At the end of The Usual Suspects, the crippled Verbal Kint, played by Kevin Spacey, limps out of the police station, having just survived an intense interrogation.
Kint was a key witness to brutal murders by the almost mythical criminal mastermind, Keyser Soze. The entire movie is the story that Kint wove for the police interrogators, ultimately convincing them that Soze wasn’t real.
As Kint hits the sidewalk and turns the corner, his limp disappears, he walks fully upright and confidently for the first time. A luxury car pulls up, Kint gets in, and is driven away as the police detective comes running out of the station, having realized too late that Verbal Kint was actually Keyser Soze himself.
As the screen fades to black, Spacey’s voice “The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist. And like that…poof…he’s gone.”
Behavioral psychologists have studied entertainment and determined that there are two key components to creating compelling drama, whether in a movie, a sporting event, a board game, or any other medium; suspense, and surprise.
The Usual Suspects is a mainstay in any top 10 movie list for a reason; it perfectly delivers both suspense (the condition created when the audience doesn’t know what’s going to happen) and surprise (the condition created when the situation defies the audience’s expectations).
You can use this idea to create a happier, more productive environment inside your organization. Better results, less drama. Except, instead of increasing suspense and surprise, it’s your job to stamp it out.
Here’s an example
Typical corporate drama revolves around two or more people having different expectations, or different perceptions of what is happening.
The Chief Marketing Officer and VP of Sales are pissed at each other because the CMO believes that the sales organization squanders their hard-earned leads, and the VP of Sales believes that the marketing isn’t creating enough quality leads for his team.
There is a lack of clarity between the two leaders.
If they both had the same definition of what a quality lead is, combined with the same understanding of what it means to effectively work a lead, they’d get along much better.
As it is now, they are doing what they can to undermine each other.
Think of uncertainty as darkness. Wherever uncertainty creeps into your organization, drama can grow and flourish. It’s your job to shine the bright light of clarity into every corner.
Here are a few of the most common ways that our clients reduce suspense and surprise in their companies
1. They create Strategic Job Descriptions (SJDs) for each key employee.
An SJD is a document that clearly and simply defines:
- what success looks like for your employee
- how you will measure success
- and what the key actions that your employee needs to do on a regular basis in order to be successful
This is a game changer. I’ve seen the use of SJDs completely change the negative and ineffective dynamics on teams.
2. They have a clearly defined vision for the company.
If your employees don’t understand, or aren’t inspired by your vision for the organization, they are likely just showing up and doing their work. If you want them to really give a shit and go above and beyond, you’ve got to show them how their work is important and how the company is making a difference.
3. They make sure that every employee has SMART goals.
SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound (basically the opposite of vague and uncertain). The vast majority of employees at most companies don’t have clearly defined, measurable goals. This is bad. It is demotivating and hurts their performance, and your ability to hold them accountable effectively. It’s your job as a leader to make sure that your employees are clear on exactly what milestone, finish line, or outcome they are working towards.
4. They make sure their employees are clear on their biggest obstacles to success.
At Forging Leaders, we use a strategic tool called a Premortem in order to help leaders and teams get crystal clear on what challenges they will need to overcome in order to be successful.
It is very rare that an unforeseeable problems causes a team to fail. Usually, it’s something that people could have predicted if they only would have had the courage and understanding to speak up.
[Here’s a great article one of my clients wrote on how to write a premortem]
Drama is great for entertainment, and horrible for your company
A screenwriter’s job is to create drama. They use suspense and surprise to engage and delight their audience.
As a leader your job is to get results; you must eliminate suspense and surprise in order to create trust and cooperation.
Above all, it’s your responsibility to hold high the light of clarity and kill the drama, so your people can thrive.
Remember, the enemy is not your competition. It is not the economy. The enemy is drama.