15 Jul 2014 - Digital Strategy // By Productive Edge Team

Does your manager play checkers or chess? Expect it to impact performance.

At ThinkTime, we obsess about how to help managers be more effective. We know the stakes are high in the competitive Task Management and Help Ticketing spaces in which we play. What we've learned is that when our employees are embraced for being unique and different, it translates into empowerment. For us, this means our employees’ productivity stays high as they work to make our cloud-based products extremely powerful, easy to use, and intuitive.

When you look at the broader marketplace, this principle of honoring your employees’ differences is constantly reinforced. For his book The One Thing You Need to Know: About Great Managing, Great Leading, and Sustained Individual Success, author Marcus Buckingham teamed with the Gallup Organization to survey 80,000 managers across the world. Buckingham was also able to conduct in-depth interviews with a few top performers. Writing for Harvard Business Review, Buckingham summarized his findings this way:

“There is one quality that sets truly great managers apart from the rest: They discover what is unique about each person and then capitalize on it. Average managers play checkers, while great managers play chess. The difference? In checkers, all the pieces are uniform and move in the same way; they are interchangeable. You need to plan and coordinate their movements, certainly, but they all move at the same pace, on parallel paths. In chess, each type of piece moves in a different way, and you can’t play if you don’t know how each piece moves. More important, you won’t win if you don’t think carefully about how you move the pieces.”

This landmark article was written in 2005, and it remains relevant today. What Buckingham describes is exactly what we see at ThinkTime.

From nearly 20 years of experience managing people, I’ve learned how to convert a person’s talent into performance. I focus on challenging employees to excel in their own way. This approach takes patience, observations, experiments, and lots of interactions with the employee, but the results can be enormous for the individual and the entire team.

As the President of ThinkTime, I know we’ve been incredibly fortunate to find talented associates that work hard and bring an enormous amount of dedication and heart to the job. Even though the people we hire bring this high caliber of experience and drive, we still need to (in a very positive way) play the game of chess, and really celebrate what is different about each person who works for us.

Here’s an example to illustrate what the game of chess looks like at ThinkTime. A recent hire I’ll call Paul is extremely analytical and accurate, and in fact he would much rather dive into our .net code and be left alone for two days to analyze an issue than to be on the phone talking to a customer.

By contrast, an associate I’ll call Jamie loves to be in the spotlight, talking on the phone, making our customers feel at ease and selling ideas. Ultimately she gets inspired and motivated by the social interactions she has with our customers.

Imagine if I were to ask Paul and Jamie to swap roles on Monday morning. Perhaps through pure will and pressure I could convince them that this is the right thing to do and I could (in theory) make it happen. Would I be playing chess, realizing and celebrating their differences? Of course not. It would likely be a disaster that I would then have to unwind, causing disruption to the business and reducing employee morale.

If I truly believed Paul should be more like Jamie, I could ask him to take customer calls for a few days a week and program code on the other days. This may or may not end up in a disaster but it certainly ignores the magic I found by lining up Paul’s skills and desires with his role and responsibilities. By capitalizing on each person’s differences, I am celebrating what makes them great, and I’m making each person more accountable to improve and refine their skills.

Much like we fine tune and celebrate the differences of our employees, our clients rely on our leadership tools to fine tune their organization’s ability to execute initiatives, listen to their employees in a new and powerful ways, and ultimately drive better customer service and financial results.

Steve Levy - President of ThinkTime 


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Does your manager play checkers or chess? Expect it to impact performance.