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Thursday, September 3, 2009

Try A Better, Easier Way To Lead

Have you ever known a manager who agrees to a one-year plan on January 15th…and by March 1st knows that there is no way the goals can be made?

Perhaps that manager is the person your spouse married?

Yet picking a goal and achieving the goal are two different tasks. Both are necessary, but they have little in common with each other. Today we are examining how to improve our chances of achieving the goal, no matter how hard it looks.

Time Management

How many hours do you work in an average week?

How many decisions are you asked to make in a typical day?

Are you really smart enough to make decisions for others?

How many prime thinking hours do you have in a typical day?

If you spend all your time telling people how to do simple things, your successor will have to do the hard things.

Yet, your subordinates may want you to do their thinking for them. If you haven’t defined the parameters for successful decisions, they will want you tell them what actions to take. Your focus and their focus becomes concentrating on activities instead of concentrating on results.

I say that you can teach your subordinates to make their own decisions on the basis of some broad guidelines. Developing the guidelines is the true work of top management.

Which reminds me, it is easier to tell someone how to do a job you have previously mastered, than to develop your current job.

Dale Carnegie tells us that if we can’t get a week’s worth of work done in 40 hours, we won’t get it done. I have seen this enough to believe it is true. I have also observed that a senior manager who has to manage more than thirty hours a week does not have the time to make his or her organization successful. We need to build time for thinking and time for dealing with unforeseen circumstances.

If you have trouble with the thought of managing less than thirty hours a week, let me ask this question. How do you measure the contribution of people in your organization?

If you are measuring time in the office, or the color of a tie, or where cars are parked, you are missing the opportunity to build a high performance organization.

If your subordinates can trap you into telling them how to do their jobs, they can be pretty sure you won’t have the time to change the focus of what they are doing or make them accountable for their results. You see, every time you change your orders to them, all previous orders and expectations are set aside. The game is not to succeed, but to get the orders changed before being evaluated.

Let’s change that.

Pattern Recognition

Edwards Deming, the management scientist General MacArthur took to Japan at the end of World War II, said that if you spend time examining failure, you will learn a lot about failure, not necessarily anything about success.

Opportunities often occur when we recognize patterns that have previously generated successful results. Yet unless our internal business communication is about what has been learned about success, other people in the organization fail to recognize opportunities.

The opposite is easy to prove. If we communicate what works in our businesses, other employees will recognize similar situations and take advantage of them.

Phrases to Practice

Here are three speaking conventions that high performance managers can use to get the most out of their people.

“Good Job!”

“Good Job!” is not a measured response evaluating performance. “Good Job!” is a preliminary response to some excited news. It is an automatic response to make the conversation proceed and replaces comments like “I should have told you our plans have changed”, or “I already know that.”

“Good Job, and you will have to do some more work on it” will create better, faster, more motivated work than if you leave the “Good Job” out.

Company Mission

If you plan to manage people by their results, they need some basic information about the company. When they can make their decisions confident that those decisions reflect the company mission, I have seen the number of decisions required by top management decrease by 80%, with increased efficiency to customers, lower receivables and diminished error rates.

The mission statement is a basic tool that describes where the company would be in six months to a year if everything went right. The vision should be bold enough to create interest, is based on vision more than facts, and should closely reflect top management’s aspirations.

The mission statement is spoken and written as if it were already achieved, and in a certain sense that is true. Once everyone speaks the mission statement as a part of the company, it gets measurably closer every day.

What is your mission statement?

The Story or Parable

The third key technique for managing to get results is the use of the parable. This is how you define the patterns for everyone to recognize.

The parable is always true, often the story about how you dealt with a previous client. When Peter Falk as Columbo tells a story about his wife, he makes a point without accusing any of the people in the room.

In How to Win Friends and Influence People, Dale Carnegie tells us that people always misinterpret parables, and that they always misinterpret them to mean what they want to happen.

If diplomacy is the art of telling people to go to hell and making them look forward to the trip, I suspect that parables are a major part of diplomacy.

The PSR Format

The PSR Format is a template for a story that allows people to understand more than just facts. They get context and the details provide the “hooks” that allow them to apply the stories to similar situations.

Problem (2 sentences) Establishes magnitude/importance

Solution (2 sentences) The listener will translate your specific actions into general capabilities. This is why a parable works. Use the word "I."

Result (1 sentence) Dessert or punchline. What was teh benefit, not to you, but to your previous customer?

After each PSR, qualify the listener’s interest by asking a question.

The whole process takes 45 to 90 seconds

Lyndon Johnson and Will Rogers were famous for their ability to use parables to make their points without threatening their listeners.

Negotiating Styles

All requests to obtain a result, from “pretty please?” to “MY WAY OR THE HIGHWAY!!” are negotiating styles.

The trick is to develop a negotiating style that suits your purpose. Negotiating strategies are based on previous negotiations and current needs. If you are going to change your negotiating style, I suggest you give more than ample warning, or subordinates who have come to love watching you grovel may miss the whole negotiation.

Usually the biggest change is that we are going to focus on defining results, not activities. Hopefully at the start of this article we established the futility of trying to think for your employees.

Restrict yourself to defining what results you need by what time. You can also define some milestones that will have to be met, but don’t pick delivery dates at this time. Also, consider a pre-delivery date to give you sufficient time to become familiar with the project before you turn it over to your customer.

