Winning is not just a matter of pride, of course. It is also a habit. Unfortunately, losing can get to be a habit as well. When people are in the habit of losing, you won’t see fire in their eyes, only sand. If you want to light the fire, you have to begin by creating wins and celebrating wins— by making a big deal out of little victories and then building on the little victories to achieve bigger victories. It’s a way of putting fun in the workplace— literally. We throw parties and hold celebrations at the drop of a hat. What we’re really doing is creating a team.
That is, of course, one of the major purposes behind the Great Game of Business. In the early days, however, we couldn’t set up games around the financial statements, because people didn’t understand them and would have been intimidated by them. So we came up with other games, simple games, games we knew people could win. That way, we could begin to create the habit of winning. Every win would give us something to celebrate and allow us to start fires. Along the way, we learned some lessons about the kind of games and goals that work best:
1. BUSINESS IS A TEAM SPORT— CHOOSE GAMES THAT BUILD A TEAM.
You can set up all kinds of games in a company. Avoid the ones that are divisive. The best games are those that promote teamwork and togetherness, that create a spirit of cooperation.
Those aren’t hard to find, especially in a company with a lot of problems. Any problem can serve as the basis for a game. In my first few months in Springfield, we started games around safety, housekeeping, shipping, you name it. I’d sit in a room with the other managers, and we’d say, “Okay, here’s a problem. What kind of game can we set up around this one?” To deal with the shipping problem, for example, we bought a huge, gaudy trophy, which we called the “traveling trophy,” and we announced it would be awarded each month to the department with the highest shipments. Later we added delivery as a criterion, because our delivery to customers was so bad. We began measuring housekeeping as well. We’d have inspections. We quantified the results by giving points, say, if the floor was swept clean, or by taking points away if there was stuff on top of the lockers. Then we’d give a plaque to the department with the most points at the end of the month.
At the same time as you’re fostering team spirit, you can also be using the games to build credibility. One of the first issues I went after, for example, was safety. I chose it partly because I was really concerned. The plant had such a bad safety record that we had to do something fast. The safety issue also gave me an opportunity to send a strong message throughout the organization that we cared about people. Safety is basic. It’s the first thing that can turn people against you. It can undermine everything else you try to do. We’d be sunk if people started thinking, “They say they care about us, but they’re not concerned whether we get hurt or not.” And if that were true, they’d be right.
So I took on each issue, and I made it very personal. I went into staff meetings, out on the shop floor, into the cafeteria. I talked to all three shifts. I looked at people, and I said, “We’re going after safety because I want you to go home to your kids. I don’t want anybody to have the responsibility of knocking on the door of your home and saying, ‘I’m sorry, but your daddy’s not coming home because he died at work.’ ” That really got through to people.
We organized a safety committee and set a goal of 100,000 hours without an accident. We put up four-foot-high scorekeeping thermometers all over the place, and we filled them in every two thousand hours we advanced closer to the goal. As the weeks went by, the drama began to build. On the afternoon when we hit the goal, we closed the plant down for a beer bust. We played the theme song from Rocky over the public address system while members of the safety committee marched around, handing out fire extinguishers. There was a parade of forklift trucks decorated in crepe paper. People stood around and cheered.
2. BE POSITIVE, BUILD CONFIDENCE.
Managers have a bad habit of focusing on the negative. I’ve seen statistics showing how managers tend to react quickly to anything that goes wrong and overlook everything that goes right. Let’s say you have a hundred people, and one guy is constantly complaining. It’s easy to start thinking morale is bad because of that one guy. He gets you down, and he may lead you to institute policies or make changes that put the other ninety-nine at risk. You may highlight problems that aren’t there. And you may forget to praise the ninety-nine. You may miss a big opportunity to inspire people, to get results that you wouldn’t have dreamed possible.
This is a serious weakness. One of a manager’s main responsibilities is to build confidence in an organization. To do that, you have to accentuate the positive. If you accentuate the negative, it eats away at the organization. It becomes a demotivator, and management is all about getting people motivated. A manager who doesn’t motivate isn’t doing his or her job. You can’t motivate if you’re continually focusing on the negative.
So it’s important to be positive in the way you set up your games. Take the problem we had with shipping. We were way behind schedule, but we didn’t focus on that— we focused on what we needed to ship. We began by breaking the problem into its elements. We put on the board what we did last year, and how we were doing this year, and we decided what records we needed to achieve. Then we said, “Okay, here’s what we did last year, and here’s a new record we set last month. Now let’s go out and beat it.” We didn’t want people thinking about the weight of the stone or the slope of the hill, but about what it was going to feel like when we won.
We made some mistakes. For example, we decided to give out a scarecrow to the department with the lowest housekeeping score. We got an old broom, put some eyes on it, made it as ugly as we could. Then we started handing it out. It didn’t work. People quickly lost interest in the game. They got mad, and that defeated the purpose. When you make people mad, they don’t want to compete, and they quit. Our mistake was we got away from accentuating the positive. So we dropped the scarecrow and just handed out the plaques.
