Bananarama

A few years ago I spoke at a conference in London where I was privileged to share the platform with Tim Jones, who was then managing director of the Retail Bank at NatWest, one of the largest banks in the United Kingdom. Tim talked about his four key strategies for growth. Although the initial three were unremarkable, both Tim and his audience got very engaged in his fourth strategy, which he called Bananarama.

Tim was talking about a recording by the British pop singing group Bananarama called “It Ain’t What You Do, It’s the Way That You Do It.” (Actually, it was a cover of a 1944 tune by Jimmy Lunceford.) Tim went on to talk about the bank’s focus on doing things right — rather than just doing them expediently. I have borrowed this concept with clients who often miss the subtle importance of how something gets done in favor of being able to check a task off a to-do list.

How we do things often has more impact on the results we get than whether or not we do them. In fact, a leader often does more damage than good by doing the right thing in the wrong way.

One example of Bananarama can be seen in the recent case of a chief operating officer who had a difficult time with a new plant manager. The manager was a new hire with long experience in the industry. The COO, the new manager’s direct boss, spent a few days at the plant with his new executive and then departed for Asia to deal with next year’s sourcing contracts. A few days into his trip, the COO began to get alarming messages about the new plant manager. It seemed that he was holding up progress on a number of fronts through an unwillingness to make decisions.

The COO was clear that he needed to head this off quickly. So knowing that the time zones would make a call difficult, he fired off e-mails to the plant manager and others involved. The COO believed that he had acted swiftly and with clear purpose — and that the matter was handled. However, the plant manager, after reading the e-mail, felt that he had been blindsided by an unfair judgment and only became more frozen. His belief was that he needed to wade in cautiously in order to learn the culture. Now tentative from feeling second-guessed, he became even more cautious.

There is a simple shortcut into solid Bananarama thinking. Ask yourself what the outcome is you want to create and what series of actions or conversations executed in what manner will accomplish that outcome. In the case of our road warrior COO, the only outcome best served by an e-mail is that the COO feels the situation has been addressed and he can get a night’s sleep. However, if the desired outcome is to build the new hire’s confidence in his ability to move more rapidly to active management of the plant, then something more personal and interactive than e-mail is needed, regardless of the time zones.

If our COO had considered the outcome that he was after before taking action, it is likely he would have called despite the time-zone complications. As it turned out, the call did happen three days later, took twice as long and, of course, allowed both the issue and its impact on the organization to fester in the meantime.

So the next time you are launching a project, dealing with a challenge, thinking about a new Web site or any other activity in your business, remember Jimmy Lunceford’s sage advice. “It ain’t whatcha do, it’s the way thatcha do it, and that’s what gets results!”

Originally published in Arkansas Business, Barry Goldberg On Leadership, June 13, 2005.