Book Four of 94: Zapp! The Lightning of Empowerment

Book 4 of 94: Zapp! – The Lightning of Empowerment by William C. Byham, Ph.D. with Jeff Cox

My mother was a corporate trainer by trade so her house is filled to the brim with leadership and management books.  She may have the same book hoarding problem that I have.  In fact, she is likely responsible for the book hoarding problem that I have.  I went to school for business management and I am always intrigued by new ways to lead people and to help them reach their potential.  So, my bookshelves have always been weighted down by leadership and management books over the years.  This particular book sat on my mother’s shelves for the last twenty years.  (Side note: if you ever sell used books, don’t expect to get much for management books that are older than a year!)

Summary:  Zapp!  Is a fable about Normal Company and it tells the tale of difficult management and how people can work together to overcome the pitfalls of short-sighted managers.  The book was written as a fable to help the concepts seem more applicable to the reader.  I, however, found the fable to be somewhat distracting and would have preferred if the book just used a real world situation, but that’s just my humble opinion.

My Three Takeaways from Zapp!

Number 1:

The company I work for is not unique in its challenges.  It is easy to sit and daydream about how much better life would be if I worked for a different company with group of managers who knew how to lead people.  How harmonious it would be to work on a team that actually functioned as a team.  But, the truth is, there are good managers and bad managers at every organization.  And, no matter how good a team may be, everyone still knows who the top performer is and who the weakest link is. So in that regard, I guess it is comforting to know that every organization struggles with these same issues.

Number 2:

Teams need to have their voices heard and to feel like they have a say in their own success or failure.  I worked closely with my manager last year to develop the plan for the upcoming fiscal year.  We spent hours and hours going over reports, redoing presentation slides, and creating goals for each of the team members that were greater than last year, but still achievable.  During our many, many discussions I presented what I thought was the best way to hold people accountable for meeting their quotas.  My system would automatically increase goals after a lower performing week or decrease goals after a higher performing week.  The goals were in constant flux so that each team member could directly see how their performance impacted the goals for the year.  This system would also give the team members an opportunity to celebrate their success when they exceeded their goals by showing them how the weekly goals for the remainder of the year would decrease as a result of their efforts.  On the opposite side of that coin, if the team members did not have a stellar week, the weekly goals for the remainder of the year would increase accordingly so that they would know what they would need to do to stay on track to reach their annual goal.

My system was immediately rejected and I was told that people wouldn’t work as hard because their mentality would become, “I exceeded my goal by five last week, so I don’t have to work as hard this week.”  I found this assessment to be utterly insulting.  If that were the case, it would stand to reason that team members would not bring in additional numbers once they achieved their goal for the week.  As proof to the contrary: Last week I produced the highest numbers in one week that I have ever produced.  I produced the highest numbers for one period in two weeks than I have ever produced (and I still have two weeks left in the period).  I have exceeded my annual goal (there are still three and a half months left in our fiscal year). And I will likely hit my stretch goal for the year.  Most managers reading this would immediately say that either my goals were too low to begin with, or that I outgrew my goals and it is time to increase them.  However, the truth of the matter is that I worked at a different location for a month and learned some new tricks of the trade, collaborated with people who do my specific job, and was completely reinvigorated by a change in my routine.  My managers don’t want to know that though.  And just like that, I feel Sapped instead of Zapped!

Number 3:

I used to be of the mindset that “doing was learning”.  Of course, I believe in training, mentoring and follow up but I also believed that the best way to learn a job was to do a job.  After reading Zapp!  I learned the problem with this method of teaching.  When you are training someone how to do a job by having them do the job, your next step is to correct everything they did wrong, which is likely to be a lot of errors since they are just learning the job.  So, right off the bat, you have inadvertently made them feel like they don’t know what they’re doing… even though they don’t… because you haven’t taught them anything yet.

Byham suggests the following steps to effective train and coach someone:

  1. Explain purpose and importance of what you are trying to teach.
  2. Explain the process to be used.
  3. Show how it’s done.
  4. Observe while the person practices the process.
  5. Provide immediate and specific feedback (coach again or reinforce success).
  6. Express confidence in the person’s ability to be successful.
  7. Agree on follow-up action.

(Byham & Cox, 1988)

I think a lot of people overlook the importance of the first step.  In fact, I think overlooking the first step is why I always struggled so much with math in school.  But why??!!  Why must I use Pythagorean’s theorem?  The constant response to any of my questions was always, “because that’s just what you do”.  Never once did I have a teacher who could/would explain it any better than that.  When training someone in a new role or function, it is important for them to understand why they are doing what they are doing and how it impacts the greater picture.  Many managers make the mistake of thinking that if the following task is not in a person’s job description they don’t need to know about it.  In truth, when people understand what the next step is in the process, even if they are not the ones who will complete that step, it creates a great sense of ownership over their specific task.

The other major mistake that I see a lot of managers make is that they do not provide follow up.  If they do provide follow up, it is in the form of an annual review, which is neither immediate nor entirely accurate.  If managers made follow up a priority, they would make time to follow up and they would find that they actually had MORE time to complete on other tasks because they would spend LESS time correcting mistakes.

Who should read this book?

  • Anyone who wants something quick to read on a plane ride from Detroit to Chicago (or on another trip of similar distance).
  • Anyone who wants to quickly brush up on their management, training, and team developing skills.

Who should not read this book?

  • Dictators, they don’t have much need for teamwork.
  • Managers who already know the best ways to manage people and therefore have nothing else they could possible ever learn about management and leadership. (Said in a sarcastic tone.)

Four books down, 90 to go!

Byham, W. C., & Cox, J. (1988). Zapp! The Lightning of Empowerment. New York : Ballantine Books.