I think I was born a mid level manager. With the exception of my cemetery property telemarketing gigs as a student, from my first job in a developing country all the way to my current job as a Brand Manager at BIC, I’ve always been a mid-level manager.
Being a mid-level manager is akin to being the new kid in school. You want your teachers to approve of you but you also need your peers to think you’re cool. And to get in with the cool kids, you’ve got to speak their language.
Greg was a show boat of a man—he dressed to the nines and cared exceedingly about appearances. He was the operations manager for 10 years running. Being cost-conscious came naturally to Greg, and he got a lot of encouragement to exploit his instinctive tightfisted skills; senior management constantly rewarded him for pinching the pennies out of a project, even if it looked like a mad science project gone wrong. Because of this, Greg was often at odds with the marketing department over the issue of packaging costs.
Ironically, Greg’s pride and joy was his luxury car, everyone knew how it made him feel like he’d finally arrived. His silver cufflinks flashed and winked at me as we sat talking about how new packaging should look. I knew that our brand equity was hurting, largely in part to the sub-standard pack materials and cheaper design.
As we spoke, Greg started to extol the virtues of cheaper packaging emphasizing—the hefty sum he had saved the company over the years. I stopped him out of the blue and asked him what kind of car he drove. Stunned at the change of topic, he stammered
“Yeah,” I replied “do you have a nice car?”
“A Porsche!” he said beaming with pride.
I feigned pleasant surprise, eyes wide open,—“Wow, do you think a cheap import could compete with your Porsche?”
He thought for a second and emphatically pounded his chest saying “No!”
“Why not?” I asked.
He thoughtfully stroked his thin mustache” Well because my car is classy, it’s high quality – it’s just not the same.”
“Well,” I said, “do you think that if we could make our product seem like a Porsche in the eyes of our consumers, that Private Label would be able to steal our share?”
The question prompted his stunned silence. Private Label was a big concern for us because the majority of our product line was in the economy segment and was being hurt by house brands.
Greg’s eyes popped open, and he drew his breath in and let out a very Austin Powers-like “Aaah— I get it now.”
The cheap pack talk was dropped promptly. We proceeded to talk about how to make the new package design better while setting a cost target that was acceptable for both of us.
The above story doesn’t just illustrate developing marketing strategy or building brand equity, but rather how I got close to the opposition by speaking Equus.
Equus is what former horse farmer Monty Roberts (now leadership trainer) calls the language that horses share. He’s the original Horse Whisperer who discovered that if you speak to creatures in their own language that you’ll get cooperation much easier and faster than if you continue to speak your own language and expect the creature to understand you.
Monty is credited with inventing the amazing method of horse whispering which changed the practice of horse breaking forever. Horse breaking is the painful process of tying the back leg of a horse to its own back and forcing it to accept a harness; this is followed by an excruciating two week wait for the horse to stop bucking. This is all in the name of getting a horse to join a domesticated herd.
Of course, you’ll probably feel as sick as I did to discover that the reason a wild horse is bucking when something is on its back is that through centuries, in the wilderness, predators attacked horses on their backs. As a result, the instinct to flee from danger and throw whatever’s on their backs is deeply ingrained in horses from birth. Horse breaking prevents the horse from doing both these things. Can you imagine how painful this must be for both the horse and the trainer?
Monty intently watched how the Alpha female horse got an unruly wild colt to join her herd while growing up on his father’s horse breaking farm. . By mirroring these gentle movements of communication, trust and forgiveness, Monty miraculously got a wild stallion to join his herd within a mere matter of minutes. His fundamental belief was that “ violence is never the answer.”
The Equus theory obviously also applies to human beings. All humans see the world differently and hence have a different way of expressing themselves. I entered Greg’s world when I spoke to him about brand equity through the perspective of luxurious cars. Not that I’m calling him a horse or anything, somehow I think he’s been called worse…
As a mid-level manager you’ll find that you’re constantly trying to woo, cajole, influence and yet have no direct control over anyone other than yourself. Speaking from your audience’s frame of reference is sometimes difficult because you don’t understand their values and often don’t take the time to figure out their drivers.
Here are some steps to building the bridge between you and your co-workers:
Step1: Find the positive value
Each and every negative action has a positive value behind it.
- Negative Action-Is continually late to work/Positive Value-Individuality
- Negative Action-Hoards information/Positive Value-Safety, Authority
- Negative Action-Refuses to try a new process/Positive Value-Safety
- Negative Action-Gossips maliciously about everyone/Positive Value-Belonging
- Negative Action-Puts people down in meetings/Positive Value-Safety
Step2: Find the Values of your co-workers
• In a leadership situation, find the motivating value behind the negative action. Try to think of what it might be. If you can’t think of what the positive value might be on your own, ask an objective party. Shielding the identity of the person in question is a good idea in this instance so you’re not seen as a gossip.
• What are your own values? You need to understand why the resistance between you and the co-worker is happening.
• Fully associate into the other stake holder’s position.
• Form a bridge between the two—the Value Bridge.
Step3: Value Bridge-Full Association
• Starts with one person fully getting into the head of the person with whom he/she’s in conflict.
• Not “If I were you, I would”—this is a person seeing the situation from his own position , but talking to himself using language as if he’s Fully Associated.
• Fully Associating involves:
• Being in someone’s home or on his/her environment – environmental level.
• Imitating a person’s actions – behavioural level
• Learning about a person’s thinking strategies and mental maps –capability level.
• Taking on a person’s values and beliefs – deep identity level
Step4: Value Bridge Exercise
• Ally: is continually under pressure about being late
• Kim: Ally’s boss is concerned about her recurring problem with punctuality
Step5: Lessons of Horse Whispering
• Speak in their language if you want them to hear or even listen.
• Use gentleness instead of cruelty.
• “ Whisper ” instead of “ Break ”
• Watch how they speak or behave much like how Monty watched horses.
• Get into their environment and mindset to identify and communicate better.
Step 6: Reinforce : Whale Done
• Ken Blanchard observed killer whale trainers at Marineland:
• Trainers redirected negative responses and
• Rewarded any response that was remotely desirable, even if it wasn’t perfect
This method was demonstrated to be effective on humans at home and in the workplace, the goal is to “Catch them doing something right.”
How to start?
• Take each opportunity with coworkers to get to know their values and beliefs.
• Be a conduit of feeling good to others—protect, do favours where you can.
• Identify behaviours that demonstrate these.
• During conflict, use this knowledge to speak Equus to them.
• Refuse to “catch them doing something wrong” but “catch them doing something right” constantly.
Who’s got the time for this anyway?
In every instance that I’ve spoken about the Equus principle to leaders, I’m confronted by the same question: “Who’s got the time for all this when I’m running a busy project or life?!” However, the same people have always been the first to admit that they would’ve done anything to have been a motivating, liked manager to the person with whom they were trying to relate to.
In your heart, don’t you also want a great working relationship with the people whose lives you continue to touch? And if you only knew how, wouldn’t it be a wonderful start or at least a step in the right direction to get to know them better?
In the next module, let’s talk some more about how we can figure out some of “our and their” values.
With Kindness as always,