My alarm went off and the battle began. Trevor-the-Manager had decided that I should go for a run and Trevor-the-worker was not having any of it. “Get out of bed and go for your run as we agreed yesterday”, barked the manager. “No its cold and dark. I don’t want to.”
“Listen, we agreed it was good for your health and it’s a matter of discipline. Get up and do it now!.” At this point the worker in me realized they would have to come up with a cunning response or he would be pounding the pavement. “Listen, it is still dark and if I trip and fall I won’t be able to run for weeks. It’s actually a health risk to go running now. I will do it later!.” The manager in me was stumped. How do you argue with such a great excuse? The worker had a point and was not being defiant, as he did say he would go later. To be reasonable and fair the manager had to compromise. “OK, but I don’t want to hear any excuses later on that you were too busy or that the weather is bad.” The worker in me tucked back into bed and smiled knowingly; “We’ll see. I have another 8 hours to come up with my next killer excuse.”
For anyone trying to achieve a goal there is an internal battle between the planner and the doer. Understanding this manager –worker relationship can teach us a lot about how to manage others. Achieving a goal requires a balance between two motivators: Extrinsic drivers that force us to do things we don’t want to do; and intrinsic drivers that lead us to a new personal best, just because we really want to.
Here is a 3 step approach to consider:
Step 1 is to create a plan which includes both a minimum measurable standard and a vision of the utopia outcome. The minimum standard is not subject to compromises and debates. It is a non-negotiable standard that we must meet. When my worker-self argues that I will run tomorrow, and gets away with it, it’s because I have not set a minimum standard for myself.
Step 2 is to create external pressure to meet this minimum standard by sharing it with others and even defining some consequences or rewards. This ensures that you at least get compliance to the basics of the plan through discipline, until it has become a habit - Skipping my run today is not an option because I have to run at least three times a week, and today is Sunday and I have only run twice - The worker in me has nowhere to go, as the manager in me is not going to listen to any arguments or excuses, come rain or shine.
Step 3 is to visualise the utopia scenario and define some stretch goals that are more about the end result, than the discipline of getting there. What you want is for the motivation to be internalised. Identify what the true internal, personal driver is. External motivators can achieve compliance, but often not more. Internal motivation will encourage innovation, drive and determined commitment to achieve a personal best. While I am running instead of finding an excuse, I am visualising how fit and healthy I will be and push myself harder.
Motivating staff is a balance between defining the minimum compliance line and sharing the vision for excellence. Define and externally motivate for the minimum Key Performance Indicators to be met, and also share the inspirational goals of your team, to get buy-in and commitment to excellence.
Balancing external motivation techniques while nurturing intrinsic motivators is a key leadership skill.
The student approached his professor and asked, “What is the difference between leadership and management?” The professor smiled broadly and said, “I am going fishing on Saturday morning – come down to the lake and I will teach you the difference.”
Early the next morning, with the sun yet to break through over the horizon, the student met the professor, but he sat there saying nothing. Confused and bemused, it suddenly occurred to him that the last lecture on leadership had been all about proactivity. Seeing how little success his teacher was having with catching anything, he had a brainwave. Without saying a word he rushed down to the supermarket and came back with some beautifully shiny, newly cleaned fish fillets - ready to eat. “Here we go”, he beamed. “No need to carry on fishing, I anticipated your needs and solved the problem for you - Isn’t that leadership?”
The professor stretched his arms back in an expansive, relaxed manner and pointed to the surreal setting of water glistening in the early morning sun, and commented. “Do you really think my primary purpose of coming here is to catch fish? Proactivity in leadership is only helpful if you first understand the real purpose of those you report to.” Catching on fast, and recalling the lesson on asking more than telling, the student responded with a question. “What can I do to help?”
“Well my fishing boxes haven’t been tidied up in years. I am also getting old and if I do happen to hook a big one, I will need your help to bring it in. But you will have to anticipate that one, as I won’t have time to ask for help.”
The student immediately got to work, even roping in some passers-by to help with the challenge. Keeping half an eye out in anticipation of his teacher landing the Big One, he busied himself organising 20 years of hooks, line, sinkers and fancy novelty fishing gifts he has been given over the years, all tangled together in the boxes. Encouraging the volunteers to keep going, he suddenly realised he had answered his own question. “Professor, I think I get it!
Leadership is about understanding the purpose and inspiring others to help achieve it. Management is about organising the people and resources you need to achieve it, and then ensuring the work actually gets done. You can’t really be successful unless you have both!”