3. CELEBRATE EVERY WIN.
Records are important, no matter how insignificant they may seem, because you can celebrate whenever you break one. Every record represents an opportunity for management to compliment people, to make them feel good, and to build confidence and self-esteem. People may be feeling depressed, bored, or whatever. If you don’t celebrate, you’ve missed the chance to cheer them up.
You can also use records to change the mindset of an organization, to get people to take responsibility for themselves. Workers often try to delegate problems up to their managers, especially when the managers are new. It’s human nature. They will dump any problem on you if they think you’ll accept it. And you do accept it for a period of time if you’re still learning. You’re going through your basic training. But eventually you have to figure out how to get the situation under control, and the best way is to get people into the game. Maybe they have a good day and set a production record. That’s an opportunity. Seize on the record, make a big deal out of it, celebrate it. What you’re doing is creating and celebrating wins. Celebrate every win, even the small ones. If you celebrate a small win, people will follow it up with another one, and another, and another. After a while, they don’t even know they’re doing it. They’re taking care of themselves. They’re solving their own problems. They aren’t passing them up to you. They’re having fun. Then the manager’s job becomes making sure the fun goes on.
Once the games get going, people stop pushing their problems up to management. If you’re caught up in a game, there’s no time to push problems up. You want to go out and solve the problems by yourself. Otherwise, you’ll get behind, and you won’t win. So the games get people to focus on solving the present problems, which leaves the managers free to think about the future problems — and that’s how a manager stays in control. If you focus on future problems, you eliminate surprises. You deliver consistency. You have a very happy work environment.
4. IT’S GOT TO BE A GAME.
You can go too far in trying to light the fire in people’s eyes. If you do, you’ll find that people stop having fun and start getting scared. Then you have to pull back fast. That happened to me at one point. I decided that each of the managers should have a list of ten accountabilities he’d be expected to meet in the course of the year. They were really specific. I got them down to a gnat’s ass. I made them so specific that they overlapped and conflicted. People had to step on one another’s toes to win. It might have worked out if each manager had done 80 percent of what I asked for. But I had two guys who strived to be the best in every category, and so they walked straight into each other’s territory. They almost killed each other.
The mistake I’d made was to think people would look at these accountabilities as guidelines, as opportunities to help the company and help themselves at the same time. That was naïve. In fact, individual evaluations inspire fear in a lot of people. They see an implicit threat in a list of individual performance criteria. The message is: if I don’t do these things as well as I can, I’m not doing my job. They look at the accountabilities as a line in the sand. They say, “Okay, this is the line. Management is telling me what I have to do if I want to keep my job.” That’s pretty scary stuff. I’d just as soon keep that line as invisible as possible.
So these two guys got into a confrontation. One of them walked up to the other and said, “Hey, you may be meeting your goal, but I ain’t making mine. If I screw up, I could be out the door. My family could be in jeopardy. I could lose my job.” I heard them arguing. I could see that they took the accountabilities not as ideals to strive for but as minimum standards of performance. I realized my mistake. I took the accountability sheets, went out in the backyard, put them in a metal wastepaper basket, and set them on fire.
The point is that it’s got to be a game. I hadn’t realized the fear I was building into the system. When you think about it, the fear came out of being alone. Security comes from being with other people. There’s a lot to be said for knowing that everybody’s in the same boat with you, that you aren’t an island, that you don’t have to do it all on your own.
I learned two other important lessons from that experience:
5. GIVE EVERYONE THE SAME SET OF GOALS.
Don’t send people mixed messages. Let them all have the same objectives, and make sure they have to work together to achieve them. Turn success into a group effort. That way, they can win together.
6. DON’T USE GOALS TO TELL PEOPLE EVERYTHING YOU WANT THEM TO DO.
Too many goals are useless. You should only have two or, at most, three goals over the course of a year. What’s important is to make sure each goal encompasses five or six things. In other words, choose a goal that people can only meet if they do five or six things right. It goes back to the lesson I learned at Melrose Park when we had the deadline on the Russian tractors: you don’t have to tell people to get the parts in on time if you can get them to concentrate on getting the tractors out.
As we’ll see later, it’s a lot easier to come up with those all-encompassing goals when people understand the numbers, and you can give them financial targets to shoot for. But, in any situation, there are usually one or two issues that affect a whole series of problems facing the company, the plant, or the organization. If you can identify those issues, you can use them as levers to affect several things at once.
Bad housekeeping, for example, is frequently a sign of trouble in factories, just as it is in office buildings or homes. Whenever I see too much stock on the shop floor, I know there are production problems. Excess stock creates uncertainty— people never know what to work on next. It also hurts morale by making the work environment messy, cluttered, cramped. But, by the same token, you can use the stock problem as a lever to turn things around. Figure out how much work you have to do each day to get to the point where you have just one day’s stock out on the floor. Then put up a chart and set up a game. That takes care morale, motivation, work space, housekeeping, everything. At the same time, you take the indecisiveness out of the shop floor. People will work on what’s there. They won’t allow problems to accumulate. They’ll know how to schedule their labor. As a result, there will be a continuous flow to the production line because now there’s a limited amount of stock— they have to make every piece count. Volume will pick up.
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