“”Plans get you into things, but you got to work your way out.”” – Will Rogers

SB came back from visiting FSP, raving about how well the company worked. In particular, she was impressed with the commitment of the employees, their dedication and loyalty, and the very positive esprit de corps that exists in AGP’s most successful British-based business. Replying to SB, MN (AGP’s COO) had this to say. “One of the reason’s FSP works is that DG (its leader) believes management is important and pays attention to his management responsibilities.”

This ties in with advice given in the new book “First, Break All the Rules: What the World’s Greatest Managers Do Differently,” by Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman, which points out four essential tasks a manager must do well to achieve the kind of success FSP enjoys:

1. Select a good person.

2. Set expectations.

3. Motivate the person.

4. Develop the person.

I like the simplicity of that. And it corresponds to my experience.

Yes, You’ve Heard It Here Before . . .

The most important thing you can do to create a productive working group is staff it with excellent people.

Who’s an excellent worker? Someone who is simply terrific. How do you know? If you have to ask, you don’t have one. But let’s say this: An excellent worker:

* comes in early

* works hard

* pays attention to the right things

* keeps going until the job is done

* is upbeat

* and accomplishment-oriented

* and is smart enough to rise higher

Finding excellent people is hard work. So hard, in fact, that most of us give up trying. We settle for second best because Mr/s Excellent doesn’t seem to be out there. (We have talked – in Messages #120, #126, and #181 – and will continue to talk about this critically important aspect of your success.)

Setting expectations seems to be the one thing most managers do a decent job of. Well, let me take that back. Understanding a manager’s expectations – whether they are reasonable or insane – is something most employees can do for themselves. It doesn’t really matter what the manager says initially. In a matter of weeks, every employee understands what he needs to do to “get by” and what is required to get ahead.

As for motivation and “development,” I’m in the process of reviewing for you a big, thick book by Saul Gellerman on those very subjects. I covered one chapter – on dependency-motivated managers – last week in Message #186. And I’ll talk more about Gellerman’s book – and my own experiences in motivating employees – in future ETRs.

How To Tie It All Together In A Powerful, Unifying Way

As I said earlier, I like the sense and simplicity of Buckingham and Coffman’s four essential tasks. But if I had to choose one to focus on, it would definitely be selecting excellent people. An excellent person comes with his own motivation. If training is insufficient or even nonexistent, an excellent person will train himself. An excellent person develops his own career by developing the potential of his company. So put all four objectives on your management list – but spend 80% of your time on getting great people, because they will account for 90% of your success.

There is one more thing you can do to establish expectations, provide motivation, and establish guidelines for development. And that is to have, show, and involve your key people in a Master Plan.

We’ve talked about vision before – how useful it is to have a big idea about where it is you want to go and what it is you want to do. A Master Plan is a vision sketched out on paper. It is a readable, comprehensible, actionable outline of how you intend to realize your dream over a specific time period.

A good Master Plan should include a Quality Goal (such as “We will be known as the most successful academic-book publisher in America”) and a Financial Goal (“We will be grossing $5 million and netting 20%”).

A Master Plan is essential for setting expectations. It makes it easy to differentiate between good and truly useful work and work that is wasteful or unnecessary.

A Master Plan is a great development tool, because it establishes, from the outset, the current and future skill and knowledge requirements of the company/enterprise. It makes it easy for an employee to look forward in time and understand what kind of tasks he’ll have to be able to do.

Finally, a Master Plan is an enormously good motivator – especially if the employee buys into the Quality Goal and feels included in the rewards of the Financial Goal.

It’s Not Just A Sports Analogy

Just yesterday, something happened that I want to tell you about. I was on the phone with the manager of a business-development group. I was pushing him to get more work done by asking him why this and that were not done yet. I wasn’t rude, and I didn’t blame him, but I didn’t hide my disappointment that many of the jobs he had agreed to finish were not done on time.

He took the blame and promised to do more. I asked for a memo outlining, specifically, what he was going to do in the future that was different from what he had been doing so far. (It wasn’t for lack of trying that these projects were stalled.)

We said goodbye on that rather unsatisfactory note. A minute later, I found myself listening to a sports-talk show on the radio. Some evidently experienced old coach was saying that the secret to turning around a weak franchise is to introduce what he called a “Master Plan.” To keep the good ballplayers from leaving and encourage the young ones to practice hard and keep the faith, great coaches have always had a Master Plan for success – a three- to five-year program of building and improving that sometimes ends up with a trip to the Super Bowl.

It clicked. I realized that the problem my colleague was having was not one that I could talk him out of. It was a problem I had caused, because I had never clearly explained how all the projects involved fit into some sort of Master Plan. Moreover, I hadn’t done enough thinking about how my Master Plan was going to benefit this guy.

Happily, I figured it out in about five minutes. I called him back and explained what the business would be in five years (something I was sure he’d be proud of) and how much it would be worth. Immediately, sugarplums were dancing in his head. If he could get done what needed to be done, in five years he would be president of a very prestigious and valuable business. He’d be proud to tell people what he did and happy to know he was a multimillionaire.

H worked late that evening (I could tell by the e-mail I received that night) and was in early the next morning.

So do hire good people and give them a Master Plan. If you do those two things well, most of the rest of your concerns will fall into place almost by themselves.