Project managers can see from a kid’s morning routine why using data instead of direction can often be a better tool for getting the results we want.
Our early morning family routine is dominated by getting the kids up to go to school. It is something we do every morning. They know the routine and we know it too.
My wife and I each take turns at making a pass at getting the kids out of bed. My wife’s approach is to generally yell at them and tell them the consequences of not getting up on time: They won’t have time to eat their breakfast or maybe they will be late for school. My approach is a bit different. I usually go quietly into their rooms, give them a gentle kiss on the cheek and whisper into their ear the current time (e.g., “it is 7:15”).
The difference between our two approaches is that my wife drives them with consequences and I drive them with information. From their Mom they hear the same things everyday at various volumes. From Dad, I just give them information so they know where they stand. In the first approach they get nothing new – because they already know the consequences. In the second approach they get useful information that tells them if they can risk staying in bed a little longer, which is what they want to do.
Clearly, in this situation, I believe the data driven approach is the most effective. I acknowledge that one of the reasons it works well is because they are well experienced with the consequences of getting up late (including being yelled at by their Mom!). The subtle difference is when I go tell them the time, I’m helping them make their decision, where with Mom’s approach they just hear something they already know, but nothing that helps them decide if the time is truly right.
The other subtle notion is the difference between doing the thinking for someone or empowering them to do their own thinking. Early on in this process me telling the kids it was say 7:23 did not have any meaning. Instead being told loudly and with emotion that they will be late for school conveyed an emotional certainty that they better get up or something bad would happen. With time, however, the repeated threat of the consequences of being late had less meaning for them, because they knew they could stay in bed and still get to school on time, which they did.
The business and project management world is no different, except often the people we are working with are highly educated and experienced. Too many managers I’ve seen still treat their teams as if they were kids and tell them what to do rather than help get them the information they need to know what to do. My kids can, of course, always pull their heads from under the covers and look at the clock, but just like a team member with their head down and working hard, sometimes we just need to give them the information they need and they’ll make the appropriate, and often better, decision.