Change only works if it leaves everyone better off. Too many times a change initiative makes one area in the business better, but leaves another area worse. When that happens, the organization rejects the change through active and passive means. Change that leaves everyone better off is the only change that sticks.
It was eight or nine years ago. I was relatively new to the area and was at an event. I didn’t know anyone there and found myself in a conversation that sticks with me to this day. He was an oncologist and talked about how much he loved his job. There was a lightness to him and it was clear his work was very meaningful. It surprised me. Wouldn’t that be one of the toughest jobs out there? But, he talked about how he saw the best in humanity. People realized what really mattered. It was fascinating listening to him. He could have looked through the lens of negativity and seen everything that was bad. He chose to see and focus on the positive side of what he does and his ability to help people see the best in their relationships and life.
That lesson is a good one for every part of life. The lens you look through defines what you see. From a business perspective, you’ll run across all sorts of people and situations every day. It can be easy to write off a coworker, customer or supplier based on a perceived negative interaction. But if you look through and try to see their intent, it may cause you to change the lens you look through to see that the way a message was sent and the way it was received were entirely different. How can you make sure you are looking through the positive lens of good intentions every day?
It was 5:30 in the morning. Light enough to see clearly, but not yet at the point where the sun had fully emerged. My dog was quiet in the backyard. When I looked out to see what she was doing, I was surprised. She wasn’t sitting on her normal spot on the deck. She was locked in a standoff with an opossum. There they sat for twenty minutes, staring, not moving, undistracted by anything else going on around them. They were at an impasse.
How often do you find yourself in an impasse in business? It could be with a customer, different departments within your organization, or between individuals. Many times the resolution is either a loss of business, or one party being happy with the result and the other disappointed. The key to resolving the impasse is finding the motivating factor for each party, not what was initially asked for. It is possible to break through an impasse and find a win/win situation. How are you breaking through your impasse? And more importantly, what approaches are you putting in place to ensure you don’t wind up in an impasse again?
Has this ever happened to you? You get asked a question and think “I need to find the answer to that,” or you start a puzzle and just have to figure it out. It takes longer than you thought it would. Much longer. After hours dinking around trying to figure it out, you realize you just burned valuable time. It just wasn’t worth the amount of time you spent trying to figure it out.
Before you get stuck in this trap at work, ask yourself:
- Is figuring this out worth it?
- Am I the right person to figure it out?
- Would you pay the amount of money out of your own pocket that the time costs?
- If the right person is someone else, is it worth disrupting their efforts to figure it out?
- What is the real value to figuring it out?
- Can it lead to innovations in your business?
Sometimes figuring it out has significant value. Many times it doesn’t. How do you assess whether it is worth it to figure it out?
It is funny how topics seem to come up in swarms. This week the subject of the Aha moment popped up several times. Each conversation had remarkable similarities to the others. Each was a story teaching a new concept. Sometimes the explanations for the change came in multiple forms and forums. At some point, the light goes on and people get it.
People learn in different ways and in different forms. Some do better seeing the information in writing. Others prefer hearing information. Change takes repetition, and lots of it. People need to understand why the change is happening and what is in it for them. At some point – and you won’t know when it will happen – people will get it. How are you helping people in your business reach the aha moment?
It 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?
Have 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?
During 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?
Yes, 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?
We 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?