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“We can all be geniuses because one definition of genius is the infinite capacity for taking pains. Perfection in details is essential. Generalities don’t count.”
-- Knute Rockne
Any time you try to change your teammates or coworkers’ performance, you face a problem of discrepancy – a difference between what is happening at that moment and what you want to have happen in the future. Your aim is to bridge that discrepancy by motivating the person, by turning him or her on. The only way you can do that is to demonstrate to the person that it’s going to make a difference to him if he changes.
Showing him that is tricky enough in itself, even when you know exactly what’s wrong in the situation, and understand exactly what Behavior changes are going to make the difference. A lot of managers never even get that far. They know that something is wrong with the performance picture, but they have trouble defining exactly what. As a result their attempts at motivation fall flat. Since they can’t visualize the distance between “here” and “there” accurately themselves, they don’t describe it properly to the person they’re trying to motivate, he doesn’t understand where it is he’s supposed to be going – and nothing changes.
You’ve probably heard the expression “getting all your ducks in a line.” In business it usually means getting all the variables of a complicated deal under control at the same time, so you can solve the problem or make the sale as neatly as the hunter who brings down his birds with no fuss – as if they were lined up in a shooting gallery. Well, trying to get somebody motivated to change without knowing exactly what you want him to do is like hunting ducks with a blindfold on. If the fields are full of the critters, you can pull off a couple of barrels blind, and maybe, just maybe, you’ll bring one home for dinner. But it’s not likely. As Texas football coach Darrell Royal said about the “breaks” his team was supposed to have gotten from time to time: “You’ve got to be in a position for luck to happen. Luck doesn’t go around looking for a stumblebum.”
Not in football, not in duck-hunting, and not in business either. As a manager who needs to get his people up for changing their behavior, unless you know what you’re looking for and what steps you need to take to get there, you’re just like the blindfolded duck hunter or Coach Royal’s stumblebum. Maybe the good Lord will look down and say, “Let’s help this bozo out.” But it’s not likely. You want to solve a performance problem, you’ve got to do just what the old duck hunter does: size up the quarry, and take aim.
In my company we use the term “Pinpointing” to mean about the same thing as “taking aim.” Pinpointing is the first step in our P.R.I.C.E. motivation system – the first step in the “P.R.I.C.E.” you’ve got to be willing to pay if you want to move from a lousy “here” to a more satisfying “there.”
When I talk about the need for Pinpointing in corporate and industrial operations, I use the term both generally and very specifically. Generally it’s a synonym for “aiming” or “focusing precisely.” Specifically, I use it to highlight the need to focus on:
individual objective, either personal or collective, that can feed into company-wide goals
individual Behaviors done by one or more of the people whose performance concerns you
individual outcomes which are the result of those Behaviors and which may or may not coincide with the objectives you want
The three are clearly related, and I’ll be talking about connections between them throughout this article.
First, let me clarify the difference between Behaviors and outcomes, since the two are very often confused. A Behavior is simply something that a person says or does. I flick on a light switch, or throw a screen pass, or complain to a friend about the heat. Those are Behaviors. An outcome is what happens as the result of the Behavior. The light goes on, the pass is caught or intercepted, my friend hands me a beer. Those are outcomes. Of course many outcomes (catching the pass, handing the beer) can be Behaviors also – and can lead to further outcomes. But the basic distinction is important to keep in mind, because managers frequently focus only on outcomes, ignoring the Behaviors that have caused them, and as a result fail to get results, because they’ve skipped over the source of the problem.
This is one of the most common, and most commonly missed, of all managerial errors. It happens because, as I said earlier, many managers are wary of addressing personal Behaviors – they’re embarrassed or think it’s none of their business – and prefer to focus on “results.” “I don’t give a damn how they do it,” an executive told me once. “I want a 30 percent share of that market.” But he wasn’t willing to investigate, and “manipulate,” the various activities (Behaviors) of his people that might get him the 30 percent. Predictably, he didn’t get it.
I’ve run across a lot of corporate honchos in positions like this executive’s. They’re used to reading the quarterly P&L reports, but they take them in as if they were created in a vacuum – as if some magical machine spewed out a 14 percent increase in volume one month, and a 2 percent drop the next, without any people being involved. The truth is that every P&L statement is an outcome that is created by an accumulation of thousands of “insignificant” Behaviors, from the drafting of the report itself to the pushing of a little yellow button down on Line B approximately fourteen times an hour. If the guy responsible for pushing the button doesn’t perform that Behavior correctly, the P&L is going to be different. And the president can yell all he wants to about the need to “lift the profit picture.” Unless he – and all his managers – understand that the yellow-button Behavior is part of that total picture, the P&L is going to stay where it is.
So the first lesson of Pinpointing is that, if you want to get anything done in business, you have to start at the beginning. You have to start by focusing on Behaviors.
In my company we do that in a very precise manner. When we teach managers in our client companies how to Pinpoint their people’s Behaviors, we ask them to ask themselves the following questions:
1. Is the Behavior observable? That is, can it be seen and/or heard? If it can’t be, it’s not a Behavior. We’ve found this question to be a good check against the all too common tendency to confuse “attitudes” and “personalities” with real Behaviors. Say a production line has a high rate of breakdowns. We might ask the supervisor of the line to define the Behavior problem: to Pinpoint the activity that’s causing the problem. A lot of managers will say, “Those guys are just screwing up; they’re too lazy to work up to speed.” Maybe that’s true, but it’s not a Pinpoint. In this case an example of a Pinpoint would be: “The foreman is calling for a slowdown three or four times every hour.” To use Pinpointing properly, you start with that observable Behavior; later you can figure out why it’s happening.
2. Is it specific enough that two independent observers could agree the Behavior is happening? Again, this is a check against subjectivity. A manager plagued by breakdowns or a sales director hampered by unfilled quotas might have a “general” idea that the problem is faulty maintenance or seasonal industry slowdown. Maybe he’ll Pinpoint the problem by saying, “Alex doesn’t do the daily PM checks he’s supposed to” or “Janet isn’t making enough sales calls.” That’s possible, but if another observer swears that the checks or the calls are being made, you’d better check for subjective bias on the part of the first observer. If two independent observers can say, “Alex does checks on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday,” then – and only then – do you have a Pinpointed Behavior.
3. Can the Behavior be quantified? That is, can it be measured accurately in times performed and/or rate of frequency of performance? We ask our clients to describe each “Behavior” they witness in terms of numbers per unit of time, rather than in vague and subjective terms like “a lot,” “pretty regularly,” or “not enough.” If the units you’re supposed to be shipping out are piling up on the loading dock, it’s reasonable to assume that they’re not moving “fast enough.” But in analyzing a problem like this in terms of the P.R.I.C.E. motivation system, you’ve got to start with specifics: To Pinpoint the Behaviors involved, you don’t say, “They’re loading the trucks too slow.” Instead, you quantify: “Last week, the eight to four crew loaded an average of 1.3 trucks an hour.”
The value of making sure that the Behaviors you’re talking about are observable, specific, and quantifiable should be clear. It brings the whole business of analyzing problems down to the nuts-and-bolts level. It clears away the vague, accusatory garbage that often gets in the way of real problem solving, and it forces people to look at what is actually happening. If you start your motivational process with Pinpointing, you’ve gotten to a level of understanding that is already light years ahead of the level attained by the guy who only wants to know “Why the hell aren’t we doing better?” By focusing on specifics, you know what’s going on, step by step, in your plant or department’s operation. You know exactly where you are, right now.
The next thing you need to know is how to get from here to there. You do that by using Pinpointing in the setting of your objectives.
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