Ken Blanchard: Conversations for New Managers

By March 10, 2016Leadership

new managersKen Blanchard is an icon. Through his books, talks, consulting, and good works, he continues to make an impact on topics from leadership to management to culture. I would have never guessed I would have an opportunity to interview him. I am honored to share our conversation that we had recently.

The One Minute Manager is a book that has set many records. Over 13 million copies sold and translated into 37 languages. One Minute Manager is written by Ken Blanchard and Spencer Johnson. Both have had quite an impact!

new one minute managerMuch has changed since One Minute Manager was initially released in 1982. Ken and Spencer updated it last year and released The New One Minute Manager. Along with the book, they offer a training program for First-Time Managers. Many Millennials are in the workplace today, and many more on the way. Providing the skills and mentoring will enable them to be the best managers and leaders, always learning and growing. No better legacy to leave than to give the next generation a solid start!

With this as background, I hope you enjoy my conversation with Ken Blanchard. Ken continues to set the example for leaders of any age.

Conversation with Ken Blanchard on New Managers

Jon: One of the first questions is around the four conversations. They all are important but, in your experience in working with younger leaders, which one is important to get comfortable with first?

Ken: Well, I think it’s somewhat of a sequencing, but you’ve got to be good in the goal setting conversation. One of the things that I found all around the world when I ask people “what’s their main responsibility and goals?” they’ll tell me. Then I’ll ask their boss, and I get different answers. A lot of times people get punished for not doing what they didn’t know they were supposed to do in the first place.

All good performers start with clear goals and, if people don’t know what you want them to do, there is very little chance to get them to do it.

It sounds simple, but it’s so often missed. That’s why we’ve always said the first secret of the One Minute Manager was one-minute goal setting.

Jon: With all the changes in our workplace over the last several years, especially with technology and social media, how have you seen the four conversations in the One Minute Manager evolve over time?

Ken: Well, one of the things, we came out with a new One Minute Manager because we never had an eBook in it, and they said, “you might want to re-read it and see if there are any other changes.” And when we did, Spencer Johnson, my co-author, and I laughed. We referenced an intercom system, and many of our young people don’t know what one is or never used one!

Many years ago, all the people reporting to a manager were right around their office. They weren’t managing anybody online. In many ways, it was more of a top-down relationship. The manager set the goals and then decided who to praise and who to reprimand and all that. What we’ve done is change the tone. In fact, the One Minute reprimand is now called the One Minute redirect. That’s why the third conversation is a redirection conversation.

I think younger people look at leadership more as a side-by-side relationship, rather than a top-down relationship. Even in the conversation on goals, it’s not the manager that says, “Here are your goals, any questions?” It’s really, “Hey, let’s take a look at your job responsibilities. What do you think could be 3 to 5 key areas that we might want to focus some goals on?” They work on it together, rather than the manager deciding. It’s a real difference in tone, but I still think that the goal setting conversation has just got to be upfront in the beginning.

The second conversation, the praising conversation, is the one I would always hold onto. Managers need to wander around and catch people doing things right, accenting the positive. I love what Dan Cathy, president and chief executive officer from Chick-fil-A, said, “Who needs encouragement? Everybody.” Everybody who is breathing needs encouragement! We talk about it as a conversation, because it is. It’s got to be done in a way that has meaning.

You’ll enjoy this story. I have this one person that I started to work with his company and, every year around holidays, he would spend a day or two just wandering around and greeting everybody and telling them, “I just appreciate all your efforts this year, thanks so much, have a good holiday.”

One year he got sick, and he couldn’t make the rounds. So someone got a paper bag, punched some holes in it, put his picture on the front of the paper bag, and went wandering around saying: “Thanks for all your efforts this year, I really appreciate it, have a wonderful holiday.” It had no meaning because he had no sense what people really were doing. Praising needs to be based on observing specific things that make a difference regarding individual and company performance.

Jon: I agree. You talk about the importance of gaining confidence in oneself, and that’s even more important as a young leader. For the young leader, what advice about praising or other skills would you give them on how they can instill confidence in team members? As a young leader that just took over a new team, how can I get the members of that team to have confidence in the goals and the activities that they’re working on?

Ken: I think the confidence begins with sitting with people and asking “What goals have you been working on?” Asking this question is much better than coming in and saying, “I want to make sure your goals are clear.” Start with “Tell me what goals you’re working on, and do they make sense?”

You should think about what you’ve been doing. Are there any changes you’d like to make? As a new leader, I’d love to make sure that you and I are both clear on that direction. It’s just so important to come in and have people know that you’re on their side. Team members want to know the boss is working with them. It doesn’t mean you don’t have a responsibility.

We’re getting more and more the feeling that effective leadership has something to do with people, not to people. Sometimes you’ll get a manager who’s younger than a lot of the people that are reporting to them. Even more, you’ve got to say, “I know you’re probably wondering why I’m the manager, I’m younger than you and all, but I just want you to know I’m here anyway I can help. You can count on me to be on your team.” The mindset should be that I am given an opportunity to be in a situation where I might be able to help you.

Jon: It’s keeping that side-by-side mentality. That also goes to one of the other conversations, the redirecting one. When they’re working side-by-side, and somebody needs to make a change, what advice do you give new leaders when they’re having those type of conversations?

Ken: If you observe someone who isn’t moving in the direction that you both had agreed upon, then you need to go and say, “Let me just give you an observation. I’ve been noticing this, and it doesn’t seem to be the direction we talked about. What’s your perception?”

In other words, always check with them. People need to know that you’re on their side, so say, “This just doesn’t look like what we agreed to.” They can see the numbers, too, because one of the things about goals is they have to be observable and measurable. They may say, “Yeah, it isn’t going as well as I thought.” An important conversation begins – “Well, do you have any thoughts about how you might turn it around? Is there anything I could do to help?”

