#makeithappen – what management is about?

One of the most important skills to be developed during anyone’s carreer is the ability to make things happen.

(Photo by Evan Wise on Unsplash)

When explaining at university what I believe is the basis for good management, I usually start talking about DRIVE and BARBECUEs.


We all know this, we have all seen this.

Imagine, you hanging out with your friends, chatting about what to do on the weekend and then someone says: “Let’s do a barbecue, Saturday evening 20:00h and everyone brings in something. We all contribute, so no one needs to prepare all alone.” GREAT IDEA, everyone agrees, everyone excited.

But what happens when Saturday night arrives?

You end up with 6kg of bread, 8 salats, only 2 steaks, a pair of sausages and NO BEER for the complete group of people. And to your surprise some of your friends do not even show up, while others call to join-in late but telling they had not been able to buy whatever they should have.

Or even worse, also seen many times, people talk about an idea to do something, everyone gets excited and NOTHING happens at all.

Family life

Years ago we were a family birthday party at which my brother-in-law had an idea. He wanted us to go on a family-race: “We do a race, I mean with Go-Karts, let’s go karting, we are enough to rent a course and we make it a family race, just us, the winner takes it all”. GREAT IDEA, everyone agreed, everyone excited.

I made it my personal social experiment, I decided to observe the group dynamic and was curious to see how it would work out. That evening it was THE TOPIC, stories were span of who would win and what would be needed to achieve victory.

Imagine what happened:
Until today we didn‘t do it.

I mean it’s not difficult. If you really want it to happen, you simply need to call one of the courses, ask for a price, ask for one or two dates when it would be available and that’s it. One message to all the family members informing that we can go date X and that it will cost X€ per person, “Let me know if you participate”, DONE!!! That’s all. It’s not rocket science.

But very often these things don’t happen as long as there is not at least one person with the DRIVE to get it done. At least one needs to go beyond just cheering for the idea, at least one needs to take action and get things moving.

As said I made it my social experiment. Since then, many years by now, when getting annoyed at family dinners, I start reminding everyone: “Didn’t we want to go karting, that would be so cool!“ 🙂 AS ALWAYS, everyone agrees, everyone excited, nothing happens.

It’s funny and sad at the same time. Since years I’m trying to figure out, how to hit the tipping point of someone to get it moving. So far I’m still trying – my wife hates it when I do this 🙂

But what does this has to do with management?

Well, management is about making sure that things happen. Don’t get me wrong, I perfectly know that BARBECUES and KART-RACES are a kind of exaggerated analogy, but it seems to work for my students to get it.

How for example could you make sure THE BARBECUE will be an amazing success? Right, someone needs to take responsibility and organise it.

Everyone brings in something is risky and often not working. To avoid surprises on Saturday evening, make sure duties are clear and contribution is defined:
1. Friend A – you 2 salads and 12 sausages
2. Friend B – you 5kg of steak and 2kg of other meat
3. Friend C – you bread for 10 persons and some fries
4. Friend D – you BEER

Now the key takeaway!

And now comes the magic. The most important lesson:

So what should you do?

Exactly, early Wednesday you call, politely but with rigor you check if friend D has done what he should. If he tells you he has not yet had the time to buy the beer, no problem, call him again tomorrow.

And if tomorrow still no, then say: “I come with you on Friday to help you and we do it together.” YOU MAKE SURE IT HAPPENS!

As a manager you need to know where you are, what your team needs to do until when and you need to foresee where things might go wrong. As a manager you are NOT letting things happen on their own. Being surprised in the last second before the deadline that things have not been achieved is a NO-GO.

Positive scepticism

It might sound surprising, but although I‘m convinced that things go wrong if not managed well, I am still a very positive and optimistic person, I believe in people giving their best.

I strongly believe that people come to work to do a good job. At least they try. I don‘t think anyone comes to work to actively screw up, to give their worst and just to do lousy work. I also believe that people don’t come to work to just piss of other colleagues. At least as a general rule – I know – except of that one “special” colleague you are just thinking about 🙂 you know, exception prove the rule…

McGregor X-Y Theory

The first time I realised my view on this, was when reading the book “The Human Side of Enterprise” which laid out the quite known X-Y Theory. While working at the MIT, Douglas McGregor created this motivational theory which explains two basic and fundamentally different concepts of employee motivation, which both lead to very different management behaviours.


