How To Find Out

Martin held his head in his hand. He squinted and looked at the ceiling. “Do you mean that all my attempts at motivation have been like hitting my head against a brick wall?” he asked.

I raised my eyebrows and shook my head affirmative. “People will only comply with what you want to do. They will commit to what they want to do. All you have to do is figure out the alignment between what you want and what they want.”

“So, I know what I want. How do I find out what they want?”

“Most times,” I replied, “all you have to do is ask. I know it sounds simple, but most managers never ask.”

It’s Not What You Want That Matters

“You cannot motivate anyone to do anything,” I observed. Martin was stumped.

“But I thought that was part of my job,” he protested.

“You can think that all you want, but it is not possible,” I continued. I could see in Martin’s eyes that he was conflicted between what he thought and his real experience trying to motivate his team members.

“Well, you may be right,” he finally replied. “Sometimes it seems easy to get people to do what I want, but other times, it seems impossible.”

“When it seems easy, what do you think is going on?” I asked.

“When it seems easy, it’s like they already wanted to do it in the first place.” Martin paused. “It seems impossible when they didn’t ever want to do it.”

“So, it doesn’t seem to matter what you want, as the manager, or how badly you want it. The only thing that seems to matter is whether your team members want to do it?”

The lights were circling in Martin’s head. The whole time, as a manager, he looked at motivation as getting people to do something he wanted. His mind was beginning to change.

The Necessity of Management

“Everything seems to change, every day,” Charlotte whispered. She felt the change, but had never said the words.

“Think about this,” I suggested, “if nothing changed in your company, what would your team members do every day?”

The anticipated blank stare pierced the silence.

“That’s right!” I exclaimed. “If nothing changed, they would never do anything different. They would continue to do the same thing they did the day before. And life would be good.

“But things do change, and that is why you have a job as a manager. Think of change as your job security. As long as there is change, you will have a job to do.

“As your customers change, as specifications change, as technologies change, as we find better ways to do things, your job, your role as a manager is to modify your systems and processes to accommodate those changes.

“The more things change, the more your company needs competent managers. Lecture over, last one through the door, turn out the lights.”

Questions for Soft Skills

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

Question:
This is a follow-up on Interviewing for Soft Skills. You said to interview for behaviors connected to soft skills.

  • Fit. How does a person who “fits” our organization behave?
  • Values. How does a person with our values behave?
  • Attitude. How does a person with a positive attitude behave?

What do the questions sound like?

Response:
Fit. How does a person who “fits” our organization behave? Answer that question first.
A person who fits our organization shows up for work early, always finishes tasks assignments and double-checks their work for accuracy.

Shows up for work early.
At your previous position, what was the start time in the morning?
What were the first things you did when you got to work, coffee, check e-mail, meetings?
Think about a time you worked on a time-sensitive important project?
Step me through your day when you worked on that project?

Always finishes a task completely, doesn’t leave things undone for someone else to finish.
Tell me about a time when you worked on a complex project that had phases with multiple steps inside.
What was the project?
How long was the project?
What was the purpose of the project?
Who was on the project team?
What was your role on the project team?
How were the phases and tasks on the project organized?
How did the team know when each task was completed?
How did the project leader know when each task was completed?
In this project, was there re-work or items missed?
How was re-work identified? How was re-work placed back on the project schedule?
In this project, how were missed items identified?
How were missed items placed back on the project schedule?

Double-checks their work for accuracy so someone else doesn’t have to look for mistakes.
Tell me about a project where accuracy and attention to detail was mission critical.
What was the project?
How long was the project?
What was the purpose of the project?
Who was on the project team?
What was your role on the project team?
What elements of the project made accuracy and detail mission critical?
How were those elements identified?
How were those elements tracked?
What was the quality standard?
How was the quality standard measured?
How often was the quality standard measured?
Was the quality standard sign-off formal or informal?
What happened when defects were discovered?

How to Interview for Soft Skills

From the Ask Tom mailbag.

Question:
I think I know how to interview for technical knowledge, but how do I interview for soft skills, that are difficult to pin down. Specifically, how well will the candidate fit with our existing team? Does the candidate share our organizational values? Will the candidate bring the right attitude?

Response:
These ideas are actually good ideas, noble characteristics to find in a candidate. Here is the rub. How can the hiring manager, who is not a psychologist, evaluate the candidate on fit, values and attitude?

You have to get down to behaviors. You are not a psychologist, but you can spot positive behavior and negative behavior in the workplace. Observing and evaluating behavior is what managers do. Play to your strength. Interview for behaviors.

  • Fit. How does a person who “fits” our organization behave?
  • Values. How does a person with our values behave?
  • Attitude. How does a person with a positive attitude behave?

Now, interview for those behaviors. Yes, fuzzy stuff can be important, a valuable part of the interview and the criteria for hiring.

