Read an Excerpt
Bringing Out the Best in PeopleHow to Apply the Astonishing Power of Positive Reinforcement
By Aubrey C. Daniels
McGraw-HillCopyright © 2000 The McGraw-Hill Companies
All right reserved.
Chapter OneFads, Fantasies, and Fixes
What if American management, after all these years of trying, has been dead wrong about how to manage effectively? What if the latest celebrated management theory is just another quick fix, destined to reap only short-term gains and produce long-term frustration? What if the only people benefiting from this cycle of hypothetical theories are the management gurus promising "the answer" to companies so desperate for a management approach that works, they're willing to try anything?
In 1971, Professor Joe Bailey of the University of Texas said that "... the half-life of all panaceas in the educational and business worlds is seven years, plus or minus two." (Training Magazine, April 1993.) I believe that in the last half of the 1990s the time frame has shrunk to about 18 months. And with the new computer technology promising "new and better" every six months or so, the temptation to jump from one solution to the next—or many all at once—is even greater.
As the temporary impact of each fad wears off, no longer producing the kind of changes expected and promised, many executives drop the old and charge off in search of the new—and currently "hot"—management theory. As years pass, approaches such as "situational analysis," "Theory Z" cross-functional teams, and quality management fade from memory and take their places in the graveyard of departed management systems.
The cycle of temporary answers continues because most approaches to management are never rooted in anything more substantial than limited observations, in limited settings, over limited time periods. The lesson American management steadfastly refuses to learn is that managing by emotions, perceptions, or common sense is not really managing at all. Leaders also refuse to accept the fact that people—the very engine of the business machine—cannot be ignored or treated as expendable parts. Human performance is not a factor in a complicated equation for business success; it is the answer to the equation.
We all selectively perceive and retain experiences and information. We then evaluate and interpret them from a base of previous experiences and perceptions. With all of these individual variables, it's obvious that those who manage only from personal experience, and the thoughts and feelings that accompany that experience, are subject to unpredictable results. Today's business environment demands a much more precise approach—one that produces consistent results; one that is based on science, not opinion. My concern is that business leaders will continue to treat management as a mysterious, somewhat personal art form. Management folklore, such as "management by exception," "management by objectives," "thriving on chaos," and so on, will continue to delay the progress of American business.
One recent management book, for example, likened organizational leadership to leading a jazz band because "... good jazz, like good business, requires strong leaders and strong players." The leader "chooses the music, picks the players, and performs for an audience." This analogy holds true to a point, but good business is not an orchestral production or a Broadway show, well-scripted and choreographed. Rather, it is an ongoing process requiring constant vigilance and diligence to meet the demands of an ever changing and unpredictable marketplace.
Another management philosophy stresses that "effective management results from individual initiative and savvy, not from a grand design." This sounds like "management by the seat of your pants." Simply being "savvy," a word subject to an array of definitions, and taking initiative based on it, might produce good results from time to time, but it won't consistently bring out the best in people. And taking a nonsystematic approach to managing will not allow you to profit from either your successes or your failures.
Other management fads (to name a few) that have rocked the business landscape in recent years include:
* Quality circles. Americans copycatted the quality circle approach from the Japanese because of their tremendous advances in manufacturing quality, but Americans made little attempt to understand why it worked in Japan. It just seemed like it would work here too. Probably less than one out of 100,000 quality circles lasted more than a few years. Even fewer produced significant business results.
* Corporate culture. Business professors and consultants have succeeded in making corporate culture change into a complicated and expensive process. The concepts and activities associated with typical attempts to change the culture are not based on solid research and are not implemented in a way that demonstrates cause-and-effect relationships between what was done and what was achieved.
* "Intrapreneuring." Advancing the entrepreneurial spirit within a large corporation is a good idea if handled carefully. Too often, the approach is botched, creating tensions, jealousies, and motivational problems that exceed any potential benefits.
* Employee participation. Years ago, when People's Express and its innovative job rotation system prospered, many companies decided that "self-actualization," or "create your own job title" was the route to success. This idea disappeared almost as quickly as People's Express.
