Saturday, September 20, 2014

What to do When You find YOU are the Problem

The Reward of Struggle

"What is worth savoring that isn't worth toil.
Is gain satisfying without cost?
Without darkness can we explain light?
Our teacher is pain, our brother the fight.
Our effort is gain but our pride the price.
No bliss in bereavement but strength through the test.
Reward through trial: That is wisdom expressed." - Unknown author
Poetry? No this isn't Deep Thoughts by Jack Handy but I have a management philosophy supported with  recent story to share that I hope inspires you in a way that might dramatically improve your business. 
While the Napa quake was more than a bummer for many, it produced some really interesting positive results such as creeks that started flowing in the middle of a three year drought
Another positive from the quake and the work I did talking to wineries to determine a damage estimate: I've now heard four separate stories about wineries who found something during the clean up - and one CEO in particular who found something he had lost for some time in the clutter and din of repetitive work. He found his well-intended efforts were to blame for the problems his winery faced.

My Favorite Martian

A friend of mine who I'll call Ted possesses a buttoned-down structured temperament. Ted had taken over an already performing larger winery many years ago from the founder who like many entrepreneurs was a creative type. Ted brought discipline, structure, and improved reporting, He streamlined and focused the org chart and emphasized a culture of accountability for everyone. To improve inefficiencies from email volume that had gone haywire he defined how and with who people should communicate. He then set firm budgets for every department with consequences for missing plans. 
Initially the company did very well with these new found boundaries but over time, the winery evolved into a culture of departments and silos with everyone staying within defined functional walls, focusing exclusively on their job objectives and playing less and less as a team.
Ted asked to have lunch with me last year during which he told me things were running pretty smoothly in that budgets were being met and expenses controlled. His ownership was happy. When I asked something I ask many people, "what keeps you up at night," and he had a ready answer: 
Despite a recent focus on training programs, his employees weren't developing as he believed they should and instead of people moving up to take on more meaningful work, they seemed to be leaving more times than not for other wineries. He had done salary surveys but found his winery was more than competitive. There was no emergency but Ted knew if he couldn't find a good solution the company couldn't grow because more and more the weight of growth was falling on him and he was out of bandwidth.

Ted confessed to me the company seemed close to hitting a wall.  Adding more employees didn't solve the problem. Everything was "just getting stale." Ted asked to talk to me that day because he hoped I could offer some thoughts, perhaps a new idea ... some kind of spark that would improve his situation.
After asking a lot of questions about things he'd already tried... "What about this? Nope. Tried that," .... I finally had to tell him I didn't have any great ideas either. Then on August 24th at 3:20 am Pacific time, Ted was handed the answer he was looking for.

Ralph Kramden Goes to Work

When the men and women came back from WWII, Private Smith and Jones exchanged their uniforms for that of private industry. Culturally businesses in the 40's and 50's functioned a lot like the military with hierarchy, departments, time management experts, and a top-down management style. Punishment was a tool in the managers box, just like KP was in the military.
That generation didn't expect work to be a social outlet like today. It was work. You did your job, punched out and went home. Church, your next-door neighbor, and the Elks Lodge were the social outlets.
Work cultures started to evolve as young boomers without their parents military experience entered the workforce. They didn't like taking orders or being taken to the woodshed. They wanted decisions of their managers to make more sense. Imagine the response to that from a CEO/General type leader. You want to help me make decisions?
Then in 1960 Douglas McGregor wrote The Human Side of Enterprise and instead of focusing on time management or top-down management as most business schools taught prior, McGregor went into what motivated workers and contrasted 2 management styles he characterized as Theory X and Y Managers. That caused a ripple in management philosophies that continues to this day.

Andy Griffith versus Mr. Burns

In short Theory X managers are command and control types. They believe workers will cheat the system without rigid boundaries and controls. Theory Y managers believe workers are more successful and self-actualized when their voice is heard. The theory is an extension of Maslow's work in 1943McGregor theorized that managers who are Theory X types keep people at the bottom of Maslow's pyramid in survival mode and get at best what is demanded, but the best managers are more participatory and able to get workers to use their own gifts to enhance business success.
You aren't going to run into a pure X or Y manager but to give you an idea of the attributes of a true Theory X manager, I found this disparaging description on the interwebs:
"clock-watchers, showing occasional bursts of anger, fundamentally insecure, withhold rewards and suppress pay, take credit for success but shift blame to subordinates, hold to unreasonable expense controls while ignoring revenue opportunities, not-invented- here (NIH) approach to ideas, carefully script and control communication to their bosses from their employees but at the same time, go directly around subordinates to lower level staff in order to retain organizational control. These are people who revel in their own status, are often social climbers, and a insist on a formal hierarchy."
Thankfully few people are like this but if your boss is really like this, I'd suggest running. If you are a boss like this, I'd suggest you find a different line of work that doesn't involve people. 

