What got you here isn’t going to get you there

what got you here won't get you thereOver the last few weeks, I’ve had conversations with a variety of people through different groups, all of whom have a different focus. The commonality is, each person is looking to take themselves or their organizations to the next level. They have all done well in the past, but to get to that next level, new skills are needed.

It’s a pretty basic concept, but one that isn’t always considered. It requires reflection, asking questions, self-assessments, and perspectives from others. The key is to identify what is needed to be successful in the future. What are the skills needed? What is that unique perspective that makes a successful business or leader? What skills and perspectives do you or your business possess today? What do you need to do to bridge that gap to where you want to be?

You’re a natural!

you're a naturalIt was one of those flattering moments when a peer said I was a natural. The reality is, I’m not. It had taken hard work over years to get to the point where I was ok. But it was a good reminder of a conversation I had years ago. I was speaking with a gentleman who was responsible for investor relations for our mutual employer. He was incredible to watch! He always greeted people warmly with their name and was solely focused on them. He was welcoming, always in command of facts, and never seemed to be ruffled. One day I asked him if he came by it naturally or if he had to work at it. He shared openly how hard he had worked over the years to develop his skills. Once he developed the skills and made them habit, it then became easy to continue them.

The reality is operating a business well is the same way. It takes a lot of hard work to make things look natural and easy, pleasing customers, partners and employees. Once the hard work of getting to where things work well and become habit, it is then easy to maintain and becomes second nature. What steps are you taking to make things look natural in your business?

The Missed Turn

consistent excellenceYou’ve seen it. More than once, maybe everyday.   Today, I observed it twice. The car sitting on the shoulder between the lanes of traffic and the off ramp with a flustered driver behind the wheel trying to figure out how they are going to merge into traffic at freeway speed from a dead stop. Rather than taking the next exit and circling back, the driver made the decision to create two hazards – one by slowing down quickly to get to the shoulder, and the second to re-enter traffic suddenly, many times without a turn signal. In both cases, it requires others to be observant and adjust quickly to avoid an accident.

Being clear about your purpose and objectives in business indicates to your investors, customers and people what you are about and how you will behave. They know you will innovate and create value. They may not know the exact details, but they know they will be delighted. There is no erratic behavior. There are no missed turns that create hazards for others. There is consistent excellence. How are you creating consistent excellence in your business?

The silent message

the silent messageHave you ever walked into a mission critical meeting? Things need to change in the business to course correct to be successful long term. You go there thinking that decisions are going to be made to drive progress. To get that many senior people in the room says that this is important, right? And then it happens. Everyone walks in, sits down and pulls out a computer, a mobile device, or both. Fingers begin pounding away on whatever the topic of the minute is. There you have it. The silent message that says we are required to be here for this meeting. The topic is not really that important.

Meetings happen in business, sometimes way too often. Study after study concludes that multi-tasking is not effective. Sitting in a meeting and doing something else degrades the effectiveness of both. Meetings should have a specific purpose – the bulk should be for action and decision making. Information should be sent in advance to allow for debate and conclusion with a path forward. Leaders should agree that the focus of the meeting is the focus, and other sidebar activities should be handled outside of the meeting. By setting the tone by example, the entire culture will change. If the meetings are not effective, that should be resolved such that meeting quantity declines and meeting quality increases. How are you driving the meeting culture in your business?

Can two opposing perspectives both be true at the same time?

different perspectiveI was recently speaking with a neighbor about a local grocery store. It is a fantastic store, has a massive produce section, high quality foods, etc. She agreed with my perspective of the store. Her next comment though, differed from mine. She said it is really expensive. That wasn’t my experience. It wasn’t just a factor of family size. It was the foods we buy. For some items like fruits and vegetables, the quality and pricing is the best around. But in other areas, the pricing is higher than at other stores. There are a number of reasons for that like quality, but just on its face, the pricing is higher. It was apparent that how we experience and use the store is very different. Both perspectives were true based on how we shop.

In the business world, it is easy to dismiss perspectives as true or not without understanding what is driving the perspectives. Whether it is employees, customers or suppliers, each will have a different perspective based on the environment, how products or services are used, and daily interactions. The trick is to understand what is driving the perspectives and if that aligns with that is the experience you want people to have. How are you getting feedback on varying perspectives and making course corrections if needed?

