Five Questions

Stephanie got quiet. “I coach. That’s what I do. But, how do I do what I do?”

“That’s a recursive question,” I said.

“I mean, I think I coach. But, it’s intuitive. I don’t know if I know how to coach. Maybe it’s something I do, but is there a method?”

“Just ask these five questions.”

  • What did we expect?
  • What did we do well?
  • What went wrong?
  • What can we do to prevent that next time?
  • When will we meet again?

Moving Levels of Performance

“I think we covered this before,” Stephanie chuckled. “I always seem to drop back to training, more training. If I see something I don’t like, the answer is more training. But training doesn’t seem to move the needle anymore.”

“Think about it this way,” I suggested, “if training is something that happens before the behavior we want, and gets the team to a minimum level of performance, then why doesn’t more training move the needle?”

Stephanie paused. “To move the needle is only going to come with practice. Training only tells the team what to do, in what sequence. Training doesn’t observe their behavior, watch their repetition, suggest small changes in method, drill them with more repetition.”

“Stop!” I said. “Listen to your description. Observe behavior, watch repetition, suggest small changes. Does that sound like training?”

Stephanie’s chuckle turned to laughter. “No. Training gets the team to a minimum level of performance. Observing behavior, watching repetition, suggesting small changes is coaching. Higher levels of performance don’t come with training. Higher levels of performance come with coaching.”

Fingers, Ten of Them

“What gives?” I asked, one of my favorite diagnostic questions.

“I’m puzzled,” Stephanie replied. “Our training curriculum for this new process seems on par with the rest of our training, but the team just doesn’t seem to get this new routine. I know we introduced some new equipment, including robotics into the work cells, but it doesn’t look that different from other things we are doing.”

“It may look the same to you, but it’s different to them,” I prodded.

“But, we trained them on the new work methods. I just don’t get it.”

“So, do you think they need more training?” I floated.

“I hope not. We have already lost enough productivity with the training they already have. Besides, the training is just the basic stuff. You know, power on, power off, lock-out, tag-out,” she explained.

“Okay, so the team is not going to cut off their fingers. So, what’s your beef?”

“Throughput. Units through the work cell is way down. They were going faster when they were doing things manually,” Stephanie shook her head.

“So, you discovered something about training?” I smiled. “Training only gets the team to minimum performance. What gets the team to maximum performance? You know, besides keeping all their fingers and toes?”

Give Thanks

We gathered around the table. In a brief moment, the conversations stopped. Glances exchanged over the food prepared. And we gave thanks.

This Thanksgiving also marks 19 years of Management Blog. We will return next Monday following the holiday.


Victoria was stumped. She had always thought the only way to motivate people was to create a bonus or incentive program.

“So, if a bonus is off the table,” I started, “what could you create as a positive consequence?”

“I suppose, if I am around and notice something good, I could give them an attaboy,” she floated.

“And if you are not around?”

“That’s the problem, when I’m not around, things grind to a halt.”

“Have you ever heard, What gets measured, gets done?” I asked. “Why do you think that happens?”

“I don’t know. I suppose it’s because people think they are being watched even when they aren’t being watched.”

“Don’t be naive. People know exactly when they are being observed and when they’re not. Here’s why What gets measured gets done. Knowing that something was done correctly, one unit completed to the quality standard creates a positive consequence. But only if it was measured. If no one notices, then there is no positive consequence. If it gets measured, there is a positive consequence.”

“So, then I would still have to be there to count all the completed units?” Victoria resisted.

“No, they’re adults. They can count their own completed units, and post the number on the white board by their work station.”

“What white board?” Victoria asked.

“The one you are going to purchase and put up tomorrow.”

Ply Them With Money

“Maybe, I will have to give them some more training. That might perk them up,” Victoria replied. “The J-curve says that productivity on anything new will decline before it gets better, but more training might be the ticket.”

“And what else?” I prodded. Victoria was getting push back as her team took on more responsibilities.

“I guess I could talk to them, as a group, let them know how much I was counting on them,” she added.

“Those are both things that you could do, probably won’t hurt, but probably won’t have the impact you are interested in,” I explained. Victoria’s face twitched. She was looking for more approval than I was giving.

“Both things you suggest,” I continued, “occur before you get the behavior you want. Most managers go there. It’s not that it’s bad, just not very powerful. The power is not in what you set up before the behavior, but what you set up after the behavior. Consequences. And the most powerful consequence is a positive consequence.”