At that exact moment, the rod bent in half and the student jumped up to help the professor land the biggest catch of the day! No further words were spoken, the lesson was learnt!
In March 2015, the Harvard Business Review published an article highlighting some fascinating research about why strategy execution fails. A company without a good strategy is like a scavenging hyena that rushes from one carcass to the next, hoping each one will be meatier than the last. Strategy is supposed to focus the company on a game plan and when well applied, it’s what separates the winners from the losers.
In practise, the problem is threefold:
Imagine a scenario where a group of people were gathered around the dinner table all armed with typewriters and feverishly writing letters to each other. These letters included their views on global politics, the latest news about a family members exam results, and a request to “please pass the butter!” Not only did this family only communicate in writing, but in some cases they had multiple copies of their letters printed and distributed around the table. Crazy?
Walk into any major office building today and this is exactly what is often observed.
Sir Cary Cooper, a professor in organisational psychology and former advisor to the UK government on mental health in the workplace, suggested in a recent speech that “ …a compulsion to deal with the messages (in email) had caused the UK's employees to become less productive than many of their international counterparts” He went on to say, "For people to be working at night, weekends and holiday on emails is not good for the health of our country. We need to ban emails within the same building." Instead, he advocates face-to-face meetings and phone calls.
When I was running the operational side of an international business, I hated email. I had allowed it to set my daily priorities, continually interrupt me and completely overload me with one-way requests from our multiple offices around the world.
Here are three ideas of how I turned email from an enemy into a friend.
Mark Twain said “Never put off till tomorrow, what may be done day after tomorrow, just as well.”
Procrastination is one of those things we all seem to struggle with. It is easy to find all sorts of diversion tactics to avoid doing difficult or unpleasant things. Brian Tracey provides some useful advice on dealing with difficult stuff head-on, in his book “Eat that frog”. His first tip is to eat the ugliest frog first! I love the mental image this conjures up!
Certainly, getting the really important things done and out the way, is a critical step to being effective as a manager – or even in life!
Fiona Walsh (Assistant Dean, University of British Columbia) recently suggested that to avoid procrastinating, ask 3 questions:
1. Do I really need to do it?" If the answer is no, scratch it off your list and forget about it!
2. "Am I not doing it because I don't know how to do it?" If yes, then figure out what you need to know to get moving and find a resource to give you the skills you need to get it done.
3. "Am I not doing it because it's stuff I hate doing?" If yes, then source it out.
Going back to our poor frog….What if after you ate the frog you realised you could have avoided it, if you had just waited? Maybe circumstances have changed now and there is no need to eat the ugly frog – or any frog at all!
In my experience, the secret of effective procrastination is to add to the first question and ask: “Do I really need to do it today?” If so, do it now! If not, schedule it on the day you really need to do it!
And for my Australian readers, under no circumstances whatsoever be tempted to actually eat the frog – they are highly poisonous like everything else that moves and breathes in Australia ;-)
“The black rhino is now officially extinct”. This was the headline in one of my social media news feeds this week. Having grown up in South Africa, living near fantastic game parks where I had close contact with the white rhino species, it is sad to think they have been hunted to extinction for their horn, which is no more than mattered hair! Not that it makes it any less sad, but it turns out this is the third time the announcement has gone global. The first official announcement was in 2011, where after no sightings in a decade, the International Union for Conservation of Nature officially announced them extinct. In November 2013, CNN ran the two-year old story, and it was assumed it had only just happened and the story went viral. Last week it happened again.
The reality in the workplace is that for most skilled workers they no longer have a boss! The supervisory manager is officially extinct! All the facts around them indicate that this is true but the lack of an authoritative official announcement makes it hard to accept. In my consulting business I constantly hear cries from engineers that their bosses know less than they do. They complain that their bosses do not understand their workload. They complain that all the problems they escalate do not get resolved! They seem constantly surprised that their boss is not acting as a supervisor.
In my latest course “Leading up and across the business” I cover in detail why a management structure still exists, and it certainly is not to resurrect the long-extinct, supervisory manager. Skilled staff need to realise they are their own boss - they have the skills and expertise to complete their work and they understand the operational problems better than anyone else in the business – Who better therefore to solve them? Bosses are there to own the outcomes of a specific functional area of responsibility. Their role is to support, encourage and drive the right business results.
