Catch Them Doing Something Slightly Better

 In their 1983 classic, The One Minute Manager, Ken Blanchard and Spencer Johnson gave the following timeless words advice for anyone who manages other people:

 “Catch them doing something right.”

The idea is that to be an effective manager, your job isn’t just to check and correct for errors made by the people reporting to you.  Your job as a manager is also to find the places where your direct reports are doing well…  where they are excelling… and to encourage more of it.

The way I see it, we are all wired with a thing called negativity bias.  The trick to effective management (and effective living)  is to broaden that negativity bias into a more generalized contrast effect. In doing so, we direct our attention to anything remarkable — any “differences” —   including good differences. From that point, we’re just steps away learned optimism.

A variation on the “catch them doing something right” principle came up for me recently.

A new manager showed me a poorly written email that one of her recently hired direct reports wrote to a client. I recognized the type of email immediately since I’ve written some of those myself — the long, rambling email where the writer is working out their thoughts and trying to explain all the steps of logic, all the sides of the issue,  all the combinations and permutation, all for the reading displeasure of a disinterested reader who has enough business experience to answer the matter succinctly.

Yup, it’s the sort of email that makes you say, “Why didn’t he just pick up the phone and call the person ask them what they think?” 

This manager wasn’t sure whether she should say anything to their direct report. On the one hand, she didn’t want to nit pick on a communication style issue when there were many bigger business issues that everyone was dealing with at the time. On the other hand, she wished this employee would spend less time crafting these kinds of emails and more time actually getting stuff done… not to mention, interacting with clients in a smoother, more professional manner.

My advice:  Since it’s not a burning issue and the employee is still learning the ropes on so many other skills, wait until there is another email from the employee which is better than this one — even slightly better. Then, at the employee’s next performance review,  hold up both emails as an example of how their email communications have improved.  This will go a long way towards building the employee’s self-awareness and self-efficacy. It will also reflect well on the manager and their coaching abilities.

If you catch them doing it slightly wrong, sometimes it’s good to keep quiet and wait until you catch them doing it slightly better.   Then you say something.


About danspira

My blog is at: My face in real life appears at a higher resolution, although I do feel pixelated sometimes.

Posted on April 29, 2011, in Business, Communication Skills, Learning and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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