The ABC’s of Management Leadership Article by: Ken Blanchard

The most important thing to remember about managing and motivating people is that behavior is controlled by its consequences. Goal setting starts behavior. But what really impacts behavior is what happens after it.

In our book Putting the One Minute Manager to Work, we developed a little model called “The ABC’s of Management.” “A” stands for “activator,” which is anything that happens before people begin to perform.

An obvious activator is goal setting, because it has to come before you can expect people to perform well. All good performance starts with clear goals. Another activator is training. Ideally, you want to train people ahead of time to do their job.

Yet interestingly enough, both goal setting and training are frequently implemented after performance has already begun and is failing. Parents often wait until a bad report card arrives to talk to their child about academic goals, when they should have done it ahead of time. Training is all too often handled exactly the same way. We put people out in the job and they’re performing poorly, and then we decide to give them some training. But at that point, it’s too late. It should have been done ahead of time.

So activators are anything that you want to do upfront, before people start to perform. That’s why orientation is important. That’s why setting your vision and your mission and your values, and communicating them to your people are all important things that need to be upfront before performance begins.

“B” stands for “behavior,” but you could also substitute the word “performance.” First you activate, then people start to behave, or perform.

The next step is to observe their performance, which moves us to the “C” of our model, “consequence.” A consequence is what happens after people begin to perform.

There are four basic consequences that people experience as a result of their performance. The most common one, unfortunately, is no response. They do something, and nobody says anything. They are ignored in their performance. Nobody is watching; nobody seems to care.

In the beginning when nobody responds to what you’re doing, you might work a little harder just to get noticed. But after a while, if nobody seems to care, performance inevitably goes down. Yet no response is the mostcommon response of all.

The next most common response is a negative response. In fact, with no response and negative response, you have the most popular management style in America, which we call, “Leave alone — zap. Leave alone — zap.” You’re leaving people alone, you’re not observing, and then their performance gets bad enough and you zap them. Not very motivating.

Negative consequences can be successful when you’re dealing with an experienced performer who is not living up to his or her expectations. You might want to reprimand the person; you might also want to do something that says, “This isn’t appropriate. You know you can do better than that.” But it is not something to do when you’re trying to teach a learner. Don’t punish learners.

The third consequence is an interesting one because it’s not negative, but it’s also not positive. It’s redirection. This is the best response to learners who make a mistake. If they make a mistake, you might say something like, “Maybe I didn’t make it clear. Here’s what I want you to do.” Now you’re back into goal setting and activating again, and starting that process again.

Redirection is an appropriate response to “can’t do” problems: people who don’t have the skills or training they need. A reprimand or any negative consequence is only appropriate for “won’t do” problems: They’ve got the skills, but for some reason they’re not doing it. If you reprimand — if you punish — a learner, you will immobilize him or her.

If people are not performing well, if they are good performers and they’re getting lax, you can reprimand. If they’re learners who aren’t performing well, you redirect them.

The fourth consequence is also the most critical one. It is the positive consequence; in other words, praise.

Positive responses increase future behavior. With no response, people’s performance will go down after a while. With a negative response, people just stop doing what they were doing, and that stops behavior. Redirection gets them going again. But a positive consequence is what really keeps them moving in the direction you want.

The key to developing people is to catch them doing things right. Observe what’s going on. If it’s even in the direction of what you want, praise it. Don’t wait for people to do something exactly right before you praise them — otherwise, you could wait forever.

Once you catch someone doing something right, the next step is the reward. Bob Nelson, who is our vice president for product development, has written a best-selling book entitled A Thousand and One Ways to Reward Employees. And Bob researched all kinds of ways that you can catch people doing things right, and actually follow up with something that is fun.

He spent three years surveying fifteen hundred companies to find out the most effective and innovative ways that managers catch people doing something right and praise it. The organizations Bob has written about have learned about the power of recognition.

A few examples might be helpful.

Textronic is an Oregon-based company that has a wonderful award they give people. It’s called the “You’ve Done Something Good” Award. They have note cards, and managers can write down a personal thank-you and deliver it to another employee.

Bell Atlantic Cellular Telephone division in Philadelphia names cell sites after its top employees. Serpa Corporation, a software company in San Jose, California, uses an old, ugly bowling trophy purchased at a pawn shop as a pass-around for spectacular results achieved. The trophy has taken on real significance among the people in the company.

Once managers see that giving praise and recognition is directly linked to performance, they’ll see it as an integral part of their job and start working to overcome the historical obstacles to success.

Ken Blanchard is the founder of Blanchard Training and Development Inc. He has consulted for Disney, Honda, Motorola, The Gap, and hundreds of other companies all over the world. As a much sought-after speaker and presenter, he has received a multitude of awards in management and leadership — including the Golden Gavel from Toastmasters International and the Council of Peers Award for Excellence from the National Speakers Association.

Learn more about Ken Blanchard; his audio program, Coaching from the Heart; and his latest book, The Leadership Pill TM - The Missing Ingredient in Motivating People Today! To book Blanchard at your next event, call 1.800.550.3506.