* Strategic alliances. Characterized by the notion, "If you can't beat'em, join'em," such efforts are creating scores of strange bedfellows. Sometimes the alliances work. More often, both parties wonder why they united in the first place.
* "Management by Wandering Around." This concept was popularized by Tom Peters' In Search of Excellence. The tactic of observing firsthand what's occurring on the shop floor is a good one. Mishandled—and it's easy to do—it often becomes "management by stumbling around." Well-meaning but unknowing managers can create morale problems among supervisors and other employees just by where they walk around and where they don't.
* "Change Management." The concept of managing change was presented to business as though change was something new and managing change was a science. In fact, most recommendations made by change management gurus presented commonsense solutions based on a false premise—that people resist all change. People only resist change at work because it usually is accompanied by immediate negative consequences. The reality is that change is natural and almost always accepted when it produces something positive for the performer.
From "My Own Style" to a Precise Procedure
As if management fads aren't dangerous enough, many managers proudly refer to their own "management style." What company can possibly succeed over the long term if hundreds of its managers have their own individual management style? How do you know that each manager's style is going to support the company's values and mission? What chance does such an approach have to bring out the best in the work force? One hundred different management styles yield confusion and inefficiency.
Imagine a doctor saying, "I've developed my own operational style. I'm going to operate on your brain a little differently than other surgeons would. No need to worry. I'm very comfortable with my style of operating, and I've had a couple of good successes."
Or suppose a pilot announces over the plane's public address system, "I'm going to land this plane a little differently than FAA procedures require; I've got my own method. I feel that today the runway assigned by the control tower is not the best so I'm going to use another. It will work out better, I assure you."
Performing surgery or landing a plane requires precision and the use of established procedures. With many businesses struggling to survive, and with large numbers of them failing, why do we tolerate so many subjective approaches to managing people?
Innovation in management is not wrong, but innovation without data, management by "hunch," or "let's give it a run and see what happens" techniques are too costly to tolerate any longer.
Bringing out the best in people and achieving measurably superior results requires a clear and precise understanding of human behavior. Yet most people understand the laws of human behavior at about the same level as they do the laws of gravity. They know that gravity keeps them on the earth, and they know not to walk off the top of a tall building. But they don't know enough to send astronauts to the moon and bring them back. Most managers know enough about human behavior to know that positive methods of management are preferred to negative ones. However, they usually know very little about how the selection, delivery, and timing of positive and negative consequences in the workplace influence the way people behave.
Many managers have an immediate negative reaction when they are told they need to study and understand human behavior. They don't believe it is necessary to managing a business effectively. They might as well say they don't believe in the laws of gravity. Believe in gravity or not, when they jump they will still come back to earth.
If you work with other human beings, you are subject to the laws of behavior. And if you don't understand them, more than likely you're impeding, possibly depressing, the performance of your employees, your peers, even yourself.
To obtain measurably superior results in the workplace, managers must understand why people behave as they do with the same depth that rocket scientists understand gravity.
Management by Sloshing Around Versus Precision Management
Very few managers use systematic, scientifically based management methods to bring out the best in people at work. Most try a variety of management approaches until they find one they like. But even when that approach seems to work, they don't know exactly why it did or why it works sometimes and sometimes doesn't.
Conversely, the approach described in this book is not something that I made up. It's based on over 80 years of research in human behavior. The body of knowledge is called behavior analysis. The application of these scientific findings to the workplace is called Performance Management. Once managers understand the principles of Performance Management, they can create the right environment and conditions to bring out the best in performers today, tomorrow, next month, and next year.
The senior managers I've known are not particularly impressed with onetime performance improvement in a job, in an office, or in a factory. They know that things occasionally get better. They get interested when things improve and continue to improve.
Organizations such as Eastman Chemical Company, Allied Systems, 3M Dental, Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Alabama, BP Amoco, and Preston Trucking Company (featured in Robert Levering's book, A Great Place to Work) have used Performance Management and thrived on its methods for over a decade. Other organizations have had the same experience.
Delta Faucet Company, for example, began applying Performance Management techniques almost 20 years ago. "Delta has had nothing but better years, every year," Don Ginder, retired vice president of human resources stated. Today, Delta leads the faucet industry in America and has begun exporting its products to Japan.
