The Salt Test

You’ve probably heard of the Goldilocks test, when something is neither too hot nor too cold, but just right. It’s a good metaphor, relying on the ‘I’ll-know-it-when-I-see-it’ rule to invoke common sense. It may not focus enough on the outcome to help us make the right choices as we try to generate outcomes intentionally. I prefer what I call the salt test, courtesy of Bob Sutton of Stanford University. Bob’s version of it states that like perfectly salted food, leaders are best when they are perfectly assertive… managing neither too little nor too much, and you tend not to notice. Think about the effect that salt has: use too little, and you never achieve the best outcome (a great meal), whereas using too much will completely ruin the dish. That’s a great lesson in management. Managers are prone to over-managing, which can completely ruin performance. And getting organizations to perform is the definition of management.

So how do you hit the perfect level? Add a little bit and see how it works out. If it needs more, add a little more… don’t have a heavy hand. I’ll bet you generate great results with a lot less managing than you were inclined to apply. You may find it necessary to rethink your approach and how you spend your time. That’s the beginning of an inquiry that may lead you to a managing, and performance, breakthrough. What might that look like?

[I thought you’d never ask… the topic for my next post.]