The meeting was almost over. Butts in chairs began to shift toward the door.
“Take this 3×5 index card and write your name on it. Below that, write down the one thing you are going to do in the next week based on what we talked about, today.” The puzzled faces gave way to ideas for action and the writing began. Forty-five seconds later, we started around the table, each in turn, in front of the group, making a public commitment.
At the end of each meeting, there is an anabolic window that most managers never take advantage of. This window is a short period of time in which growth occurs. Ten minutes later, the window is gone.
Public commitment to action. Your team was engaged the past twenty minutes in a meeting about improving the work-flow process. At the end of the meeting, you could adjourn and lose the window, or you could stop and ask for a public commitment to action. It could be the most powerful three minutes of the meeting.
Oh, bring your 3×5 card to the meeting next Monday. We want to know how you did.
“I am not satisfied with things,” Emily said. “I know there is more to being a manager than management.”
“You have been a manager for a couple of years, now. What exactly, are you dissatisfied with?” I asked.
“There are times, when it seems, I am only able to get people to do what I want by forcing them to do it. By being a bully, or threatening. Not directly threatening, but, you know, do it or else.”
“And how does that work?”
“Not well,” she replied. “I may get some short term compliance, but as soon as I leave the room, it’s over.”
“Emily, the pressure that people are not willing to bring on themselves is the same pressure you are trying to tap into. If they are not willing to bring it on themselves, what makes you think you have the ability to overcome that?”
“But that’s my job, isn’t it?”
In the sport of snow skiing, control is achieved by counter-intuitive thinking. As speed increases, and the skier becomes “out of control,” conventional thinking causes the skier to lean backwards. This disastrous response moves the front edges of the skis off of the snow creating less control and increasing speed. The counter-intuitive response is to shift the body-weight forward, creating leverage on the front edges of the skis, giving the skier the ability to turn out of the fall line, resulting in skier control and a decrease of speed.
I see many managers attempt to gain “control” of their teams using force, command and control, threat of firing. Those of us with children know the futility of these efforts. The counter intuitive response is to ask questions instead of telling, to ask for commitment instead of demanding. It takes more time, requires more patience and has a longer lasting impact. Sometimes it even works with children.
“If you want to change the team, first you have to change yourself,” I responded. “But, there is a price to pay.”
“Oh, I am willing to pay,” replied Ted. “And my company is willing to support me, to pay for training, whatever it takes.”
“Ted, the price you pay has nothing to do with the price of a seminar or a book on management. The price you pay has to do with you. The price you pay is in your commitment, your passion, your focus, your discipline. It is a high price. It is a price not many people are willing to pay. Most will pay for a seminar or a book, but few are willing to pay the real price.”
Ted took a deep breath. It was not a sigh, but an attempt to get some extra oxygen to his brain.
“You are telling me this is not going to be easy,” he finally replied.
“Oh, it’s easy to be a manager, and only slightly more difficult to be a mediocre manager. But, what I am talking about is more than being a good manager, it is a question of being a great manager. What price are you willing to pay?”
From the Ask Tom mailbag:
I am a new manager. I hold a weekly meeting that goes pretty well. We say the things that need to be said and make our plans, but the meetings seem to bomb at the end. They just stop. The energy in the room is flat. I tried to give a motivational rah-rah speech at last week’s meeting but it fell flat on its face. I wish I had kept my mouth shut. The meeting is missing something at the end. How can we finish on a high note?
Follow your own advice and keep your mouth shut. Unless you are one of the rare charismatic managers, your attempts to raise the energy level will feel contrived and pointless.
Because the energy is all coming from you. You need some help. Try the following exercise.
At the end of the meeting, distribute 3×5 index cards. Have everyone write down one action item they plan to do based on the meeting. Then make your way around the table, asking each team member, in turn, to publicly state (in one sentence) their commitment to action. You will be amazed at the rise in energy as you adjourn the meeting.
This is no hollow rah-rah. The reason this works is because it is real and every person participates. -Tom
Joel was not shaking, but he was certainly shaken.
“I just don’t know,” he said. “Since I was promoted from being a supervisor to a manager, things are different. It is certainly not as easy as I thought, a bit out of control.”
“Being new to management is tough. No one prepared you for this, they just promoted you and expected you to figure it out,” I replied.
“And what if I don’t figure it out?” Joel asked.
“Oh, you will figure it out. But that is no insurance that you will succeed. There are a number of reasons that managers don’t make the grade. The first reason is commitment. This is harder than you thought it would be. Being a manager requires a passion for being a manager. Being a manager is a lot different than being a supervisor.”
“You are right about that. Being a supervisor was fun, fast paced, things were always changing and I had to respond quickly. Being a manager, things move slower. I have to think about things. And the worst part, most everything I do is accomplished through other people. Other people are hard to control. They don’t always show up the way I want them to.”
“So, you are facing the first challenge of a being a manager. Do you really want to be a manager? Do you have a passion for it? Just saying yes doesn’t make it so. Why do you have a passion for it?”