Are you managing like an artist?

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I was watching the Israeli version of American Idol yesterday (roughly translated to “A Star Is Born”). I noticed a recurring theme. The main feedback the novice artists received is that they need to be more in touch with their feelings. To be truly themselves. The sing from within. To understand the lyrics they are singing and connect with it. When the feedback made one of the contestants cry, her coach told her – “Now, this is real, this is what I want to see on stage” (It sounds harsher than it actually was in reality).

I was watching all that and thinking – how many employees and managers are given (or giving) this advice? How many of us truly connect with who we are and what we are when we go about our craft? Does it really matter if you are a singer or a service provider? If you are a dancer or a carpenter? Shouldn’t we all aspire to produce Art?

I used to write a monthly column to the student newspaper during my undergrad years. I did a well enough job and the editor almost always published my columns with some alterations. One day I saw a number of student behaviors that really upset me. I sat down and wrote an entire column in an hour. I sent it to the editor. She wrote back to me after a few minutes. “Wow! I can almost feel the anger in your words! I am publishing it as is in the front page, in addition to your usual column in the back of the paper. Send me more stuff like that”. The day it was published I was terrified. How will people react? I actually wrote something against my the dominating culture. Some of my best friends were behaving in ways that were covered in my column. I got only positive reviews. I can’t really say that I changed the world, but it felt so good to truly say what I felt like!

A few days ago I finished reading The Social Animal: The Hidden Sources of Love, Character, and Achievement by David Brooks. As I understand it, Brooks tried to write a book that glorifies feelings and the unconscious. Not just gut feelings (like some think Gladwell’s Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking is about, which I am not sure it is) but of truly connecting with the wonderful creatures we are and making the most out the social relationships that are all around us, relationships that are based mainly on emotions. Brooks writes at the end of the book, after thanking his wife Sarah, that he may write about emotions and feelings, but that’s not because he is actually good at expressing them. It is because he is naturally bad at them.

I think there is a lesson there for all of us. Our culture tends to view emotions and feelings in a derogatory way. In the best cases, it something for artists. Not for professionals in other fields. I think this is because putting our true-selves into whatever we do is hard. Popular culture has a tendency to support the path of least resistance. The other path, which is much tougher to thread through comes with tremendous rewards. We can spot the singer who sings from the heart immediately because it resonates in our own social being. I think this is true for every profession and for every business. I am not surprised that Howard Schultz called his book: Pour Your Heart Into It: How Starbucks Built a Company One Cup at a Time

And for all you managers out there, my question to you: are you managing people like you manage artists – by pushing them to connect with their true feelings? Or are you producing more mindless, soulless cogs?

Elad

Not everybody can

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“Anybody can pour a cup of coffee, rent out cars, sell pairs of jeans. Except, of course, they can’t. The [businesses] that are the best at these things take ‘anybodies’ off the street and make them their own ‘somebodies”

I found this quote, by Alex Frankel (from his book Punching In: The Unauthorized Adventures of a Front-Line Employee), in a great post by John Moore from the Brand Autopsy Blog. Here is another part from the post that talks about the same point:

Turns out the quality of the employee is the difference-maker between an energetic store and a lifeless one. It can also make the difference between a loyal customer and an infrequent customer.

I really like these quotes because they touch upon a few powerful ideas I really believe in. More than anything else, it means that not everybody is equipped to do every job. I know it is not popular to say this, but we are not equal. And I mean this in the most wonderful way possible. Yes, most people can do any work, but they can’t excel at everything. They can’t create Art in the Seth Godin sense of the word. And excellence and Art is what is needed to create true engagement.

I can pour and prepare coffee. But I will never make connections with a customer in a way that makes him feel good about him or herself. And while I am sure I will make a very good employee and do everything needed, be on time and whatever else the “rule book” says, I will never be able to do the things that really matter in such a situation. I can learn how to “talk the talk” with customers, but inside, I would never “walk the walk”. I will never truly enjoy such an engagement with strangers. It is not in my character or personality. But others can. It doesn’t say anything bad about me or them. It just the wonderful differences between us.

A manager’s job is to make these connections between roles and people and in a way that contributes to the employee’s sense of self and to the goals of the business. It starts by choosing good people but it continues into listening to them, talking to them, asking the right questions and helping them find their strengths and flow.

Do that and the customers will follow.

Elad

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Unlearning from Frederick Winslow Taylor

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In my presentation “No More Rules!” – which earned me a few heartwarming reviews up till now (Still waiting for yours!) – I claim that the use of too many rules in management today is harmful in many ways and that we need to revamp our thinking about their use and efficiency because in aggregation they might create more harm than good.

