Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Old-fashioned Management Memes: No Surprises / Be the Ball

The wrong surprises
wreck everything

What do I know?

Feel free to look me up here.

meme mēm noun: an element of a culture or system of behavior that may be considered to be passed from one individual to another by non-genetic means, esp. imitation.

As a manager (and reader of a bunch of stuff) for the past 20 years, I have had requests for management tips. Some things work; some don't. Some are magical wins. Some are spectacular failures. Your mileage may vary. Whatever the case, these techniques have worked magic for me, time and time again.

Get this in your head: If you don't WANT to manage, you're pretty much gonna suck at it. Helping people succeed is a labor of love



Probably doesn't like
negative surprises
How many times has your manager called you into their office and dressed you down about an issue that happened days (weeks, or months) ago? Shouldn't they have talked to you about it instantly, when it happened, so you weren't caught off guard? 

Have you ever been told that there's some new aspect of your product that was added to the spec list a week ago, but you were never told? 

What about that time you found out that the "still in progress" product has to be demoed in two weeks?

And the worst one of all, the dreaded annual review where you have no idea what your boss is going to tell you?
Can't have one
without the others

Okay, managers, we're going to teach you how you can avoid making your staff feel lousy!

It's really quite easy. There are four simple steps?

Employees should know as much as legally possible. Share everything. Tell them when things are due as early as you can. If it was a surprise to you, tell them that as well. 

Honesty is really the best policyReally. Tell them everything. They can take it. 

That's why you hired them. 

The first thing to do is get a copy of the One Minute Manager and read it thoroughly. Don't worry; even you can finish that book in a few hours. Really. 

It takes a while to
learn how to coach
The main point of the One Minute Manager is that you should catch people doing things right. For our purposes here, we'll call that coaching

Coaching them immediately is best! If you can't tell them immediately, make a point of telling them as soon as you notice it. Example: "I saw that new feature in the last build; that was fantastic. Who worked on that?" And then go tell them they did a great job. 

Phrases like "I'd like to see more of that," "I like what you are doing," "That's exactly how we need that done," and other SPECIFIC, POSITIVE comments are great for coaching.

The second take away from that book is that you should always encourage people to correct their mistakes and never get mad or be negative. We'll call that gardening, because we're weeding out non-positive behavior.

The garden grows when
it is allowed to grow
When you are gardening, you want to say things like "Maybe we could try to (insert SPECIFIC, POSITIVE direction)," "That's good, but I'd like to see you (insert SPECIFIC, POSITIVE direction)," "Let's see if you can adjust the (insert SPECIFIC, POSITIVE direction)," and other SPECIFIC, POSITIVE comments are great for gardening. 

As a manager, your job is to be a coach and gardener; it is not to be a megalomaniacal micro manager.

Being a coach and a gardener is not easy, and your skill at this role is going to determine how well your team succeeds. It also makes performance reviews a piece of cake. Everyone knows how they are doing at any time. There are no surprises.

There is a fundamental purpose to being a manager that drives all of your decisions. You have to know what you want. This is a challenge in itself sometimes, but it is up to YOU to get it right.

This allows you the ability to set expectations that are perfectly clear to your staff. 

What I mean by "know what you want" is that as a project leader or manager, your role is to envision the project completed. You may not know all of the details, but you should have a picture in your mind of the end goal. Your staff should know their part in the effort

That's why you hired them. 

When you set these goals appropriately, you can accurately advise your staff as they begin and continue to work on the project. 

This is where it all comes together.

When you can look over someone's shoulder, know for a fact that it matches your needs and goals for the project, and you tell them as soon as you see the alignment, you're a Master Coach.

When you look at their work product, realize that it is not up to your expectations, and you provide them with clear, actionable feedback to direct them toward the project's goals, you're a Master Gardener.

When you know what you want and have mastered both skills, you are, for all intents and purposes, the project's heart and soul. You have Become the Ball

Your staff wants to do a good job. The only way they know they are doing the right thing is if you tell them. 

A clearly specific goal encourages a feeling of confidence and results in their best work. 

Creating an environment where the only surprises are delightful results in amazing productivity just may surprise you with a staff that hope to work with you forever. Really. 

"It's no big deal."
Your mission is to "Avoid missing ball for high score":

  • Tell the truth.
  • Know what you want.
  • Catch people doing things correctly and tell them immediately!
  • Refocus unwanted effort toward to the needs of the project. 
  • Be the ball.
Let me know what you think in the comments below!


  1. I made a few edits based upon suggestions of a friend. Thank you, Cherie!

  2. Great stuff, Billy, especially the "no surprises." Nobody likes working in an environment where the only time they know how their doing at their job is when they get dinged for going off course.


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