I sat down to interview Bill Dann on how to manage well, a subject near and dear to the heart of the author of “Creating High Performers”. We covered a lot of ground, so have chosen to divide the interview into two blog posts. In each, he offers lessons, tools and thoughts you can apply now in your role of managing others.
Question: If you were to give your best management advice to a new manager, what would it be and why?
Answer: My advice to a manager at any level would be to understand and then deliver on the pain points your employees are having, i.e., what is preventing them from being as productive as they can be. Being productive is the basis of morale and of a positive sense of self. All of that is the key to high performance. In other words, it is a full-circle: if you can understand and eliminate the pain points your people are having, they in turn will deliver real results for you.
A classic example of this comes from our own Jen Jarvis. She tells it this way: “The first thing I do when I am put in a new position in a new space is to make a general assessment of the top 10 needed fixes from my vantage point. I then ask each of my staff for their top 2-3 needs, in particular the 1 most hated part of their job.
Several years ago, as the new branch manager of a local non-profit, I was going through this survey of staff and discovered that paper shredding files was their biggest pain point. We were a small healthcare provider in the midst of switching from paper to digital files, and shredding the volumes of old client charts, bagging them and hauling them to secure recycling was a tremendous frustration. It had not made my list of needed fixes at all, but was by far their main pain point.
I did the calculations and a little research. One member of my staff was spending 1-2 hours, per day to shred, bag and haul away old files. For $34 a month, at the time, a secure shred provider would pick up our files, shred them and dispose of them. It was a no-brainer. I hired their service, and the paper shredding problem was eliminated for staff.
After the secure shredding started, I gained productivity from staff and saved money. When they saw me take their pain point and fix it, I had them. They would do anything for me because they knew that I took them seriously and they trusted me.
As a manager, you have to create space for your employees to make the changes you are asking of them, because everyone is already at capacity. You can’t make changes until you have made space for those changes in your employees’ days.
Question: What helped you the most when you first were leading?
Answer: Probably communicating that I believed in the potential of the people who worked for me – their unlimited potential. Very few people have experienced that. It motivated them and got them to take some risks. Now, as I talk about in my book, I did that to a fault in that I under-supervised. I didn’t coach, didn’t supervise enough. The risk here is that if I had I started solely with coaching, I would have sent the message to the staff that they were not good enough and needed help. The sweet spot is to begin with the message that “your potential is unlimited”, then follow it with “let me coach you to help you get there.”
Question: In preparation for teaching a management course at Boston University many years ago, you wrote a list of management principles that stemmed from your 14 years as a CEO. What is the most challenging of the 9 Dann Principles of Management?
Answer: The 1st principle: “There is another side to every issue”. This principle comes out of the reality that managers/leaders often have a personal need to feel like they are all knowing, in order to maintain their self-esteem and hold their position as “overseer” of others. When a leader has that need, it is extremely difficult for them to be wrong. And when being wrong is difficult, hearing different points of view on a problem is nearly impossible. But you need to hear and understand the various points of view in order to understand the truth in your organization. It is only through understanding all the points of view, of knowing the truth, that a manager can identify and solve the real problem. This principle begins with the manager being open to someone else’s point of view.
Getting ahold of this principle and practicing it well really is fundamental to unlocking the potential in an organization. That is a strong statement, I realize, but I say that based on my own experience working with managers and in our use of a diagnostic tool with leadership, the Executive Insight. When we have used that tool, almost without fail the view of organization and its problems from perspective of the CEO is the polar opposite of the perspective of the employees. You can’t solve the real problems until you can see them clearly, and you can’t get to high performance without solving those problems.
Conclusion: That wraps up our first round of interview questions with Bill. Action points you can take now:
- Find out the major pain points of your staff and eliminate all those that you can.
- Communicate the potential you see in your staff and coach them in the tools they need to unlock that potential
- Be willing to be wrong and in so doing, to hear all sides of a problem or situation.
And then check out our second post on the interview with Bill to learn more about managing well.