Lost in Space: The Robinson's Come Home - Mr. Smith Left Behind

Talking to Ted a couple weeks ago, he was more upbeat than any time I remember of late which seemed odd given the extent of damage sustained in the earthquake. The reason he was so positive is in the middle of the quake cleanup he had discovered what had been lost: the interpersonal element, lateral communication and empowerment that his management approach had inadvertently devalued.
My friend Ted is a person of integrity who really cares about those around him and truly wants to win as a team. I see him as a secure and strong leader but his own focus on command and control, accountability, and strict reporting lines had as he discovered, created a culture that was sub-optimized and overly dependent on him. Here is the point: People weren't growing because he wasn't allowing failure as a learning tool. It wasn't safe to fail.
I don't see Ted as the classic Theory X manager but Ted, and all of us for that matter, have days when the press of business can pull us to the dark side. Instead of practicing a participatory style of management where mistakes are part of learning, we show frustration and disapproval to our workers thus forcing mistakes underground where they can't be discussed. That hinders the development of employees as well as the ability of an organization to scale up efficiently because all relevant decisions, whether by edict or cultural hand-slapping have to go through the top in a choke point.

The Borg in Wine Country

On the morning of the quake, Ted told me everyone from ownership through maintenance came in without being asked - it was Sunday. Everyone worked together to get the business cleaned up and ready for receiving grapes on Monday. People that were in silos in their own offices and departments met new colleagues for the first time in many cases, and all worked to a common goal. There was nobody really in charge. People worked as a collective. Work was self-evident and everyone worked to that goal. Workgroups formed organically around skills with cellar workers leading a team of people that could include a willing higher-up who didn't have the same skills needed for this work, but who was just as willing to work. 
Ted told me that his company post quake has never had such high morale and department to department support and communication. This was a complete revelation. He found what he was looking for totally by chance; the positive gift from an earthquake of all things!

Trading Places

This was a lot for Ted to adjust to because as a command and control professional, he was seeing problems getting solved and he not only wasn't directing the solution, he didn't hear about the problem until he heard the story about the problem AND the solution. Pent up ideas that had been simmering beneath defined communication protocols were now being surfaced through unorthodox channels.
Literally in the rubble of the disaster, this winery found something that exceeded the value of damage and now Ted has a new task ahead of him: to redefine his own management style and let go of some of his management practices. That isn't going to be easy. Ted has already told me he is feeling a little redundant. I suggested that is the sign that he actually has more time to lead which seemed to immediately resonate with him.
I have to be clear here and let you know that Ted is not my friend's real name. While he has allowed me to write about this experience ... in typical Ted fashion, he made me promise to disguise the winery and let him read this first before publishing it .... which makes me smile since I know him so well, but I also understand there is a downside to having the real person and winery put out there. I think its OK for the wizard to remain behind the curtain.
That said, what I appreciate most is Ted's inward thinking and observation; his self-correction and the strength of character that he is showing by his willingness to allow me to share his experience and learning. He has become a role model for me, and when I find a point (again) where I am the problem, I will know what to do by his example.
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  1. This is really interesting. I always wonder how Type X types / control freaks get to be that way, and this hinted at that a little bit in a way that makes sense. Good for Ted for discovering a way to be more flexible, though.

    1. Anon 10:07 - Sorry for the delay in response and thanks for the comments. Having studied quite a bit now in temperaments, I can say there is a difference between someone who is structured and someone who is a control freak. You can be a structured person and love people and want to see them develop so are a Theory Y manager. On the other hand, you can be unstructured and still be a Theory X manager.

      The key issue comes down to how a manager views people. If a manager is distrusting of people's motivations, they are Theory X.

      My own experience is that all of us carry around some level of insecurity that can impact relationships at work or home. For many if not most of us, those insecurities aren't terminal issues regarding relationships.

      Managers who are at a place of implied trust but at the core still insecure, find it very hard to be motivators of people. They rely on systems and procedures to maintain control and at their worst, get rid of anyone who might have the potential to be better than them or take away from their own spotlight.

      Hope that sheds some additional context on your post. Thanks again for taking the time to comment.


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