The Managerial Moment of Truth: The Essential Step in Helping People Improve Performanceby Bruce Bodaken, Robert Fritz
The Managerial Moment of Truth explains a powerful new concept that can dramatically improve performance and increase productivity, at no cost, in virtually any company or organization. Developed by organizational consultant and bestselling author Robert Fritz and proven in practice by coauthor Bruce Bodaken, the chairman, president, and CEO of Blue Shield of California, the book provides a dynamic technique to help people face up to reality and confront the truth in order to correct mistakes, learn from past performance, and adjust processes to build a more successful organization.
Given human nature, most managers, when faced with the harsh facts of substandard performance, tend to soften the truth with their direct reports, so as not to offend or upset them. They tend to avoid mentioning mistakes, missed dates, an incomplete project, unacceptable quality of work, and the like. Then, if the problem becomes egregious, the manager may suddenly overreact with a contentious confrontation that results in little long-term behavior change. Or else the manager will try to work around the substandard performance, shifting the workload to top performers on the team rather than addressing reality directly with the person concerned. Bodaken and Fritz provide a step-by-step approach for continuous improvement, in which managers deal with performance issues early on, to help employees face the truth without being made to feel denigrated, inept, or incompetent -- which would only defeat the desired goal of improvement. Moreover, this approach also greatly enhances the manager's own career success.
When managers understand and use this practice, they can produce more top performers and add from 25 to 40 percent more actual capacity to their organization. At Blue Shield of California, for example, more than one thousand managers have been trained in this approach, with impressive, measurable results, helping the company become one of the fastest-growing health care plans in the state. Other companies, all at the top of their industries, are now using MMOT with great success. As widely acclaimed author Peter Senge notes in his foreword, "This is not a book with just a bunch of 'good ideas.' It is a call to a simple but transformative practice, vital to building an organization truly worthy of people's highest achievement."
Truth. It's an ugly word but somebody's got to say it. Managers in particular have got to say it, understand it and utilize it in a manner that increases productivity and long-term growth. To put it simply, the authors write, "Getting to the truth must be more important than feeling comfortable and protecting egos." According to Bruce Bodaken, chairman, president and CEO of Blue Shield of California, and Robert Fritz, a 20-year consultant to Fortune 500 companies and bestselling author of several books including The Path of Least Resistance, "real" truth-telling (not watered-down versions of the truth) can add anywhere from 25 percent to 40 percent more actual capacity to organizations, without adding significant cost. Unfortunately, many managers mistakenly think they have only one of two unpleasant choices when dealing with the truth: 1) to have a contentious confrontation, or 2) to avoid the situation, neither of which promotes a lasting change.
How to Recognize and Change Performance Patterns
For every manager, there are critical moments that occur regularly, referred to as Managerial Moments of Truth (MMOT). These moments include two distinct events: 1) the awareness that there is a difference between what you expected and what was delivered, and 2) the decision about what to do with that information. Whatever the manager decides, the author writes, a managerial moment of truth has happened. "The way you deal with these moments will either trap you in a cycle of limitations making your work life harder or enable you to unleash crucial capacity, align your team, and increase the impact of your leadership."
Changing performance therefore, through the acknowledgment of truth, becomes critical to positive outcomes, rather than mere "problem-solving" as we know it. Most managers have tried to change performance of their less-accomplished people; however, "the usual pattern they experience is a temporary improvement in performance, followed by a plateau, followed by a regression to the original unacceptable situation. This is an oscillating pattern in which movement forward is reversed."
The four-step MMOT technique is an outcome-oriented method and includes an acknowledgment of the truth, an analysis of how it got to be that way, creation of an action plan and an establishment of a feedback system.
For the MMOT technique to be effective, managers must remain outcome-oriented and focused on the abilities and attributes of their staff. "The challenge is to find just the right way to bring out the best in individuals who have different personalities, different approaches to life, different rhythms and patterns," Bodaken and Fritz write. The authors further elaborate on each of the four steps included in the MMOT model, providing examples, case studies and clear-cut studies on what works and what doesn't. This further exploration of the MMOT technique includes exploring differences of opinion, assumptions, design flaws, unexpected events and rethinking the management process.
The authors, in addition to a thorough explanation of the MMOT's corrective properties, offer a positive MMOT model as well. The positive MMOT, similar to the corrective MMOT, includes the same four-step approach but does so when a manager's expectations have been exceeded, rather than missed. "Here, the learning typically focuses on what worked particularly well and how we may adopt that approach in the future," they write.
