For years David has heard that ‘some people just don’t get it’ when it comes to managing people. But what does ‘get it’ mean? Read on as he tries to explain with the help of some ninja squirrel warriors.
I was recently asked by a coachee if I only had time to read one book on management or leadership what would I recommend. Simple… Gung Ho by Ken Blanchard and Sheldon Bowles. Now, for those of you that don’t know the book but do know the English definition of the words gung ho, you might think this was an odd choice. The English dictionary says that gung ho means ‘unthinkingly enthusiastic and eager, especially about taking part in fighting or warfare’ which is more than a shame as that is not what the book is about. So, if you can put any English word-bias to one side you would enjoy this book because it tells a (reportedly) true story about the Chinese meaning of gung ho which is ‘working together’. It’s a management masterpiece and the ultimate test of whether management ‘gets it’. It uses nature’s ways as metaphors to help the leader of an underperforming business turn it around.
The first principle of the turnaround relates to how squirrels in North America are so tenacious in the autumn as they collect and bury food (mainly nuts such as acorns) for the winter. The book explains that the squirrels have a goal which they value. They need the food store to survive winter. This goal motivates the squirrels to work so hard, it makes the work they do worthwhile for them. This poses a great question. Is the work we ask employees to complete worthwhile for them? This doesn’t mean bonuses or pay rises. It means that employees understand and believe in the company, why it exists and what it does.
So, why would I say that this book is the ultimate management test? Well, my experience of several hundred managers’ reactions to reading it fall into two distinct camps, illustrated by two 100% true occurrences at the same telecoms company. Let me paraphrase.
Reaction one is from a manager who ‘gets it’:
“So, I read the book and I realised that we need to help our teams understand that we don’t just sell mobile phones. What we actually do is help people, just like ourselves, choose devices and packages that keep them connected, entertained and safe.”
Reaction two is from a manager who is nuts and should be buried from the neck down by an army of ninja squirrel warriors:
“So, I read the book and have ordered everyone a squirrel soft toy for their desk.”
I’m not making this up. The second manager thought that having toy squirrels on people’s desks would make them realise that their work was worthwhile. Even (or maybe especially) if people had read the book, this was going to be an epic fail.
I explained to the nutty manager that the squirrel story was a metaphor to explain a principle… it’s not about actual squirrels. But he didn’t ‘get it’ and I was unable to stop the soft toy shipment. What a pity ninja squirrel warriors aren’t real!
Do your managers ‘get it’ or would they fail the squirrel test? I would love to hear your stories but please don’t name and shame anyone!