Agitate, don’t Stir!

Shiny pearl in the shell on the beach

“Those who are easily shocked should be shocked more often.” – Mae West

 3 Management Practices For Creating Purposeful Urgency and Pearls

Having a team member apparently content to retire on the job is not an uncommon situation for many managers. The employee may simply not be aware that moss is growing on their back or a country named Greece has fallen on bad times. Their mental maps may need upgrading.

Drifting into comfortable patterns of behavior is natural for individuals, teams, and organizations; however, competitive innovation and complacency cannot co-exist. Innovation requires creative tension and conflict. Complacency, by nature, develops immunity to outside tensions.

Managers who successfully create purposeful urgency have an acute understanding of basic physics.

The Law of Inertia, or, My People are in a Rut

Newton’s first law of motion basically states – there’s a natural tendency of objects (your people) to just keep on doing what they’ve been doing, unless acted upon by an unbalanced force. YOU, the manager, are the unbalancing force!

Effective managers, of course, never use force or coercion to persuade others; they leverage their hard-earned trusting relationships to influencing others into new ways of operating.

Still, it’s very common for a manager to inherit a low-performing team where there’s not time to build trust, prior to setting necessary new, bold directions. My experience is that engaging new team members in candid, transparent, and respectful dialogue actually builds trust fastest. Why?

Most under-performing teams didn’t arrive in this handicapped state by market forces. Their performance crept downward, led by unfit management. Teams crave clear and courageous leadership. Your ability to create purposeful urgency and clear direction offers hope. Trust always follows on the heels of leader credibility.

3 Management Practices for Creating Pearls 

1. Agitate, Don’t Stir. Agitating your people is intentionally disrupting their current view of reality. In the best sense, agitating your people is engaging them in honest dialogue about the business consequences of not changing. Agitation is not causing careless duress by contriving burning platforms for change. Agitation is declaring a future that doesn’t currently exist; it’s the vision thing. You are the irritation that initiates the pearl-forming process.

There’s a time to ask and there’s a time to tell. This practice leverages the latter skill. Vision requires leadership clarity. Ideally, the vision setting process has been highly collaborative, involving front-line staff. But at the end of the day a decision made is a course set.

Awareness is an antecedent of change. The effective manager makes a compelling business case why embracing the status quo is dangerous. She creates cognitive dissonance; appreciating that discomfort is the solution, not the enemy. Actively playing the role of a grain of sand requires management resiliency and courage.

2. Imbed Emotions and Engage. People learn best with stories and visuals. Data rarely changes behaviors. If “wearing hard hats” is the new mandatory future, then show your people a video of like workers wearing hard hats at a respected industry leader known for their safety records and high employee morale.

Have your people listen to the stories of employees who journeyed the change path successfully. Engage your people in a rigorous dialogue about the implications. Be transparent. Respond authentically to their concerns.

Most (sane) people do not expect their opinion to carry the day, however, people do expect to be heard openly and with empathy. That is, if you want their buy-in. Leaders know there is tectonic difference between compliance and commitment.

3. Apply Constant, Gentle, Pressure. This is the leadership and management philosophy of famed restaurateur Danny Meyer (Setting the Table: The Transforming Power of Hospitality in Business.)

Effective managers and leaders apply steady pressure on the standards-of-excellence gas pedal, not on people’s necks.

Meyer equates these three leadership dimensions to the legs of a stool – an absence or weakness in any one guarantees operational mediocrity.

 “Go Slow, to Go Smooth, to Go Fast”

 Remember, people do not fear change. They fear change that is too big and too fast. Applying these practices, thoughtfully, ensures your people do not rest on their laurels. After all, the customer doesn’t care how good you were yesterday.

Treat Your People Like Really Smart Rats, and, 3 Other Manager Tips

HiResDo you wonder why a few of your handpicked team members can’t seem to escape the gravitational pull of sub-par performance? Do you unconsciously use human attribution theory to explain and judge your people’s lackluster performance or failings?

