Isn’t it time we stop with trying to create rules?

One of the more interesting locations I visited during the course I took in Singapore and India during the last few weeks was the Taj Mahal Palace & Tower Hotel in Mumbai. It is one of India’s most famous hotels, known around the world for its amazing levels of service. During our visit we heard a lecture from the head of the training division that described the history of the hotel and it’s culture. She was describing the culture of service and employee engagement and the fact that most of the employees in the hotel have worked there for more than 20 years.

Then, one of my classmates asked how does the hotel keep the employees so engaged for so long. I didn’t write the answer down, but this was, more or less, her answer:

We create employee freedom by not surrounding our employees with rules. At the same time making sure they understand the culture and what we are trying to achieve.

That sentence resonated with me. I am not surprised given my writing on outcome management and the fact that this is what I wrote a few months back as one of my lessons from Barry Schwartz’s talk at TED:

Let them to the job – people work differently. They produce the same outcomes differently. Don’t interfere. Don’t make up rules. Maybe, as Barry says, don’t even create incentives (I am not sure I totally agree with that one). Don’t try to make them do the job the way you would have done it. Give them the intellectual and mental space to work it on their own. Provide support and training but don’t create rules about the specific job. If phase one was done correctly, they will find the way to produce the outcomes you required.

Then, I read what Seth Godin wrote in Tom Peters‘ Blog about excellence (The post appeared in my RSS reader but is no longer available on the Tom Peters blog, the link is to another source on the web):

When the Ritz-Carlton hotel empowers every employee from chambermaid to manager to “make things right,” they’re not engaging in the sort of quality control most managers are comfortable with. In fact, if they were able to write down exactly what to do in every situation, the excellence factor would disappear. What the hotel accomplishes with its policy is this: they challenge their employees to become artists.

Another way to put all of this (not mine, Dan Pink’s): Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose. I am really waiting to read his new book (and not only me: 1, 2) to read more about these concepts, as I think they really encompass how managers should treat their employees. Just to start you thinking. Don’t you think that saying we should give our employees Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose is the same as saying not to create rules for them?


Shorts: Incentive Intelligence on not telling people what to do

Paul Hebert from Incentive Intelligence writes a post called The Secret Motivation Program Your Manager Doesn’t Want You To Know About:

I’m guessing 90% of the failure to engage teams is about managers telling people how to do things instead of focusing on the why.  In most cases people can figure something out if they know why it’s important.  Managers typically spend more time telling people how instead of why.  Tell your folks why they do what they do and then get out of the way.

Totally agree. Outcome management, not giving answers and taking hurdles out of the way, are to competencies managers need to master. Urgently.


Earning not winning

Photo: Dave Bullock (eecue)

I am a regular reader of the Incentive Intelligence blog and enjoy it very much. Today, I read a really interesting post about the negative use of the word “but” titled: Incentives AND Recognition – Forbes Article AND Some Thoughts. You should read it. I was distracted by one sentence in the post, representing an idea Paul writes about in his blog a lot:

Incentive programs are NOT contests and awards are earned NOT won

The last part of the sentence is so important and so powerful I get blown away by it every time I read it. Some might say this only semantics. But semantics have power. I wrote this in my e-book:

In her book, “Mindset: The New Psychology of Success“, Psychology Professor Carol Dweck, describes a study she and her colleagues conducted with adolescences. They gave a few hundred students a non verbal IQ test. When the students finished the test, they praised them for their results. Some students were praised for their ability: “Wow, that is a really good score, you must be really smart“. Other students were praised for their effort: “Wow, that is a really good score, you must have worked really hard“. Both groups had equal scores to begin with, but after the praise the groups began to differ.

Students who were praised for their ability were not inclined to taking on new tasks. They did not want to expose their flaws. They wanted to keep their smart appearances. In contrast, the group that was praised for their effort showed a different behavior, they actually asked for new challenging tasks to handle!

After interviewing the groups, the researchers gave a new test, much harder this time. The ability group reported feelings of failure. Most of them, when asked to describe their feelings of failure, said: “We are not so smart after all”. More importantly, the ability group, who reported enjoyment of the first test, told the researchers they did not enjoy the second one. In contrast to the ability group’s reaction to the second difficult test, the effort group did not see their lesser results at the second test as failure. When confronted with their failure in the second test they mostly said: “we will just need to put in more effort in order to succeed”. More importantly, they reported enjoyment from both tests. Even the one they failed!

Later, both groups were given an easy test again. The ability group performed worse than it did in the first test. They lost their faith in their ability. The effort group actually performed better than it had done in the first test. They used the harder test to enhance their skill. Not only did they enjoy the ride, in the long run, it improved their outputs.

We need to acknowledge, everyday, the results are not a windfall. They do not just happen. They come out of hard work. And it is the hard work that we want to incentivize. Not every type of hard work of course, but hard work that leads, in the long term, to desired results.

A few days ago I wrote about the difference between decisions and outcomes. And while I believe in outcome management I am also a big believer in the idea of processes. Not standardized processes that confine people in bureaucratic prisons. Individualized processes that are the product of experience, thinking and the understanding of our own uniqueness. And the only way to do that is focus on the effort and the work we put in the created the desired results.

