Archive for July, 2015

Fifty Shades of Red

Sunday, July 12th, 2015

During my rafting trip along the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon we covered 225 miles. Along the way, there were many things that I expected – and there were things that were an absolute revelation to me.

The first revelation was the importance of the Canyon’s geology together with the mesmerising beauty of its different coloured layers, complicated by the constant zigzag of equally evocative fault lines.

The whole of the journey was through Arizona, which I already knew came from the Spanish “Arid zona” – what I didn’t know was that the name Colorado comes from the Spanish for “Colour red”.  And the River was red – in places. It was also many shades of red and many other colours besides. Every morning when I awoke, being only a few yards away, it was both easy and fascinating to check on what nature’s paint palette had created overnight – as its colour often changed from how it was the previous evening.

Its colour depended on the part of the river we were on, the amount of rain that had fallen, the waterfalls, side canyons, washes and creeks that were feeding into it, and the speed of the river (the CFS – Cubic Feet per Second) to name four. Look at these pictures of its different colours.

The very bright blue water is the Little Colorado River – a counterpoint to the usually murky waters of the Colorado.

I also came to appreciate that the colour was one of the aspects of the river that the guides used in assessing how it would be for our rafting that day. It helped them to decide how they were going to work with it.

As I lay be the river one morning, mesmerised by its beauty and power, I started to think about how the Colorado was very like a team.

On the face of it, the same river passes through the same route every day.  A traveller would think like that at their peril. A good river guide treats it as a different river every day, and recognises its changes during the day. And this is what a great manager does with their team.

A poor manager sees the same team coming to work every day, whilst a great manager doesn’t have the same team coming to work every day. A great manager has individuals coming to work who will be different every day – and so the team will be too. The great manager notices those differences and manages accordingly – like a great river guide.

In the Harvard Business Review, Marcus Buckingham highlights his findings from research that started with a survey of 80,000 managers conducted through the Gallup Organization and then continued for two years with in-depth studies of a few top performers.  Buckingham found, “… that while there are as many styles of management as there are managers, there is one quality that sets truly great managers apart from the rest: They discover what is unique about each person and then capitalize on it. Average managers play checkers, while great managers play chess. The difference? In checkers, all the pieces are uniform and move in the same way; they are interchangeable. … In chess, each type of piece moves in a different way, and you can’t play if you don’t know how each piece moves. More important, you won’t win if you don’t think carefully about how you move the pieces. Great managers know and value the unique abilities and even the eccentricities of their employees, and they learn how best to integrate them into a coordinated plan of attack.”

Generally, people leave managers, not organisations.

In “The Value of a Good Manager”, Peter Drucker itemises the four foundations that employees look for in managers. They are:

  • Managers who show care, interest and concern for their staff
  • To know what is expected of them
  • A role which fits their abilities
  • Positive feedback and recognition regularly for work well done.

The first foundation is all about managers recognising the fifty thousand shades of their teams. And in terms of the Colorado, where the likes of the Little Colorado meet the Colorado (picture on the left), that could be seen as a new member of staff joining the team.

What can you do next? Think about yourself, your skills, your interventions with your staff. Drucker suggests five questions to help you:

  • Do I demonstrate care, concern and interest?
  • Am I clear in talking through what’s expected of my staff?
  • Are people working to their strengths? Do I provide support where staff are stretched? Am I proactive in this?
  • How often do I provide positive feedback and encouragement? It’s far too easy to notice the negative and feedback on this.
  • Am I creating the conditions where people want to work with me?

What colour is your river today, and why?

Paul