HTM 014 – By The Book – How To Matter
B-t-B (By The Book) players are slow to deal with problems or conflicts
Once you understand the motivations behind the technique, its use becomes straightforward. First, if the player starts to deal with the issue, he is accepting some degree of responsibility for it. Next, others may hold him accountable for the existence of the difficulties or at least for how things turn out. Playing B-t-B requires someone or something on which to dump the responsibility and the blame, if things go sour. For the player dealing with anything lessens his ability to point the finger anywhere but toward himself.
B-t-B players play it safe
Using this technique is not as easy as you might first think. The trick is to see that it is a very complex play. First, the player must be able to see when there is a risk of any kind. Next, the successful player uses all his options.
Option one is to avoid doing anything that could turn out badly. Option two is to have a backup or a cut-and-run plan.
Rich is another master with the technique. His main play is to do things the same way he always does them. What has worked before is likely to work again. He knows people seldom find fault with his handling things in the usual way, whether it works or not.
Next, Rich always looks at how things can go sour and little at how they can succeed. He asks, “What are the three strongest reasons for not doing this?” His motto is nothing ventured, nothing lost.
Finally, any time he has to do something that has some risk, he spends most of his time figuring out what to say if it goes sour. Of course, the best thing to be able to say is, “I was uneasy about this but went along reluctantly. I handled it the same way we always handle things. I did it By The Book. I can only say I held up my end. Someone dropped the ball.”
Rich’s play calls for doing things the same way he always does them. He avoids all risk as much as possible and has an explanation for failure made up ahead of time. Sure, there is a more simple version of Rich’s play. Do not do anything new or innovative and try hard to keep others from making that mistake. When in doubt, do nothing and there is always room for doubt.
B-t-B players put most time and energy into worrying and keeping things the same.
For the B-t-B player, any change is a risky business. Any time there is change, there is some degree of uncertainty. This uncertainty makes it unclear how to cover one’s self and could require some change in the game plan. For the B-t-B player, the old ways are always the best ways because they are familiar and usually work. Risk to the player is minimal – the player’s bottom line. Any change is risky and must be avoided.
B-t-B players never do anything quickly
Timing is everything. For the successful player, timing is the only thing. Those who are aspiring but not yet accomplished B-t-B players think timing has to do with making the right move at the right time. The experienced player knows better. Timing has to do with nothing but not making the wrong move. Better safe than sorry is the motto of the expert B-t-B player. It is a simple truth that one seldom receives criticism for what he does not do. It is also true things usually work out in a non-negative way so long as no one interferes. It does not matter what positive outcomes have been precluded so long as things do not get worse. Put this wisdom together and you can easily see why the player figures that it is best to put off decisions and actions as long as possible. The logic is sound. You only need to accept the premise that calls for the safety and no risk life of the B-t-B player.
The key to using the technique is knowing how to postpone everything. Having a few tricks will be helpful. Here are some things to say if push comes to shove:
• Let me get back to you on this one
• Get me some more hard data
• Give me a couple of days to give this one a closer look
• Better safe than sorry
• This may seem like a little project, but I think your being involved makes it important enough to go slowly
If the pressure builds up, taking it up the ladder, taking it to a staff meeting, or requesting a written recommendation are useful. If it is already in writing, the player asks for a summary or a more detailed proposal, depending on what is not readily available. The goal is to put the whole thing off as long as possible without seeming to be resistive or less than supportive. Many times, everyone just gives up before having to jump through the hoops.
There is a story about a government type who always asks for written requests. The eager staffers prepare their requests in a few days. The day after they turn them in, the bureaucrat gives the requests back with a demand for more data. This process cycles at least three times. At that point, he reads the proposals. The next step is for him to edit the paperwork and give it back to the staffers. This cycles for two or three rounds and then he refers the proposal to either a staff meeting or up the ladder. From there, the game goes on until the staffers give up, quit, or the idea is out of date. The player’s rule is that nothing is so urgent it cannot wait.
B-t-B players avoid responsibility
For these players, not accepting responsibility is axiomatic but let’s elaborate. The challenge for the player is not to give his game away. Success in the organization depends on being seen as accepting responsibility. The more responsibility the player’s superiors think he accepts, the more likely the player will get promotions and more responsibility.
How can the player get the benefits of accepting responsibility without taking on the liabilities? It is actually fairly easy.
First, the player does everything necessary to get into a position of authority or leadership. At lower levels, this happens by volunteering to head projects, chair committees, or anything else that makes other people responsible to the B-t-B player.
The next trick is to delegate all tasks or decisions to those under the player. If things work out well – and they usually will – the player smiles and gives the credit to those who did the work. Of course, everyone can see that this classy person is quite a manager and is definitely someone who can handle responsibility.
If things do not go well, a fixed B-t-B rule says never blame your subordinates. The skilled player says, “My people gave it all they had. They are a great group. It was just a little beyond their reach this time. They have what it takes, though. They will do nothing but get better.” Notice how the B-t-B player stays close but just a little above his people. The failure is not their fault and they will do better next time. Of course, the failure has nothing to do with the player himself. The trick here is to be the leader and not part of those people who are responsible.
Sure, the player will need more people, more resources, and probably a bigger title to get the job done next time. It also is as sure as oil going up the wick that there will be a next time.
B-t-B players take no chances
The FastChip Corporation is a small computer supply business catering to the home computer market. Its location in a large shopping center gives the store a lot of traffic and a high percentage of small cash-and-carry sales. The rest of the sales are in the area of $1,000 to $3,000. These larger sales are hardware.
The store policy is not to sell their display stock. If there is not stock in the back, the customer gets a 5 percent discount and delivery within twenty-four hours. This assures that each customer sees the full line.
On Monday, December 1, the store’s policies are a problem. An aircraft manufacturer experiences a power disaster that brings down its computer system. As an interim measure, it sends out for thirty-two PC systems. The disaster makes the need urgent.
Rick, the FastChip manager, receives a personal visit from the manufacturer’s buyer. The offer is to buy the twelve systems in stock for 90 percent of the retail price. This takes the systems on display and those in the back.
Rick has a problem. Should he follow the store’s policies or make a $17,000 sale? Of course, this is not a problem for a B-t-B player like Rick. His first step is to tell the buyer that it will take until 3 p.m. to get a decision. From 11 a.m. when the offer comes, Rick stews over the decision and tries to contact the owner. At 3:30 p.m. when the buyer calls him, Rick tells the buyer they cannot help out this time.
It is a triple play of sorts. Rick puts off dealing with the issue, worries about it, and then opts to play it safe.
What does the owner say when Rick tells him about the missed deal? Do not be silly! B-t-B players never tell, unless it is on someone else. Even if the owner finds out later, Rick can assure him that he tried to contact him. He also can reference store policy and honestly share how much he worried about and struggled with the decision. B-t-B players are, if nothing else, company people. The worst part is that Rick is sure he made the right decision. Better safe than sorry!