President John F. Kennedy once said, “Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other.” Russ Foster recently shared his review of Spencer Johnson’s classic, Who Moved My Cheese. Now I’d like to recommend another of our favorites, Ken Blanchard’s Whale Done! and share how we put what we learned to work at ILSA.
Who is Ken Blanchard and are you positive he can help me improve my leadership skills?
Ken Blanchard calls himself the “Chief Spiritual Officer” of the Blanchard Companies, a management consulting firm dedicated to building leadership capacity, cultivating leadership bench strength and leading organizational change for almost forty years. With his colleagues, Ken has authored dozens of best-selling books known around the world, including The One Minute Manager and Whale Done!
Blanchard’s books focus on building positive relationships, not only in our professional lives but in our personal lives as well. Like most of his books, Whale Done! features a character-driven narrative and frequent summaries of key points. Together with his easy writing style, this structure makes this book ideal for leaders at any organizational level — regardless of the title on their nameplate. It addresses the concerns of team leaders struggling with distrust and conflict.
Additionally, Whale Done! focuses equally on applying the same techniques to personal relationships, so it’s a great resource for families wanting to strengthen their bonds, too.
Redirection and the Whale Done Approach
Whale Done! adds an important new component to Blanchard’s focus on positivity, Redirection. Inspired by the positive reinforcement techniques trainers at SeaWorld use, Blanchard stresses the importance of “catching people doing things right.” This is the Whale Done approach.
But what if people aren’t doing things right? Redirection is Blanchard’s answer to how to address undesirable behavior. Redirect their (and your) energy and attention either back to the original task or to a different task where they can succeed. Instead of blame and shame, Redirection offers a pathway for success an opportunity to express continued trust and confidence in a team or family member. Redirection also features a strong teaching component, where goals and procedures are communicated again to ensure understanding.
Dealing with Resistance
Many management books assume that everyone at every level of an organization will joyfully embrace whatever the author’s particular methodology is. Blanchard takes a more honest approach. Whale Done! deals with how to transform distrust and divisiveness into trust and teamwork. Resistors come with the territory. Blanchard teaches how to engage and persuade both resistors within a team and from upper management. This last is especially helpful since as he points out in Chapter 6, “When an organization is under pressure, the first things to be abandoned are experimental management approaches.”
Chasing the Great Whale Done at ILSA
We discovered this book at a critical time in ILSA’s growth. Since our founding, our team had been able to come together around a single conference table for lunch on at least a weekly basis. We shared face-to-face what we were doing for our clients. We praised successes and brainstormed challenges. Every employee had a personal relationship with our executives, Arleen and Ted Taveras.
Now, however, we were beginning to transition from a small, entrepreneurial team to a managed company. With more employees, maintaining the same bonds and communication we enjoyed when there were only twelve of us was tough! Blanchard’s Whale Done approach fit very naturally into our existing culture. It also reminded us of important truths we had never really put into words for ourselves.
Building healthy relationships is the core of Blanchard’s philosophy. Our founders, Ted and Arleen, also wanted to focus on building relationships, not just pumping out license applications. They wanted ILSA to feel more like a family than the rigid corporate hierarchies they were used to.
So our whole ILSA family continues to gather together for weekly meetings and shared meals — although it now takes considerably more than a single conference table to hold us all. Throughout good times and bad, we support each other. These bonds are the foundation of our success. As Blanchard explains, “The one thing your competition can never steal from you is the relationship you have with your people, and the relationship they have with your customers.”
Our first clients came to us through the friendships Arleen developed during her career with Aon Corporation. Organic growth continues to be at the heart of our business model. Most of our new clients come from referrals from delighted clients and from industry experts such as regulatory compliance attorneys and state regulators. And we love hearing about what’s going on in our clients’ professional and personal lives. Nothing beats sharing in a birthday celebration, a wedding or the birth of that first grandbaby!
We Fall, We Rise Stronger
Being an entrepreneur is always a risk, especially when everyone tells you, “State licensing? That’s going to be obsolete soon!” (By the way, that was twenty years ago!) Part of our commitment to our employees and clients is that we will never rest on past successes. We can’t! State regulations and procedures change regularly. Our clients’ needs constantly evolve. This means we must continue to learn and evolve.
But constant change brings risk, too. We know that people, no matter how well trained, will make the occasional mistake. (Although we work very hard to be sure that mistakes never make it out the door.) But rather than taking a blame-and-shame approach to mistakes — what Blanchard calls the GOTCHA approach — we see them as an opportunity to learn. Is there room to improve our training process? Was there a change at the state that we need to communicate to our team and/or clients? What new, internal process can we put in place to be sure this mistake doesn’t happen again? And if a mistake does get out the door, we expect each team member to step up, take responsibility, apologize and make it right.
Leaders at Every Level
The transition from an entrepreneurial team to a managed company often isolates leadership from the front lines of their business. Goal setting, decision-making and often accountability concentrate in the upper tiers of the organization. Employees feel disconnected from the decisions that shape their lives. They feel little personal commitment to company goals and little responsibility for outcomes. Before you know it, you’ve got the worst kind of corporate hierarchy. This wasn’t what we wanted for ILSA!
Blanchard points out that his technique isn’t about coercion or manipulation. “The ultimate goal of the Whale Done Response,” he explains, “is to help people to become self-motivating.” This ties in perfectly with our belief that manager is a title, but leader is a calling. Leadership can (and hopefully does) exist at every level.
At ILSA, every team member plays a part in formulating personal, departmental and company goals. Weekly “Money Huddle” meetings let each employee know what progress we are making toward achieving the goals. The feedback our specialists gather from their interactions with our clients fuels our new service development pipeline and performance improvement program.
We also make cross-training and professional development courses a priority — including reading books together as a company. This focus on developing the potential of each individual means that we are almost always able to promote from within to fill supervisory and management roles.
Most importantly, our respect and appreciation for one another are reflected in how we treat our clients and strategic partners. They are part of our family, too. We share their goals, respect their needs and want our services to be a true win-win proposition.
Want Your Own Copy of Whale Done?
You can click here to purchase your own copy of Whale Done! Ken’s other inspiring books are also available there.
Disclaimer: ILSA’s recommendation of Whale Done! as a resource for improving leadership skills and promoting healthy relationships in no way constitutes an endorsement of maintaining whales and other animals in captivity.
A version of this review was originally published on Elaine Nance’s LinkedIn profile on April 3, 2019.