Managing the Truth
With lively examples and illustrative case studies for both positive and corrective MMOT's, four question-types emerge as essential components of penetrating reality: information, clarification, implication and discrepancy. The information question expands our visual picture, the clarification question clearly defines the terms, the implication question addresses underlying assumptions and the discrepancy question deals with contradictions. Together, along with matching individuals and roles (including skill, attitude, alignment and interest) the MMOT model builds trust within the team and cross-departmental alliances. According to the authors, "The team is the most important unit within the organization."
Why We Like This Book
This book gives an eye-opening view of the underrated notion of truth in the managerial context. With clearly defined and attainable steps for improved productivity, increased efficiency and accountability, Bodaken and Fritz outline a new standard for successful operations and greater employee performance. Copyright © 2006 Soundview Executive Book Summaries
Patricia Seybold, author of Customers.com and The Customer Revolution
"A valuable addition to our understanding of the power of conversation to transform ourselves and the workplaces we inhabit. It offers a precise framework and dialogue for creating authentic relationships in difficult moments. It delivers the means to replace blame and rationalization with learning and action. No small accomplishment."
Peter Block, author of Stewardship
"This book will genuinely revolutionize the way you relate to your boss, your peers, and your employees. It can remove the greatest stress we all experience in organizations by allowing you to relate freshly and directly to what is really going on, which is to say, facing reality. Best of all, the result will be exceptional performance and productivity."
Candice Carpenter, author of Chapters
"Bodaken and Fritz offer a simple but powerfully effective method to enhance organizational learning. MMOT conversations are the best investments you and your team can make: their payback lasts for years."
C. Sherry Immediato, President and Managing Director, SOL, the Society for Organizational Learning
"This book is for anyone who manages. The authors provide a simple and elegant model for truth telling that will, if practiced and followed, improve the performance of your team. Yet this is not just a technique for performance improvement. It has everything to do with how to develop, engage, and retain the talent on your team."
Beverly Kaye, Founder/CEO: Career Systems International
"The Managerial Moment of Truth is very simply about how managers must have the discipline to tell the truth and help their employees to confront reality. At a time when people have lost trust in many of the basic institutions of our society, this book will benefit managers and employees alike and support integrity within the organization."
Hon. Leon E. Panetta, Director, Panetta Institute for Public Policy, former Chief of Staff to President Clinton
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Read an Excerpt
Truth is a tricky subject in any context. People rightly ask, what is the truth? How do we know? Are we really talking about truth or opinion? Isn't it dangerous to tell people the truth? Can they take it? Might we harm people by telling them the truth?
These are good questions, and that's why we want to clearly define the areas we are addressing before asking you to dive into a book entitled The Managerial Moment of Truth.
What do we mean by truth in this book? How can we learn to see and then communicate what is true, and do so in ways that are positive, productive, practical, helpful, and effective?
Before answering these important questions, let us make this claim: truth is one of the most important competitive advantages there is in building a business. Truth is the most vital element an organization has in fostering collective learning. When we are able to explore and then tell each other the truth, we can improve performance, both individually and collectively.
Imagine trying to build an organization without the ability to tell each other the truth. We would not be able to correct mistakes, learn from past performances, adjust our processes, and better understand the reality in which we are engaged. In fact, a glaring statistic is that over 50 percent of businesses fail within their first three years. The reason they fail is that they don't know what is going on in reality, which may include their financial position, their impact on the marketplace, the nature of their customers' real motivations, and other key factors. Had they known the truth, they would have had a far greater chance of success. Without perceiving reality, it is next to impossible to succeed because invariably decisions are made in a vacuum.
There are many steps for improving performance: training, creating reinforcing reward systems, instituting effective computer systems, holding offsite planning meetings, developing the right hiring practices, and so on. Each step has its place in creating better performance, but the managerial moment of truth is the essential step that makes all the others work. Unless reality is penetrated, very little significant improvement can occur. It's sad to see time and energy invested in performance improvement, only to have it thwarted by what is missing in action -- people speaking truthfully and honestly with one another. That is the indispensable step in any organization that hopes to achieve greater capability, professionalism, and alignment.
