Employee Encouragement Leads to Increased Ability

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "Multipliers" by Liz Wiseman. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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How can you improve the abilities of your team? How do Knowledge Multipliers encourage employees? What Diminishing behaviors inhibit growth?

Knowledge Multipliers use employee encouragement tactics to increase their team’s intelligence and abilities. The three practices they use are to spark direction, challenge people, and create conviction. Knowledge Diminishers, however, tend to show off, test others, micromanage, and create boredom.

Continue on to learn the best employee encouragement practices and what behaviors to avoid.

Knowledge Multipliers and Employee Encouragement

Knowledge Multipliers set challenges to encourage people to increase their intelligence and ability. Multipliers can set any challenge they like because they believe their team can do anything anyone knows (or can learn) how to do, not just things the Multiplier personally knows how to do. 

Three Practices of Knowledge Multipliers

Practice #1: Spark Direction

Even if a Multiplier knows exactly what an organization’s direction should be, they don’t tell their team. Instead, they point them in the right direction and encourage them to develop this knowledge for themselves. They:

  1. The first employee encouragement technique is to offer people the chance to pinpoint the problem or challenge. When people identify a problem on their own, they understand it better and are more motivated to solve it. 
  • For example, Irene of the Bennion Center, which encourages college students to do community service, takes her students into the inner city so they can see what the community might need. The students talk to people, visit shelters, and walk the streets. They start asking questions and come up with their own projects.

To practice this technique, take your team on a field trip somewhere so they can see firsthand what needs to be done.

  • For example, Tom of GE took his team to the Atlanta Kitchen and Bath Show so they could look for niches and trends they could create products to fill.

2. Debunk assumptions about the way the industry or market works. Assumptions hold people back because when someone thinks they already know something, they don’t look deeper or try to develop their knowledge.

  • For example, when strategy professor C.K. worked with manufacturing company Philips, he discovered that its leaders assumed the company was invincible and their strategy reflected this. C.K. wrote a fake newspaper article that predicted Philips would go bankrupt and showed it to the leaders, prompting them to consider questions about market changes and competitors merging.

3. Cast problems as opportunities. People do better work when they feel that they’re gaining something (such as new knowledge) rather than just solving a problem.

4. Outline only the foundation. Multipliers make projects achievable by giving people a safe, solid starting point but then letting them take over. The unknowns challenge people to think for themselves, and make them curious and keener on getting involved—there’s still more that needs to be done, so there’s a role for them.

  • For example, Oracle’s top executives put together a draft of a strategic plan and gave it to their senior leaders to flesh out.

Practice #2: Challenge People

Knowledge Multipliers encourage employees to fill the gap between what they know and what they need to know so that they can rise to a challenge. They:

1. Make the challenge concrete. When a challenge has clearly laid out, measurable steps, it feels more achievable and gives people the confidence that they can accomplish it. They know exactly what they need to learn to get the project done. 

  • For example, Boys and Girls Clubs of the Peninsula leader Sean asks hard questions to define challenges. He once asked a girl named Taji how she would get out of her environment. She answered that she’d go to college. Sean asked her how she would get to college. She answered that she’d need to go to a good high school, and her challenge became to get a scholarship to one of the top schools in the area. 

2. Ask questions people don’t know the answers to yet. This creates tension between what people know and what they need to know, and encourages them to fill the gap. 

  • For example, when LG Electronics’ Tom was assigned to show Mike around on his first day, instead of sharing information about the company, Tom asked Mike a list of questions. This told Tom what knowledge Mike already had, and Mike learned faster because he was able to focus on his gaps.

> Workout #1: Speak only in questions. (You can let your team know you’re experimenting if you think they’ll be put off by this.) You might ask questions that:

> * Point someone in the right direction

> * Help someone figure out what you already know

> * Encourage people to come up with brand-new ideas or answers

> * Rethink assumptions

> You don’t have to speak in questions forever—once you’re more used to asking, you can start including more statements. In addition to making your team think, this workout will also show you that people know more than you’ve been giving them credit for. 

3. Don’t answer any questions themselves. This allows and forces others to do the thinking and find a solution.

  • For example, the CEO of an electronics company told his management team that he wanted to become the top company in the market. Then, he asked them, as well as founding family members, key executives, and consultants, to figure out how to do that.

