Excerpted from The Great Game of Business.
Like most American companies, International Harvester operated on the principle that everybody should focus on doing the specific job he or she was assigned. The corollary was that you should only give people the information required to do their specific jobs; everything else should be treated as some kind of corporate secret. Somehow it had become common wisdom that this was a good way to run a business—in fact, the only right way to run a business. That is the biggest myth of all.
If you want to make things happen, you have to get people to raise their sights, not lower them. The broader the picture you give people, the fewer obstacles they see in their path. People need big goals. If they have big goals, they blow right by the little obstacles. But those obstacles will become mountains if you don't get people beyond the day-to-day issues, if you don't appeal to something they really want to do. That means letting them see the Big Picture. It means sharing all the facts with them. It means showing them the challenge, letting them experience the fun of The Game, the fun of winning. It means motivating people with humor and laughter and excitement, which go a heck of a lot further than yelling and screaming and throwing tantrums.
I learned all that in one of my first management experiences.
I'd been put in charge of getting parts into the factory, and I began going to weekly management meetings where I started hearing some of the company's secrets. At the time, we had a big contract to make tractors for the Russians. The secret was that we were in trouble on it. The Russians had negotiated a penalty clause whereby they could charge us for every day we went beyond the deadline of October 31. By October 1, we were still 800 tractors short of the goal, and nobody knew where we could get the parts needed to fill the order in time. The other managers said, "Keep it to yourself. This is real serious. Heads are going to roll. You just focus on getting us the parts. We'll take care of the tractors."
None of this made sense to me. For one thing, I didn't understand why we should focus on getting parts in the door when the real goal was to get tractors out the door. And I certainly couldn't see the point of keeping it all a secret. So I put up a big sign outside my office saying, OUR GOAL: 800 TRACTORS, and I told people the whole story.
Everybody thought I was crazy. We were shipping 5 or 6 tractors a day, and there were only twenty working days until the deadline. At that rate, we were going to be short by about 700 tractors. To reach the goal, we had to average 40 tractors a day. We got out 7 tractors on the first day, 3 on the second, and people shook their heads. But when we looked closer at the problem, we began to see ways to improve the daily score. We discovered, for example, that some of the parts weren't making it to assembly—they came in and sat on the dock. That showed us it wasn't enough to get parts to the factory. We had to push them through the door and out onto the shop floor. We also figured out that a lot of tractors were just missing a few key parts. If we targeted those parts, we could dramatically increase shipments.
It was a case of taking a big problem and dividing it into a series of little problems, which is the best way to solve any problem. But at the same time we kept the Big Picture in front of everyone's eyes. And it worked.
Suddenly, our daily total jumped to 55 tractors, and people got turned on. They were amazing. This was a factory where you never went outside your department, where you needed a pass to go into someone else's area, but we had guys doing scheduling, production control, assembly, testing, shipping, the whole nine yards. They'd come into the factory after hours and crawl over the tractors, figuring out exactly what parts were needed and how many tractors were short those particular parts. Then we'd go out on the shop floor and talk to the supervisors and the hourly people. We'd get them to schedule their time as efficiently as possible and made sure we covered them.
The numbers kept going up. When we hit 300 tractors, everybody took notice. We put up bar charts, showing exactly what parts we needed, where they were coming from, how that was going to affect shipments. People could see the whole picture. They could see all the different pieces and how-if this fell in and that fell in-we just might pull it off. They began to believe, and let me tell you, there's nothing like it when people believe, when they think they really can do something everyone said was impossible. Individualism goes out the window. The team takes over. Nobody lets anybody down.
By the last week in October the pressure was intense. The executives would come down and watch what we were doing. With five days left, I put up a sign saying we'd shipped 662 tractors, and the place went wild. Would we make it? Would we just miss? By this point, everybody was involved. Assembly was going crazy. People couldn't wait to get the latest score. We worked right up to the deadline of October 31. On Halloween, the last sign went up outside my office window: 808 TRACTORS SHIPPED.
What a celebration we had! We put balloons all around the sign. We had a party. There were pizzas all around. Nobody could believe that we'd beaten the Russians out of their penalty clause. It was great, just great. That experience taught me a big lesson. I saw these guys get hungry. I saw them push and accomplish things they never thought were possible. I saw satisfaction on a daily basis. I mean, they didn't know they were working! I thought, My God, if I can get people pumped up, wanting to come to work every day, what an edge that is! That's what nobody else is doing. Suppose I could run the right numbers, so that a guy wakes up in the morning and says, "Man, I feel terrible, but I really want to go in there and see what happened"? That's the whole secret to increasing productivity.
And I learned something else as well. The experience absolutely convinced me that secrecy is baloney. I decided that, from then on, I was going to give my people everything I got. Eventually that grew into the whole idea of teaching people how to make money.
When you think about it, all these myths have one thing in common, what you might call the Big Lie. That is the notion that you can manage effectively by forcing people to do things they really don't want to do.
It is just not true. People only get beyond work when their motivation is coming from inside. That higher law—you gotta wanna—says it all. If people don't want to do something, it's not going to get done. Whatever goal you're talking about—owning your own company, being the best, building 800 tractors in a month. If you don't want it inside of you, it ain't gonna happen.
Management is all about instilling that desire to win. It's about instilling self-esteem and pride, that special glow you get when you know you're a winner. Nobody has to tell you. You just feel it. You know it.
Did you miss the first three Myths of Management from The Great Game of Business? catch up here:
Myth # 1 - Don't Tell People the Truth—They'll Screw You
Myth #2 - Nice Guys Finish Last
Myth #3 - A Manager's Job is to Come Up with the Answers