How well do you see around corners?

see around cornersDuring the recent snow storm, huge amounts of snow sat on trees for a week weighing down the limbs. At one corner, the limbs were so heavy, they drooped across a fence and sidewalk blocking the view. That would not normally be a major issue, except the road curved just before the fence making it impossible to see if cars were coming if you were trying to turn at this particular intersection. A slow creep into the street would either reveal a clear road or a car racing toward you. At that point, your choice was either to wait or punch the gas. There are no mirrors like you see in buildings or parking structures to let you know what is coming. Rather, it is up to your skill, timing and luck.

In uncertain times, the ability to see around corners will let you outpace your competition or be left behind. Developing the signals to let you know what is coming, such as the mirrors in a parking garage, will give you insight into when to take action and when not to. Additionally, developing the skills to react quickly when it is time to move will allow you to outpace your competition. How are you developing the tools and skills to see around corners and move quickly?

Do your people understand how customers use your product?

do you know how your customer uses your productYes, I’m a bit old fashioned in one area – reading the newspaper in hard copy. There is something satisfying about sitting down and feeling the paper and smelling the print that you can’t get online. Recently, the delivery person changed. All of a sudden, the paper started coming rolled tightly. Presumably the approach made it easier to toss the paper. I’m all for driving efficiencies, as long as they don’t create a new problem. In this case it did. The paper was so tightly rolled, that it would curl back on itself when attempting to read it. My guess is the delivery person had never tried to read a paper after it had been rolled like that. The focus was on delivering the papers as quickly as possible.

Changes in business happen all the time. Sometimes the impact of the change is fully thought through, other times it is not or there are unintended consequences. A critical element in making change is ensuring that the product or service still meets the needs of the customer. A first step to doing that is ensuring your people understand the needs of the customer and how the product or service is used. How are you making sure that your customers needs don’t get lost in the shuffle?

How do you get a balanced perspective?

how are you getting a balanced perspectiveA few weeks ago, I was comparing notes with a colleague about getting a realistic perspective on business. His approach was very consistent with mine – you must talk with several people with differing viewpoints to get a balanced perspective on the business.

Depending upon the person you speak with, you will get a different perspective based on where the person is in the organization, whether they are focused internally or externally and their function. The VP of Sales may be incredibly optimistic and present a rosy outlook. The CFO may present a conservative picture, consider all of the risks, but not all of the upsides. The CEO may strive to put some stretch into the performance of the organization while balancing the risks. It is only by understanding each of these perspectives that you can gain a holistic perspective with the upsides and the risks. How are you getting a balanced perspective?

Are you letting your lack of progress get the better of you?

Don't let lack of progress get the better of youWe all like to make progress. And when we don’t, it can be incredibly frustrating. That has been incredibly apparent over the last few weeks with snow filled roads that have not been drivable. The anxiety has been building up with people and you can see it in how some are driving. The reality is, the road conditions are not conducive in many areas to high rates of speed. But for some, the desire to make progress gets the better of them, resulting in the road being littered with cars in the ditch or on the embankments. They just want to get out of the house and are tired being stuck on a slow moving road making no progress.

It’s easy to get frustrated with making slow or no progress. As a leader, it is important not to let that frustration get the better of you and make mistakes by taking reckless risks. There is a difference between moving quickly and moving too fast for the conditions and not recognizing the risk. How do you ensure you are making rapid progress, but not taking unnecessary risks?

What is your Plan B?

what is your plan bA series of storms through the Pacific Northwest has created havoc in the Portland metro area. Week after week one weather event or another shut the city down for a day or two each time, and in one case, nearly a week. Without getting into the dialogue about why this happened, the reality is, it did happen. And because of it, many people who are paid hourly lost out on wages, businesses are teetering on the edge given the low level of business over the course of weeks and schools are now facing adding days to the end of the school year. This was not expected by any of the parties.

The situation brings to light the necessity for a plan B. If things don’t go the way you think they will, how can you adjust? Every business will experience a significant disruption at some point in time. The question is, are you prepared to address it when it happens?   Have you thought about what may cause the disruptions and how you will handle each case if it happens? Businesses that are agile and move quickly to adjust to upturns as well as downturns outperform their peers. How are you getting ready to adjust to the inevitable turns in the market?