In my case, in 1999 I arrived in Japan and had to face the turnaround of Nissan. The fact that I wasn’t Japanese and was a newcomer to the industry helped me. People knew I wasn’t involved in the industry’s past. I dismantled keiretsu [interlinked business interests], challenged the seniority system, but I always explained why I need to do it. Carlos Ghosn, CEO of Renault, Nissan and AvtoVaz, Bloomberg Businessweek, Dec 1, 2014.
Watts Humphrey would tell the story that when he was in charge of OS 360 development for IBM that he never lost an argument with the quality department. He then transitioned over to leading the quality department and he said that he then never lost an argument to development. The reason he said he never lost an argument is that he always had a concrete well considered reason for what he was doing (or what someone should do) and he always made sure they knew that reason.
I once explained to a combined team, mine and another manager’s team, why we were changing what we were doing. We had just come from a staff meeting with our boss and we had been given new directions for specific reasons. After I had told the team the other manager caught up with me and said “You should not have told them why. We as managers should know why but they should just do what we tell them.” He was dead serious.
Too many folks charge into making changes or directing what needs to be done with the notion of “I’m the boss, you do what I say because I am the boss.” Too many reasons for what we want to do are not necessarily well thought out. Some of them are just actions to make it look like we are doing something. Some are even simple power plays: keep them jumping and running so they know who is in charge. Finally, some are simply to help us move up in our profession and hence giving the reason would not be very satisfying to a team.
These are many of the classic bad management practices I’ve faced and I’ve worked with teams who were facing them. Many of the managers who practiced these techniques were otherwise considered successful. Many of them sincerely believed that what they were doing was the right way to do it. The fact that their team or organization was not particularly successful was always, as they told me, due to not having good enough people or because another team was doing something wrong.
Once we found new leadership for these teams, it was always surprising to many that these same teams, without any other changes, would suddenly start to perform well. Often their performance would become exceptional (which surprisingly caused its own set of problems).
For example, see Want To Stress Your Test Team? Give Them Good Quality!
Telling people what we need to do and why is a project management tool that works. If we are not comfortable telling people the why for our actions then we should probably do a bit more soul searching to believe why we should do it or decide what we should do instead. Don’t be too worried about not being absolutely certain. Sometimes that is just the way it is, but let’s do try and give our team the best reason we have at the moment.
Do you regularly explain to your team why they are being asked to do what they are doing?
For more see If Nothing Else, Honesty Is Just More Efficient