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Whose ‘Proper Way’ Is It, Anyway?

May 6, 2022
Good strategizing involves making room for other perspectives on your team.

IndustryWeek's elite panel of regular contributors.

Have you ever wondered why there seems to be a right way, wrong way and some third random way a team member chooses to do a task?

Last week, I ran a poll on LinkedIn. The question was, “What is the first thing you think of when I say, ‘1 and 1’?” The answers I gave were 1 + 1 equals 2 and 1 and 1 are 11. I never even considered others would answer that 1 and 1 referred to foul shots in basketball, or a ball and strike in baseball!

You can see how quickly your team may come to a different way to do a task. Our unique histories and perspectives mean that each of us sees life through a different lens. Diverse perspectives allow for creative solutions.

As a leader, any time you need everyone’s best ideas on the table, you must be careful not to provide the roadmap but instead provide your team with a high-level goal and allow them the opportunity to deliver exceptional results. This holds true whether you are brainstorming a new way to do a process or strategizing for the future.

Another Way to Slice It

Let’s take a moment to run through an example I use with personnel to illustrate how everyone thinks differently based on their personal history and perspective. 

Making a Peanut Butter & Jelly Sandwich

I would like you to take a moment and write down instructions for making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.  As you write,  be sure to carefully think through each step.  Now, envision reading me those instructions and the myriad of ways I could logically perform the task.

Your Instruction: Put the peanut butter on the bread.

My Response: I take the jar of peanut butter and place it on top of the bag of bread. 

Your Instruction: Put the jelly on the bread.

My Response: I take jelly and smear it on top of the bag of bread.

Your Instruction: Put the two pieces of bread with peanut butter and jelly on them together.

My Response: I put the slices of bread together with the jelly and peanut butter facing outwards.  (Yes, it is a mess!)

See where I’m going with this?  Although your instructions may have been perfectly clear, my way of executing them was not what you expected.

In real life, you would be pretty frustrated with me, but this example quickly goes right to the heart of the issue, as it clearly illustrates that simply giving someone an instruction does not always (if ever) get the expected result. This seemingly simple exercise is surprisingly effective, and it’s fun to do with your staff. It is also one that resonates long after it is performed. 

Better Results

Before you know it, you’ll see that the instructions you and your staff formulate are much clearer and more detailed. Not to mention having a great time discussing the “proper way” to make a PB&J sandwich.

One might even argue that perhaps it’s best to put the peanut butter on one side of a slice of bread and the jelly on the other slice. Or, what about putting the peanut butter and the jelly on the same side of one slice of bread?  I could go on, but the point is that no way is wrong, it is just that the process might not be what the person who wants the PB&J sandwich had in mind, even though every outcome resulted in an edible sandwich.

Now, consider how you would feel if your boss told you exactly how to make a PB&J sandwich or gave you their detailed roadmap for the proper process to net the expected outcome. You would feel very frustrated if their process differed greatly from the one you were used to. 

Instead, think of how you would feel if the boss said, “Please make me a PB&J sandwich and do it any way you see fit.” I bet you would be thrilled at the chance to make the best sandwich you could to impress your boss rather than merely being asked to comply with following a roadmap. And, what if you grilled the sandwich making it the best thing since sliced bread!  Focusing on the outcome and not the process is what allows creativity to flow.

Are you allowing others to play to offer their diverse perspectives when solving problems in your organization?

Ashleigh Walters is president of Onex and author of Leading with Grit and Grace.

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