How to Get Beyond the Way Most of Us Are Working Today

In this interview excerpt, John Ryskowki helps us see how important it is to give people the time of day and look to unrelated fields for new answers.

How to Get Beyond the Way Most of Us Are Working Today
John Ryskowski

John Ryskowski: President at JFR Consulting. Creator of Drum-Talks: Bringing the lessons of Big Band drumming to team leadership and performance.

How Big Band Drumming Is Like Team Leadership

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How can we create workplaces where every voice matters, everyone thrives and finds meaning, and change and innovation happen naturally?

John Ryskowski: I believe it’s essential to “give people the time of day.” We recognized this a long time ago with the Hawthorne effect. During this study, they did all these experiments to try and figure out what made people more productive. They gave workers more lighting, and production went up. They played music, and production went up. They put workers in a special room, and production went up. And after many gyrations, they discovered that the only reason production went up was because the workers were being treated like they were special. Management was giving them the time of day.

This doesn’t have to be elaborate. Here’s an example from when I was doing CMMI (Capability Maturity Model Integration) appraisals: I led a team of 13 people. We had a lot of work to do in a concise period of time, and it was intense. I had one person on the team; we’ll call her J., And midway into the work, we had another person come onto the team; we’ll call her H. And suddenly, there was this territorial tension in the room. And I thought, In today’s world, how on Earth am I going to handle this one?

Well, all I did was meet with each of them for about 20 minutes in a side room, and I just thanked them. I recognized each of their unique situations. For instance, with one of them, I said, “I know you’re dealing with some health issues that are not small, and I’m happy that you can still be a part of this, and I think I speak for everyone else, too.”

And that tension in the room? It went away! I didn’t need some brilliant strategy. I didn’t have to say some magical things. I just gave each of them some special moments.

It’s so powerful when we give people the time of day, and it’s so rare that it happens!

What does it take to get an employee’s full attention and best performance?

John: To get people’s full attention and best performance, you have to recognize their dilemmas and somehow be able to show you are concerned and taking action. You can invest literally 90 seconds in a meeting, and you can shift the perspective and kind of light up or ignite people.

But remember: After that, they’ll be watching, so the follow-up needs to happen, and it needs to be righteous, and it needs to be heartfelt. If you don’t follow up, you’re just “full of it.” You don’t get many tries, right? So you’ve got to take advantage of each one. Even if it doesn’t work, people will forgive you for that, but you’ve got to give it at least a shot.

Leaders that are good at this spend a lot of time not doing things: They spend a lot of time not reacting or not overreacting. They’re meticulous about where they inject themselves and how. And when you see somebody very carefully doing it, it’s like artwork. It’s quite beautiful to see.

What do people really lack and long for at work?

John: I believe what people lack and long for at work is a purpose ... and a vision. Being a leader and having a vision and mission that you actually believe in—that you stand behind, that you really mean—is a huge deal. It’s imperative.

I was just a speaker at the IEEE Aerospace Conference in Big Sky, Montana, and I ended up being the MC for our track. This is actually a fascinating conference. It’s “real aerospace,” meaning the people there are at the top of the game, in the top 5% of the world of getting things into space, managing space, orbital stuff. People from MIT, Caltech, JPL...

In probably half of the talks I went to, I heard SpaceX mentioned, and every one of the speakers said things like SpaceX told us what they were delivering was going to be within THIS window of performance. They delivered within an even smaller window. Everything SpaceX told them that the ship was going to do or the rocket was going to do. It did flawlessly. Amazing stuff.

How do they do it? Well, I talk to a lot of the young people who work at SpaceX, and they like working there. Yes, they’re there all the time. They don’t have much of a life if they work at SpaceX. But they don’t care. They love it. Why? Because they know what they’re doing and why they’re doing it. Their leader basically tells Wall Street to screw itself. He’s on a mission. They know it, and they’re behind him on it. His vision is clear.

So what’s important is having the vision—and the courage and ability to articulate it. Then people will come with you on that journey because they’re passionate about it, too.

Note: This is a preview of the full interview. The complete interview was selected by Apress for publication and continues in The Future of the Workplace.