Today’s leaders are similar to the coach on a sports team. They do not play the game but they are responsible for the game plan (strategic plan), the tactics (operational plans), putting the right players in the game (hiring and developing the team members) and running up the side of field shouting encouragement and direction to win the game (leading the team to business outcomes).
Because the traditional supervisory boss has gone extinct, many businesses suffer from lack of leadership, rather than too much of it. Confused managers abdicate their role as a leader for fear of micro managing. They develop self-doubt as they reflect on how little they know about the actual work their team does, and so they stay out the way. They argue their team are empowered and trust them to do what is necessary, with no evidence that this is actually the case.
Leadership is needed at all levels! A company where leadership has gone extinct is likely to have staff who are extremely busy, extremely disorganised, having no operational discipline, and no doubt producing few actual outputs that can drive up company profits or increase customer satisfaction.
Ask most people what would really motivate them at work, and invariably they point to some financial reward in the form of a meaningful bonus or salary increase. Common wisdom in business, promotes the idea that the bigger the financial reward the more likely people are to be motivated to achieving the results. Most performance management systems are built on this very premise.
But watch most people performing a task, and you see a very different motivator. Many people spend hours working passionately on personal projects that have no financial reward or are involved in gruelling activities such as cycling or marathon running that actually cost money, and are filled with suffering and pain. At work, the most motivated people often work long hours and put in extra-ordinary effort to achieve a project deadline, that far exceeds any reasonable expectation of being financially compensated for the work.
Lakhani and Wolf published a study in 2005, where they studied the behaviour of engineers on nearly 300 software projects, and their conclusion after the study was that “enjoyment-based intrinsic motivation is the strongest and most pervasive driver”
Hertzberg suggests that money is an extrinsic motivator. By not paying someone their market worth, or not providing fair financial compensation, it can strongly demotivate people. The evidence seems to suggest that using money as a primary motivator, where any creativity is required, is actually counterproductive.
Daniel Pink in his fascinating book “Drive” quotes a classic study by psychologist Karl Dunker, in the so-called candle study, where external rewards actually reduced performance on the task. His conclusion is that for work that requires focussed activity and a known outcome, external rewards can increase motivation, but for tasks that require innovative thinking, the very promise of a reward increases focus on the outcome to the detriment of creative ideas. In the candle study the reference group that were motivated by a reward were so focussed to achieve the result that they actually failed, as they lacked the creativity to solve the puzzle.
I would love to hear your views on this complex subject!
Having just run a leadership course in Las Vegas, I am the envy of all my friends and family. At first glance Vegas is an amazing city of opulence and over indulgence. Buildings are all lit up with gold exteriors and lavish fountains welcoming you as you arrive into the hotel lobbies. But scratch the surface and you see a problem. Other than the newest high rises, or the exclusive venues for the rich and famous, many hotels are in serious need of maintenance work and the quality of food and service leaves much to be desired. One gets the impression that in their heyday these hotels were world class, but the world has moved on, and in places like Dubai, Singapore and Thailand you get a much better customer experience, at a much better price.
I have just come back from a fantastic holiday in South Africa. What a beautiful country and what a land of opportunity. But it seems there is a problem. Unrest and crime continues, power black-outs are the norm and economic growth is disappointing.
There is no shortage of people who will complain about what is wrong and who are waiting for someone to fix it – the government, their company, their managers or even God. Finding blame is easy, especially in a country that has such an appalling political history. And then there are those who are making a difference. They can see what needs to be fixed, they gather a (virtual) team around them and they do something positive – those people are the true leaders! South Africa could be the most promising of all developing nations, if the national mindset was to improve things, rather than commentating on how bad it all is, and blaming others.
Mother Theresa was asked once how she hoped to help so many millions of people in poverty. Her answer was inspiring: “'Never worry about numbers. Help one person at a time and always start with the person nearest you.'
I am running a leadership course in a few weeks for Level 1 staff (non management level). Why do they need leadership training? Because leadership is about change. Non-leaders see a pile of empty boxes strewn by the front door, and complain that someone should sort it out. A leader finds out why the problem exists, makes a plan to sort it out, and communicates to everyone that needs to know what is happening to fix the problem. A leader changes the outcome!
All businesses need managers – it creates order out of the chaos, and all businesses also need people who lead - not necessarily leading a major project or functional area – but just helping to improve things, one at a time and starting with those right in front of them!
TMC Global has been established to provide real-world training and consultancy in wireless technology and technical management.