For the past few years I have had the privilege of coaching both of my sons in their budding minor hockey careers. I know exactly what you are all thinking, “Mike, did you take crazy pills?” The short answer, maybe I did. In spite of all the early mornings, the crazy parents, the kids that didn’t want to be there, I have to say that coaching a minor sport is one of the most rewarding experience I have had. I don’t just mean personally, but professionally as well! The most important concept I latched onto while teaching little kids how to play an organized sport is the folly of result based leadership. As a minor hockey coach we are taught never to focus on results. If all you do is talk about winning then the kids will adopt winning as their measurement of success. Unfortunately, at the end of the day, winning a hockey game is completely out of the young player’s control. Think about what type of experience you are setting up for someone when their success is based on something they can’t influence directly.
The title of this blog post is “CATCH THE BALL!!!!” This is the simplest way I can sum up what I feel to be result based leadership. In fact, I don’t even think it should be called leadership, because when you focus on results, you aren’t leading anyone. The image I want to put in your head when you hear “CATCH THE BALL!!!!” is a little kid playing baseball. She’s lining up to catch a pop fly. The coach is standing right beside her yelling at the top of his lungs “CATCH THE BALL!!!!” As you can imagine, the kid at this point has a much better chance of dropping the ball than catching it.
Although this example may seem ridiculous and far fetched, I can tell you it’s not. We see it every day. When kids are at school we focus on grades. When playing sports we focus on scoring and winning. In business we focus on sales targets, margins and profitability. I can guarantee that no NHL hockey team is going to have an 82-0-0 record this year, yet people get mad when their favorite team loses. Don’t get me wrong, I fully understand that results are imperative in life. Results exist so we can gauge and compare our success or failure. As leaders and managers what we should focus on are skills and processes.
Skills are the foundation upon which everything we do is built. Obviously the skills we use more are going to be better developed than the seldom used ones.
This is where practice comes into play. To be able to perform a skill with confidence, it needs to be repeated. And repeated. And repeated. And repeated. If we look at our little baseball player, had she spent time catching pop flies thrown by the coach over and over again, her confidence would have grown with every successful catch. She would have also learned a valuable lesson every time she dropped the ball. If she had caught enough pop ups in practice, she would be able to approach catching the ball with the idea in her head that she can catch it, because she already has, many times. Her coach as well would be able to sit back and relax knowing that the coaching for this situation is already done. The player may drop the ball, but with every successful repetition done in practice the chance of that happening goes way down. This can be applied very easily to the business world. In sales, we do role plays to practice a sales pitch so it seems natural and not scripted. In my restaurant, I always encourage kitchen staff to use our recipe binder when it’s slow. They can practice making the food in a no pressure situation perfectly, and then when it gets busier like in the middle of a high volume service they can make the food with confidence. If I want someone to work on their knife skills I put them in the prep area with a bag of onions or a box of mushrooms. When a new hostess starts, we play find the table so she can learn table numbers faster.
Processes are, in my mind, a combination of skills performed in a specific order. It is from these processes that we get results. It is very easy to celebrate the results, they are quantifiable, and they are easy to see as a manager because you only need to be there at the end. What I’d recommend is celebrating the process instead, not the result. A great example is a restaurant server selling appetizers. If we celebrated the sale of the appetizer, we are focusing on the wrong thing. What we should be doing is listening to how the server talks about the appetizer to the guest. Are they describing it properly? Are they suggesting specific appetizers to tables? Are they showing up and saying “What’ll it be?” What if they aren’t selling appetizers and people are randomly just buying them? This is why you should focus on and celebrate the process. Even if you didn’t achieve the desired result, an appetizer sale, let the server know that you were listening and you like what your heard. Eventually they will sell an appetizer. And another. And another. Overall with proper process management the result will get better, without focusing on that result.