How talk went from dangerous to cheap

A long time ago (well, not that long ago), we could hear managers say things like “I don’t care how you do it, just get it done.”

Some time later, they understood the dangers of saying such things and stopped saying them.

Eventually, some managers started to say things like “It’s important that we meet these goals the right way.” This is pretty much where we are today.

This last evolution is important but still falls far short of where we need to be. Without more specificity, employees are left to guess what the “right way” means for their supervisor. And, what if it means nothing to them? What if these words are not credible when everything else about the organization suggests that goals must be met at all costs?

Today, managers must go beyond words and take action. One of the best actions they can take is to ask employees, before they set out to meet a goal, “How will you meet this goal?” As Dov Seidman says, “How we do things is just as important as what we do.”

Take this typical scenario:

  • It’s January. The sales manager presents the quarterly goals to her team and says “We need to meet these goals and we need to do it the right way.” One of her sales rep comes to her and says “I really don’t think we can meet these goals. The market just isn’t there in Q1.” She responds “You are a great sales rep. I know you can do it. Go out there and get them! But remember, do it the right way.”
  • In February, the sales rep comes back to his manager and says “Boss, the product is simply not moving. We won’t be able to meet these goals.” To which she responds “You are the most capable sales rep on the team. I believe in you. I know you can do it. But remember, do it the right way.”
  • The end of Q1 arrives and the sales rep proudly announces that he’s met his goals for the quarter. With a huge smile, his manager gives him a high-five and says “See! I told you you could do it! Great job! Way to get your bonus!”

Can you see what’s wrong with this picture? How can a manager not ask her employee how he met his goals after he repeatedly complained that the goals could not be met?

In fact, by the time the goals are met, it might be too late to ask how he did it. A good manager will ask the “how” question before sending his team into the field.

Saying the right things feels great today because for so long managers were quiet about ethics and compliance. But talk is cheap – and sometimes ineffective.

To create the right culture, managers need to take action, which often comes in the form of asking the right questions.

Even when they know they won’t like the answer.

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