A whale of a time

first_img Comments are closed. Previous Article Next Article A whale of a timeOn 1 Jun 2002 in Personnel Today One-Minute Manager Ken Blanchard explains to DeeDee Doke why his ideas havetransformed people and their workplaces all over the world.  Photos by Phil HillWaiters at the airy, greenery-filled café at a big hotel in Birmingham, UK,probably don’t realise how close they came to receiving a One-Minute Reprimandin person from the original One-Minute Manager himself, Ken Blanchard. Three attempts in 20 minutes at ordering drinks for himself and his partyfail as one waiter after another takes the order and promptly disappears. Afrown crosses Blanchard’s normally jovial features as he firmly hails yetanother waiter. “Is there any way to get a Diet Coke here?” Blanchardgrowls. “Is there some secret?” Despite an obviously tenuous grasp of English, the latest waiter soon reappearswith the drinks. Instead of a One-Minute Reprimand, Blanchard offers the waitera warm, truncated version of a One-Minute Praising that ends in smiles on bothsides. Blanchard then explains the personal philosophy that has led to hisbeing a best-selling author and co-author of 20 or so management and parentingbooks such as The One-Minute Manager, Gung Ho!, Raving Fans, and his latest,Whale Done. “I really feel that if you treat people well, they will respond well. Ithink there’s nothing more important than positive relationships,” saysBlanchard. “The other big thing that keeps showing up in most of mywriting now is the human ego and getting out of [doing things] our own way. Ijust love a concept I heard recently from an old Texan about how real joy comesfrom getting to the act of forgetfulness about yourself.” Based in San Diego, California, Blanchard – who still occasionally teaches aclass at Cornell University – is a global industry in himself, built on themulti-layered foundation of his management books, speaking engagements and hiscompany, Blanchard Training and Development. To talk with Blanchard is to hear any number of homespun stories thatillustrate a specific point in simple language aimed at touching the heart aswell as triggering a mental catalyst – a trait his conversation shares with thebooks he writes. And there is usually a moral to the tale, or at least a strongpunch line. There’s the story about the little girl who shares all of herbirthday sweets and doesn’t get any for herself, the one about the friend whoworked for former US President Bill Clinton, and a telling anecdote about howAlfred Nobel created the Nobel peace prize in an epiphany after his own deathwas mistakenly reported. The books Whale Done spins the yarn of an unhappy manager who discovers happiness atwork and at home by learning to adapt to humans the positive reinforcementtraining given to killer whales at a marine park. Gung Ho! sets a three-rule philosophy of mutual support and team-buildingagainst a backdrop of Native American wisdom and knowledge of nature,infiltrated by just a hint of romance. According to Blanchard and co-authorSheldon Bowles, profits, productivity and individual prosperity can all beincreased by adhering to the Spirit of the Squirrel, the Way of the Beaver andthe Gift of the Goose – memorable slogans that stick in the mind. Storytelling,Blanchard concedes, is crucial to his method of spreading the message of themoment. “After we know what we want to teach, we sit around and say, ‘What kindof story could we put together?’ I have found that people really love stories,little stories,” he says. “When I was young, I just loved Antoine St.Exupéry’s The Little Prince. Then when I got older, I loved the parables in theBible, Richard Bach’s Jonathan Livingston Seagull and Og Mandino’s The GreatestSalesman of Them All. “What’s good about writing stories is,” he continues, “peoplelower their defences. You write a book with all this research and people say,‘You’ve got to be joking.’ You tell them a story about an angel and a fairygodmother and so on, people get into the story, and suddenly, they’re learningsomething. You’ve caught ’em.” Simple or simplistic? “So many people want to write off this kind of stuff as airy-fairy,soft stuff,” Blanchard concedes. “But it’s not. It’s good businesssense. We wouldn’t be giving money-back guarantees if we didn’t think it workedin terms of performance.” To date, that guarantee hasn’t lost Blanchard and company much money inseminars or training and development that expand on the messages in his books.”It’s really interesting. You know why I think they don’t want to take itup? I don’t think people want to be held accountable. Because part of the deal is,we put full-time people in their organisation to make sure they do what theysaid they were going to do,” he says. “It’s really interesting howpeople want to do what they want to do but don’t want to be heldaccountable.” When Blanchard sets out to develop a new book, however, he is adamant aboutconducting considerable research, however little the resulting product lookslike a scholarly tome. Once the first draft is written, Blanchard shares itwith an inner circle, asks for their opinions, “then we rewrite it, giveit to a wider circle, then a wider circle”. One tier in the circle comes from a cross-section of a small community inNew York state where Blanchard and his wife have a summer cottage. When one ofhis books is in the pipeline, he invites local people to read a copy of thebook, fill out a questionnaire on it and then attend a buffet dinner for whichBlanchard picks up the tab. “Last summer, I sent out Whale Done but the title was From KillerWhales to Kids – the Power of Positive Relationships. I tell guests that theirhomework while they’re eating is to agree on three things they like best aboutthe book, three things they would change to make it better and their favouritetitle aside from the one on the book. I go around with a microphone, and get areport from each table,” he