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But I love that you’re good at getting sh*t done

When you praise your top performers for their ability to get sh*t done, you're doing it with the best intentions. But is your message truly setting them up for success?

The other day I wrote that maybe it isn’t the best strategy to be known as a “get sh*t done” girl. When I say “If you’re known as a get-sh*t-done girl, you’ll be given sh*t to do.” as part of my performance, this is what happens:

  1. Surprise. It garners a laugh.
  2. Puzzled. A wave of worry crosses everyone’s face. Like they’re collectively saying, “Wait just a darn-tootin’ second!” as the realization of what I just said starts to sink in.
  3. Despondent. Then comes the second wave of contorted facial expressions. This is the moment when almost everyone in the audience realizes that this is exactly how they’re known. I can practically see their thought bubbles saying, “OMG. I literally got ‘assigned’ to something yesterday.”

This happens every. Single. Time. (Don’t worry, we go on to have a conversation about what to do next.)

Today, I want to talk to the leaders and aspiring leaders who hear this and think, “But wait, I LOVE <fill in the name of your awesome team member here> who’s good at getting shit done. It’s awesome!”

I love it when projects get done with little to no supervision, too. Still, I have a couple of questions for you to ponder.

#1: Is it possible you don’t know how to articulate the person’s magic?
I run into this situation a ton. Managers say, “I don’t know how she does it, but she’s great. She just makes it happen.” Without realizing it, they’re admitting to me that they can’t articulate how their Awesome Team Member (now known as ATM) makes her unique form of magic work. 

Now imagine you’re in a meeting with a bunch of other managers about a project. You want to put ATM on the team. You want her to lead the project. In scenario #1, it’s a done deal because you’re the boss of the bosses (and you don’t explain why.) In scenario #2 you’re a peer, so the next step is getting buy-in from the rest of the management team.

“Well she’s just good,” or worse, “She’s really good at getting sh*t done” is a pretty common pitch at this stage.

Why is this bad news? In the first case, you’ve now set ATM up to have to get buy-in from everyone else before she even starts. In the second example, you’ve messaged “project manager” not “strategic leader.” You’ve given her the opposite of a running start.

These generic, get-sh*t-done oriented statements undermine ATM’s ability to succeed.

#2: Isn’t it your job to maximize the potential of your team?

If it’s not, then you can skip this one. Just kidding! Of course, it is. So let’s talk about success metrics for a minute. 

Even though productivity is the goal of any work team, I don’t think I’ve ever looked at one of my high performers and said, “Productivity! That’s the ticket!” 

No, I’m eternally grateful and relieved these high performers are part of my team because of their ability to think. They intuitively solve problems that will inevitably arise. They bring their experiences and skills to the room in a way that no other person can. I know I was part of several teams where  1+1 didn’t equal 2, 1+1 equaled more like 5 because we all thought differently.

So what is the real metric of success for your team? Is it productivity or is it their thinking ability? I’m guessing is that it’s probably a combination of both. 

I was just on a coaching call discussing how too many teams spend way too much time concentrating on the “to do” and not on the “to think.” Too often, we only look at “getting it done” as the goal. And as a manager, you’re encouraging the problem if what your ATMs keep hearing is that they’re brilliant because of their ability to get sh*t done.

People aren’t machines, let’s not measure ourselves like one. We all lose when we do.

These are just two of many thoughts I have on this whole problem of human talent and the metric of getting sh*t done. I’m curious to hear what ideas you have on the matter.

Are you already talking to your team about how they think? I’d love to hear from you.
Have you talked to your ATM (highly recommend doing this btw) about the value of their thinking? What happened?

Let’s keep the conversation going.

PS. If you know you’re known as a “get sh*t done” person, it’s worth having a conversation about this with your boss.

PPS. Heck, do you think I’m wrong? I’m always open for more dialog on this topic.

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