Nothing worth gaining is ever gained without effort. And the effort is the important part of gaining it. As usual, my epic fantasy readings give me another perspective. In Best Served Cold Joe Abercrombie writes:

…It was what you gave out that made a man, not what you got back…


Bad decisions and bad outcomes

Photo by jeffwesse

I was reading this post today in the Nudge Blog about something that happened in the NFL league this week (a decision made by Bill Belichick). Honestly, I don’t really understand the NFL lingo, but one quote in the post caught my eyes:

“Well, he went for it and it didn’t work. Then his team lost a game it was winning by six points with two minutes left.  We don’t need any more proof then that to know it was a dumb decision, no matter what any stat geeks claim. This isn’t calculus calls. This is the NFL.”

In my blog I wrote a number of times about the idea of outcome management. Instead of telling your employees how to do the job you need them to do, just explain to them what the final needed outcome is and let them do it their way. Then judge them according to the results.

But judging results does not mean that we should ignore efforts or processes. In a football game, just like in real life, people have to make many decisions under pressure. Sometimes the outcomes of those decisions are positive and sometime they are not. But even if the outcome is negative it does not necessarily mean that decision was wrong. It just means it led to an unwanted outcome. And vice versa. Good decisions could lead to bad outcomes.

Failure is an important part of growing, learning and improving (also see here). As long as we learn from it. If we only look at the outcome, we might miss the real lesson for next time. The problem is, only decisions are under our control, while outcomes are always subject to chance. So while determining the process for our employees is not the best of ideas, helping them learn to improve their process, by assessing it together, is the right way to go.

So, before you decide that your employees made a “dumb decision” look for more evidence than the mere fact that team lost the game.


What did you learn today?


Photo by Rick

I urge you to read this blog post by Naomi Simson describing the main points from Joe John Duran‘s lecture at the Entrepreneur Organization event in Barcelona. Most of the points reminded me of the things I constantly write about in this blog. I actually felt it is a good summary of what I believe in. The fact that similar lessons come from a serial entrepreneur who talks about personal life balance makes me proud and happy.

Two of my favourite quotes:

If you have to tell people how to do something you have got the wrong people. Tell them what is wanted and let them figure it out for themselves. Decision makers are more expensive but you cannot grow without them

I call this outcome management. We need to remember that the added bonus of this is that people grow up to be capable and creative. Then, the manager’s job is about communicating the right values to take into account in the decision making.

The best ideas come from those that listen the hardest… and have time to be creative. It is important to create an environment of listening. Joe says in his experience women are the best listeners

I think that listening is one of the most important skills to master. Again and again it comes up in stories of success. Successful companies that listen to their customers. Successful managers who listen to their employees. Successful communicators who listen to their audiences. The good thing is you don’t really need to do a lot in order to master it. Talk less. Ask more. That’s it. Everyday ask yourself – what is the one thing I learned today from/about my employees? If you can come up with one good answer every day, the effects will start to appear soon enough.


Lessons on teamwork from “Mistborn”


Photo by Wikipedia

I mentioned in the past that I am a keen Epic Fantasy reader. I am constantly amazed by how accurately the authors of some of these books describe the complex concepts of leadership and management. I was reading the fascinating “Mistborn” by Brandon Sanderson and came across these few lines:

“All right, let’s talk. We’ve got something of a task ahead of ourselves, and the sooner we begin outlining a plan, the better”.

“I thought you had a plan,” Yeden said uncomfortably.

“I have a framework,” Kelsier said. “I know what needs to happen, and I have a few ideas on how to do it. But, you don’t gather a group like this and just tell them what to do. We need to work this out together, beginning with the list of problems we need to deal with if we want the plan to work”.

What are the lessons I see in these lines?

  • Outcome management – this is a concept I wrote about a few times before. Good managers give a framework and desired outcomes and don’t tell their team how to do the work. The teammates usually know better.
  • Respect your team – no matter who you are working with, they are people, they have abilities, ideas and personality. And they are unique. As one of my Professors once said: “there is no one person who is as smart as two people”. Trying to tell your teammates what to do, not only is disrespectful to them, it also kills good ideas.
  • Transparency leads to cooperation – if people are a part of the process, they understand the big picture, their role in it and how it relates to the roles of others. It not only creates physiological buy in, but it also improves the efficiency of the process.


Resisting the temptation to give answers


Photo by walknboston

There are lessons you learn and that you need to be constantly reminded of. A few months ago, I wrote this:

The conventional wisdom that a manager needs to say to its employees how to do their work is already intertwined into people’s expectations. Just the same way people think that there is one best way to write a speech, give a presentation, use notes or get the audience attention, while there isn’t, people expect their manager to tell them how to do their work.

Today, in class, as a part of a workshop dealing with adaptive leadership, we read an article by Ronald A. Heifetz and Donald L. Laurie, which had this sentence in it:

We all – superiors and subordinates alike – have to change our expectations for dispensing and receiving definitive answers.

As someone who used to spend a lot of time teaching, I know how big the temptation is. Someone asks a question. You know the answer. Actually, you know three times what is needed to give the answer. And you are tempted to immediately give that answer. The problem is, if you want a good process of teaching, you should (in many cases) divert the question back to asker or to the entire class and create a process of self learning.

Management (or as many people call it, leadership, but I won’t go there in this post) is exactly the same. 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.

So, are you able to resist the temptation?