says. At one table, a group suggested that he change the title to Whale Done, apun drawing both on the phrase ‘well done’ and the whale training, and the newtitle was set. “It wasn’t even anywhere in the book,” Blanchard says.”But Whale Done is a lot better.” Servant leadership One of his latest projects is the Center for Faith Walk Leadership, anon-profit organisation that aims to help “people of faith walk theirfaith in the marketplace”, Blanchard says. “Right now, we’reconcentrating on Christians, but we’ve had people of other faiths come. That’swhere we started Egos Anonymous. Now we’re starting to use it with some of ourregular clients. I mean, it’s pretty powerful when a company permits an EgosAnonymous meeting in their top management group, and people get up and say,‘I’m an ego maniac. The last time my ego got in the way was’ whenever’.” “We’ve got it into a 12-step programme, like Alcoholics Anonymous. Youtake an inventory of people you might have hurt in the past.” Both efforts tie in to the ‘servant leadership’ concept in business thatBlanchard is quick to explain does not mean “trying to please everybody orletting the inmates run the prison. Servant leadership starts with a clearvision, and what you serve is the vision. What happens in most companies isthat the companies are serving the managers, particularly the top managers, andthat’s where you get self-serving organisations.” His next book, The One Minute Apology, comes out this winter. He jokes thatit is dedicated to Bill Clinton, but joking aside, it is clear from Blanchard’scomments that top executives and leaders in a world rocked by high-levelcorporate and political scandals are a key target audience for his latest opus.”The whole question about an Enron, or anything, is that human beings makemistakes. The longer you take to admit a wrongdoing, the quicker a weakness isperceived as a wickedness. Almost anything can be perceived as a weakness – ‘Itook my eye off the ball’, ‘I wasn’t paying attention and it was on my watch’,‘Sex is a problem for me’ – whatever,” Blanchard says. “I think one of the most powerful things that managers and leaders canhave in their arsenal is the capacity to admit when they’ve made a mistake,because we’ve all done stupid things,” he continues. “You get caughtup in the moment. You’re vulnerable.” The key, he says, is to “give up being right. That doesn’t mean you’regiving up what you stand for”. But it does mean getting the old ego out ofthe way. To Blanchard’s thinking, and exploring a more thoughtful, reflectiveself that “allows us to recalibrate who we want to be”. Alarm clocks,for example, symbolise to him the jarring pace of the modern rat race(“The problem with being in a rat race is, even if you win, you’re still arat,” he quips), which forces people to lose sight of who they are and whothey want to be. Cue the story of Alfred Nobel, who was involved in the invention ofdynamite. When a Swedish newspaper confused Alfred Nobel with his brother andreported that he had died, the living brother unhappily observed that hisobituary focused on dynamite and its destructive qualities. He then vowed torefocus on the opposite of destruction and redesigned his life so he wouldultimately be remembered more for peace. To the discomfort of Blanchard’s wife, the man who would like to beremembered as a “185-pound flexible golfing machine” has made a taperecording for his own funeral. “It starts off, ‘This is the toughest groupI’ve ever worked with.’ “I want people to have a good time when I go.But,” he adds, “I’m going to redo it. I made it a few years ago, andI’ve got some better stories now.” Companies seek to gain knowledgeGung Ho! is more than a buzz phraseto workers at many of the global locations of Hilti, the company that makesproducts and systems for construction and demolition. Rolled out in the UK andIreland from the beginning of 2001, the programme has also been put into effectin Australia, the Middle East and the US and is being considered for worldwideimplementation.Taking that particular Blanchard philosophy to the workforceand building it into the corporate culture is a full-time job for PeterThompson, the official Gung Ho! champion for the UK and Ireland’s Hilti branches.”There was some scepticism to start with,” says Thompson, whose workshirt sports an embroidered Gung Ho! slogan. “There was a mixed reactionfrom the executive team, and you have to have the CEO on board to ultimatelydrive the thing.”The initial hesitation stemmed in part from the enthusiasticAmericanism so evident in the programme’s teachings. Once tried out, however,approving noises circulating throughout the company’s internal grapevinehastened its acceptance  – so much sothat Thompson was asked to bring forward the training dates for some companyoperations. “It generates its own momentum,” he says.Thompson also introduced the programme’s first phase in Hilti’sMiddle East operations, where a number of different nationalities wererepresented. There, a key concern had been to help Filipino employees be betterintegrated in the corporate culture, a common issue in the Middle East whereFilipinos often fill the least prestigious workplace roles. “It was veryinteresting,” Thompson says. “It transported much easier acrosscultures than I would have imagined.”The programme’s initial impact was to break down culturalbarriers between nationalities and help build an improved work environment.”Now we have to do the hard work of focusing on values.”  Hilti, Thompson acknowledges, had been ‘under performing’ forsome time when Gung Ho! was introduced. But in January, February and March ofthis year, Thompson says, “we as an organisation met our targets, and wehadn’t done that since June 2000”. One of the factors involved had to beGung Ho!, Thompson believes. “We see the change: targeting, belief in ourcompany and a changed environment with Gung Ho!” Related posts:No related photos.last_img