Your business loses time and efficiency whenever disagreements devolve into bickering. Here’s how to stop that quickly.
From the late seventies until the late eighties, I worked for Tycer-Fultz-Bellack, one of the first Silicon Valley ad agencies focused on high technology. I learned some of the most important lessons of my career early. Interestingly, the most important lessons were about how to run a good business and how to manage people. Many of those lessons, I still use and share forty years later. One of those lessons was how to use the “locked door” school of management.
In every business, employees from bottom to top pass the buck. Whenever a deadline is missed or a budget blown, the employee yells “hot potato” and passes the blame to someone else. It’s engineering’s fault. It’s sales’ fault. Round and round it goes.
All of the excuse-making sounds plausible because the person to whom the blame was passed is rarely in the room. Then, in some other room, that person explains why the fault lies with the original complainer or yet someone else.
Deadlines slip. Budgets inflate. No one is happy.
How To Stop The Buck-Passing Fast
Whenever our small agency had a bout of “he said/she said” bickering, Del Tycer would pull all of the combatants into a room and lock the door. He would say, “we are going to sit here until we hammer this out.” Of course, people would start to squirm and weasel. But with the door locked behind them, there was nowhere to run, nowhere to hide.
The job of the boss is to compel people to honestly state their issues and to compel the other parties to respond substantially. And, more than anything the job of the boss is to require specificity.
Execution and accountability
One of the root causes of bickering and buck passing is a lack of clarity in project management. People gather in meetings, hum kumbaya, say that are going to try to do one thing or another.
There is a notion called the 3W’s which is a powerful corollary to the locked room. In every meeting, on every project, we must answer three questions: what are we going to do? Who is going to do it? When will it be done? Obviously there are dependencies, but they should also be explicit.
When the 3Ws are documented, the conversations become much quicker and more productive. Who is responsible? Did they do their job or not?
Don’t Let Weaseling Persist
As soon as the weaseling starts, invite everyone into the locked room. You need to get to a single version of the truth as quickly as possible. I say, locked room because that’s where the concept began. It can now be a zoom or even a concall. It can’t, in my opinion, be an email chain. Too much room to hide.