Gung Ho!

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I’ve been reading Gung Ho! By Ken Blanchard and Sheldon Bowles. Gung Ho is Chinese and means “work together.”

I was pleasantly surprised by the book. It was a good read.

The book is about a plant manager that only has 6 months to turn around the company and get it more productive or corporate will shut it down. The plant manager goes to the best department manager and is guided by his advice on how to Gung Ho his team, his co-workers in his department. There are three main components of his philosophy which are based on observations of creatures in nature:

1. The Spirit of the Squirrel – create a sense that the work being done is worthwhile. “First the work has to be understood as important. Second, it has to lead to a well-understood and shared goal. Third, values have to guide all plans, decisions, and actions.” Show the workers in your department how what they do helps others. For example, a dishwasher job may not seem glamorous but it is essential worthwhile work. One load of unclean, bacteria-infected dishes could wipe out a whole group of people. Always look at your job in terms of human impact. What this is really getting at is a powerful human emotion: self-esteem. View your work not as units produced but as impacting human lives and it will build your self-esteem. Another important aspect is to place values at the forefront. Values, not managers, should guide each worker’s behavior. Managers are leaders and they should not have to act like police. Each worker should demonstrate these shared values in the way they act and insist others to behave.

2. The Way of the Beaver – Look at the way beavers build a dam together. “Each beaver has a large measure of control over its own destiny. They decide how the work is going to be done. They operate like independent contractors…It’s up to each of them how the dam gets repaired. If they want to work at one end, fine. If they want to bring small branches, that’s great. They exercise their own best judgment.” Basically the message for managers in this one is to let the people who really do the work do the work. Set the goals and values, define the playing field and rules of the game, decide who plays what position. Then you have to get off the field and let the players move the ball. It’s tough to be boss without being bossy. It requires a high level of self-esteem. Another key aspect of this concept is respect for all the people in your department along with their thoughts, feelings, needs, and aspirations. Value individuals as persons and as a manager, keep in mind, that you should not give people work beyond their capacity. People want a fair day’s work for a fair day’s pay so let them contribute up to their capacity. Let them feel challenged but not overwhelmed.

3. The Gift of the Goose – The department manager describes it like this, “Twenty of us have this work area and we run it like our own business. We’re responsible for quality, on-time delivery, and looking after our customers.” One important aspect of that attitude is to cheer each other on with words of encouragement much like geese honk to each other continuously while flying in V formation. Employee engagement is explained as E=mc2 or rather, enthusiasm equals mission times cash and congratulations. People need sincere, truthful recognition. This can be done with active affirmations such as telling people what a great job they do or presenting awards. Yet, it is done even better with passive affirmations. What is a passive affirmation? “A classic example is sitting on your hands, biting your tongue, and looking unconcerned and confident when a team member carries forward a tricky, complicated, and important project. Just the kind of project you excel at and every fiber of your body is crying out to take control or at least issue a couple of warnings about trouble spots. But you don’t. Your silence sends a very clear message – I trust you.” Recognition should be spontaneous and individualized. It is also important to cheer on progress not just results. At a football game the crowd doesn’t cheer only at touchdowns and neither should businesses operate that way. Cheer progress.

Well, it’s an entertaining book and a short read. I recommend it.

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