on how you think about other people. If you think about people as obstacles, you will have obstacle problems. Solving an obstacle problem gives you a way-different result than solving a people problem.

It is an unconscious skip from people-as-people to people-as-obstacles. You end up there so quickly, you are unaware of the skip.

Becoming genuinely interested in other people requires conscious thought, effort. It is a subtle shift that does not happen by itself.

A Subtle Shift

Who you are is largely shaped about the way you think. If you need to make a small shift in who you are, you have to make a small shift in the way you think.

In a leadership role, your effectiveness will largely be determined by the way you think about people. If you think about people as obstacles –

  • The guy who cut you off in traffic
  • The person with three kids whose shopping cart is blocking the aisle
  • The co-worker in the next cubicle who you have to go around to get to the coffee machine

Your behavior will follow.

It’s a subtle shift to think about people as people (and much more difficult than people as obstacles). Your team members are not direct reports, you are not a manager so people can report to you. Your effectiveness will only be as large as the people you personally invest in.