Some would argue that human beings are incapable of objectivity because of the nature of perception, which they see as idiosyncratic. We can understand the world only through our senses, which we then interpret. We are left with opinion at best, and, therefore, no one is right or wrong.
These ideas are interesting, but they don't hold up to scrutiny. If we look to the aural realm of a musical pitch, we can see how universal human perception is, because not only can we hear the pitch that is sounding, we can also see it on an oscilloscope. If two musicians are playing out of tune with each other, most people can hear the dissonance. Yet even if they are tone deaf, they can see the actual waveform the dissonance creates on an oscilloscope. In a discipline like music, people don't talk about "my pitch [truth], and your pitch [truth]" when they have to play together. There is an objective reality they can understand, and because of that objectivity, more than one hundred people can play together in a symphony orchestra and all play in tune.
In this book we talk about truth (small t) as objective, factual, and observable. A due date was made on time or it wasn't. The performance was adequate or it wasn't. The numbers are the numbers.
We also talk about areas that are not so clear-cut, questions that may be subject to differing opinions, such as acceptable levels of quality, personal alignment within a team, one's capabilities, skills, or attitude. What is important is the spirit of inquiry we adopt. We see the process as one of pursuing, as best we can, the actual reality under consideration.
We are not content with simply sharing impressions or opinions. With what rigor do we seek to understand reality, even if what we find contradicts our pet theories, our years of experience, our outlook, philosophy, or worldview? Our personal notions notwithstanding, what is the actual reality and how do we know it?
The managerial moment of truth approach is one of mutual exploration and learning. Together, we are backing up and studying reality. "Are you seeing what I'm seeing? Am I seeing what you are seeing? And where we are seeing reality differently from each other, how are we to understand why we are seeing it differently?" Rather than fight about who is right and who is wrong, together we are dedicating ourselves to observing reality and trying to better understand what we are seeing.
The old chestnut of the blind men and the elephant suggests that we can't explore reality, only piece together differing opinions, all of which are valid.
In case you haven't heard the original story for a while, here it is: Four blind men encountered an elephant. They began to reach out to touch the elephant to understand its shape. One blind man, who found the elephant's tail, said, "An elephant is like a rope!" "No," said another, who put his arms around the legs, "an elephant is like a tree trunk." "Nonsense," said another, who found the elephant's trunk, "the elephant is like a hose." Still another one of the men touched the elephant's tusks. "The elephant is like large teeth."
But when we think about it, shouldn't we rename the story "The Stupid Blind Men and the Elephant"? After all, these people were arguing about each person's perception, but they weren't asking each other how it came to pass that they had such vastly different ideas. The story is meant to tell us that everyone has a piece of the truth. Even though we may have vastly different ideas, they all reflect an aspect of reality. Perhaps. But an elephant is more than something like a rope, a tree trunk, a hose, and big teeth. These are but elements that are seen from a fragmented and limited point of view. I may have wheels, doors, seats, and an engine, and yet I may not have a car. To understand that we are considering a car, we need to see the gestalt -- the parts in relationship to the whole.
Let's change the story to "The Smart Blind Men and the Elephant." In this story, one of the blind men says, "An elephant seems like a tree trunk," and his friends say, "Okay, keep feeling around and then report what it's like." Over time, the team would be able to describe what an elephant is like by sharing their insights and then further exploring the parts of the elephant they haven't yet encountered.
In management, truth telling too often has come to mean simply sharing opinions. This is not what truth telling means in this book. Trading opinions doesn't usually lead to greater understanding. What's missing is the discipline to understand the foundation of various opinions. We do that by measuring conclusions against reality. When we are objective, we don't pick only the facts that support our opinions to the exclusion of facts that don't. We are able to look at everything and allow ourselves to change our minds, alter our impressions, and abandon outdated ideas for ones that fit the facts.
Most of us have been taught to study reality in relationship to our theories, experiences, concepts, ideals, and so on. The thought process then is one of comparison. We compare reality against our ideas about reality. This approach limits our ability to see those things that are inconsistent with our previous notions. When we think we know all the answers, we don't ask targeted questions that enable us to explore new territory. But if we look anew, without presuming we know the answers to questions under consideration, we can discover new insights and relationships, rethink our assumptions, and go well beyond our basic suppositions. This book explores ideas about how we can look more carefully and see reality for what it is. Seeing reality objectively requires a large degree of rigor. Within the context of the organization, it also requires a process of collective inquiry. How can we bring people into the process? How can we consistently be willing to look at the hard facts? What would motivate us to strive for greater understanding, even when the exploration shines light on our own failings? How can we become better at our jobs and profession? How can we do that as a team and a company?
