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Spielberging

July 15, 2022

When anyone mentions “Spielberg,” people think of the amazing movie director who

created hits like ET and Jurassic Park. Some years ago, a friend who worked at another

company told me about how they assign projects and said, “We call that ‘Spielberging’

because it’s like a movie director making casting decisions.” That phrase always stuck

with me, and when that company pulled out of the US market, we inherited some of

their staff; they shared their thoughts on “Spielberging,” and that has become one of our

Axes.


We got deeper into this subject at our most recent Beer Bash, thinking about project

assignments the way a great movie director might, and clarifying the significance of that

approach.


  • The job of a movie director is to make the ultimate movie “for the audience.”

    • Movie directors don’t make movies for themselves – they make movies so that audiences can have the ultimate movie-watching experience. In order to create the greatest movie, they have to think about how to make the actors who appear in them shine. The lead roles will surely shine, but strong supporting characters are also needed to make that happen. And there is the lighting staff who enable contrast, camera operators who provide a sense of presence, and sound technicians who add jolts of emotion. It’s the same in our work. In order to deliver the best possible product or service to our customers, we have to assign people according to their abilities in various roles, analogous as leading and supporting actors, lighting staff, camera operators, sound technicians, etc. The more accurately we can identify those positions, the better chance we have of making an excellent movie. 


  • Deriving the best possible result from limited resources

    • Making a movie is not the only job of movie directors. Even the most talented person, especially at the beginning of the project, must line up sponsors and otherwise secure the necessary funding. To get well-known actors on board, one must have some name recognition oneself. Given a finite budget, deep thinking must be done about allocation to create the ultimate film. This can be said of our work as well. We don’t always have the budget we want to get the job done. We exert ourselves to achieve the best possible results with a limited budget. It’s essential to cultivate the ability to draw forth client preferences and a sense of balance in making assignments, knowing where to spend more and where to make cuts. 


  • Explaining the significance of the work 

    • Simply making assignments and determining roles is not the end of things. Every part of the job, be it simply copying a single page, has its significance. You have to inform your staff with sincerity why a particular task is necessary, and why a particular person is suitable for the job. It is when we feel the significance of the work, rather than just getting tasks out of the way, that staff members can experience a sense of dynamism in their roles. 


  • Results are everything

    • For the audience, it doesn’t matter who the director was; the only thing that really matters, in the end, is whether the movie was truly excellent. In the context of our work, the only thing that really matters is that our project team delivers the product or service to the client in accordance with the budget. Who did the work and how much time they spent are secondary factors. People who become known as great directors are those who consistently deliver results. Consistently good work attracts sponsors and allows even better movies to be made. They consult with their clients about what can be done under the given conditions, offering up the best possible performances and taking responsibility for the results. This attitude is essential not only for leaders but also for individual team members. By continuing in this manner, clients gradually come to ask for particular people to work on their projects. 

These are essentially the basics of personnel assignment’s analogy for a movie director. Still, there is an important aspect of attitude beyond the technical considerations, and that is not to Spielberg for one’s own purpose. As a person rises upward in an organization, it becomes possible to set up teams just as he or she may wish. This tends to be true even of people who previously complained about the unfairness of assignments when they were in lower-ranking positions. When promoted, they are often seen making assignments that prioritize their personal interests, such as making their own work easier, getting better evaluations, or getting paid more. The purpose of Spielberging is to create the ultimate movie (deliver results), not to serve the leader’s personal interests. Even though you may think you are doing well, keep in mind the adage that “... it only takes three days for your subordinates to see through you.” When leadership is Spielberging on their own account, the staff working below them will naturally start Spielberging on their own account as well. As a result, the group starts operating at cross purposes, morale declines, and the organization becomes weak and impossible to lead properly. 

  

In fact, when I had just become a partner, a more senior colleague told me, “Partners are people who obtain revenue from the clients, use the firm’s staff to get the job done as inexpensively as possible, and pocket the difference.” And for a while, that’s what I did. Predictably, morale sank, and the company became impossible to manage properly. I realized that something was off; that something had to change. The main thing that needed to change was my own attitude. If your staff assignments are fair and your work really focuses on employee development and delivery of the best possible results, the day will come when that becomes apparent to the staff. It’s a wonderful feeling to realize that you work in an organization where individual employees look out for one another, where assignments are appropriate, and where the emphasis is on producing excellent results. That is why Spielberging is not about yourself – it’s about thinking and acting in a way that produces the best results and elicits the best performances from all the team members. Everyone can see how much effort a movie director has put into his movie while his actual existence can hardly be recognized on the screen. The people who are continuously working behind the scenes are the ones who we consider to be the real leaders. 

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