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A Guide For The New Year

November 16, 2009

At the start of the New Year, it’s traditional to pass along some wisdom that, if followed, will improve your fortunes in the days ahead. To that end, I want to suggest a management principle, that is not always easy to follow, but that will serve you well when practiced.

Managers frequently seek the answers for two basic questions. First, why do certain management policies and practices work so well, while others, appearing equally well thought out, fair poorly. What principle could be formulated that would improve the quality of the programs and policies that managers attempt to implement?

Second, why do some people work as though they owned the place, while so many others, in seemingly similar circumstances, do not? Why, for example, do some stay with a problem until they have a solution, while others look for help at the first sign of resistance?

My view of the world has always been based on the assumption that I was an average man, that I thought average thoughts and felt average emotions. I have always considered myself no different than the next person. No better than anyone, but second to none. This caused me to conclude that those I worked with, while perhaps different in appearance, having different titles, or holding different positions, were more similar than they were different.

This common ground led me to the answer to the first question. I began to test the wisdom of management decisions by accessing my reactions, as if I were the one being ‘managed’. How would I react to an attendance policy that made no provision for the illness of the child of a working parent? What would be the impact of a compensation policy that froze my wages while my boss received a huge bonus? How hard would I work for a boss that kept me informed and gave me a chance for advancement?

The principle I then began to use when accessing the impact of a management policy was “pretend it’s you”. I found that if I could ‘pretend’ that I was an employee, a customer, or a supplier and that if the contemplated management action was one that I could accept if I were the recipient of it, it probably had some chance of success. Interestingly enough, I was able to look back at other decisions that had not succeeded, and quickly understand why they had failed.

The answer to the second question came quickly on the heels of the first. Why do some employees work as though they owned the place, while so many others do not? The answer was ownership. If I was the boss and I didn’t solve the problem, who would? Now that I knew the answer, the problem became making employees act like owners.

I again reflected on my past. I examined those situations in which I performed well, and not so well. It became obvious that long before I ever thought of owning my own business, I was taking ‘ownership’ of some problems and not others. What were the circumstances under which people would take psychological ownership of their work?

“Pretend it’s yours” became the principle through which I understood motivation. It was the perfect companion to the management principle, “pretend it’s you”. It reminded me of the importance of creating an environment in which people could take pride, control and ownership of their work. Employee’s need conditions under which they can ‘pretend its theirs’.

Once combined, these two principles for understanding management and motivation began to take on a distinctive ring. “Pretend its you, pretend its yours”. I liked the sound and the simplicity of the expression. I began to develop the idea further.

Beginning with the principle “Pretend its you, pretend it’s yours” and based on the philosophy that all people by their very nature are motivated problem solvers, I began to develop a more comprehensive management theory called Theory 1.

I had planned to build upon the “pretend its you, pretend its yours” principle that had made things so clear for me and to develop Theory 1 into a golden rule of management. It then struck me that what I was involved in was a sort of reverse engineering of the real Golden Rule.

While formulating “pretend its you” for management and “pretend its yours” for motivation, I had done little more than apply the Golden Rule. When you are making policies that will impact others, make sure that they are policies that you would accept from someone else. When creating a working environment, make sure it’s an environment where you would enjoy working.

If you are looking for just one sound piece of business advice to start off the New Year, “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” In the long run, it’ll solve all sorts of problems.

It may not be too original, but good management has always depended more on good execution than on smart new ideas. Because it’s your business, I wish you well in the New Year.

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