Telling the Truth
Unearthing the truth accurately is one thing. Telling it is yet another thing entirely. The classic line that reflects many managers' reservations to call it like it is comes from the film A Few Good Men when the Jack Nicholson character says, "You can't handle the truth." Most of us have the general impression that the unabashed truth is hurtful and devastating. We have grown up in a society that agrees with the Jack Nicholson character. Yet study after study has shown quite an opposite story. When there is a choice between knowing the unvarnished truth or not, people would rather know than be in the dark. Psychological studies consistently show that those who are in command of the facts are healthier than those who are not. One such study demonstrated that teenage pregnant girls who were flat out rejected by their families were more able to deal with their situation in a healthier and more productive way that those who, in fact, were rejected but never told that directly. The fact is we need to know where we stand with each other, not only teens in trouble, but managers from every level of the organization. Can people handle the truth? The resounding answer is Yes!
Having said that, we need to talk about the real world. The idea here is not just to tell the truth, but to have the telling of it be productive and helpful, and to lead to a positive change in the future. Telling the truth certainly involves a recitation of facts. But there is much more to communication than some clinical and cold statement of information. Motive makes a difference. What are we after? What do we want to accomplish? What type of relationship do we want with the people we work with? The book will explore these critical questions extensively and shed light on major distinctions that can make all the difference between long-term success and just a short-term improvement followed by regression into past unproductive patterns.
We need to make a clear distinction between attempting to manipulate a person and making a potentially tough conversation as accessible as we can make it.
The attempt to control the inner experience of another person to get him to do what we want him to do is the aim of manipulation. The underlying assumption here is that the person, left to his own devices, would not want to accomplish the goals. And because of that, the manager needs to make the person fall into line. Whether through charm or threats, the manager sees the job as getting a person to do what he hasn't freely chosen to do.
Managers can't build capacity through a manipulative approach because people react by becoming less self-generating. At best they can comply with directives. They cannot truly align with the direction leadership has chosen. This creates profound limitations to growth, development, and advancement for everyone.
If we think people can't handle the truth, we soften it. That's a manipulation. Or we sneak in the harsh facts between a series of compliments. That's a manipulation. Or we try to instill the fear of wrath to create a sense of urgency. That, too, is a manipulation. Manipulation can work to produce favorable results short-term. Long-term the strategy backfires. Manipulation is one of the worst management approaches anyone can take because it undermines a sense of relationship and credibility between the manager and the person managed.
Yet too often managers feel they have no other choice if they are to be true to their accountabilities. So with the best of intentions, they try to find out what the market will bear and then play the game for all it's worth. The limitations to this approach are these: you can't build capacity over time, and you can't build real relationships with the people you manage.
Manipulation harms relationships. This statement is true in every type of relationship from the most intimate to the most professional. Rather than a sense of authentic relationship, people develop counterstrategies such as don't show all your cards, hold back some level of involvement, don't care, and avoid truthfulness. Under these circumstances people pretend to have true relationships, but they are simply playing the hand they feel was dealt them. In an unfair game, no one plays fairly.
Telling the truth means finding a platform from which to tell it. Not everyone takes in information the same way. As managers, we need to be sensitive to how best to tell the truth. For example, if we are talking to the chief financial officer, we can easily run through the accounts. But if we need to talk about the numbers with someone not steeped in accounting disciplines, we may have to alter what we say, how we explain it, how quickly we can move through information, and so on. Our change in approach is not a manipulation. Instead, we are varying our approach because we understand that this person cannot understand the financial content we are communicating as easily as would an expert. When it comes to truth telling within the organization, we want to be sensitive to how the person to whom we are talking takes in information, but we never want to soften the truth. We want to make the truth understandable, accessible, and comprehensive. We want to join with the person in an exploration of how the situation is, how it got to be that way, and how we can do better next time.
As managers, we try to find ways to better communicate to those with whom we work. The techniques in this book are not designed as prepackaged routines with which managers "process" people. We will describe a particular process we encourage managers to use. But we encourage each manager to apply the techniques in ways that are consistent with the situations she faces. We will present a four-step form, but the form itself comes alive when a manager in the real world applies it to a particular situation with real people. This book presumes that professional managers bring with them critical judgment, thoughtfulness, and practicality. A manager will know how and when to use the techniques in the heat of battle.
