Friday, September 30, 2005

Chapter 17

ALL YOU CAN DO IS TELL THEM, YOU CAN'T MAKE ANYONE DO ANYTHING

I used to think that the main task of a manager was to make other people do what they were supposed to do. I was disgusted with managers who couldn’t make their staff get to work on time, enter data in the computer correctly, or stop fighting amongst themselves. That manager is lazy, incompetent, or trying to be “friends” with everybody instead of doing their job, I thought.

When I became a manager myself, I knew that it was my job to make people do things. I would look the situation over, decide what needed to be done, and tell people what to do. They didn’t need a reason. I was the boss.

Over the years, though, I found out how people handle these kinds of delusions. They disagree with the way you have told them to do their job. So, they just don’t do it. (I never did learn to expect that.) You insist. So, they do it exactly like you said to do it. (This is the worst thing anybody can ever do to you.) They don’t adapt the instructions to the situation. They don’t do those steps that “everybody knows” you have to do but that you neglected to write down. They don’t bother to tell you the obvious, minor flaw in your plan that is going to make it not work. They don’t know what you mean, “Sabotage what?”

Even then, I was convinced that my boss should just give me the power to fire people at will. That would get compliance. But my boss didn’t understand. His response was, “Uh, I don’t think that would be a good idea.” And some of the people who worked for me did seem to be intimidated already. One woman always brought a backup with her when she came to talk to me. But she still didn’t do what I told her to do. In fact, I got the impression that her role was the heroine, fighting a cruel tyrant (that would be me) to get justice for the downtrodden (that would be her). I was just trying to get the job done. And I couldn’t even make timid people do what I wanted!

Eventually, I gave up on being a manager and became a computer support person. There were things I would have liked to make my customers do – not turn off the computer when the program is still running, come to training so they could learn how to use the software correctly, buy a new server before the antique they had been using for the last seven years finally crashed for good. But, everybody in computer support knows you can’t make customers do those things. We would tell each other stories about the occasional imprudence of our customers. And we always gave each other the same response -- a sympathetic nod, a shrug, and “All you can do is tell ‘em.”

So, we would make recommendations, tell them what we thought the benefits would be of following our recom-mendations, tell them what the consequences could be of not following our recommendations and how likely we thought they were, and leave it up to them. Actually, we treated them like intelligent people who could make their own judgments based on the facts. We did not pressure them. Only the truth of the situation pressured them. We did not tell them what to do. We just told them what they needed to know.

We wanted our customers to succeed. The success of our business depended on their success. We provided products and services they used on an ongoing basis. The nature of our business involved long-term relationships with them. If we had gotten them to buy something they couldn’t afford or that didn’t do the job, it would have had a negative impact on their business. They would have stopped working with us. What we tried to do, instead, was provide things that made their work easier, faster, or better in some way and contributed to their success. Then they were a good reference and told everyone they knew how great we were. They bought more computer equipment and software when they were ready.

This worked so well that I have used it ever since when I want something from someone. I don’t try to make them do it. That does not work. Even with a different personality or more power, I don’t think I can make anyone do anything. Even if I could, I know that it would not be the best way to accomplish my goals.

When you want people to do something, tell them what you want and why, even when what you want is required.

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