System Solution

“So, the Supervisor’s solution to fuel pricing cost more money in overtime and extra travel distance to the cheapest pump?” I nodded. “What would have been a Manager’s solution? You’re a Manager, what would you have done?”

“I actually did step in. It took us three months to figure out the problem was getting worse. The solution wasn’t in finding the lowest pump price for the day. We had to look at our system and think in a longer time frame. The Time Span for this task wasn’t a day, or even a week, it was 12 months.”

“What was the long term solution?”

“I got a fuel price, not the cheapest one, but one I could lock in on a 3 month contract for a tanker to be parked in our truck yard. I got three options going forward that capped a price escalation. That sets us for the year.

“We have a night security employee in the yard who now has something to do at night. He drives the tanker around and fills the trucks with fuel. The drivers come in at their regular time and the truck is all ready to go.

“The Supervisor’s solution about find the cheapest fuel price wasn’t the answer. It was looking at our system of fueling trucks.”

Not Looking for a Quick Fix

“What could you have done to test him before the promotion?” I asked.

Before the promotion? But it wasn’t his job before the promotion.” Gerald protested.

“That’s the point of testing. Find a task with a longer Time Span and test him. Test him before the promotion.”

Gerald was thinking. “Okay, here’s a task we gave him after the promotion. Fuel prices are up. We need some solution to get fuel costs down. We need someone to look at the way we purchase fuel and come up with a better system.”

I stopped him. “What is the Timespan associated with this task?”

“We are not looking for a quick fix, in fact, his quick fix cost us more money. He looked at the internet every night for the lowest fuel prices, had his guys show up fifteen minutes early everyday so they could drive there. Often, it was a little out of the way. But the price on the pump was cheaper.

“That’s what I mean. He is a great scrambler,” Gerald continued. “I know he searched every night and indeed came up with the lowest price.”

“What was the problem?”

“It was a Supervisor’s solution. Actually cost us more money. Every day kicked in 15 minutes of overtime per driver and the extra distance to the pump burned more fuel than the savings.”

Works Well in Chaos

“What is different about being a Manager?” I asked.

Gerald was quiet. His new Manager had been a great Supervisor, but was having difficulty.

“You have a great employee, team player, always shows up, works well under pressure, your go-to guy in a pinch. What is so different about being a manager?”

Gerald began slowly, “The things he is failing on, are things that go more slowly. He works well in a bit of chaos, but as a Manager, I would expect him to prevent some of that chaos. It’s almost as if he allows the chaos to emerge, so he can show off his stuff. I want him to work on a system, so things are anticipated, projects get routed automatically, conflicts are resolved on paper before they happen.”

“And did he demonstrate any of that behavior before you promoted him?” I asked.

“Well, no, but we thought he would be able to figure that out.”

“Did you ever assign him tasks, management tasks, to test him on his capability to handle those assignments?”

Gerald narrowed his eyes, before his short answer, “No.”

“So, you promoted him to a Manager level, without evidence of Management capability, based on his success at a Supervisor level?”

But, He Was Always a Team Player

“Are you having fun with all this?” I asked, smiling behind a very serious intent.

“Hell, no,” Gerald replied. “I’m ready to just ditch the guy. But he has eight years of good performance in his file, easy enough to get along with, always shows up as a team player. I don’t know how I would document his deficiencies to fire him. I can’t even get his production reports.”

“Let’s think about the problem, again. Let’s go over the facts. You have an eight year employee, always a team player, positive attitude that you promoted to Manager.”

“Yes,” Gerald agreed.

“Before you promoted him, did he ever display behavior that demonstrated competence as a Manager?”

Gerald’s face turned puzzled. “What does that mean? He was one of our best supervisors. He could make things happen in a heart beat. My top pick if we ever got in a jam. He could handle two walkie-talkies, a cell phone and drive a fork-lift at the same time.” Gerald stopped. “Well, not that we allow people to talk on the phone and drive fork-lifts, but you know what I mean.”

“So, in a pinch, when things get hectic, he’s your guy?” I confirmed.

“What is different about being a Manager?”

The Trouble with Benchmarks

“When did it start?” I asked. Gerald stopped to think. A long time employee, recently promoted to Manager, had gone zombie, mentally absent in the role.

“The timing is a little tough. When we promoted him to Manager, we knew there would be a learning curve, so we gave him a little space and the benefit of the doubt. But after four months, my patience is wearing thin.”

“Why have you let it go so long?” I asked.

“Well, we figured it would take a quarter to get up to speed, so we set some benchmarks that he needed to hit by the end of six months. I don’t know if we can wait until then.”

“So, this is management by results?” I pondered.

“Yeah, that’s the way we normally do things. But he’s not even close, and when we do try to pin him down, there is always some excuse about something not being in his control, and that we should wait for the six months we agreed to measure the benchmark.”

“How are you liking your approach?”