Justify Your Decision With One or Two–Not Ten or Twelve–Reasons

“I don’t understand why I didn’t get the assignment,” explained a frustrated employee.  “I’ve been here longer than Able.”

The manager responded, “You have but I also considered recent work history, knowledge of the client, current work load, opportunity costs, and familiarity with the new software program.”

“My work history is fine.  You have not allowed me much opportunity to work with this client.”

“Yes, but this client makes extensive use of a new software package and Able is more familiar with the program.”

“I’ve used the program since it has been required.”

“Most of your clients make minimal use of the program.”

“Why do you think Able has more knowledge of the client?  I’ve known the client company longer than Able.”

“You do have more history but not so much with their new purchasing manager.”

And the point-counter-point arguments continued.  The more reasons the manager gave to support his decision, the more frustrated the employee became.

It is generally more persuasive to offer one or two justifications when explaining a decision.  If an employee does not honor justification number one, your list of eight more reasons will not likely persuade.  Usually, more reasons equal more disagreements.


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 . . .”

Leaders May Sometimes Need to Temporarily “Burn” a Relationship

“I have a good relationship with Fred,” the manager commented.  “He is a good performer and team player, but he continues making excuses for not using our new scheduling system.”

“What are Fred’s reasons for not using the system?”

“I’m not sure Fred’s concerns are legitimate, but he says the new system requires too much documentation and takes too much time.”

“Does Fred’s failure to comply cause problems?”

“Oh yes!  We have to do time-consuming work-arounds.”

“Tell Fred that you will treat failure to comply as insubordination.”

“He would not like that.  It would surely dent our relationship.”

The manager is very conflicted.  Maintaining a good relationship means extra work and sets a bad example for others.  Requiring compliance burns a good relationship with a high performer.

Effective leaders are both demanding and friendly.  But sometimes they must require others (even friends) to do things they resist.  Such actions may cause the relationship needle to point south.

If fractured relationships reach critical mass, staff may in effect “fire” the leader.  Resisting staffers apply so much pressure that higher authorities decide they are better off with the leader being gone.

When leaders consciously sacrifice relationships in service to the mission, it is imperative that these leaders, in the following weeks, make every effort to restore their relationships.


To Get “Buy-In,” Ask People To Do What They Are Capable of Doing

Shortly after Julie Walsh assumed the role of plant manager, she discussed with her front-line supervisors the need to reduce rework.

“During the last three quarters,” Julie announced, “only about fifty percent of our product passes all inspections on the first effort.  I think we need to get this down to ten percent by the end of six months.”

“That’s too much,” responded a supervisor.  “We won’t get buy-in from our employees.”

“How do you suggest we get buy-in?”

“Well, I think we need to discuss these metrics with the employees and get their suggestions on what is realistic.”

“Based on my experiences, with the changes we are implementing, I believe this is realistic.”

“You may think the goal is realistic, but I’m not sure our employees think it is.”

Push back is common when leaders ask employees to step up their performances.  Many leaders respond by asking employees for their opinions.  This usually results in some haggling followed by an eventual compromise and grumbling on all sides.

Leaders, in my view, have a good idea of what their people are capable of achieving.  When leaders’ and employees’ perceptions differ, as they often do; I say leaders should stick with their opinions.

At the end of the period, we may hear from employees, “I didn’t think we could do it.”  From leaders, the winning comment is, “I knew you could.”

What? We Get a Turkey?

Turkey(Reprint from 2013)

“The first year we gave our employees a turkey at Christmas, everyone was so appreciative,” explained an owner.  “The second year, around the first of December, employees asked if they were going to get a turkey again.”  They did.  “In Year 3, employees began asking, “When are we going to get our turkey?”

As Christmas gifts to employees, turkeys (along with pears and grapefruits) rate very high.  But they rate high on the list of what not to give!   Don’t misunderstand; I personally like turkeys and hams.  I especially like gifted turkeys and hams, but I’ve heard numerous employees whine about their Christmas turkeys.

“Yeah, we get a turkey.”

“Last year it was pretty small.”

“Ours was frozen.”

“Ours came in late.”

“We got a coupon.  I had to go to the store and pick mine up.”

But I’ve never heard, “You know we need to hurry and finish this project.  In just a few more weeks, we’ll be getting a turkey.”

Why do leaders gift employees with turkeys at Christmas?  If the intent is to improve morale, the act fails.  Increase productivity?  No chance.  Preserve a tradition?  Turkeys become a cost with little benefit.  If the reason is to avoid angering employees over the loss of their turkey, this seems weak to me.

But if you say, “I give my employees turkeys at Christmas because the act creates a warm feeling in my heart,” I say, “Hooray!”  While the gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh were of real material and symbolic value to the baby Jesus, I think the greater value occurred in the hearts and minds of the givers.




To Save Meeting Time, Plan Ahead

proactive-meetings-16“Meetings, meetings, meetings,” exclaimed Rupert.  “If I didn’t have to spend half of my day in meetings, I could get more done.”

“What was the purpose of your last meeting,” I asked.

Rupert said, “We met to select a new vendor.  We immediately began arguing like siblings over who was going to sit in the front seat of the car.  After an hour and a half, we were exhausted but had no solution.  So we adjourned and agreed to address the issue at our next meeting.”

I observe a lot of meetings where people get together, perhaps with an agenda, and all start sharing their opinions spontaneously—not good.

By contrast, I sat with board committee where the purpose was to develop next year’s training plan.  Shortly after the meeting began, Alisson opened a well-organized, three-ring binder and politely talked through a completed list of training topics with purposes, resources, and a tentative schedule.

Although no one had assigned this task to Alisson, all others expressed awe and support for her preparation.  Members quickly supported some parts of Alisson’s plan and recommended modifications for other parts.  In short-order, the team agreed upon a proposal.

One of the major reasons for long-lasting meetings, I think, is that participants show up and begin creating solutions during the meeting.  Meetings are more productive, not to mention quicker, when members come with thought-out, tentative proposals.  Members then devote time to critiquing and improving rather than creating from scratch.