One issues I talk briefly about in the presentation is the fact that the basic assumptions about the use of rules comes from the thinking of Frederick Winslow Taylor whose work and book The Principles of Scientific Management revolutionized American industry leading it to new levels of efficiency and productivity. In the last few days, while reading 12: The Elements of Great Managing by Rodd Wagner and James Harter, I found two very interesting references to the Taylor’s work that amplify the normative argument I try to make in the presentation.

The first is a direct quote from Taylor’s The Principles of Scientific Management:

The development of a science (of managing tasks) involves the establishment of many rules, laws and formulae which replace the judgment of the individual workman and which can be effectively used only after having been systemically recorded, indexed, etc.”.

The second quote is from Taylor biographer Robert Kanigel who wrote in the book The One Best Way: Frederick Winslow Taylor and the Enigma of Efficiency (Sloan Technology):

Scientific management was degrading. In reducing work to instructions and rules, it took away your knowledge and skill. In standing over you with a stopwatch, peering at you, measuring you, rating you, it treated you like a side of beef. You weren’t supposed to think. Whatever workmanly pride you might once have possessed must be sacrificed on the altar of efficiency, your role only to execute the will of other men paid to think for you. You were a drone, fit only for taking orders. Scientific management, then, worked people with scant regard not only for the limitations of their bodies but for the capacity of their minds.

I don’t know about you, but the fact that this kind of approach is at the base of many of the achievements of the 20th century makes me feel a little bit ashamed. Notwithstanding the fact that today’s competitive advantage does not stem anymore from productivity and efficiency (which can be replicated easily) but from innovative thinking, Art and practical wisdom, this kind of approach seems inhuman and unsustainable. And still, in the number of times I encountered Taylor in my academic education, his approach was treated with respect and as a basis for modern thinking.

History is filled with individuals that, sometimes for noble reasons, led different disciplines in the wrong way. I do not think Taylor was a bad man. He probably believed he was working for the general good. However, the long-term damage his thinking produced is felt today and probably will be felt in the future. His assumptions are so intertwined into our thinking that it is hard to identify their exact influence. It is time to let go of our Tayloristic heritage and start celebrating the capacity of human minds. History will judge us on how well we learned from Taylor’s mistakes and how fierce we were in our approach to change it.

The change begins with you. What are you doing for it?

Elad

Managers’ responsibility – helping people overcome the resistance

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I did it. I finished reading Linchpin, Seth Godin’s new book. As I twitted a few days ago, I am still not sure if it is about management, education, philosophy or a self-help book, but is a very profound book that makes you think. The book touches on so many subjects that it will be hard to cover it in one post. So in the next few days (or hours, I might feel the desire) I will post my thoughts with some of the greatest quotes in the book.

Godin actually writes a manifesto for you. And me. And everybody. Trying to convince us that we should wake up and defeat the resistance, the small voice inside our head that tells us not to do remarkable things. He wants us to not only do our job but to do The Work, which is something meaningful, different, that changes the world, what he calls a gift of Art.

The thing is, a big part of the book is devoted to explaining exactly how hard it is to do just that. To describing how many mechanisms are present – some created by society and some are just part of natural evolution from pre-historic hunters – to prevent us from being indispensable and engaging with our Art. These resistance mechanisms have become such a big part of our culture and they are everywhere:

In every corporation in every country in the world, people are waiting to be told what to do. Sure, many of us pretend that we’d love to have control and authority and to bring our humanity to work. But given half a chance, we give it up, in a heartbeat. Like scared civilians eager to do whatever a despot tells them, we give up our freedoms and responsibilities in exchange for the certainty that comes from being told what to do.

I have written about this before:

The conventional wisdom that a manager needs to say to its employees how to do their work is already intertwined into people’s expectations.

And all I could think while reading the book is that we all need someone to help us help ourselves. Someone to nudge us in the right direction. Someone who will resist giving us the answers and will make us confront our fears and find our Art:

Your employee comes to you with a problem. He expects you to solve it for him, to tell him what to do. That is the conventional wisdom. But, that is exactly what you should not do in most cases. The famous creed: “don’t give a hungry man a fish, teach him how to fish” is on the spot but not implemented enough. We need to resist the temptation and try to give solution or answers and move to letting people find their own ways. So they will be able to do the job when you are not there. Tell them what the desired outcome is and let them find the solution. Give them the support and help, but not the solution. Resist the temptation.

And just like my initial thoughts after the presentation at the launch of the book, I point my fingers to managers.  I call our to them to start resisting the temptation to give answers. To stop with the rules. The let go of the mechanisms of control.

I know. It is hard. It is more than hard. It is terrifying. Trusting people is frightening. Letting go of our control is hard. Understanding that they are better than you in some respects, that they can do something you can’t is paralyzing. But it is worth it. Because that is the Art of great managers. That is the gift that they can give. And because In today’s world, there is no other choice. I will finish with the quote from the book:

Rick Wagoner lost his job at GM because he told everyone what to do (and he was wrong). Far better to build a team that figures out what to do instead.

