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The East African : May 26th 2014
The EastAfrican 38 MANAG E R How to get you≥ team to do what it says it’s going to do S ay you are in the early stages of planning your department’s budget for the next fiscal year. Your management team meets to establish short-term priorities and starts to think about longerterm resource allocation. You identify the next steps and decide to reconvene in a week — but when you do, you find that very little progress has been made. What’s the holdup? Your to-dos probably look something like this: Step 1: Develop a tentative budget for continuing operations. Step 2: Clarify the department’s role in upcoming corporate initiatives. Those steps may be logi- cal, but they are ineffective because they omit essential details. Creating goals that teams and organisations will accomplish is not just a matter of defining what needs doing; you also have to spell out the specifics of getting it done, because you cannot assume that everyone involved will know how to move from concept to delivery. By using what motivational scientists call if-then planning to express and implement your group’s intentions, you can significantly improve execution. If-then plans work because contingencies are built into our neurological wiring. Humans are very good at encoding information in “If X, then Y” terms and using those connections (often unconsciously) to guide their behaviour. When people decide when, where and how they will fulfil their goals, they create a link in their brains between a certain situation or cue (“If or when X happens”) and the behaviour that should follow (“then I will do Y”). We have learnt from over 200 studies that if-then planners are about 300 per cent more likely than others to reach their goals. Most of that research focuses on individuals, but several recent studies indicate that if-then planning also improves team performance. It pinpoints conditions for success, increases group members’ sense of responsibility, and helps close the troublesome gap between knowing and doing. Peter Gollwitzer, the psy- chologist who first studied ifthen planning, has described it as creating “instant habits.” Unlike many of our other habits, these do not get in the way of our goals but help us reach them. BUSINESS MAY 24-30,2014 Befo≥e you become a leade≥, act like one By AMY GALLO Special Correspondent IF YOU want to become a leader, do not wait for the fancy title or the corner office. You can begin to act, think and communicate like a leader long before that promotion. Even if you are still several levels down and someone else is calling the shots, there are numerous ways to demonstrate your potential and carve your path to the role you want. What the experts say “It’s never foolish to begin preparing for a transition no matter how many years away it is or where you are in your career,” says Muriel Maignan Wilkins, co-author of Own the Room: Discover Your Signature Voice to Master Your Leadership Presence. Michael Watkins, the COMMENTARY HEIDI GRANT HALVORSON “By using what motivational scientists call if-then planning to express and implement your group’s intentions, you can significantly improve execution.” Suppose your employees have been remiss in submitting weekly progress reports, and you ask them all to set the goal of keeping you better informed. Despite everyone’s willingness, people are busy and still forget to do it. So you ask them each to make an ifthen plan: “If it is 2pm on Friday, I will e-mail Susan a brief progress report.” Now, the cue “2pm on Fri- day” is directly wired in their brains to the action “e-mail my report to Susan.” Below their conscious awareness, your employees begin to scan the environment for it. As a result, they will spot and seize the critical moment — 2pm on Friday — even when busy doing other things. Once the “if” part of the plan is detected, the mind triggers the “then” part. People now begin to execute the plan without having to think about it. Sometimes you are aware that you are following through. But the process does not have to be conscious, which means you and your employees can still move towards your goal while occupied with other projects. This approach worked in controlled studies: Participants who created if-then plans submitted weekly reports only one and a half hours late, on average. Those who did not create them submitted reports eight hours late. Now, the tasks and time frames are clearly outlined. Individuals know what they are accountable for, and so do the others in the group. If-then planning can ad- dress some of the classic challenges that groups face when working and making decisions together, such as groupthink and fixation on sunk costs. Groupthink In theory, teams should be The best you can do is try to make smart choices with what you have left to invest.” better decision-makers than individuals, because they can benefit from the diverse knowledge and experience that each member brings. But they rarely capitalise on what each person has to of- By using “if-then” planning, you can significantly improve execution. fer. Rather than offering up unique data and insights, members focus on information that they all possess from the start. Many forces are at work here, but primary among them is the desire to reach consensus quickly and without conflict by limiting the discussion to what’s familiar to everyone. Clinging to lost causes We tend to chase sunk costs — the time, effort and money we have put into something and cannot get back out. It is irrational behaviour. Once your team realises that a project is failing, previous investments should not matter. The best you can do is try to make smart choices with what you have left to invest. Groups can be loath to ac- knowledge their imperfections and errors of judgement. But by taking the perspective of an independent observer, a group can gain the objectivity to scale back on its commitments to bad decisions or cut its losses altogether. In other words, by imagining that some other team made the initial investment, people free themselves up to do what’s best in light of current circumstances, not previous outlays. Heidi Grant Halvorson is the associate director of Columbia Business School’s Motivation Science Center and the author of Nine Things Successful People do Differently. chairman of Genesis Advisers and author of The First 90 Days and Your Next Move, agrees. Not only does the planning help you develop the necessary skills and leadership presence, it also increases your chances of getting the promotion because people will already recognise you as a leader. The key is to take on opportunities now, regardless of your tenure or role. “You can demonstrate leadership at any time no matter what your title is,” says Amy Jen Su, co-author of Own the Room. Here are several ways to start laying the groundwork. Knock your responsibilities out of the park No matter how big your ambitions, do not let them distract you from excelling in your current role. Focus on the present as much as — or more than — the future. “You still have to deliver results in your day job,” says Jen Su. Maignan Wilkins adds: “You always need to take care of today’s business so that nobody — peers, direct reports or those above you — questions your performance.” That is the first step to getting ahead. Help your boss succeed “You have to execute on your boss’s priorities too,” says Watkins. “Show her that you’re willing to pick up the baton on important projects.” Maignan Wilkins also suggests you “lean more towards yes than no” whenever your boss asks you to help with something new. Find out what keeps your manager up at night and propose solutions to those problems. Seize leadership opportunities, no matter how small Make sure your “let me take that on” attitude extends beyond your relationship with your boss. Raise your hand for new initiatives, especially ones that might be visible to those outside your unit. “This will give others a taste of what you’ll be like in a more senior role,” says Maignan Wilkins. It doesn’t have to be an intense, monthslong project. It may be something as simple as facilitating a meeting, offering to help with recruiting events, or stepping in to negotiate a conflict between peers. You may find opportunities outside of work, too. You can sit on the board of a local nonprofit or organise your community’s volunteer day. “These activities send the signal that you aspire to leadership potential,” Watkins says. Look for the white space Another way to prove your potential is to take on projects in the “white space.” These are problems that others are not willing to tackle or do not even know exist. “Every organisation has needs that nobody is paying attention to, or people are actively ignoring,” Maignan Wilkins says. Amy Gallo is a contribut- ing editor at Harvard Business Review.
May 19th 2014
June 2nd 2014