The formality of writing your request on a single piece of paper may help you make a better presentation, and certainly leaves a record for everyone else.

At this point you can take the project to the person who will be doing the work. Tell them why the project is important, and what (if any) related part you will be doing.

You will get one of three responses.

  • If they reject your proposal, take the job to someone else. If you think you will be rejected on a crucial project, try to have someone reject a simpler project and be replaced first. Word gets around. If you are rejected, don’t take revenge. You may have just eliminated a disaster before you got hurt.

  • If they offer to negotiate your proposal, find out what they are willing to do. Until you are satisfied that what they are proposing will be successful, keep defining the results you want … let them propose the actions. When they accept your proposal, set interim milestones and dates where they will report back to you.

From the point where they accept, the project is out of your hands. You can then start defining the next one.

A Better Management Style

As you get experience with this type of management style (putting the time in defining the project instead of later taking back authority to recover from inadequate planning) you will pre-define a higher percentage of the issues that need to be discussed before starting a project. This means that your subordinates will work for longer periods of time without your supervision … that the amount of rework will be less … and that everyone in your organization will develop a better ability to plan, execute, and live with their commitments.

When you suddenly find that the whole organization is working well without you, don’t panic. This is the way the organization should work. Rather than getting underfoot on someone else’s project, you might draw up a list of the toughest problems facing your company and go tackle them one at a time.

I have also noticed that when this management style gets underway, your subordinates will come to you for advice instead of avoiding your criticism. To maintain that type of rewarding relationship keep using “Good Job”, your Mission Statement, and your Parables.

Meeting Formats

Poor meeting technology causes more wasted time, bad interpersonal relationships and drama than soap operas. If you find that your meetings consistently generate more heat than light, consider using a more effective meeting program.

I recommend a 4-part meeting we originally designed for sales meetings. Over the last five years I have used the format for negotiating joint ventures, putting a research facility on a profitable basis, and increasing the efficiency of several boards of directors.

The first phase of the meeting is to have everyone introduce themselves and identify the goal they want from the meeting. This doesn’t guarantee that their goals will be achieved. However, I find that people achieve more goals when they define them.

Go around the room letting everyone use this introduction;




WHY ARE YOU EXCELLENT? (Mission Statement)


This may take a couple of meetings to get everyone to figure out what they see of themselves that is excellent, but the phrase provides excellent thinking for constructive negotiation.

“Goal for this meeting” decreases the number of observers and game players in the meeting. Sometime you can ask the people at one of your meetings what value they expect from the meeting. Sometimes the answers are enough to close the meeting.

The second time around the table answers the twin questions “What did you promise, and what did you produce since the last meeting?”

No one promised anything? That’s a good indication of the value of the last meeting!

The purpose of “Promised & Produced” is to make everyone attending the previous meeting keep a record of their own commitments. This isn’t a competition or an opportunity for judgment. Instead, it is an ongoing process where each person improves their ability to forecast results and execute on schedule. This ability improves over time if encouraged.

We don’t want to hear excuses for what hasn’t happened. Nor do we need editorial comment from third parties. If you choose to manage by pointing out failure, you fall back in the trap of monitoring activity instead of results. Let each individual learn to set and monitor their own work. You provide the forum for them to practice.

The third time around the table the question is, “What did you learn since the last meeting?”

This is the logical time for excuses, but excuses lose most of their attraction after the results are public. Excuses are made to keep the results from becoming public or to modify the criticism generated by the results.

Actually, few people learned anything since the last meeting. Learning is a conscious activity. But if you force people to make up something that they learned, and tell it as a story, then they start to learn what they did between meetings. This may be the only time when the attendees get time to think about the significance of their actions. This is a potent teaching tool, as everyone in the meeting has the opportunity to learn from each PSR.

“What did you learn” can take up 45 minutes of a one hour meeting. Also during this time, people can make requests for help (not to be answered, yet), and you can introduce new projects or information.

The fourth time around the table, the question is “What will you accomplish by the next meeting?” This is when the requests are answered by promises to take action. By putting a time-out between request and response, we are giving each respondent time to figure out what can be done and give an answer that can be accomplished.

The first response comes from the meeting leader who verifies the time and date of the next meeting. Each attendee gets to write the meeting time and date in their personal calendar.

After the format for the meeting is been established and mastered by the group, the meeting leader can and should change so everyone gets a chance to run the meeting, which will improve communication skills and confidence for each member of the team.

I have run this same meeting at organizations every week for over a decade, and the only thing that changed was the quantity and accuracy of the promises as participants got better at planning and using their time.

This meeting format should be used for no more than an hour, saving the last 5 to 10 minutes for making promises. If the meeting is not completed in 60 minutes, it is more important to quit on time than to finish the meeting.

I have worked with 50 in a group, but that requires extraordinary discipline. I suggest 20 in a group. Those 20 usually need noticeably less supervision during the following week. This means management spends less time managing, refereeing, or finding fault and more time defining areas to make contributions.


Managers who master time demands, pattern recognition, communication, negotiation style, and meeting formats often find they have time for the real opportunities of managing instead of responding to crises. The teams who work this way exceed annual goals, because everyone is making a more effective contribution.

Instead of concentrating on how far behind they are at the start of the year, this group finds a rhythm for doubling performance in a predictable period of time and executing way beyond previous performance.