Information is Asymmetric

information is asymmetricOver the few weeks I’ve been in a series of meetings and conversations where a decision was being pursued or communication was seen as lacking. In all cases, it was clear that a significant level of discussion was ongoing. The challenge was that key information was not being distributed evenly. In other words, some people had a lot of information on the topic and others had very little. Or, there was an even level of information, but the information was different. As a result, getting to a desired conclusion was difficult. People walked out of the meetings and into side discussions feeling frustrated and unclear as to what was trying to be accomplished. The reason – information is asymmetric.

These situations occur regularly in business. Being clear with the desired outcomes and decisions needed in the meeting, communicating key information ahead and making sure the right people are in the room can help get to the desired outcome. Most importantly, don’t assume people know the background information. Recap it quickly or in detail depending upon the circumstances. Information is asymmetric. How are you keeping that front of mind when trying to move forward?

What is the real problem?

what is the real problemIt is a common challenge in the business world and in life. Providing a solution without knowing the real problem. That was the topic of conversation yesterday with a colleague. We were discussing some recent challenges and the striking and consistent thing about the conversation was – in each point of discussion, the problem being “solved” was not the real problem.

Let me be more specific by using an example that I often run across. The solution – we need a new ERP system because we don’t understand our financials. Many times the issue isn’t that the system is a problem, the issue is that no one ever spent the time to design reporting that helps people understand what is going on in the company and provides information (not data) for decision making.

When I run across this type of situation, I typically ask a number of questions designed to get at the real problem. In the case above, it may be that the only real solution needed is a reporting tool (generally, a much less expensive and many times a faster and more flexible solution). The key is to understand what the real problem is. How are you getting to the real problems in your world?

Are You Signaling?

signaling directionDriving around town lately has been an adventure. There are lots of people visiting to see the stunning sights. There are also lots of people driving around on cell phones or absorbed in other ways and not paying attention. Stopping in the middle of the street, turning left from the right lane across traffic, and slamming on brakes to make a sudden turns have become commonplace. All of these occur without warning or signaling. Aside from being the law, it lets people know what is about to come and safely prepare for to the change that is about to be made.

Signaling isn’t just important in driving, it is critically important in leading an organization. Abrupt changes in direction can create confusion and problems. The purpose of a signal in driving is to catch the attention of those around to say “hey – pay attention, I’m about to change direction.” So, why not apply that same philosophy in leading your organization?

The Platinum Rule

the platinum ruleA friend recently talked about the golden rule in one of his posts – treat others as you would like to be treated. It was a great prompt to talk about what people really want – is it the golden rule or the platinum rule? The platinum rule suggests you treat people as they would want to be treated, not as you would want to be treated. The point being, your preferences may be different than theirs. It requires a deeper understanding of the people you interact with, usually by asking them about their interests and observing their preferences.

On the customer side of the house, I’ve been on both the sending and receiving end of information about what customers want from the business. If done well, the business can draw a closer connection with the customer by understanding their needs and preferences and evolving accordingly. As a customer, there is nothing more frustrating than getting a survey, spending the time to complete it, never hearing anything back and seeing no change in the business. On the flip side, it is fantastic when the company takes the feedback and makes a change for the better.

From an employee perspective, great companies engage people. They understand that having a culture that encourages dialogue and fosters engagement is better for the company and for the people. For some people, regular praise is important. For others, it may be a promotion or a raise. And yet for others, it is actively participating in the direction of the company. By having an active dialogue, the virtuous cycle can emerge where people are excited to come to work every day and make an impact, and as a result the company gets better. Everyone gets what they need.

How are you engaging with your customers? With your people? Do you truly understand what they want and how you can deliver on it?

Bridging the gap from what to how

bridging from what to howA client and I recently got into a discussion as he was trying to shape the direction of his business. He knew he had a problem – things weren’t functioning well. He knew he could get people in to tell him what the end state needed to look like. What he wanted most to know was not only the what (future state), but the how (steps needed to get to the end state). Since that conversation, there have been a number of others where people were struggling with the same thing. They know where they need to be, but weren’t sure how to get there.