“You mean like a bonus?” Victoria guessed.

“A bonus is a reward, not a consequence. An immediate positive consequence is more powerful than a reward. Rewards are always delayed, can get taken away, the qualifications may change. Immediate reinforcement is more powerful than an uncertain reward.”

“I don’t know. If I can’t ply them with money, what can I do?” Victoria cringed.

Le Resistance

Victoria looked a little down. “Why the long face?” I asked.

“Ugh,” she replied. “I think I just entered the J-curve. We had to let two more people go last week, I had to reassign some of their work to other people. Empowerment, you know the drill. It’s tough getting people to do new kinds of work. Their new responsibilities are suffering, big time.”

“What do you think is the problem?”

“The new things they have to do aren’t that difficult, but I am getting resistance. And some of the new decisions they have to make, well, maybe, with a little experience they will do better.”

“Describe the resistance,” I shifted.

“It’s not really resistance. They don’t say anything. But I can tell. It’s like a blank look. A nod that says yes, but a feeling that says no.

“What do you think you are going to do, to get a different result?” I pressed.

“I am going to give it more time. Maybe things will improve.” Victoria was an optimist.

“And, what if they don’t improve? First, how will you know whether they are improving? And what if they don’t improve? What will you do differently?”

Exactly as Designed

Tyler thought for a minute. “If we do something wrong, then we have been doing it wrong for some time,” he observed. “That’s the way we have always hired people from the outside.”

“And how is that working out for you?” I asked.

“Ten percent of the time, we get lucky, most of the time we get someone who is okay, and ten percent of the time, we get stung.”

“As you look at your process, who is the first person to touch the resumes on their way to the Hiring Manager?”

“That’s easy,” Tyler replied. “HR.”

“And, you, you’re the Manager Once Removed. When do you finally see the resumes?”

“Well, right before we extend the offer, I usually see the last three resumes. Often, I will bring back the strongest candidate for a final interview.”

“And, what would happen, if you turned your system upside down, so you were the first person to review the resumes?”

“Now, wait a minute,” Tyler stepped back. “I have enough to do without looking at dozens of resumes.”

“Tyler, what more important thing do you have to do than to focus on building the infrastructure of your team? In fact, the reason you are so busy, is because your hiring process is designed to produce exactly the people you end up with.”

Find the Needle in the Haystack

“What went wrong?” I asked.

Tyler recounted the steps they used to qualify candidates. First, they killed a couple of trees printing resumes. Because there were so many, the stack was moved to the reception area. The large stack was divided in two, those from out of town were discarded, those in town were delivered to an area supervisor. The area supervisor was familiar with the job tasks, so that’s where the first real cuts were made.

The final forty resumes were delivered to the hiring manager. The hiring manager was very busy and a little put off by having to deal with forty resumes. He made quick work of the process, however, quickly finding some defect in thirty-five candidates. In the final five, two wanted too much money, two were working somewhere else, so that left one candidate who could easily start within 48 hours. Too good to be true.

“So, where do you think you went wrong?” I repeated.

Look Again at the Decisions

“I know I have heard that before,” Vicki replied. “As the manager, it’s not my job to motivate, I am supposed to create an environment. So, what does that mean? We have work to do here.”

“This is all about work,” I replied. “And by work, I mean making decisions and solving problems.”

“But my people know what they have to do, and there aren’t that many decisions to make.”

“Look again,” I encouraged. “Your team is making decisions all the time, if you let them. Most of their decisions fall into two categories, quality and pace.”

Vicki looked puzzled, “What do you mean?”

“How many units are supposed to come off the line by lunch time?” I asked.

“Fifteen,” she replied.

“And so, as the morning goes on, your team is making decisions about how quickly they should go without compromising quality? And if there is a quality issue, they have to solve the problem and make up the pace to reach the goal by noon?”


“And, what happens if they discover that they can maintain the quality standards, and produce 20 units by noon?” I smiled.

“Well, they would probably knock off at 15, or slow the pace down because the goal was 15.”

“But that would violate the contract,” I prompted.

“The contract?” Vicki repeated.

“The contract to do their best. Part of the contract means if they can complete more than the goal using their assigned resources in the allotted time, they are supposed to tell you, as the manager.

“See,” I continued. “That is why 15 is your goal, not their goal. It is the manager who is responsible for the result. And that is the first thing to understand about creating this environment.”