Modern Management: Catch People Succeeding

Modern Management: Catch People Succeeding

When was the last time someone noticed that you did something great?

Too often, we hear plenty about what we did that was wrong. But we have research—and experience—that says when people notice what we do well, we tend to do more of that. Here are two examples.

A Team Skills Example

Dan, a senior technical person, wanted the rest of the team members to learn “his” part of the code so he could move to different, more challenging work.

The team worried about working without Dan, but they said they'd try. One of the team members, Andy, said he wanted to try mobbing. (When a team mobs, they work on one item with one keyboard and one monitor. Yes, the entire team works on that one item until they finish it. Each person rotates through one of two roles: the driver, the person who types, and the navigator, who suggests what to type.)

They completed a thirty-minute mobbing session and conducted a short retrospective. During the retro, Dan said, “Andy, I appreciate you for suggesting the mobbing session. That hadn't occurred to me. I'm sure all of you will suggest other things that hadn't occurred to me.”

Dan's reinforcing feedback had these effects:

  • Andy felt great about his contribution.
  • The other team members felt freer to suggest alternatives.

As a result, the team created more experiments. Within a couple of weeks, they knew how to increase their learning and facilitate Dan's departure.

An Interpersonal Skills Example

Mary, a senior leader, worried about a newly promoted manager, Sam. While Sam excelled at getting to the heart of the problem, he insulted people he thought were wrong.

Mary had offered change-focused feedback and coaching to Sam over the past few months. He'd tried to change. However, he still insulted too many people.

Mary knew she couldn't promote Sam unless he changed.

One day, Sam used some of Mary's coaching and said to the CEO, “I see your point. And, if you consider these options, we might have a better way to proceed.” That statement created a helpful conversation. The leadership team developed even more options.

Afterward, Mary said, “I liked what you did back there. You used ‘Yes, and…' as a way to create more options. You didn't tell the CEO his option was wrong. You created a space for us to consider more ideas.”

Over the next few months, Sam became more comfortable practicing these kinds of conversations. Those changes led to Sam's ability to work better with and through others. About a year later, Mary promoted Sam.

Why Catching People Succeeding Works

Dan offered reinforcing feedback to Andy—Dan caught Andy succeeding. And because Dan offered that feedback in public, other people considered their actions. How could they, as a team, succeed without Dan?

When Mary offered reinforcing feedback, Sam finally understood what Mary had asked him to do all this time.

We can all learn to change. However, telling people what not to do doesn't always work. Instead, we want to know what to do.

When we notice what people did that succeeded, they tend to do more of that. That's why catching people succeeding works. They know what to do instead.

This principle is from the Modern Management Made Easy books. If you try catching people succeeding, let me know what happens.

Learn with Johanna

I have a favor to ask you. If you have read any of the Modern Management Made Easy books, can you do me a favor and write a review? Reviews help other readers find the books. Thank you.

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Till next time,


© 2021 Johanna Rothman

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