The musical form of the blues has a fixed structure. Baseball has a fixed structure. Other forms in the arts and in sports have fixed structures. Yet the forms are only the frame for the unique, creative, vital experience that people make of these forms. The same is true for the form we propose in this book. It is not designed to be some rigid tool that is used without regard to the actual people and situations we face. Instead, we offer the techniques in the book to be adopted in the spirit of what you bring to it -- your own intelligence, professionalism, good sense, and humanity.
The written page doesn't give us the tonal context we would need to fully understand the spirit in which something is said. We need to hear the sound of the voices to understand the true feeling tone. The book contains dialogues in which harsh facts are spoken. Often truth contains unpleasant facts, instances of failures, disappointments, and confusion. While the words can seem harsh, the tonality we would like your mind's ear to hear is positive, helpful, objective, and supportive even while being frank. This book, if read without the sense of humanity we intend it to have, can sound too severe at times. We are not in favor of abusing people by using the truth as an excuse to beat them up. We are in favor of telling people the unvarnished truth in ways that are accessible, kind, and supportive.
It is not supportive to distort reality just so people do not have to feel badly about situations they have managed. Of course, we feel badly when we do not succeed. But feeling badly comes with the territory of being a professional who is reaching to accomplish goals that are not always within one's means. It's appropriate to feel badly when the situation calls for it. Yet our motive for improving isn't simply to restore a feeling of equilibrium. Rather, it is because we want to do a better job, succeed for ourselves, the team, and the organization that we are willing to face the truth, feel whatever we feel, and figure out what we can learn to improve next time out.
The scope of the book includes the individual, work teams, cross-discipline teams, senior management, subcontractor relationships, and strategic alliances. How can we use moments of truth to improve our performance, productivity, and creativity? How can we work better together? What is the role of the manager in this process? How can the manager enable others to change for the better? These are the critical questions that this book addresses.
Instead of using the often awkward his and her, we will sometimes use his and sometimes her. We are addressing both genders in either case.
The phrase managerial moment of truth will be used to describe events in which the manager has a choice to ignore or call attention to what has occurred. We will use MMOT to describe the technique we suggest to address such moments of truth. The book is aimed at managers from the most senior levels to those who work on the line. A manager may have a direct report who is also a manager. The use of the term manager in the book is universal and is not intended to suggest a form of managerial class system. In fact, it is our suggestion that managerial moments of truth can be initiated top-down, laterally, down-up, and across functions.
It is our intention to bring an approach to the manager and the organization that can revolutionize how we work together, think together, and create our future together. The subject of truth, particularly within the organization, is enormously challenging. But it is also extraordinarily worthwhile, positive, and practical. Today, organizations are faced with sudden shifts in marketplace realities, migrating economics, and the lightning speed of globalization. The organizations that can deal with these changing realities have the best prospect of survival. Those organizations that cannot "handle the truth" will be left in the dust. Learning how to tell each other the truth, as hard a discipline as it is within the organization, will make all of the difference.
Copyright © 2006 by Bruce Bodaken and Robert Fritz
Meet the Author
Bruce Bodaken is Chairman, President, and CEO of Blue Shield of California, a 3.3 million-member not-for-profit health plan that serves the commercial, individual, and government markets in California. During Mr. Bodaken's five-year tenure as CEO, Blue Shield's membership has more than doubled and company revenues have risen from $3 billion to nearly $7 billion. Before embarking on a career in health care, he taught philosophy at the college level. In addition to his work at Blue Shield, Mr. Bodaken serves on numerous professional and civic boards, including the board of directors of the California Business Roundtable; America's Health Insurance Plans; and the University of California, Berkeley's Health Services Management Program. He lives in Mill Valley, California.
Robert Fritz has for more than twenty years been developing the field of structural dynamics through his work, first in the area of the creative process, and then in the area of organizational, business, and management issues. At least eighty thousand people throughout the world have participated in courses Fritz has created. He is the author of several books, including the bestseller The Path of Least Resistance. As a consultant, Fritz has helped numerous organizations put the structural approach into practice, and his clients include Fortune 500 companies, many midsize firms, as well as governmental and nonprofit organizations. Fritz is also a composer and a filmmaker. He lives in Newfane, Vermont.
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