I remember attending a workshop for managers presented by Stephen Covey when he asked the question “At what level are your staff resources being utilized?” He directed people to raise their hands if it was 95%, 80% and so on. Sadly, of the 800 plus people in attendance, very few could claim any substantial use of these resources. Covey made his point. It emphasized to me that really no-one (statistically speaking) believes that they are exploiting (in the good sense) the talents and possible contributions of their people. The tragedy here is that this is a lose-lose situation. People long to be a part of something that is significant, and companies want highly performing teams that produce results. This combination is not so common. I left wondering if it were really possible to attain such a lofty goal.
My study of the humanities over the years has convinced me that it is possible, when we both understand and know how to truly incent human beings, and actually put it into practice. The principles are actually very simple, yet it’s hard to obtain. Why? It’s because truth is apparent, but it’s not intuitive. I liken the task to be somewhat similar to training a Golden Retriever. When training a dog, you have to use positive incentives and stimulus that reinforces good behavior. If you want him to sit by the door and use your back yard for his bathroom, it will not help to beat him with a rolled up newspaper until he gets it right. One has to be patient, use treats and encouragement, to convert the animal into man’s best friend. People are much the same—they do not respond to, or appreciate being shamed, guilted or punished to perform well. If we can see clearly how it works in the animal world, then why is it so hard to do with humans?
The fact is, there are some professional practices and techniques that really work. After we adopted Bailey, our Golden Retriever, I took him to an obedience class and learned from the experts how to turn this beast into one of the most obedient and pleasant household pets. I could not have done it on my own. What I was taught made sense, but actually putting the principles into practice was tough. To truly develop the unrealized potential of our staff, we must, as managers, use the following incentives:
– Make them think. We call them out through discovery-based probing, by asking questions of them rather than giving them answers. It’s just like a college test. If we know we have to pass the test to graduate, we will study the material. No test I’ve ever taken began by giving me the answers. Telling bosses must convert their knowledge base into curious questioning that makes the staff member think. Once the manager finds good thinking, he must give that person a reward. It’s called encouragement.
– Create a career path. True delegation is a staff development system. We should delegate primarily to develop the unrealized potential in our staff, versus working to just get stuff off our plates. The best way to do this is to employ levels of freedom for tasks we want to transition, then use the questioning process above to cultivate good judgment in them, which will translate into good decisions through repetition. Using a professional roles and responsibilities process works like a charm.
– Provide stretch assignments. Using the battery of wholesome human incentives, as in athletic training, we build muscle and competency at one level, then “push” them to go further. When I first started to run as a way to stay healthy, I never imagined I could actually complete a marathon. Twenty two races later, I’ve learned to love the 26.2 course, and find it somewhat normal. We can all do much more than we think we can. We need a good coach (professional manager) to believe in us and encourage us along the way. It’s a process of cultivation that involves patience, time, and hard work. Only, they (our staff) have to do the hard work—the thinking, making judgments and the actual performing.
As mentioned above, to grow in academic prowess, as students we are provided materials (classroom training and books), but when it comes to applying that knowledge, we face tests. To review: the “tests” we provide our staff are in managerial questioning in the delegation and stretch request process—it develops unrealized potential. To short circuit that process, frustrate both boss and employee, and with shame hide rather than raise our hand at the next Stephen Covey like management seminar, just be a telling boss. High performing teams are cultivated over time; it’s a process that involves professional management skills and techniques focused on known human incentives. Does it make sense? Yes. Is it easy? No.
Coaching questions: Where might you being employing the “newspaper” therapy with your staff? How might you better incent them to be happy, loyal, performing employees? Write your answers in your journal.