Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Coaching Lessons: Think Like an Owner

Jack Stack was working with a not-for-profit theater group. Board meetings were devoted exclusively to judging the merits of this or that production.

No one, however, was looking at the larger picture. And once Stack did, he noticed that the company had run out of money and was not going to be able to meet payroll.

Stack reported his experience in the New York Times. Link here.

As an expert manager Stack knew that he had to broaden everyone's awareness of all aspects of the company. He needed to get them to think strategically, to stop focusing on what interested them and start working on what was best for the company.

How did he do it? By making everyone aware of an incentive. If they could not think beyond their own narrow self-interest, the theater company would cease to exist. Without sufficient revenue there would be no more shows.

Seeing the big picture, setting company strategy, involves a complex negotiation with reality.

Good managers know this well. They know that staff members who are apprised of the big picture will be more motivated to do a better job because they will have a greater understanding of how their work contributes to the larger corporate good.

An employee who merely knows that he has to crunch numbers is less effective than one who knows what those numbers represent, why they matter, and how they relate to the company's mission.

You are better coordinated if you know what the other hand is doing, if you know what other members of different departments and divisions are contributing to the larger enterprise.

Being part of something larger than yourself, being a member of a functioning team, makes you more productive and more engaged.

A manager can accomplish this by replacing sensitivity training with orientation meetings. Instead of having an outsider come in to explain grievance procedures and to make everyone defensive, why not have representatives of different parts of the company make presentations explaining what they do on the job and how it relates to what other people do.

And have senior executives explain the company's history, identify the people who are in charge, define the company's mission and policies. And it would be helpful if staff is also apprised of ways that it can share in the company's success: through stock options, ownership interests, and bonuses.

In these ways a manager will help his staff to think like owners.

If you are a staff member and want to become a manager or executive, you must also learn to think like an owner.

To advance as an executive you must show your dedication and devotion to the company, its mission, its policies and its success. You should make it your business to learn everything about the company, even when it is beyond your job description. Future managers do their best at the job they have, but their focus is on the job they want to have.

You will not be able to offer a cogent solution to a problem you have encountered on your job if you are not cognizant of the way the company works as a whole. If your proposals show that you are thinking of what is best for the company, they will be respected even if they are not adopted. If your proposals merely reflect your personal interest, they will be ignored and your chances for promotion will be compromised.

If your sole interest is keeping your job, you might be extremely assiduous at any task assigned to you, but your efforts will be circumscribed by its narrow focus. Managers will notice that you are not a team player, that you do not seem to care about the company's future.

That means that you should volunteer for extra work, and not complain about missing a trip to the beach. Someone who puts the company interest ahead of his own is there when he is needed. Dedication to the company requires that you make personal sacrifices, willingly.

If you are a staff member you should think of yourself as the second string quarterback. You roam the sidelines during the game, but you are totally focused on the game. You are complaining about how you have not gotten enough playing time. In fact, the thought does not even cross your mind.

The second string quarterback must know the game plan, must understand why this game plan was chosen, and must be able to imagine himself executing it effectively. During the course of the game he should be able to see how the plan is being modified and to know why.

He is, in short, as much a part of the team as the starting quarterback. And his best preparation for the moment when he will be in the game is being completely in the game even when he is not.

Similarly, you become a manager by thinking like a manager even before you are a manager. You are better placed to be given executive responsibilities if you demonstrate that you can think like an executive even when you are not an executive.

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