Practice #3: Create Conviction

Knowledge Multipliers make employees believe that they can do the impossible things they’ve come up with in the previous practices. They:

1. Get down to earth. A leader sees things from a high-level perspective, but big ambiguous goals are hard for individual team members to connect to. Multipliers show people how their perspective translates to what actually needs to be done

  • For example, Matt of Gymboree wanted to increase the company’s shares from 0.69 cents per share to $1.00. To show people how they could contribute to this goal, he asked them what their individual “mission impossible” would be. (Shortform example: A mission impossible might be for a salesperson to make twice as many sales a month than usual.)

> Workout #2: To choose an appropriate “mission impossible” challenge:

> * Think of something that’s challenging for an individual, team, or whole organization. 

> * Nail down an achievable first step. Achieving this step will build a conviction that the overall goal is possible.

> * Translate this challenge into a question. (For example, when Jason decided that his team’s challenge was to complete 1,000 inspections in 2016, he asked his team what they would have to do to meet that goal.)  

> * Ask the question and let your people answer it.

2. Get people involved in creating the execution plan. Like in practice #1 (outline only the foundation), Multipliers encourage people to determine the course of action themselves. Not only will this make people more engaged, but it’ll also make them believe the course is possible. Multipliers can also get more done faster because if people create their own plan, they don’t have to wait for direction or approval. 

3. Encourage employees to collect low-hanging fruit. As people achieve small, easy goals, they’ll gain the confidence and belief that they can tackle bigger ones. 

  • For example, many women in Nairobi didn’t have enough firewood or water. Nobel Prize winner Wangari Maathai suggested that the women plant some trees. This suggestion would eventually lead to the Green Belt Movement, which works at everything from environmental conservation to human rights issues to resource management. But the initial goal wasn’t to create an organization—it was simply for a few women to plant a few trees, which wasn’t very expensive or difficult, and didn’t require a lot of tools.

To practice this technique, make sure the baby step involves or is visible to the entire organization so that everyone starts to believe in the impossible.

  • For example, if only a small group of people is involved in a pilot, hold an open house so that everyone can see how well it went.

Knowledge Diminishers

Knowledge Diminishers assume that their job is to be the most knowledgeable person on their team and have all the answers. If they don’t know something, then they go learn it themselves because they don’t trust anyone else to already know or be capable of learning it. More often, though, Diminishers tend to only pursue things they already know. This limits the organization to doing only what one person knows.

Knowledge diminishing can often be unintentional. Most Knowledge Diminishers are smart and this is what got them into their current position. They often don’t realize that while being smart is still relevant in a leadership position, being the only smart one is limiting.

Four Practices of Knowledge Diminishers

Practice #1: Show Off Knowledge

Knowledge Diminishers sell instead of share their knowledge. They’re not interested in discussion or brainstorming; they just talk to show off their intelligence.

  • For example, one manager never asked one of his direct reports even a single question. Even if the manager was musing about something and asked a question, he’d answer it himself.

Practice #2: Test Others’ Knowledge

Knowledge Diminishers are concerned about whether their team has soaked up the knowledge they’ve imparted and regularly test them. When Diminishers ask questions, it’s to prove that others don’t know as much as them. People spend their energy trying to pass the boss’s tests instead of directing the energy towards their work.

  • For example, when Richard, founder of SMT Systems, thought his general counsel didn’t know enough about a legal code, he gave him a pop quiz. The general counsel answered as best he could, but he didn’t have all the answers to the most specific and obscure questions. After the meeting, Richard bought a 600-page book that covered the legal code, spent all night reading the whole thing, and the next day called a meeting and listed everything the general counsel had gotten wrong the day before.

Practice #3: Micromanage

Knowledge Diminishers don’t think anyone knows how to do anything except them, so they tell people what to do in a lot of detail.

  • For example, executive producer Chip interfered so much with the director of photography’s work that the director quit halfway through filming, saying that Chip should just set up the lighting himself if he thought he could do better.

Practice #4: Create Boredom

Because Diminishers set up their organizations so that no one can act until given direction by the Diminisher, people don’t have anything to do while they wait for orders. 

  • For example, one vice president who worked for a Diminisher said that it was like working part-time because he spent so much time waiting to be told what to do.
Employee Encouragement Leads to Increased Ability

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  • Why multipliers make better leaders than diminishers
  • How multipliers increase the total intelligence and capability of a team
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