Tuesday, November 21, 2006

What Great Managers Do

I am just getting around to writing about an article from the March 2005 issue of the Harvard Business Review by Marcus Buckingham. It is adapted from his book The One Thing You Need to Know which is on my reading list. This article hits on a number of areas that I have been involved with over the last few months.

I’ve been reflecting on managing people lately. I’ve been involved in a startup call center in Flordia. We are also deploying a new phone switch which allows us to make outbound “telemarketing” calls. I’ve been “managing” that whole process. It is similar to herding cats. I’ve spent time working, hands-on with the agents, trying to teach them how to “sell”. I’ve been working with the supervisors, trying to show them what they should be looking for and how to correct it once they find it. I’ve been working with upper management, trying to educate them on outbound dialing.

Great managers find that thing that makes each person a unique and beautiful snowflake…and then exploits it. (In the nicest sense of the word.) This is the opposite of what leaders do: they find the common thread between everyone/thing…and exploit it.

Managers capitalize on each person’s uniqueness. This is critical to success for three reasons.

  1. It saves time. Divvying up tasks to those that have special talents is much better than everyone breaking rocks. Someone needs to haul them away. Someone WANTS to haul them away versus breaking the rocks. Find that person.
  2. Once you show yourself to be the best rock-breaker, you have a reputation to uphold. Production lifts. There is no going back. We did this with the startup. The team of a dozen people was averaging 5 sales per night. I spent a week with them, on the floor, in their faces (nicely). When I left, they were averaging 35-40 sales per night. Collectively, as they were devouring the pizza I bought them on my last night, they realized what they had done: they had set the bar for themselves.
  3. It builds a sense of team. The rock-breaker and the rock-hauler have to work together or the breaker (who loves breaking rocks) will end up having to haul her own rocks (which she hates).

Buckingham provides a few tips for identifying strengths in your team members. He advises two simple questions: first, what was the best day you’ve had in the last 3 months? Second, what was the worst? Get at the root cause of both. Understand the driving factors behind each of the answers.

Buckingham quotes Albert Bandura (“the father of social learning theory”) on some insights into motivation indicators:

…self-assurance (labeled “self-efficacy” by cognitive psychologists), not self awareness, is the strongest predictor of a person’s ability to set high goals, to persist in the face of obstacles, to bounce back when reversals occur, and, ultimately, to achieve the goals they set. By contrast, self-awareness has not been shown to be a predictor of any of these outcomes, and in some cases, it appears to retard them.

Buckingham then talks about how to trigger good performance. Recognition. Ah yes, the simplest thing of all, yet always the most difficult. The simple act of saying, “nice job” is consistently viewed as a Herculean task. But even “thank you” is not enough. The author urges us to get deeper. How you recognize an employee? To whom you recognize an employee? Both are critical to keep encouraging high-level performance.

Back to my outbound team. A simple act to build a team dynamic that I use is the simple ringing of a bell. A simple, bell that you would find in a dry-cleaner or motel. Get a sale, ring the bell in front of your peers. Its one of those common denominator things. The team does not sit together for several reasons. But most of them are in the same general area. One night, I noticed a woman had 5 sales. She wasn’t getting up to walk across the center to ring the bell. She was a seasoned pro and didn’t need me high five-ing her when I heard her do something well. I did make it a point to walk by her though and hold up five fingers with a big smile. Apparently, her son works on the team as well. He came up to me the next day and told me how excited his mother was that I recognized her. He said he hadn’t seen her like that in a long time. I recognized her. But just to her.

Finally, the author talks briefly about adult learning styles. There are 3 styles of adult learning: analyzing (pulling it apart, examining it, and piecing it back together), doing (simple trial and error) and watching (needing to see it in action and assimilate it). I spent some time crafting a short training class for these folks. They were all new (6 weeks) to our company, our products, our territories. They were new to the concept of “sales”. They were scared of the term “telemarketing”. (Which is a term I hate to use anyway…we’re calling customers whose contracts have expired or will expire).

I took what I knew and slapped together a powerpoint deck. It took me two one-hour classes to realize that maybe one in ten were actually extracting any value from my training. Half-way through the second class, I had them go out on the floor, take their seats and begin dialing. Then we watched. Those that were panicking, we pulled and had them sit with someone. The buddy system. Those that needed time to digest we’re given it. It worked a lot better. I gave the third class my handout and left them at their seats. They caught on the quickest.

Two weeks later, I am getting questions via email about things in my presentation. They have had time to pull it apart. They have had time to assimilate it. Now they are reading for the advanced class.

This article served as a great reminder. Everyone is different. Everyone responds differently. Everyone is motivated differently. Everyone learns differently. I don’t know about unique and beautiful snowflakes (I used that line from “Fight Club” on one of my team members who is an excellent performer but has issues with authority. She will tell you the sky is green just to argue with you.) though.

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