Perhaps the problem is not with your people but with your own belief systems, and possibly, your training and coaching skills. Your skill sets regarding human potential and motivation may need a software upgrade.

High performing managers are keenly aware that their expectations of their people often become self-fulfilling. When others fall short of achievable performance results the emotionally intelligent manager first looks in the mirror to reflect on potential flaws in their thinking and competencies.

These Rats Are Really Smart!

A lab experiment was conducted to measure experimenter expectancy on rats maze running abilities. Two groups of unsuspecting students (the rat handlers) were informed that one group of rats were bred to be “maze bright” and the other group “maze dull,” when in fact the entire group were standard lab rats divided randomly.

The rats labeled “bright,” well, made the podium. The expectation of the rat handlers influenced the rats’ performance. Nuts, right? Apparently the “bright” rats were handled differently and thought to them selves “I’m smart, people like me, and I’m going to crush this maze course today.”

Management Self-Fulfilling Prophecies

 Effective managers and elite coaches embrace the Pygmalion Effect (see HBR article – Pygmalion in Management) – believing that most employees’ performance will rise or fall to their leader’s level of expectations. Believe it. In medicine, this phenomenon of human expectancy and results is accepted as the placebo effect.

However, do not confuse genuine belief in people’s innate abilities with Pollyanna thinking. The effective manager deals in reality on the ground, not naivety, or unfiltered positive bias.

Believing that people are capable of producing great results puts the manager squarely on the hook for three heavy-lifting accountabilities:

  1. Recruiting and Retaining Top Talent. Effective managers do stay up at night worrying appropriately that they have the right team on the bus, knowing that their organizations are only as strong as their weakest employee. As undeniably brilliant Steve Jobs was, his real mastery was in selecting really smart and capable people (it’s reported that Steve personally conducted over 5,000 interviews). Impetuous in his early years, Steve evolved into a great manager.
  2. Embodying High Performance Expectations for Producing Excellent Products and Services. Great managers are tough on principles and standards but gentle on their people. People have an innate desire to be successful, however, many have never been called upon to be great. Wholeheartedly believing in the potential of others is the greatest service a manager can perform.
  1. Becoming a Master Teacher and Coach. The loss of an individual’s hidden talent was named the 8th Deadly Waste in Toyota’s Lean Manufacturing system. Being skilled at selecting top talent only brings the manager and his or her team part way up the performance mountain. “Sweeney’s Miracle,” drives home the mandatory requirement that managers believe in the ability to train and motivate others to high achievement. Simple belief in people’s potential, minus capable training and teaching, falls into the categories of hopes and dreams.

Manage Around High Standards, Never Personality or Tenure

 Davie was a rising star in my restaurant. He possessed natural talent, had a positive attitude, and was a rare 15-year-old workhorse. He was rapidly promoted; along with commensurate pay increases to the very demanding sauté cook position by the time he was 17 years old.

Unfortunately, Davie’s maturity didn’t keep pace with his talent. He became cocky, became undisciplined in following strict menu standards, and became less open to feedback. Under my radar, he quietly built a power base with the younger kitchen crew who, not surprisingly, adapted his cavalier attitude (I’ll write soon about to prevent these workplace snake pits).

Managing Love Wolves Puts Your Credibility On The Line

 After giving Davie several sincere course-correcting opportunities he chose the lone ranger path – not an option in our team-oriented kitchen culture. A Top Gun will always test your principles, values, and management fortitude.

Davie was an exceptional kid and, like most of us, was full of insecurities. My unshakable belief in his abilities to take on more responsibilities never wavered, even when he made mistakes, and he made plenty.

His achievements might not have fully manifested had I simply expected greatness out of him. However, my resolute believe combined with his steady progress in our Kitchen Professional training program, Davie’s capabilities blossomed.

Belief + High Expectations + Training = Sustained Performance

 Start speaking and caring for your people as if they were really smart rats, while establishing and enforcing clear performance expectations. Commit to becoming an effective and inspiring teacher and coach. Your people will start winning the maze course called work and you’ll establish yourself as a credible leader worth following.