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Rhythmic observation

by | Feb 11, 2021 | Bo Diddley, observe, Rhythm (Management Hygiene)

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A basic element of any effective management system is “No Surprises”.  “Simple but not easy” does not even start to describe this critical part of your Hygiene.  In fact, I have used a fairly graphic way of describing it to leaders, probably driven by where I now live.  Our street in Virginia has a Rhythm of what are politely called “Bear Interactions”, the largest in our area… and our area has the most in the whole state.  So we fairly regularly have a bear walk past our house. In fact recently, we observed not 1… or 2… we had 3… on our deck.  They were small, but like surprised leaders, they can pack a wallop…. 

… they are mostly hungry, smell food, and see if the doors are open for an easy way to fill up. When they are full, they sleep and are pretty docile.  The trick is to know where they are on that curve when you observe them.  No surprises.  In management, ensuring that everyone can observe what is happening up and down the chain I call “Feeding the Bear”.  If you keep them fed with enough of the right information, they will mostly be docile… and if not…. well, the picture will show you what claws look like when they are out 😉 

To remind yourself of what it was like in the era Bo Diddley was playing in, Cadillac Records is a faithful record of it.  Most of the money was made by the person who wrote the song, then the record company, and maybe the artist.  Getting the writing credit was a sure-fire way to produce what we now call “passive income”.  Today’s hit was written by Willie Dixon, a quiet, unassuming bass player, who was in the Rhythm section of the house band at Chess… and would bring his compositions to recording sessions for when the “star” needed something to play… 

… Dixon explained that the lyrics were “Bo Diddley’s bag 100% … and when I told him about it, he liked it immediately”.[5] Diddley’s original recording breaks the fourth wall by encouraging the listener to turn his or her radio up after the first verse.  Dixon biographer Mitsutoshi Inaba comments on Diddley’s “unique vocal style”: “He freely uses various vocal techniques: glissandi in a wide range, howling, changing dynamics and tone quality, altering melodic and non-melodic singing.”[4] Dixon’s lyrics describe a variety of situations to illustrate that one should not judge them by their appearance, before repeating the title phrase.  It was one of the last big hits that Bo would have, topping out at Number 21 on the R&B.  

So the trick of “Feeding the Bear” is observing what they want to “eat” and the Rhythm of how often.  I have found that a simple 3 heading report that accompanies your 1-1’s tends to work well.  First is “Accomplishments” – to be separated from “Activities”.  Yes, you may have DONE a lot, but did you actually ACCOMPLISH anything.  Next is “Issues” – otherwise known as where you could potentially use some help.  The trick here is to get the Bear to help you in areas that… they are good at… and more importantly, you WANT them to help.  Finally, is “Plans” – what you anticipate doing for the next period.  

A perfect week, you cut and paste the Plans from the last period to Accomplishments, and there are no Issues.  And then there are the real weeks 😉  That is the “Simple” part – the “not easy” is there are things you DON’T need the Bear involved in… at least not yet…so observing how much rope you want to give yourself until… well that is mixing metaphors.  It is why this element of Hygiene is today… it is all about observing the patterns that have worked for the Bear… and realizing often that other peers are actually MUCH better about Feeding than you are.  Here again, the relationships you have with them and others help ensure your “safety”. 

A by-product of this approach is at the end of the year, you have a nice stack of things that you will have forgotten you even did… when you write your year-end Self Assessment… which of course you do… right?  Even if THEY don’t ask for it, I always did it… and of course, updated my Resume so I had it fresh yearly for another element we will talk about.  And I always had my teams do the same reports to roll up what they and their teams did, so the whole process produces a weekly/biweekly/monthly report in which everyone can observe their part in driving the results.  Most importantly for all, the Rhythm lets everyone observe the great things they are doing, critical for driving high performance.

As with the 1-1, many leaders say “oh yea, my boss knows what I am up to”… and when I ask how… a similar blank stare as before often is looking back at me.  Enjoy the amazing groove and singing on one of my favorite Bo Diddley’s directions on observation – You Can’t Judge a Book by Its Cover. 

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