Programming Growth With Your Team

Tom has a high quality problem, one that you may share. He works with a team of folks who are smart, experienced, and successful. He wants to grow the business. To do that he thinks that these individuals need to step up a level of performance.

That challenge is why we had lunch.


The Problem: What Got Us Here is No Longer Enough

Every member of the team, including Tom, got to her or his position by working smart. Each is very good at what he or she does. The familiar problem is that what got everyone here won’t get them to the next level.

Trying harder isn’t the answer. Tom knows that adding pressure will have a familiar result: People will return to old habits. This can help the old work get done better but it doesn't facilitate moving to the next level. To move to that level means to move into new ideas and new behaviors. Easier said than done.

Somehow Tom needs to change things so that the team members drive themselves to grow. Not because he wants it, but because they do.


Programming Growth Into the Work

Tom is taking a new approach. It runs counter to the culture of his company.

That culture has built a habit of examining failures and then doing a post mortem. This means that every project and milestone is examined for what went wrong and (hopefully) what might be done better the next time. This is a time honored approach in business, church, and government. But Tom thinks that he can do better.

What Tom is going to do is to increase his one-to-one time with team members. He'll use short sessions to focus on growth and success, as well as to build a platform for repeating success.

In each session he will ask the individual to talk about things that worked. Inside that he will ask what happened. Then how the team member made it happen (or contributed to it happening.) That will be followed with: Why did that work?

This puts the emphasis on success. As each team member answers they build their own platform for repeating the success and for growing. The result of the success isn't all that matters. Growing more success happens when you build the process.



How does this work? When Laura stepped in for her one-to-one Tom asked her for an update on a sales project. She approached it in the way that fit the company culture. She talked about what hadn't worked. She both took and shared blame, but her focus was on what went wrong.

Tom accepted that and then directly asked: So what worked?

It took a few times through but Laura eventually laid out a success story on her project. Tom asked her to define success and what happened. Then he asked her how Laura contributed to making it happen. He invested most of the meeting on this, asking her to talk about what she did right, not what others did.

Then he asked her why it worked. She had to think about that but she had an answer.

Then he did something that was intuitive but important, he ended the conversation with a focus on the feeling of success. Not on what could be done differently, but on the sense that Laura could make things better. He wrapped up by telling her the truth, that she could continue to make things better at an even higher level. This was how he wanted to end the conversation.


Experience and Memory and Repeatability

The author (and Nobel prize winner) Daniel Kanneman describes a clear delineation between experience and memory. His observation is that while we live the entire experience we usually remember only the the last bit of it. In business we remember the end of a project or sales effort or weekly review. And this final contact point is what we are likely to imprint.

Think of a good call center experience. Did the representative work to end your interaction with a genuine positive sense? The last few seconds of those conversations determine how customers perceive the company.

Can this apply to how Tom works with his people? Of course, but does it really help? In this case, it does. It will be part of how he helps his team members grow in their work. It will help him to program sustainable growth with this team.


Tom’s Three Steps

Tom's plan is to focus on successes. Not just to recognize them, but to help his team members feel them. Tom's process has three steps:

1 - Frequently recognize that something good happened. Ask the lead person or team what went right.

2 - Ask how they did it.

3 - Ask why it worked.

At first the whole thing can be frustrating. Many people will automatically pivot to what they did wrong and perhaps judge themselves harshly. Tom will have to be both clear and patient, knowing that the result is worth the trouble. It will take a few cycles but when you do this people start to look forward to one-to-one conversations.


Programmed Growth

As the team members continue to see what went right and how they did it they will continue to want more of that feeling. They reinforce the value of growth, Tom does not have to convince them when they feel it.

People who feel the sense that they can grow and then experience it again will set into a virtuous cycle of growth. By ending his one-to-one sessions with that sense Tom is helping to insure that the desire to grow flows into daily activity. When it is time for Tom to build into the next level, his team will be in a better place to support that. The result is systematic growth with smiles. The business can grow in a systematic way.