It’s easy to find articles and books that talk through best practices. Toyota and Walmart are a few of the companies that have had their differentiators well documented examples for any and all to see. And while they both have had issues at times, at the height of their success, their business was well documented. So, why was their success not replicated at the time? Some would argue that while what they did was generally known, how they did it was not (or at least not easily replicated).

Bridging the gap from what to how requires new skills and new approaches. The key is how leadership was able to develop a culture, engage the people and keep them focused on key priorities. In developing a path from current state to future state, new/different processes and technology may be employed. But they will only work if the right people are in place and buy in to the future vision.

How are you doing at engaging your people in making change? Are you able to explain the what of the future state, as well as the how and why? How can you take that leap to transform your organization?

The Power of Gratitude

thank youOver the last few weeks, I’ve had conversations with a number of people after sharing with them how much I appreciate what they are doing. In each case, I’ve heard many people talking about how much impact the person had on them, how their behaviors and actions have changed and overall gratitude for the person. In each case, I was surprised to hear from each person that they very rarely heard the simple words “thank you”, let alone a more extensive note or verbal expression of gratitude.

A friend of mine is amazing at this – she hand writes thank you notes, constantly expresses appreciation and compliments those around her. It is always genuine, heartfelt and a perspective that shows depth of appreciation. The smile in return shows how much the recipient appreciates it. This topic is an area I’ve worked on over time, and continue to work on and look to people like her to emulate. Whether publicly or privately, I’m not sure you can ever express gratitude enough!

The road you know

road you knowAn acquaintance recently reached out and suggested having coffee to catch up. We live and work on opposite ends of town, so he suggested meeting in the middle at a specific Starbucks. Knowing that particular spot, which is heavy to foot traffic, but a little more difficult to reach via car, I suggested an alternate Starbucks that is right off the freeway with a parking lot. Seemed like a great alternative to me and should have been easier for him.

So, I was surprised when he said “let’s stay with the original suggestion. It’s a little tougher for parking, but closer to the freeway.”

Mapping the route in my mind from the freeway to each location, I was still confused by the comment. The alternative location I provided should have been closer to him and closer to the freeway. Then it hit me – people tend to gravitate toward the road they know. It’s easy to flip on autopilot and just go. How often do you take the road you know in business? And by doing that, what opportunities to find a better way are you passing up?

Unintended Consequences

recycled cupsIt’s the end of cold season with lots of germs flying around. To help combat the spread of disease, an airline I fly regularly decided to no longer allow flight attendants to fill up a cup that a passenger brought on board. This includes water bottles, or in my case a cup for tea. Instead, they now bring multiple cups of water that can then be poured into the container brought on board. The change makes a lot of sense from a prevention of disease perspective.

What may not have been thought through is the impact to the environment. With the number of additional cups being used throughout the course of a flight, the impact can get to be fairly significant over time. Think about that in the context of business more broadly. How many times are decisions made with good intentions, only to have an unintended negative consequence? When you make a change in your business, how do you evaluate the impact to your business? How can you make sure your decisions don’t have significant unintended consequences?

It’s Just One Little Tweak

tweak businessA colleague and I were talking about a process he was overhauling. Like many, over the years this company had become bogged down with very long, inefficient ways of doing things. Working together, the group had come up with a better approach that would be much faster and allow the company to be much more efficient.

When it came time to implement, a key stakeholder said:

“We just need to make this one little tweak. It adds time, but it’s not that big a deal.”

The problem isn’t the one little tweak. It’s the accumulation of the “one little” tweaks. Change is hard and it’s pretty easy to get right back to where you started. Holding the line and making the change can lead to amazing results. How are you doing with not letting “one little” tweaks accumulate in your business?

Missed Opportunities

missed opportunitiesA good friend struggled for a few years with brain tumors. He went through ups and downs with treatment and went in and out of contact. Being a few time zones and a few thousand miles away, catching up was always an adventure. But he’s been on my mind for a few weeks now and I’ve been meaning to call. Sadly, another friend just reached out to let me know he passed away. We didn’t have a chance to say those last few words or have those last few laughs. And the last time we spoke there was more to say.

Missed opportunities happen all the time. Sometimes they are significant like the passing of a friend, other times small and go unnoticed. In business, the people and companies that outperform others see the opportunities in front of them. They grasp on and make them happen. How do you keep opportunities from passing you by?