If You Chase Two Rabbits, You Will Not Catch Either One


After a manager presented the departments’ ten objectives for the upcoming quarter, a supervisor asked, “Which are the most important?”

“All are important,” the manager replied.  “We have to achieve all of them.”

Another employee said, “Sometimes, we get surprises and it may not be possible to achieve everything.”

“Yes,” added another, “and some are in conflict.  When there is a quality issue, do I fix the glitch and miss the on-time; or do I ship on-time, knowing the product may be returned?”

The manager stated, “I expect you to make every effort to achieve all of the objectives.”

The manager’s comment shut down the discussion but did not address the issue.  No one believes all of the objectives are equally important.  To paraphrase a quote from George Orwell’s novel, ANIMAL FARM, “All of the objectives of the department are equal but some of the objectives are more equal than others.”

For an agricultural promotion, a state representative said, “We are Number One in egg production but not Number One in chicken production.  You can’t be Number One in both of those.”

We achieve great things by laser-firing our efforts toward being good at one thing at the time.  “If you chase two rabbits, you will not catch either one,” states an old proverb.

How to Motivate Employees with Pseudo-Set Framing


“Things occur in three’s and seven’s.”  This phrase rings in my ears when I train my pup to point and hold birds.  I first heard the phrase while attending famed-trainer, Delmar Smith’s workshop for amateur dog trainers.

Successful dog training requires mind-numbing, repetitive activities.  To stay focused, I set targets of completing three sets of seven’s; sometimes I vary it to seven sets of three’s.

Many years later, I read in the “Journal of Experimental Psychology” that researchers Kate Barasz and others report that people have an irrational need to complete “sets” of things. Their experiments show that pseudo-set framing (describing things as groups) significantly improves results.

Rather than asking employees to perform the same task hundreds of time during a work day, consider breaking the tasks into groups of ten’s or twenty’s.

You seek a twelve percent improvement in some performance metric; break the request into four phases with each phase representing three percent.  If your team is in tenth place, challenge them to improve three places.  Then ask for three more.

How do you eat the whole elephant?  Take three bites at the time.  Think “sweet sixteen,” “six pack,” “two for the price of one,” “top ten,” “one dozen,” “five, ten, fifteen . . .”

How to Respond When Squeezed Between Boss and Employee Requests


Top managers, in different organizations, discussed sensitive issues–combining departments, potential layoffs, prospective mergers–with their direct reports. All top managers requested that they “keep this in the room for now.”

In every case, rumors surfaced and employees questioned their immediate managers who made responses like:

“Where did you hear that?”

“I’m not at liberty to talk about that.”

“I’ll let you know something when I know something.”

“If I were you, I’d just do my job and not worry about rumors.”

These responses, and other similar ones, do two things. One, mid-managers maintain loyalty to their bosses by “keeping the information in the room.” Two, although unintended, the responses actively encourage employees to believe the rumors and pass along grossly exaggerated versions.

Unfortunately, managers too often find themselves squeezed between their bosses’ requests and employees’ questions. While it is not always possible, I suggest that managers strive to honor their bosses’ while maintaining employee confidences.

For example, “While I do not have an answer for you at this point, I want you to know that we are seeking decisions that best serve our customers while valuing our employees.”

Do You Practice Seagull Management?


VP Roberto surprised Julia with a request.  “I need a plan that will reduce headcount in your department by ten percent.”

Several times, Julia approached Roberto to discuss options.  Each time Roberto responded with something like, “I’m pretty busy.  Give me your best plan and I’ll look at it.”

After considerable thought, Julia produced a plan for ten percent reduction.

Roberto responded, “We have too many supervisors.  You need to lose some supervisors.  I don’t want all of the shrinkage from employees.”

Julia responded, “I will be relying heavily on my experienced supervisors.  There is going to be a lot of confusion when we start realigning duties.  And I can’t just demote a supervisor and expect to get the commitment we need.”

“I can’t accept the plan,” Roberto said.  “I’ll take it from here.”

Roberto’s eventual decision had no resemblance to Julia’s plan.  Of course, the department was confused and disheartened.  Turmoil continued for many months.

Roberto could have eased some of the confusion had he stayed more engaged with Julia.  But Roberto chose to exemplify Ken Blanchard’s seagull management—he flew in, made a lot of noise, dumped on everyone and then flew out.

Why Waste Time Writing Job Descriptions?


Ambrose’s manager asked him to complete an analysis for a customer by a certain date.

Ambrose responded, “I don’t think that is in my job description.”

I do not remember referring to job descriptions when making decisions.  Nor have I seen other managers dig out job descriptions to justify decisions.  Many companies, perhaps wisely so, do not even have written descriptions.

I am aware that job descriptions may become evidence when someone questions an employment practice.  However, I’m not sure descriptions sufficiently clarify issues.

Although he recommends written descriptions, attorney Jonathan Sigel, says that federal law does NOT require them.

Here are a few problems created by written job descriptions:

  • Too general and too out-of-date to be meaningful
  • Good applicants do not apply because they do not meet ALL requirements
  • They become tools for laggards who wish to avoid tasks
  • Too much time and cost for writing, revising, and updating
  • Brief, written summaries cannot describe ALL aspects of a job

I would guess there have been job descriptions on file for every position that I have held.  But I have never referred to the file to determine what I should do.  Have you?

Is There a Fourth of July in England?


“Do they have a Fourth of July in England?”

Two of three responders answer, “Yes.”

When I asked a large group in managers in Canada, “Do you have a Fourth of July in Canada?”

Eight of ten said “No.”

We discussed the issue for a while, and a person commented, “I think they do have a Fourth of July in England, but it’s in August sometime.”

This exchange represents a common and frustrating aspect of human communication.  Employees sometimes resist management communications, not necessarily because they disagree; but because they make different assumptions.  For example, do you assume “July 4” to be a calendar day or a national holiday?”

While we commonly assume that words have the same meanings to all, this is often not the case.  For example, we use the simple word “run” to mean very different things.    “Let’s run to the store,” “My watch has run down,” “We scored three runs,” “Nice trout stream run,”  “Running after kids,”  “Run in my stockings,” and many, many more.

When there is apparent disagreement, the first action should be to explore and explain the assumptions of each party.  Rather than assume disagreement, start the conversation with, “What did you interpret my message to mean?”  A reply might be, “Here is what I intended for it to mean?”

Can We Just Eliminate Performance Improvement Plans (PIP’s)?


“I was put on a performance improvement plan,” an employee reported.  “My manager thought that I should have higher satisfaction ratings from my current accounts.  He gave me a detailed checklist of what I should do, and I had to report my results daily.”

The employee said he became discouraged and the entire team (You cannot keep these things secret.) worried and fretted excessively.  The employee eventually quit and moved to another company where he had a successful career.

From my observations, more than eighty percent of employees on PIP’s earn a termination notice or they quit.  Less than one in ten improve performance.

Here is the dirty little secret about PIP’s.  Managers use PIP’s almost exclusively for sub-par performers.   The intent is to create a lawsuit-proof paper trail to justify termination.  I understand this need; but you can document bad performance without creating paper-stacked, time-eating PIP’s.

If you are disappointed with an employee’s performance, tell the person what disappoints you and what you expect.  Suggest ways to improve. Root for the employee’s success.  Make a note with time, date and items discussed.  Copy your boss and the employee.  In less than five minutes, you have begun your paper trail.