The X-Theory understands employees as basically passive. The key interest of the employee is pure sustainable income but nothing more. Employees will always try to minimise the effort needed to maintain and secure their position and income. The X-Theory sees employees as self-oriented, avoiding responsibility if possible and having little emotional connection to the company.


The Y-Theory is the complete opposite. It understands employees as primarily motivated to perform and achieve results. It defines employees as by default self-motivated and open to learning, which leads to improvement of their skills and contribution to the group. Employees additionally tend to take full responsibility for their work and do not need close supervision.

Managers believing in the X-Part usually develop strong processes with close supervision and very action oriented governance. While those believing in the Y-Part rather choose to focus on relationship creation and a people oriented leadership style, giving employees freedom to design and construct their work individually (McGregor 1960).

I personally believe in a hybrid-approach. As mentioned I like the Y-Theory while being at the same time a strong supporter of clear actionable and controllable plans. Reality is always more complex than any management theory. Although employees are generally trying to do a good job, suprises nearly always occur, work gets delayed and plans turn out wrong.

How come?

So why? Why does work get delayed if all employees are eager to perform well.

To get some data into this, let‘s look at the PMIs global project management survey. PMI is the Project Management Institute, an American non-profit organisation known for their development of standards, research and education in project management with about 2.9M professionals from around the world. According to their studies 14% of projects fail completely, while from those finishing somehow 31% don‘t meet their initial goals, 43% exceed their initial budget and 49% are delayed.

That‘s a lot of failure. If employees are coming to work to perform well, how on earth these results?

To my believe because of missing DRIVE and BARBECUE.
Delays and problems are normally not caused by the motivation of employees. They are caused by not getting things moving and by conflicting priorities.


If you want to get something done you need to know WHO NEEDS TO DO WHAT UNTIL WHEN. So simple.

But in many cases the problem starts with the „what“. It‘s not easy to understand the full magnitude of all the things that need to be done to accomplish something. Here lays already a big risk of cummulating delays.

Problems are generated when the responsible manager tries to perform a kind of perfectionalist analysis and wastes enormous amounts of time, without achieving any real progress. Or, similarily problematic, the manager does no analysis at all and just starts activities which are incomplete or in worst case even wrong and unnecessary.

A good manager has DRIVE. He knows that he is running against the clock. He has always a feeling of urgency. Still he is clever enough to not rush into chaos by not thinking things through. A good manager is the one balancing urgency with a solid understanding what needs to be done.


Once the „What“ is understood good enough, it’s time to make progress. Now comes the BARBECUE.

Next to structuring the tasks and making sure everyone knows what needs to be done, the manager needs to track progress. He defines checkpoints, milestones and regular follow-up meetings to make sure to NOT WAIT UNTIL SATURDAY EVENING TO FIND OUT THAT FRIEND D HAS FORGOTTEN TO BUY THE BEER.

As said, although I believe in the Y-Theory, I also believe that good management is about trying to detect „surprises“ as soon as possible. The famous Murphy’s Law perfectly states it: “Anything that can go wrong will go wrong.” There are always problems, delays, misunderstandings and conflicts. The job of a good manager is to detect those deviations as soon as possible for being able to react quickly and to adjust.

But as a member of the Y-Theory club, I believe that these problems are not caused by people being lazy. I strongly believe work gets delayed mainly because of complexity. Complexity created by matrix organisations with multiple supervisors, stakeholders and managers giving different and in time contradictory priorities to the employee. Often employees are left alone with the decision on which of the numerous task on the priority lists gets done first and which gets delayed.

These two skills are essential for anyone who wants to make things happening, DRIVE and BARBECUE.

Become the one

If you want to be great in getting things done, become the one who starts things, the one who is the incarnation of DRIVE, being the tipping point for things to get into action.

When things start moving be aware that Murphy is always around the next corner. Don‘t be surprised the last day before the deadline, talk to your team constantly, talk also to your stakeholders. Be a detective on identifying any surprises and deviations as soon as you can.

If you see that your team falls behind plan understand why. Figure out how you can help to get things back on track. A good manager understands himself as a coach who knows his players, who knows when to change tactics and when to substitute and exchange positions in the game.

And PLEASE, next time when you’re at a BARBECUE, when you smell the flavour of delicious food and when you enjoy an ice-cold beer, then REMEMBER THIS POST.

When you think of BARBECUE you think of MAKE-IT-HAPPEN 🙂
For now and forever, BARBECUE!

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