What is your Art as a manager? What gift do you give your employees everyday? Who do you nudge them to find their Art?

We don’t only need indispensable people who can ignore the lizard brain and defeat the resistance. We need indispensable managers who will nudge people to become indispensable.

Elad

Are you worthy?

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Dale Breckenridge Carnegie wrote in 1905 (!) the following paragraph in the introduction to his book, The Art of Public Speaking:

Training in public speaking is not a matter of externals – primarily; it is not a matter of imitation – fundamentally; it is not a matter of conformity to standards – at all.  Public speaking is public utterance, public issuance, of the man himself; therefore the first thing both in time and in importance is that the man should be and think and feel things that are worthy of being given forth.

Isn’t this something that should be always true? Yes, the externals – visuals, speaking tools, metaphors – are all important. However, in the end, it boils down to the question – is what I am saying worthy? When you next go to give a presentation – ask yourself – what do I have to say? And I know what you are going to tell me. “I am going to talk about something boring and banal; there is nothing for me to ‘say’ in it”. And my answer –if there isn’t don’t talk.

If you can’t find the passion inside, the understanding of how you are making a difference, some kind of difference, small as it may be, in somebody’s life by giving this next presentation, don’t present. The title of Carnegie’s books includes the word art – and I would like to think of it as Art in the way Seth Godin thinks about Art in his new book Linchpin. There are many painters but there are only a limited number of artists who paint. There are many speakers, but there are only a limited number of people who deal in the Art of public speaking.

I will take this idea one step further. If you are a manager, this applies to your everyday work life too. When you wake up tomorrow morning and go to your office, what kind of mind set do you bring with you to the office? Are you doing things that are worthy? Do you feel that you have something to give, something of importance, that you are changing your employees’ lives?  What kind of passion do you bring to your partnership with them? Dan Pink tells us to ask ourselves two questions every morning. I think there is only one. Are you worthy?

Elad

Initial thoughts after Seth Godin’s #Linchpin launch presentation

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Today I attended Seth Godin’s launch of his new book – Linchpin. I am in the process of reading the book and I guess I will write about it a lot in the next few days/weeks, but for the mean time, I just wanted to share some quotes from the presentation that especially resonated with me. Many times during the presentation and going through the book I felt that many of the things I write about in this blog are explained by Godin (better of course, it is, after all, Seth Godin).

Should managers transform employees into Artists?

One of the main themes Godin talks about is the idea of Art. Not art in the meaning we all think about, but Art as anything creative, new, that changes the world and connects people. And one of the main things about artists is, as Godin put it today’s presentation is that they do their work without rules or manuals. This resonated with me as in the last few weeks I have been advocating here that managers should stop trying to create rules (also see here) with the original post being inspired, but Godin himself.

In his talk today Godin showed me another aspect of the same idea. If managers stop trying to create rules they will help take away some of excuses employees make against being remarkable and help them become … Linchpins (I urge you to look for the dictionary definition or better yet, buy the book). We need more workers who are artists. Godin points a finger to each and every one of us to take up the cause and become an artist (or Linchpins or Geniuses). I point my finger to managers. If there is one person who can help your employees become a Linchpin it is you. So why don’t you start by stopping with the rules. As Godin said today:

If you can write down what you do I can find someone else to do it cheaper.

How do you make sure your employees can not be replaced by someone cheaper? What will happen if you help them transform into something indispensable?

Don’t ignore them if they fit in, better yet – don’t let them fit in

Another saying that deeply resonated with me in today’s presentation was this sentence:

The reason they want you to fit in is that then they can ignore you!

Now Godin meant this sentence to say that you should not fit in. You should try to become indispensable, a Linchpin. It made me think of something else. This is what I wrote a while back about how managers ignore those who are doing OK:

Managers concentrate on trying to “help” the struggling workers. Those who under perform. They think to themselves, hey – that guy who is doing OK doesn’t need me, he is doing OK. So they ignore him and work with the struggling guy. How does that make that make the “OK guy” feel? What is the message that this kind of behaviour sends to him? How does this affect his perception?

What is the problem with this scenario? Not only is the “OK guy” not being recognized, he is also doing OK. OK is not enough. A manager’s job is to make him excel. Average, is not enough. Helping employees excel starts by noticing and letting our employees know that we noticed. This is the basic elements of employee engagement and employee recognition.

Godin got it just right. We ignore those who fit the mold. We let them stay in their mediocrity and put our efforts somewhere else. If you are a cog doing its job, I, the manager, can ignore you. I want peace and quiet. And when employees only get management attention when they are out of line, they start doing everything they can to not be noticed by management – that means no risks, not extraordinary thing. Mediocrity. Management failure.

Elad