People are people so why should it be?

6508-mouse…so we are stood around the visual management board, considering a problem:

There’s been lots of talking, but an impasse has been reached.

  • After a while a ‘quiet mouse’ of a person (almost imperceptibly) whispers something that is actually quite profound….but no one seems to have heard it;
  • The ‘fog horn’ person doesn’t realise that he did in fact subconsciously overhear this whisper and blurts out similar words, thinking that he’s just had an original thought;
  • “Wow”, everyone thinks, “that’s a great idea!”
  • ‘Quiet mouse’ shifts back a little and thinks “that’s basically what I just said”…but is too polite to point this out;
  • Then the ‘really awkward’ person says something which annoyingly (for ‘fog horn’), yet totally justifiably, questions the great idea;
  • The ‘comedian’ says something funny that removes the tension in the air between ‘fog horn’ and ‘really awkward’;
  • Which causes the ‘deep thought’ person to ponder ‘really awkward’s challenge and carefully suggest a logical revision to the idea;
  • To which ‘fog horn’ adds his support, ‘comedian’ makes a joke out of this …and the group unite on fleshing out what experiment they are going to run to test out the idea and then conclude.

So, who did well in this discussion? Who did ‘best’? Who deserves praise? And, assuming that the subsequent experiment shows that the great idea has legs, which one deserves an award! Hang on…why are we trying to create a competition out of this?!

In reality, the good idea needed each and every one of ‘quiet mouse’, ‘fog horn’, ‘really awkward’, ‘comedian’ and ‘deep thought’ and the combined skills and personalities that they bring to the table. Remove any of these from the mix and we might not have got anywhere.

Those of you with even a mild eye for detail may protest that I have well and truly butchered Dr Meredith Belbin’s ‘Team Roles’ (I don’t think his list includes ‘quiet mouse’)…this was semi-intentional. Whilst Belbin’s research is hugely important (and very interesting), we shouldn’t really need the actual list of researched people characteristics to conclude that everyone’s different!

If you were to study a group of people working together over a period of time, you would see how dynamic (and necessary) the interplays are….but you know this!

However, a ‘command and control’ organisation looks to:

  • single out people to praise for their ‘individual brilliance’; and
  • rate and rank people against a supposedly desirable personality type.

An organisation is a highly complex living (as opposed to mechanistic) system. We should be celebrating the differences within our people. We should want to encourage each of them to develop their own innate skills AND the ability to collaborate.

A reminder of Deming’s wonderful quote about people:

“a [true] manager of people understands that people are different from each other. He [or she] tries to create for everybody interest and challenge and joy in work. He tries to optimise the family background, education, skills, hopes and abilities of everyone. This is not ranking of people. It is, instead, recognition of differences between people, and an attempt to put everybody in position for development.”

So what’s the point?

The success of an organisation will be best achieved through respecting each and every person and who they are….and helping them become who they can be. It will be damaged most by competition and pushing people to be who they are not.

This needs a rethink of the ‘command and control’ management system that creates the environment that many (most) of us work within.

End note: Does the title of this post mean anything to you? A 1980s song lyric? (…or perhaps it’s just my youth)

Well done team, keep up the good work!

His+name+is+quot+condescending+wonka+quot+_f82cc1640b48cb9aa9b6dfb08f676dd5If you are a ‘leader’, how many times have you said “well done team, keep up the good work!” How do you think this is taken by those receiving it? Do you think they need to be ‘told’ to do this (the keeping up of the good work)…will they stop if you don’t?

Conversely (putting yourself in the other person’s shoes), how many times have you had some senior person who you don’t really know use the “well done…” phrase (or similar) either in an email/intranet communication or whilst doing a ‘press the flesh’ floor walk….and how does this make you feel?

How about when something major is implemented after months, if not years of hard work – is there an ever increasing level to this “well done…” message as the senior manager, then GM, then Exec. say ostensibly the same thing?…and, underneath this, do you think ‘if only they knew the half of it!’

The people who you really appreciate comment from are those who you know really understand what you (personally) have been doing/ going through, what successes you have achieved and the obstacles you have battled through to get them.

…and the comments that are most useful are the highly specific ones.

Some thoughts on praise from a chapter within Alfie Kohn’s eye-opening book ‘Punished by Reward’:

Kohn explains that the available research (of which there is plenty) has identified a number of reasons as to why ‘praise’ may fail to boost achievement and, in fact may drag it down:

  1. Low ability: praising people’s efforts may create a feeling that you are being somewhat condescending as to their abilities…along the lines of ‘didn’t you do well !’
  2. Pressure: telling someone how good they are can increase the pressure they then feel to live up to the compliment
  3. Avoidance of risk: praise may set up unrealistic expectations of continued success, which leads people to avoid difficult tasks in order not to risk the possibility of failure (and then criticism)
  4. Reduces interest in the task itself: praise can be heard as an attempt to manipulate our behaviour (as in ‘keep up the good work’ basically saying ‘I want more of the same’). A good deal of research has shown that intrinsic motivation declines as a result of praise.

So, what does Kohn say we should do? He puts forward two general principles as the standards by which all praise should be measured:

  • Self determination: Are we helping the individual feel a sense of control over their life OR are we attempting to manipulate their behaviour by getting them to think about whether they have met our criteria?
  • Intrinsic Motivation: Are our comments creating the conditions for the person being praised to become more deeply involved in what they are doing OR are they turning the task into something they have to do to win our approval?

Taking these into more specifics, Kohn offers the following practical suggestions:

  1. Don’t praise people, only what people do (“that’s a really nice story” is better than “you’re such a good writer”)
  2. Make praise as specific as possible (“the twist at the end was completely unexpected” is better than “that’s a really nice story”)
  3. Avoid phony praise (praise is objectionable when it is clearly not a spontaneous expression but a deliberate strategy)
  4. Avoid praise that sets up a competition (don’t praise by comparing to someone else.)

Now, I’m not suggesting that senior management should stop showing their appreciation. Far from it! Instead, I am noting that people believe this to be genuine when they know that the comments: comes from someone who ‘really does understand’; are specific to the receiver and what they did; and are not rationed according to some rating and ranking mechanism.

…which ties in nicely with the need for management to meaningfully ‘Gemba walk’ often – another post to be written.