Sunday, December 5, 2010

Hang on Loosely: Remove Streetlights, I Mean, Controls and Perhaps You Will Get Better Results

"...if you cling too tightly, you're gonna lose control."

First watch this video about what people will do when it's assumed they will do the right thing.

So what does removing streetlights in England have to do with Marketing and Business Development?

We, as marketing strategists, tend to see two different responses to lower-than-desired marketing/bizdev performance: tighten controls (punish inaction) vs. increase empowerment (reward spirited effort).

First a caveat: I am not talking about decreasing measurement. You can (and should) continue to measure activity and not simply results, but how do you get that activity? Do you loosen controls and promote the spirit of the rule? Or do you tighten controls and ding people when they fail to hit those additional metrics?

It's pretty obvious where my head is here: hang on loosely.

People succeed in different ways. If I say everyone needs to go to two networking events every month – and we will measure attendance – we should expect to see a lot of "12" scores in six months, but should also expect to see widely varying results (sales, connections, engagement scores of the resulting contacts, etc.).

In any case, so far so good. We have everyone going to 24 networking events every year. This should end well.

But now we see that this "two per month" strategy isn't getting me as far as we expected. What happens next is the fork in the road.

Do we...

1) Add additional controls, such as requiring them to collect four business cards at each event? That's 96 cards per person per year!

2) Teach them networking strategies and reward those who move their new contacts to the next level?

Why not do both? Sure, why not? Anything else you want to add to our unending pile of tasks?

Moving on... if you had to pick one, which would you pick?

My advice is to pick #2.

If you select #1... No amount of controls will get the "letter-of-the-law" people to create break-through results. But you will force the "spirit-of-the-law" people into checking off boxes they do not feel have any value and might interfere with their ability to get to that value. Worse still, in my opinion, you might find yourself dinging the "spirit" folks for only making three contacts, when they are actually getting far more value from their three contacts than your "letter" folks are providing from their four.

And then what happens next?

More controls. And more controls. And more of your "spirit" folks checking off boxes to get you off their backs. And getting punished (or having to argue for exceptions) when they are doing the right thing!

Back to the video.

Yes, of course some people will "cheat" and not take turns ... and they will be rewarded by getting to their destination a few seconds faster for doing so. And that's not fair! And that makes us angry! But it makes us angry at them, not at the people who made the rules. This is an important distinction for those of us who believe morale is critical.

Most importantly, the majority of people will do the right thing and, in the end, the overall value to everyone is extraordinary.

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