Getting to Zero in Management

“And if you ask her for a new assignment, a promotion into a new role, you’re likely to hear the speech she first heard long ago from Mr. Hicks about “getting to zero” with a job. 11:59

To explain, she picks up a piece of paper and draws a line across it. She shades an area below the left end of the line.

“When you start the job, whatever it is, you have to find out who the secretary is, where the bathrooms are, who your teammates are,” she says. “Trust me, for a lot of time you are operating below zero.”

She then points to the middle stretch of the line.

“This is when most people want to leave a job,” she adds. “They say: ‘I’m done. I know everything. I’m done.’ But think about that. If you left there, basically all this area under the curve, which is negative, which is take-away, you owe the company all of that. Then you do this for six more months, and you can operate the place smoothly, but you haven’t really transformed it in the ways that you can help to transform it.”

She starts shading an area above the line to the right. That represents what a manager is expected to contribute — what to give back — after absorbing all of the training and experience that exists below the left side of the line. The balance amounts to “getting to zero.”

“You can only leave after you put in as much above the curve as under the curve. Unfortunately, that usually takes more than a day, and it takes a couple years,” Ms. Burns says. “People would come in to me and say: ‘You put me in this developmental assignment. I know how to run the place now. Thank you. Can I go to the next one?’ I say: ‘Well, how about all the stuff that you owe us? How about getting settled in for a little while longer and then start to transform it?’ ”

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