I often find myself relating everyday situations and observations back to a Seinfeld episode. I have found that I’m not alone. When I make a Seinfeld reference during a training session, it’s not unusual to have several others in the room burst out with enthusiasm about the familiar and hilarious antics of Jerry, Elaine, George and Kramer. As I was recently pondering the typical ‘beginning of year’ activities that companies invest in; setting goals, planning budgets, creating strategic plans, I immediately thought of a Seinfeld episode that many refer to as ‘the Movie Phone episode’.
In the episode, Kramer decides to run a phone service that will provide movie times and locations. George, now knowing Kramer’s plan, dials the movie phone number to find the show time for a movie called Chunnel. Upon answering, Kramer, in a robotic, trying-to-sound-electronic voice, tells George to, “Enter the first three letters of the movie title you wish to see.” As George enters the letters by selecting the number buttons on his phone, reality hits Kramer…..since he cannot see what George is entering, he has no way of determining which movie times to reference. So, he changes his strategy by saying, “You have selected Agent Zero. If that is correct press 1.” George is confused and silent, so Kramer tries again, “You have selected Brown Eyed Girl. If that is correct press 1.” Again, George is confused and silent, so Kramer finally says, “Why don’t you just tell me the name of the movie you have selected.”
While this scene is comical in a sitcom, it is not so comical when it is the reality for team members. I remember early in career I had a manager that would often have a very clear vision for a project and would not share it with me until well into the project timeline. I wasted countless hours “spinning my wheels”; only to find out I was not going down the right road because I could not see the map. I clearly remember using Kramer’s words in a conversation I had with her, “Why don’t you just tell me what you want it to look like in the end?”
It is true that there are times when you may not have a vision for the “end”, so you want your team to work toward a solution without providing a picture of what the outcome should look like. Often times though, you do have a vision and it’s important that you paint the vision for your team or risk reality not “looking” at all like the vision you had. So, as you plan for 2015, ask yourself what you want your team/department/company to “look like” at the end of the year. Paint that picture for your team. If they don’t know how the picture should look at the end, it’s very unlikely that it will look anything like the vision in your mind.
– Ashley Kutach