I was listening to a lecture by Marshal Goldsmith, he coaches CEOs at top 100 companies. He said successful people always want to add value to projects but that may be a big mistake.
He suggests, as a leader, the improvement you add may make the quality of the idea go up 5%, but if the person’s commitment to the project goes down 50%, is it worth it?
He says effectiveness is a simple equation:
The quality of the idea multiplied by the commitment to that idea
So, it you add 5% to the quality of idea but lose -50% to the commitment to the idea = idea is worse for your involvement
We’ve all experienced this at some level. You have a project that you are really excited about. You talk to a few other people who say “excellent, sounds great, very clever”. You work away on it and take it to the big boss, who likes it but would like you to do it a different way, in a different colour, with a different style.
And just like that, you aren’t excited about it anymore. It’s no longer your project, it’s just something on the list of things you have to do.
I had a boss that could never, ever, let something I’d written go by him without making changes. Even the simplest briefs, which I’d been writing for 20 years, provoked his need to add a few improvements. Often he exchanged my words for synonyms and probably thought it was no big deal, but it was. I stopped enjoying writing briefs, which had been my favourite part of the job. I felt no ownership over them. They never came out as my words, in my style and I felt far less pride as a result.
I can’t quantify how much his comments improved the ideas, but I’d venture to say, in most cases it wasn’t much. I can say, they resoundingly reduced my commitment to the projects.
Hire The Best
We’ve all been told to succeed you should surround yourself with bright people and then get the best you can from them.
What they don’t tell you is how to ride that wave. If you have good people and you constantly correct them or feel a need to show them you know more and “add your value,” they become less effective.
They don’t feel like they are learning, they don’t feel challenged. They don’t get a sense of achievement or improvement. They know, no matter how hard they work, it will never be quite right. Their commitment goes down.
Is It Worth It?
Goldsmith has worked with the best and brightest and quoted J.P. Garnier, the former CEO of GlaxoSmithKlien. Garnier said the biggest lesson in his career happened when he became aware, as a senior manager, that his suggestions had become “orders”. Almost anything he mused about, discussed or suggested was taken as an absolute and put into action, no matter what the quality.
To counter that problem he learned to take a breath before he spoke about someone else’s work, and ask himself “is it worth it?” Was his comment going to increase this person’s commitment or improve his relationship with them? If not, he didn’t say it.
While that sounds simple I am certain there are heads nodding in a lot of offices, wishing their boss would adopt that philosophy.
The Big Challenge
It’s not that people aren’t willing to work hard; quite the opposite. Today we work harder than ever, filling every moment, in constant response mode, dealing with what’s in front of us and trying to make a difference. When you can take ownership for that work, feel pride in it, recognize that you are improving, gaining confidence, getting results, it all seems worthwhile.
My challenge to managers is to think about the improvement you want to add to the idea. Then think about the impact on commitment to the project and on that person’s job satisfaction. If the equation doesn’t add up, find another way to add your value.