Friday, December 18, 2020

Developing People: Focusing on the What AND the How

Source: Pixabay

Adam Bryant recently posted a terrific interview with Matt Schuyler, Chief Administrative Officer at Hilton.  He asked Schuyler about a key leadership lesson learned during his career.    Schuyler offered this anecdote about his time at PWC: 

In a professional services firm like Price Waterhouse, it’s an up-or-out environment. Around year 11 or 12, you know it’s time for consideration for partnership, which is the pinnacle. In the spring of that twelfth year for me, I got a call from my boss who was based in London, and he said, “Can you fly over to London to see me tomorrow?”

I arrived early the next morning, and he said, “Let’s go grab a pint.” And sure enough, the pubs were open at 8:30 in the morning. So we sat down and he said, “I have some news for you. You didn’t make it.” This was devastating because I’d spent the better part of twelve years leading up to this moment, and in the previous year I had accomplished all my objectives.

But then he said, “The good news is that it’s a ‘not now,’ not a ‘no never, ever.’” And here’s the lesson he shared: “We were not measuring you on the ‘what.’ We were measuring you on the ‘how,’ and you got more done than we’ve ever seen anybody get done, so you’ve checked the ‘what’ box. On the ‘how,’ you created some waves along the journey because you were such a zealot in getting a lot done. So you have a do-over. Take this next year, focus on the how, not the what.” The next year I made partner and I try to remember that lesson every day when I come to work.

Two important lessons jump out at me from this story.  First, the partners did not evaluate Schuyler simply based on WHAT he achieved.  They cared about HOW he did it as well.  That's crucial.  Second, the partners didn't give up on Schuyler simply because he had stumbled on the HOW.  They offered him constructive feedback and gave him an opportunity to course correct.  He did and achieved further success at the organization.  Of course, some folks won't be able to internalize that type of feedback and make the necessary changes.  However, many people will be able to do so if they are offered the right feedback, coaching, and development.  

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