Performance Management is not a one-time management solution to a single problem at work. It provides a precise way of analyzing work and implementing a management system that will not only address the problems associated with inadequate performance, but will lead to practical ways to maximize performance in every aspect of the company's business. Because Performance Management is a precise, data-oriented approach, the solutions can be replicated in the same or similar settings and even extended to new settings with similar results.
Several years ago I visited a middle manager in a large manufacturing company. Ralph O. had been applying Performance Management in his department for about a year and had invited me to see the accomplishments of his team. The country was in a recession and the company was in the midst of its second downsizing in two years. Despite the doom and gloom prevalent in other departments occupying the same building, Ralph's team was enjoying dramatic successes, reducing labor and maintenance costs while demonstrating measurable quality improvement in their product.
Even more impressive was the fact that Ralph, reading the downsizing handwriting on the wall, had gathered his department together and offered them the challenge of improving their cost structure in a more constructive way than the usual method of mandated head-count cuts by corporate. Ralph's department found a way to reduce labor costs more than was requested, yet no one was laid off. All this improvement was accomplished through the use of Performance Management at a time when most people, including most of Ralph's peers and managers, thought any improvement was impossible.
During my flight home, I wrote a note to that company's manufacturing VP. I suggested that if the downsizing got to him and he needed a lift, he should go see Ralph and let him show how he was helping the company.
Most importantly, I wanted that VP to understand that what Ralph and his management team had done could be repeated in other areas. I wanted him to know that what was done was not dependent on Ralph's charisma or other personal attributes. Ralph had used a straightforward process that could be taught to all managers and supervisors.
Business Is Behavior
Performance Management teaches managers how to influence behavior. A company hires people because what needs to be done requires people to do it. The behavior of people is the only way anything is accomplished in business. If managers don't understand behavior management methods, and can't apply them consciously and correctly, they are almost certainly decreasing some behaviors that they want and increasing others that they don't want.
Every organizational accomplishment is dependent on behavior. Whenever an organization strives to improve quality, increase productivity, or boost creativity, it must ask people to change their behavior. People must then either do the same things they are currently doing more or less often, or do different things.
Consequently, the one thing executives, managers, and supervisors should know the most about is human behavior.
If they don't know the conditions under which people do their best, the organization will survive only through sheer luck.
Every management system ever devised was intended to bring out the best in people, but failed because it violated basic laws of human behavior.
Behavior Is a Function of Its Consequences
When most people see someone do something that is out of the ordinary, they ask, "Why does that person do that?" Most of us have been trained to look for the answer in what hapopened before the behavior occurred. In other words, we think the behavior was caused—motivated—by some internal force, drive, need, or desire, or by some external order, request, or signal. Because some behavior appears to occur without an apparent external motivator, we are puzzled.
A behavior analyst, on the other hand, would respond, "A person does that because of what happens to that person when he or she does it." That is, the cause of the behavior lies, not in the conditions prior to the behavior, but in what happens immediately after the behavior.
For most people, this is a totally new way of looking at behavior, but it can be very helpful because it means you don't have to read minds or try "to figure people out."
You have everything you need to understand people when you witness the behavior and observe the consequences of the behavior.
Psychologists study the mind; behavior analysts study behavior and how to optimize desirable behaviors. Although behavior is the window to the mind, I prefer to leave people's minds alone. What goes on in other people's minds is, frankly, none of my business. The business of business is behavior.
A Most Practical Approach
Because Performance Management focuses on understanding behavior, we are able to tell what works and what doesn't simply by looking at the effect any intervention has on the behavior of people. Did the behavior increase or decrease, change or stay the same?
Performance Management uses scientific methods to change behavior. At first, a scientific method for managing behavior may not sound practical for line supervisors and managers, but in reality it is the most practical way to manage people.
Using scientific methods to manage behavior includes: precise specification of what we want to improve; the development of a baseline of current performance against which we can measure progress; and then a precise intervention and the evaluation of its impact on performance. This is no more than we would ask from any change in any other business process.
Excerpted from Bringing Out the Best in People by Aubrey C. Daniels Copyright © 2000 by The McGraw-Hill Companies. Excerpted by permission of McGraw-Hill. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.