farnham street

Adding Too Much Value

I was reading the amazing Farnham Street Blog (which I highly recommend) and came across this topic.

Here’s a common scenario: Jane has an idea for a major initiative. She’s given the green light to move ahead and quickly gets under way. When she reviews it with the CEO, however, he gives her a bunch of suggestions. Same thing when she talks to the board.

While individually these ideas may be helpful, cumulatively it can have the effect of making it feel to Jane that the idea or initiative is no longer hers. The result? Jane feels less ownership and less motivation.

Counterintuitively, this dynamic is caused because each person is individually trying to help Jane and add value to the process. But collectively it may end up destroying value because it negates Jane’s sense of motivation.

People are often most motivated when they feel like they have ownership over what they’re doing. Given enough motivation, Jane will often figure out the problems on her own with time.

Quote from the Farnham Street Blog:

Here’s what I used to do when I managed a lot of people. First, recognize how driven the person is. Second, keep my mouth shut despite any obvious flaws in the plan that I might feel the need to talk about. Third, identify the point in the project that will happen right before the first flaw I see would have an effect. Fourth, tell Jane to get started on her ideas, but ask for a check-in right before that first major fork. Nine times out of ten, Jane figured out what she was missing — I didn’t have to say anything.

And because she figured it out, she learned something. The other 10% of the time, we had a conversation that was way less stressful than the one in the boardroom would have been, and we moved everyone forward.

-Shane Parrish, Farnham Street

When I was at Bridgewater, they called this ‘guard-railing’ or letting your reports “dent the car but not crash the car.” Allowing others to maintain a sense of ownership is important.

Next time you’re managing someone, consider adding less value.