Riddell: The ‘Leaky Boat Model’
Not Business as Usual
One of the required attributes of every successful athletic coach is his or her ability to foster a spirit of teamwork among the team members. The coach’s ability to somehow collect and then distill disparate interests and motivations into a simple understandable framework is often overlooked by casual observers, boiled down to only success in winning not losing.
But what needs to be understood is that the “just win, baby” bumper sticker is an aspirational umbrella where winning becomes the means to the end. In high school, for example, the focus on winning can very well be underscored by opportunities for scholarships. Scholarships pay for a college education. Maybe the motivation is pride of being the first in a family to go to college. Maybe it is the financial means to simply afford college.
Whatever the secondary driver is, a college education has been proven to significantly enhance the earning capabilities of one’s lifetime. That high school focus on winning then becomes a foundation for success in later life. These connections are very easy to make; they are just not always readily considered. So how does this very simplistic model translate into today’s business world with today’s managers and their desire to develop teamwork?
As mentioned in a previous column, there is a very real danger in making too simplistic an analogy. Clearly today’s employees are not high school or college kids. Most adults are simply not going to allow themselves to be constrained into a mode of sacrificing today for benefits tomorrow. As with needing the gain without the pain, today’s managers have to figure out how to develop an employee’s willingness to support overall business goals by progressing toward the achievement of the employee’s personal goals. But with a vast pool of varying personal goals how do you put together a program where this can be accomplished?
The solution is not difficult but it does take some time and energy. Companies and managers that are successful in developing teamwork all project a sincere interest in helping their employees get to where these employees want to go directly by helping the company achieve what it needs to achieve. They do this by simply asking and documenting just where it is the employee wants to go and then drawing up a very specific plan for how to get them there in terms of company achievements. They ask what is important and how much they think it might cost. They then show how the particular job will get the employee closer to that which he or she holds important.
While many times this may involve direct compensation, today’s increasingly complex world handsomely rewards managers for successful creativity. For example, for some the need for more money might be replaced by the need for more free or flexible time. For others, it might be tuition re-imbursement for continuing education. Whatever the individual driver or aspiration, the success of the business is directly tied to attaining the goal.
The managerial task then becomes making this goal achievement/connection a part of every day’s conscious efforts. This is often done by regularly (daily or weekly) reporting the pertinent business’s results against the stated goals. Equally important is the managerial initiative to work with employees to jointly come up with programs to positively address the inevitable shortfalls. You want to have everyone in the organization believing that we are all in the same boat and if the boat springs a leak, it doesn’t matter under which seat the leak is, if we don’t fix it we are all going to get wet.
When you get managers and employees truly believing in this commonality of success, great things do happen. But the challenge is indeed in commonality when the world is championing diversity. Our next column will examine this issue.
Following a successful international business career, John Riddell turned his attention to small business/entrepreneurial pursuits that included corporate turn-arounds, start-ups, teaching, authoring business and sports columns and serving as VP for the Chattanooga Chamber of Commerce directing its Center for Entrepreneurial Growth.
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