Early on during one of my first jobs at a radio station, I asked my boss what size the station t-shirts were.
“Oh. They are all ‘one-size-fits-Brad,’” he said, pulling at his drooping collar with a grin.
Yes. His name was Brad. And yes – he preferred to wear an extra-large t-shirt. That is the only size he ordered.
That may seem like a ridiculous way to manage resources, but it’s often the way we manage people.
I am guilty of this.
I once had a bright, fresh college grad on my professional team who took to each new task with huge enthusiasm and begged to start handling social media. After a few trials, it seemed she had a good grasp on that, too, so I turned over the admin passwords and shoved the Facebook and Twitter concerns off my plate and onto hers.
She was never shy about asking for guidance and after a few weeks came to me to ask for help on how to handle online complaints. I had a few thoughts of my own to share and then I decided to shepherd her further by doing what I thought was the obvious right move: I bought her the latest and greatest book on the subject.
In theory, this is a good idea. This is what I would have done to solve my own problem (I once bought a book called Talking to Crazy to learn how to communicate with a different co-worker. It only kind of helped). But this wasn’t MY problem.
She was gracious when I shoved the book in her hands, but I noticed as days and then weeks went by that the book never moved off her office shelf. I waited awhile, but eventually I had to ask.
“Have you even started that book yet?” I barked, unsuccessful in hiding my irritation.
To her credit, she was honest.
“I have a really hard time absorbing big books like that,” she said. “It’s just not the best way for me to learn.”
See? I had tried to shove her in a one-size-fits-Brian problem solving t-shirt when I should have asked her size and had something custom made. While she eventually learned the customer service techniques she needed, she could have been more effective faster if I had taken the time to figure out the best way to get her engaged with the right material. No one wants to be force-fed.
It’s a real temptation – professionally and even in personal relationships – to manage people like they are all the same. Proponents of this method claim that clear rules and expectations that apply to every single person are the only way to make a fair and balanced environment. But while this approach might make things fair, it also makes results mediocre. It’s hard to be your very best when you’re only expected to be as good as everybody else.
So challenge your team members to be their individual bests by challenging yourself to take a size inventory and customize your management style.
And throw away that saggy, oversized t-shirt. You’re better than that.
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