In other words, you don’t want to let poor performance accelerate because nobody says anything. People get a kick out of my favorite concepts that I often see – Seagull managers. What happens is they don’t deal with poor performance until it gets bad enough. Then they fly in, make a lot of noise, dump on everybody, and fly out.

I was doing a session with Stephen Covey in Utah. Steve and I met in 1976. I just had great respect for him. We did a lot of fun things together. I happened to mention seagull management. I normally get a laugh, and I didn’t get a laugh. Steve nudged me and said, “The seagull is the state bird.” I found out a little bit about Mormon history. They had planted their crops, and locusts wanted to eat the crops. They saw this big cloud of seagulls, and they flew down and ate the locusts. Steve took me to downtown Salt Lake City and showed me the big statue of seagulls!

The point is that you don’t want to wait if their performance is a real problem. You want to catch it early. That’s why redirection is so much better than a reprimand. Today, we’re dealing with more side-by-side leadership. People are not looking for parents in their work. They’re looking for colleagues who can help them in this side-by-side leadership relationship.

Jon: It goes back to the importance of having that self-confidence in having those kinds of conversations earlier rather than later. Otherwise, it just gets bigger later on.

Ken: Another thing is that when you first take over as a new manager, you need to set the stage for all four conversations. You need to say “There are four conversations I will be having with you at a minimum. We’ll have goal setting conversations. Then I want to be able to wander around and catch you doing things right, and we want to have praising conversations. Then if something is wrong, I might have a redirection conversation with you. Of course, when a goal or project is finished, or it’s the end of the year, we will have a wrap-up conversation. We will talk about how things went and what you learned and anything we can do differently in the future.”

I think it’s always better to tell people what you’re going to do rather than all of a sudden coming along and have a praising conversation. Although this is nice, they’re wondering, “Where’s that coming from?” Being clear with people about what they can expect from you is really important.

Jon: I agree, and that’s a great point. Setting the context upfront about the four conversations sets the stage and holds each other accountable to the side-by-side relationship.

Millennials want to see a strong sense of purpose in business and leaders. How do you see the four conversations unfolding with this generation of leaders?

Ken: Well, I think the goal setting certainly is good about identifying what the purpose is and what we’re trying to accomplish. I think transparency is important, too. I wrote a book, Lead with Luv, with Colleen Barrett who became president of Southwest and now she’s president emerita. She said a really interesting thing, “People admire your skills, but they love your vulnerability.” I think one of the things that we’re finding is that people love a manager who will say, “I don’t know all the answers, and I don’t think I ever will. But one plus one is greater than two, and I want you to know that I hope to learn from you as well as you learn from me. We’re in this together.” That’s what’s really important.

I just think that whole emphasis on we rather than me goes over well with people particularly if you follow-up with behaviors consistent with that.

Jon: As we wrap-up, what excites you about what you’re seeing in new leaders in your organization or other organizations?

Ken: Well, what I’m seeing is that there’s much more a sense of the importance of collaboration rather than a few people having all the answers. I think that’s just fabulous to see because everybody brings their talent. You cannot try to find winners and put them in charge of the company. The winners get their egos in the way. You want people who are winners, but they need to realize it is not all about them. It’s about the people around them and building a supportive culture where people can contribute. Building a supportive culture is important.

I think that’s exciting. I think it takes a lot of the pressure off thinking that you’ve got to know everything.

We think that being an effective leader starts with self and knowing yourself. You can then help your people know themselves. That’s that vulnerability that Colleen talked about. When working with others, we identify sticky problems, and we say, “I wish I knew the answers, but I don’t. What do you think?” People go, “Wow, let’s go.” And they roll their sleeves up.

Wrap-up Thoughts: Challenge for New Managers and Leaders

Ken Blanchard is spot-on about setting the context of the four conversations and then following through on each. Young leaders and managers can benefit from this simple yet powerful approach. Older leaders and managers can take note, too, and refresh their practices. Conversations are essential as a manager and leader.

One of the things that I loved about talking with Ken Blanchard is the way his words came across. If you go back and read through our interview, you will see he talks as a conversation. Many of the points take a conversational tone. What a great example to follow.

The challenge for you? If a younger generation, reach out to an older one and have a leadership conversation. If an older generation, reach out to a younger one and have a leadership conversation. By doing this, each leader will be stronger. Generational conversations strengthen all.

Thank you, Ken Blanchard, for your time, insights, and encouragement for all of us to be better managers and leaders in all we do and all we work with, side-by-side.

 

Jon Mertz
Jon Mertz is one of the Top 100 Thought Leaders in Trustworthy Business and highlighted as one of the Leaders to Watch in 2015 by the American Management Association. He also is the author of Activate Leadership: Aspen Truths to Empower Millennial Leaders. Jon serves as vice president of marketing at Corepoint Health. Outside of his professional life, Jon brings together a community to inspire Millennial leaders and close the gap between two generations of leaders.
Jon Mertz

Join the discussion 2 Comments

  • Alli Polin says:

    Interesting conversation! One thing I lingered on was telling people the (minimum) four kinds of conversations that you’re going to have with them in advance… to set the tone and so they understand what they can expect from you. I’ve had goals, redirection, praise conversations etc but people learned about how I work by working with me. As a new manager, this is a great framework not only to guide you (the manager) but set the tone with your team. As a more seasoned leader, it’s definitely a new way of working to adopt as well.

    Thanks for sharing!

    ~ Alli

    • Jon Mertz says:

      Thank you, Alli. It was a lot of fun talking to Ken Blanchard, plus an honor. I agree on using the four conversations to set the context for a working relationship. An “Aha” moment for me, too. Great advice for new and old managers alike! Thanks! Jon

Leave a Reply