Ken Blanchard is perhaps not as recognisable a name as the most famous of his 50 internationally acclaimed books, The One Minute Manager. Other memorable titles are The One Minute Apology (widely read, but too rarely invoked), Who Killed Change, Big Bucks, and Whale Done Parenting. They have stayed on bestseller lists because of the content inside the covers.
I had the good fortune to sit next to him at a private dinner during his visit to Australia. He had some interesting insights on people management. Many of them at first seem counterintuitive, but are quite compelling on reflection. Blanchard, a former university lecturer, recalled how he used to upset his faculty colleagues by handing out the final exam paper to all his students at the year’s first lecture. “I told the students, ‘I want you to all get an ‘A’. My fellow professors didn’t like this, which was a bit surprising because I set very tough examination papers.”
Blanchard sees his role as to help students get an A. From that point on he works with the group to make connections between them so everyone understands what it takes to make the grade. “That’s what leadership in business is all about. And it’s also the job of all these classmates to help each other,” he said.
Blanchard believes businesses often set mysterious key performance objectives, that sometimes employees don’t have a hope in hell of achieving or understanding. He believes businesses haven’t made the connection between high staff engagement and high business performance. Gary Ridge, the expatriate Australian CEO of WD40, thinks along similar lines. Most of us know WD40’s core product — it’s what we spray on to that rusty intransigent nut when we can’t spanner it off. Ridge’s ideas on business-performance management came from Ken Blanchard’s A class. He was one of those to get the exam paper in the first lecture.
Ridge lets his people write their own performance targets. That’s the third job for each employee at the beginning of each year. The first job involves each worker sitting down with his or her manager and the latter explaining what the company is trying to achieve over the next 12 months. The second job is for them to review each person’s job description and to rewrite that in a way most likely to help that employee contribute to the company’s objectives.
Then each worker completes and files their performance objectives. Ridge asks for only five simple objectives, but that two of them involve helping someone else in another part of the company. The employee is also asked to specify what help they need from their boss and others in the organisation to get their job done. each employee knows what their A-grade performance will look like; where they can expect to be supported and where they are expected to help others make the grade.
At the end of the year, if there is a major performance shortfall, Ridge stresses that it’s the employee’s boss who may be at risk of losing their job, and not the worker.
Ken Blanchard has benchmarked WD40’s engagement scores. He found that 98.7 per cent of WD40 employees believe that their company respects the individuals within it. Blanchard says these are the best scores he has seen. Why? Basically the company doesn’t engage in mysterious objectives.
Simple, but counterintuitive to traditional business folklore, isn’t it?
And then again, not really.