Here’s a Leadership Hack for 2017: Start finding ways to Invert Control

Guest
post from Tom Reilly:
 

The
end result will be that you will get what you want without trying as hard.
 

Sounds
too good to be true, doesn’t it?
 

And
yet it isn’t. 
 

The
best part is that you can invert control
over and over again. Not just at work, but also in any situation where you want
to manipulate an outcome in your favor.
 

Here’s
what it involves: Assessing how to take
back control in order to automate better results.
You can sometimes accomplish
this by simply paying attention to the specific phrasing of a command or
request. Other times it involves imbedding structural elements into your
overall management and leadership system, but in both cases it works.
 

Often
instantly.
 

Here’s
where the concept of inversion of control comes from: The cliché Hollywood
casting agent line, “Don’t call us, we’ll
call you.”
 
 

Saying,
“Don’t call us, we’ll call you” to all of the actors who tried out for a part but
likely didn’t get it stops an influx of worthless, time consuming, and
disrupting phone calls from coming into the casting agency. And it’s accomplished
just by carefully wording a statement in
a very specific and purposeful way
.
 

Salesmen
know the power behind carefully crafted language. Car salesmen, for example, are
trained to not directly ask a customer if he or she wants to buy the car they
were looking at because that leads them to a binary option and potentially a
fast, “No.” Instead, a good salesman asks, “Do you want the red car or the blue
car?” Phrased this way, the question moves the customer closer to a purchase. That
essentially takes some of the power away from the customer and gives it to the
salesman. It inverts control.

Now
take the concept of inversion of control and see how well it can work to
automate better outcomes when you implement it by assigning discrete—rather
than general—tasks to individuals on your team. A manager who changes a command
from the general “get this project done,” to the specific by assigning one particular
task to each team member likely automates a better outcome. By assigning
discrete tasks there is a better chance that the job will actually get done.
Why? Because there is specificity and
accountability. When that manager checks
back in it will be clear who did, and who didn’t, do his or her job. Underpinning
that is also clarity. The employees
know exactly what they need to do. Consider
the incredibly simple example of asking your kids to clean the kitchen after
dinner. If you assign one specific task to each child, it will be clear who did
his or her job and who didn’t, and that creates accountability, which in turn
increases motivation, and therefore improves the chance that the job will
actually get done.
 

Here’s
an example from my place of work; the film set.
 

Specifically
because we spend so much money to shoot a film—on average roughly $20K an hour
for a studio feature—we have highly
segmented jobs and assign very
discrete tasks. That gives us maximum control and better outcomes. I don’t say,
“Someone go lock up that street corner.” Instead I assign that job to a specific
production person. Discrete task assignment creates accountability, which in
turn increases motivation and drives harder work, which ultimately maximizes
productivity on a film set just like it does with the kids in the kitchen on cleanup
duty. After all, people are less likely to slough off responsibility in a
situation where the assignment is clear and they can be individually blamed if
it is not completed.
 

In
film production we also invert control by breaking difficult tasks down into incremental
component pieces. When shooting a stunt like a full body burn we don’t say “Let’s
just light the guy on fire and wing it,” we break the stunt down into
fractional tasks where every detail—from who will do what to how many seconds
it will be done for—and that gives us as close as we can get to total control
in a dangerous situation. It also allows any potential problems to be revealed
before the process begins, builds the confidence of everyone on the team, and creates
a string of motivating small wins.
 

A
firefighter who has to get a frightened victim to climb down a ladder to escape
from the high floor of a burning building doesn’t say, “Just climb down the
ladder.” Instead, he or she parses the task into executable component parts by
saying, “Just put your left foot on the top rung.” That much feels doable by
the scared victim. Once that’s done, the firefighter can then assign a sequential
task by saying, “Now put your right foot on the top rung,” and so on. That
firefighter has used the specific phrasing of a command in tandem with discrete
task segmentation to take back control in a tough, life-threatening situation,
and therefore has a better chance for a positive outcome.

Entire
industries have been disrupted by implementing the concept of inversion of control on a system wide
level as well. Take the popular Harvard Business School case study that details
how Hiroaki Aoki, the founder of the
Benihana restaurant chain, inverted control to
address several industry issues when the franchise was planning to enter the US
market. Aoki essentially re-thought the standard process and flow (moving a product all the way through production
to consumer delivery) in the restaurant business by moving food prep and
cooking to the center stage of the dining room and having chefs prepare the food
in front of patrons seated at large communal dining tables. In so doing, he improved
margins. He streamlined the menu, eliminated the distance from kitchen to
table, addressed what were poor perceptions of Japanese food in the US at the
time by allowing diners to see how fresh and simple the ingredients were,
reduced the need for front of the house staff, and since the chef actually bowed
to signify the end of the meal, he ended “table linger,” which is a costly
factor in the restaurant business.

Take
a more recent example. The ride share company Uber. By designing their business model with an app that includes a
customer rating system for drivers, Uber management instantly took better control
of driver behavior—something traditional cab companies have virtually no
control over. By taking carefully thought out steps to invert control on a
system wide basis, just like Benihana had, Uber automated better outcomes.

Now
take this concept of inversion of control into any of your management
situations. Think about how often you can easily rephrase statements in order
to automate better outcomes, how you can use discrete task assignment to instantly
create more clarity and accountability, and how you might be able to structure
your overall management system in a way that inverts control in a more
comprehensive way. All of these efforts will get you what you want with less
effort, have a positive impact on the bottom line, and that will ultimately make
you a much better leader.
 
 

Tom Reilly is the author of The Hollywood MBA: A Crash Course in Management from a Life in the Film Business. He has been a professional filmmaker for more than thirty years collaborating on over 100 film and television projects for every major studio. He’s worked with directors Sydney Pollock, Irwin Winkler, Barbra Streisand, and Woody Allen and with more than 75 Academy Award winners. In The Hollywood MBA, Reilly explores the ten key strategies he utilized to manage big crews, big budgets, and big personalities on major motion pictures, and shows us how these strategies can be leveraged in any business for success. For more info please visit tomreillyauthor.com.