Business

The Superman Syndrome - Charles Barnard

By: • 5 days ago •

As a business coach who focuses on serving multi-generational family businesses, I have often found that many of the problems present along the lines of “my staff are just not showing any accountability”. Is often accompanied by “My staff are just not motivated”, “I am so busy doing things - I have no time”. The sad truth is that most of these businesses only reach out to a coach when they perceive there is a problem, when these problems existed long before. Often, family members are part of the problem, and the father –it’s usually the father! says “I just can’t trust my son/daughter
to step in. They just won’t do it properly. How can I leave my business to them – they’ll ruin it. It’s just too hard!” I call these symptoms the “Superman Syndrome”.

Businessman with aspiration of becoming superhero

The manager/leader/business-owner has taught his team that he is “the only one who can do it right” and this starts the vicious circle of overdependence and learned helplessness.

Unfortunately, this has another side effect as the owner starts assuming this as his identity and sees himself as the superman who solves everything.

Perhaps the worst part of this is it sets up even more distrust and lack of motivation in the team and any designated successors, thus perpetuating the cycle.

One of the best ways I know of breaking the cycle is to get the team to do something worthwhile that starts delivering trust! I use a simple, practical method grounded in evidence-based theory.

How do I do it?

I deliberately introduce some cognitive disfluency into the business.

I get people behind a single goal and introduce a process that is usually done instinctively by the superman but set it up so that people must stop, think and focus. This might be around achieving a sales target or getting throughput in a manufacturing operation, but whatever the single goal we choose, it needs to be something really critical to the success of the business.

A Critical Success Factor (CSF) that needs to be measured daily and is reliant on a number of people for its attainment (Parmenter, 2015; Spitzer, 2007)

Skipping the jargon, what is disfluency?

Fluency implies that something is done easily and with low energy requirements, often because it is already familiar in some way. This often causes us to skip over it without really taking it in.

In other words, it’s easy to forget!

It often happens when we create dashboards that just appear on screens – we forget why they are there.

We need to break the cycle of forgetting, i.e. we need to help them stop, think and focus. This is when we really take it on board (Alter, 2013) – that’s disfluency at work.

I used these steps and a sales target to break the Superman Cycle:
1.) Develop a chart on a large piece of paper (or a wwhiteboard with three distinct areas.

The Red Zone – this is your bottom line and we need daily activities to stay outside the red zone. When working on sales, this is often based on break-even sales plus 10%

The Yellow Zone – where we expect daily sales to be and draw a line that represents the monthly target divided by the number of sales days e.g. If the monthly target is $500,000 and there are 20 sales days in the month then the daily target is $25,000.

The Green Zone – your stretch target, difficult but not impossible. Ideally, it should be at a level that you can only achieve a few days a month.

Below the chart create a space where you can record if the daily target was achieved. Create a small checkbox or similar.

2.) At the beginning of each day have a stand-up meeting with the following parameters:

  • Should take no longer than 10 minutes.
  • Each attendee takes turns to chair the meeting. This should ideally be a different person each day.
    The chairperson draws a bar on the chart BY HAND that represents the previous day's achievements.

The Chair:

  • Reviews what happened that resulted in the target being met or not. This MUST NOT be punitive – just the facts.
  • Sets the target for the next day with the rule that the target can never be less than the line representing the average daily target for the month.
  • Asks for input on what needs to be done TODAY to achieve today’s target that’s just been set for the day – quick whip around of attendees.
  • If the target set is achieved or exceeded, then the person who set the is given a small reward.
  • If the daily target number set by the rotating chairperson is achieved consistently, then the team gets a bigger reward that reflects the importance of the target and the team effort.
  • Remember, we only do this process for Critical Success Factors, so we are only rewarding the very specific behaviours we want.
  • It is essential that the daily bar is drawn in by hand. It creates ownership and momentum in the team

Why does this process work?

The answer is simple. It ties into many good practices at once; measuring what is critical, and doing it in a consistent, highly visible and transparent manner that
ensures the process is managed

Achieving a common goal through teamwork drives both self-efficacy for team members and pro-social behaviour that in turn drives trust. It ties into the real drivers of motivation as espoused in Self Determination theory (Deci & Ryan, 2008; Pink 2010) giving people a sense of autonomy by allowing them to set daily targets (under guidance) and identifying what needs to be done to achieve these; allows them to build a sense of accomplishment or mastery in what they are doing and helps them relate to others in a friendly, but slightly competitive way.

Perhaps the best answer to ‘does this work?’ is in a quote from one of our clients:

“We are now on track to not only beat the break-even throughput for the month, but the team believe there is a fighting chance of reversing last month’s losses and are committed to doing what is required to meet that goal.”

This is where a business coach can really add value – breaking the superman cycle and replacing it with teamwork that delivers. It might be hard at first but forcing Superman to face his kryptonite makes life easy!

Achieving a common goal through teamwork drives both self-efficacy for team members and pro-social behaviour that in turn drives trust. It ties into the real drivers of motivation as espoused in Self Determination theory (Deci & Ryan, 2008; Pink 2010) giving people a sense of autonomy by allowing them to set daily targets (under guidance) and identifying what needs to be done to achieve these; allows them to build a sense of accomplishment or mastery in what they are doing and helps them relate to others in a friendly, but slightly competitive way. Perhaps the best answer to ‘does this work?’ is in a quote from one of our clients:

“We are now on track to not only beat the break-even throughput for the month, but the team believe there is a fighting chance of reversing last month’s losses and are committed to doing what is required to meet that goal.”

This is where a business coach can really add value – breaking the superman cycle and replacing it with teamwork that delivers. It might be hard at first but forcing Superman to face his kryptonite makes life easy!

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