My uncle owns a garage that specializes in tires. When I’m in town for a visit, I go to the garage and talk to him while he works. I watch him balance each tire before he mounts it. It’s mesmerizing to watch the tire wobble on the balancing machine, and to watch his hands notice the exact place the tire needs a small weight pounded into the rim. He’s been doing this so long (he’s 86), he’s a tire psychic. After he’s done, it’s satisfying to watch the way tire spins when it’s perfectly balanced. It doesn’t wobble. With one tiny push, it spins and floats. It’s light as a feather, a perpetual motion tire.
Putting a balanced tire on a car makes the whole car run better: The tires want to spin! With balanced tires, the car gets better mileage, and it’s more fun to drive.
Aligning the front end of the car distributes the load evenly. It feels like less weight. It handles more easily, and is more responsive to the driver. The tire appears light as a feather when it’s balanced, and the car seems to weight less when it’s aligned.
It’s these two things that add up to relevance: You balance each task before you add it to the mix. You make sure the task is aligned with the goals of the department and the company, and then you align them with the goals of the person doing the task. Same workload, but it’s easier to carry. Same tasks, but they seem to spin on their own. We’ve all worked like this: It’s fun.
Balancing the task
A task will spin on it’s own when nothing is bogging it down. When a task wobbles and threatens to lose momentum, we’re quick to point to the motivation, skills and even the character of the person doing the task. And, that is one element of balancing the task: Making sure the task fits the skills of the person doing it. But, the other elements can be far more important: Is the task properly budgeted for, adequately staffed, and has it’s impact been thought out? Is there someone in the organization who hates what this task or project and has the power to stop it? Is there another department or person who’s life will be made miserable if this task is completed? Anticipating these obstacles and planning for them eliminates the wobble. Being blind-sided by them wipes out momentum.
And, finally, if this task is done successfully, will the person be rewarded or punished for it? This one is worth lingering on: If I give you a difficult, gnarly project and you knock it out of the park, is giving you another tricky, difficult project a reward or a punishment? This is personal and can vary moment-to-moment. If you can’t answer that question for everyone who works for you, you’ll never be able to get a task to spin.
Aligning the task with the organization and the person: WIIFM.
Nothing gives a task wings like alignment. You’ve seen how people can work when they believe in something. You’ve experienced it yourself: When the task matches your talents and goals, it’s worth all the energy it takes. That’s how you know it’s aligned with the person doing it. Organizational alignment shows up in organizational commitment: People walk their talk, the project is funded, when people get wind of what you’re doing, they get involved and spend time with you. It’s easy to get appointments with stakeholders, and they help you. You can see the momentum build.
WIIFM – What’s in it for me? – is always operating, for the organization and each person in it. Fighting it doesn’t work for long. Joining it builds momentum. Which will you choose? Write and let me know – I’d love to hear about how you navigate this.