Kenneth Blanchard: Management Storyteller

It was tempting to describe Ken Blanchard as a simplifier, because that’s what he has done throughout his career; simplify the skills of management. But that is not the essence of what he does. He starts by telling a story and it is that process that both cuts away extraneous theory and also renders his ideas easy to access. Ken Blanchard has turned management theory into a successful training business to a degree that no one else has achieved.

Ken Blanchard

Short Biography

Kenneth Hartley Blanchard was born in New Jersey in 1931 and grew up in New York. He attended Cornell and Colgate Universities, gaining a BA in Government and Philosophy, an MA in Sociology and Counselling, and a PhD in Education Administration and Leadership, in 1967. From there, he went to Ohio University to become an Assistant Dean. Here, he met collaborator, Paul Hersey.

Hersey had been developing a strong model of leadership, based on his industrial experiences before entering academia in 1966, incorporating ideas from researchers like Fiedler, and Blake and Mouton. The pair worked together on a book, Management of Organisational Behaviour, that was published in 1967 and is now in its tenth edition (2012). This book included a model, then called ‘a lifecycle theory of leadership’ but now better known as Situational Leadership. It was not the first situational theory of leadership (see the earlier Pocketblog article: ‘Situational Leadership‘) but it rapidly became the best known.

In 1979, while a professor of organisational behaviour and leadership at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, he and Hersey agreed to split and Blanchard formed a company called Blanchard Training and Development – that was later (1998) renamed as The Ken Blanchard Companies and is today one of the most successful international businesses of its kind. In that year too, he published his own model of Situational Leadership: Situational Leadership II.

The following year, he was introduced to a psychologist called Spencer Johnson, with whom he rapidly collaborated to write a short book on management, in the form of a fable-like story. They self-published ‘The One Minute Manager‘ in 1980, and it was subsequently published by Morrow in 1982. It has become the kind of best-seller that truly justifies the title: the cover simply proclaims ‘multi-million’.

This became the start of an industry with subsequent collaborations with different authors – the first handful bearing the ‘One Minute Manger brand’ – appearing every few years. Most follow the format of a younger manager seeking the wisdom of an older, more experienced teacher.

Notable contributions (and personal favourites mixed in) include:

Putting the One Minute Manager to Work (1983)

Leadership and the One Minute Manager (1985)

The One Minute Manager Meets the Monkey (1989)

The One Minute Manager Builds High Performing Teams (1990)

Raving Fans : A Revolutionary Approach to Customer Service (1993)

Gung Ho!: How To Motivate People In Any Organization (1998)

Blanchard’s Contribution

Blanchard’s contribution has been to systematise the skills of management and to explain them extremely clearly. Many British readers find the folksy fable style of his books not to their taste, but the fact is that they use simple language and compelling acronyms to make management techniques accessible and memorable.

The original One Minute Manager sets out just three simple tasks in management: one minute goal setting, to clarify what I expect of you, one minute praisings, to recognise progress and performance, and one minute reprimands, to show where you are going wrong.

Putting the One Minute Manager to Work extends this, looking at the management ABC of Activators (what a manager must do to set you up to succeed), Behaviours (your performance) and Consequences (how the manager responds to you with with support and feedback).

Leadership and the One Minute Manager introduces Blanchard’s own view of situational leadership  using the OMM format, which he later extended, in The One Minute Manager Builds High Performing Teams to leading teams. This book creates a neat merger of the situational leadership model with Bruce Tuckman’s model of group formation.

One of Blanchard’s most successful collaborations was with William Oncken Jr (and Hal Burrows), in The One Minute Manager Meets the Monkey. This presents a simple metaphor (the Monkey) for the problems managers accept from their colleagues and team members. It is a powerful articulation of the processes of good delegation and effective management of workload.

In the 1990s, Blanchard wrote four books with Sheldon Bowles, of which my favourites are Gung Ho! and High Five! (2001 – now out of print – about team working). 2000’s Big Bucks! (also out of print) is about making money. The exclamation mark in the four titles is indicative of the amplified style of writing, but all were turned into successful training programmes (not all of which persist, I think).

In summary…

There are many other books as well, some still available. Blanchard is a prodigious collaborator and his company is hugely successful in training managers across the world. I don’t think he will ever be seen as a great and innovative thinker, but without a doubt, he has a talent for tapping into oher people’s ideas and making them highly accessible, from Paul Hersey down to more recent collaborations with Don Shula (Everyone’s a Coach), Colleen Barrett from Southwest Airlines (Lead with LUV), and Garry Ridge, president of WD-40 Company (Helping People Win at Work).

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