It was the sixth shoe store we visited in Vienna, Austria. And still no shoes. I wanted to buy a pair of boots as my old ones from Milan, Italy, fit so well. In and out of shoe stores we went. My traveling companion had the patience of Job. I looked at combat-style boots, knee-length heeled boots, punk-rocker studded booties and everything in between. At each store, the increasingly impatient salesperson asked, “What are you looking for exactly?” To which I replied, “I’m not sure but I’ll know it when I see it.”
Have you ever worked for an I’ll-know-it-when-I-see-it manager? Or are you an I’ll-know-it-when-I-see-it manager? I’ve worked for this type of manager and my staff might even say that I’ve been this type of manager (although I’d like to think it was rare). Here are the pitfalls to this management style:
It’s frustrating for everyone around you. They, like the salesperson, are doing their best to assist in your quest. But no matter what they provide – a report, a product, a marketing plan, or a strategy – it’s not what you were looking for. It doesn’t take long for them to become exasperated and demotivated.
It’s a time waster. As the frustration grows, so does time. Time is spent guessing at the goal and producing a product to meet their best-guess. While time spirals into more time, the cost also includes lost opportunity costs. Just think about all the other work they could be doing that would result in a productive output rather than a guessing game.
You won’t know it when you see it. Despite the belief that you’ll have an “aha” moment when you see that mysterious just-right thing, you won’t. You won’t know-it-when-you-see-it because you don’t know what you’re looking for. It’s a futile circular loop that rarely plays out well.
Everyone, including your organization, is better off if you replace I’ll-know-it-when-I-see-it with clarity of vision and direction. Here are three tasks to get you started.
- Clarify your objective. In my case, I needed to define my shoe objective. Did I want comfy, go-to-the-grocery-store booties, sophisticated stand-on-the-stage boots, or an edgy silver-studded pair? What did I want to accomplish with the boot search? Similarly, what are you trying to accomplish with your task? Do you know? Challenge yourself to define the goal and articulate it specifically. Ask yourself, “What does success look like?” What behavior will you see; what product will be available; what service experience will be created?
- Do your research. Poke, prod, search, explore, ask others, and research what’s out there. Now is the time to research options. Who else is in the ecosystem? What are their products or services? What is the state of the art or state of the practice? Seek out information to give you the boundaries of what currently exists so that you have a knowledgeable frame of reference to share with others.
- Define the parameters. In my case, I finally narrowed the search to black booties with a low heel and below a specific price point. That helped. What are your boundaries? Think about your task and define the boundaries between acceptable and unacceptable. Communicate that dividing line clearly to reduce the frustration of those working on the task. Define the box within which your task fits to reduce the time and effort of others.
In the end, I didn’t buy shoes because no matter how many I looked at, I didn’t know what I was looking for. I didn’t know it when I saw it after all. Next time, I’ll be clearer and it will save me time and reduce the frustration of those around me. You can do the same. Clarify your objective, do the research, and define the parameters. You, those around you and your organization will come out ahead.
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