By Roger Whalley, Non-Executive Director for Aspire

In 1984 I read a book that would change my understanding of managing people. This book was written by a guy called Ken Blanchard and was called “The One Minute Manager”, It was followed by a series of books based on the same theme. Blanchard realised that busy managers didn’t have the time to read through the books available at that time which were probably 400 pages of platitudinous rubbish. This book was less than 100 pages and has remained in my collection ever since. I re-read it regularly and I have to confess that the current book is the 5th I have owned. The others have either worn out or have been given to people in places where books cannot be obtained.

I said it changed my way of managing people because it got me understanding that it was not just the way I behaved or the way they behaved but a composite of the two. There is a significant phrase that is repeated all through the book and that is “Different Strokes for Different Folks”. You may have heard this expression before and wondered from where it might have come. Well, Ken Blanchard was the first management consultant to use it and it has become the mantra for all management consultants since.

It got me thinking about the mistakes I had made in my past career where I had made assumptions about people without really understanding them. I realised that I had to take a different approach and give to people the type of management that they wanted. Prior to reading the book I treated everybody pretty much the same believing that it was the fair way. How wrong I was.

Folks that I was managing were different. There were men and there were women; there were experienced folk and there were inexperienced folk; there were ambitious folk and there were lazy folk; all these people were different and I stayed the same. So, the problem was not within them it was within me. I was the one who needed to change not them. This reminded me of a little story I had heard as a young man from someone who was my mentor.

A young man came to a new town after a long journey Wearily he found his way to the central square and looked around and spied an old man sitting on a bench. The bench was surrounded with flowers which carried a strong refreshing fragrance of roses and magnolia. The buildings around the square were bright and clean and there was no litter in sight. The old man was wearing a scarf and topcoat and had a friendly look on his face

‘Old man,’ he said, ‘What is this town of yours like? Are the people friendly, kind and hospitable?’ I have come a long way and hope to find somewhere I can rest my head for a few days. If I like it, I might stay longer.

‘My son,’ said the old man, ‘What were the people like from where you have come?’

‘They were good,’ said the young man, ‘very friendly, warm and always greeted you with a smile’

‘Well,’ said the old man, ‘that is how you will find the people here.

The young man smiled and thanked the old man and went to look for lodgings.

Later that same day another young man, weary and covered with the stains of travel, came to the town square and again he went to the old man. He had obviously travelled far.

‘Hey old man,’ he said, ‘what’s this place like? What are the people like? I hope they’re friendly and pleasant’

‘You have come far I see,’ said the old man. ‘What were the people like in the town you have just left’

‘Not at all nice,’ said the young man. ‘Very snobbish, unfriendly and sometimes quite rude’

‘Well,’ said the old man, ‘I’m afraid that is how you will find the people here!’

The moral of this story is – it’s up to you and the way you do things that decides the outcome.

People respond to warm and friendly approaches and shy away from a posed threat. If you can always treat others in the way you would like to be treated, except in a very rare case, you will find they treat you in the same way. A friendly smile and a greeting will often help to break down barriers.

I have worked all over the world and have found that irrespective of race, religion or any other differences, people always respond to compliments about whatever it is that they are doing.

Always when I visited a country I hadn’t visited before, I would ask the taxi driver from the airport who inevitably used to speak English how to say; hello, thank you and good bye. With those three phrases you can break down barriers. Of course, I also asked how to order a beer!

That gave me a flying start when making friends amongst the colleagues with whom I would be working. I can’t tell you how easy it made my job of getting accepted by folk who might even resent my presence. However not all people will respond to a friendly smile, some of them need more and you can’t give that “more” until you know what it is.

The “Different Strokes” that people need can only come after we have managed to understand them; what makes them tick; what is the switch that turns them on; is it money or prestige; is it power or security; is it a challenge or is it just self-actualisation? All these questions and many others need to be posed and answered before we can understand what people want from us in management techniques. Do they need a firm hand or a pat on the back; do they need the carrot or the stick; do they need hard targets or easy ones?

The book “The One Minute Manager” is still available and doesn’t cost much and the cost is nothing when you compare it to the value. Next month I will expand on this theme and look how you can assess yourself before you assess others.