Doing it right

I am reading a fantastic business book at the moment, which I heartily recommend: Danny Meyer’s Setting the Table: The Transforming Power of Hospitality in Business. He says a lot of brilliant things about business and no doubt I will keep coming back to this book in future posts.

One thing stands out in a chapter on management. Meyer talks about putting ‘a premium on outward and unequivocal messages of approval’, and cites Kenneth Blanchard’s The One Minute Manager, saying that it’s the manager’s job to

catch people in the act of doing things right

A less enlightened approach to people management would have it that the manager is there to make sure staff don’t mess things up, or don’t get away with a sub-standard performance. As if, when the boss is away, the mice will just slack off and do a rubbish job and then head to the pub for drinks and a moan about work.

I subscribe to the more ‘Theory Y’ idea of management, that people are inherently motivated to do a good job. We all have bad days, but no-one really gets up in the morning and thinks, “I’m going to do a terrible job today.” That is, unless something has gone really wrong in their relationship with their workplace or all motivation has died a horrible death.

Deep-down, people want to do good work but above all they want to be recognised for it. The best feedback I ever received was from a senior manager at a Japanese firm who, on his way to a meeting, came up to my desk clutching a printed copy of an email I’d just sent him advising on a tricky employment issue, and, brandishing it in my face said: “This – is good.” In his rudimentary English, he had made my day. With only a few words, he had valued and recognised my work more than any at-length appraisal meeting could have done.

Danny Meyer’s take on this idea is to extend it by requiring his managers to not only catch somebody on their team doing something right, but to tell him about it so as the CEO of the company he can personally let that person know the work was noticed and provide encouragement himself. To be recognised for good work is great, but to be singled out by the boss’s boss as doing a great job, is a genuinely powerful motivator.

Quite often managers can stop at trying to ensure their own success, and will take praise for themselves when things go right. To truly enhance your staff motivation and secure genuine commitment, you need to outwardly demonstrate positive reinforcement. Don’t just expect your staff to do things right, make it your mission to catch them at it and let them know!


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