Monday, July 25, 2011

Now, We're Getting Serious...

This example was given the other day by Rich Armstrong of The Great Game of Business, the education arm of SRC Holdings. Suppose you were watching a bunch of people playing basketball without any scoring involved. You'd see hook shots from the 3-point circle, half-court shots, passes being attempted through two people's legs, and all kinds of other crazy things. As soon as someone says, "Let's play a game", it turns serious. Then the passes get sharper and the shots taken are more likely to be made. They shift from the pure amateurish towards the more professional on the spectrum of ability. He states and has experienced that when you tell people the score, you get better performance. This is one aspect of how open book management can help your organization.  I agree.

Also, the level of risk drops as soon as people keep score. Whether it's basketball, volleyball, soccer, tennis or golf, if you have to keep score, people are less daring. I see this in business too. In some cases, people taking fewer risks is good; in other cases, it's bad.

At one company, we had trouble cross-training, which was necessary so we could shift people around to the areas where they were needed. We had a pay-for-skill system, and people could earn a higher hourly wage if they became trained on another job assignment. However, we were having trouble getting people to take us up on the opportunity. It was as if people were saying, "I'm comfortable where I am. I know what I'm doing here and I'm less likely to make a mistake. I feel good being at my home station because my work is good and has almost no errors. If I go over to the other area, I'm going to make mistakes and feel bad. I'll look incompetent. No, thanks. I'll stay put." When I figured out that we really didn't need to clone the experts in the other area and that we just needed people to come in and do the easy, mundane, facilitating tasks to free up the experts, we could restructure the incentive to cross-train. There was less risk to move to another area. As they worked in that area on a frequent basis, they became more comfortable with the work, and were shown how to do more complicated tasks.

But we started the cross-training with low risk for the employees. Understand, more people have the personality type to avoid risk (that's why there are so few entrepreneurs). They want to be right or they want to be secure and safe. Making mistakes in a new area does not promote feelings of being right or appearing competent, okay and safe. To get people to take risks, you have to create a safety net of sorts, like telling them we won't ask them to do the hard stuff right away and that it's okay to make mistakes (better to ask for help if they're not sure).

If you want to keep score, help your people be the best at what you're asking them to do. If you tell them the score (which is a good thing) so they know if they're winning, then instruct them on what it takes to win, what level of involvement is expected and how good the performance has to be to win.

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