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?

Accountability = Getting Fired. No!

accountable, peopleHow many times have you mentioned the word accountability and looks of horror come across the faces of the people you are speaking with? I was in the middle of a conversation recently and the topic came up. Accountability. People are expected to do something, they aren’t quite clear what the expectation is, then get punished when the results don’t happen. Yikes! No wonder people hate the word.

I love accountability. To me it means shared expectations. Everyone knows what the goals are and signs up to make them happen. And like anything else, it is a two way street. The people involved have a dialogue, clarify questions, agree on what is achievable, what help might be needed to be successful, and what success looks like. Along the way, there are checkpoints to make sure alignment still exists on progress against the expectations. If done well, performance would be recognized in performance appraisals and annual salary increases and bonuses. There should be no surprises at the end. Good performance is rewarded and poor performance is corrected.

How are you establishing a culture of accountability? Is everyone sharing in the dialogue? What else can you do to get the results you desire?

Lessons in Business from the Gym

personal trainer businessI love my personal trainer, Babs. She always amazes me by how much she knows about form, fitness, anatomy, etc. She has an ability to keep on top of trends and incorporate the best parts in a seamless way into her own repertoire to keep it fresh. I’m surprised that no session is ever the same – even though I see her every week and have for years. And along the way, I learn something new every week from her vast wisdom on many topics. In reflecting on what Babs has taught me through our weekly sessions, while focused on fitness, they are great lessons in business.

Set the bar high and push the boundaries

Each week I feel like I’m in a better place than the week before. Over time, Babs has introduced heavier weights or more complicated exercises. Sometimes I’m not sure if I can do it. Her immediate response is that I can and I just need to focus on it and get my mind in the right place. And of course, she is right. She constantly pushes the boundaries on what I think is possible in the effort to make me better.

In business, great leaders do this. They set the vision and keep people focused on it. They know what the team is capable of and push the organization to achieve new heights. They set the bar high and push the boundaries is part of what is possible. All with the end goal in mind.

Get the basics right

Each time we embark on a new exercise or pull one from the repertoire, Babs demonstrates the proper form. Then it is my turn. If I get the form right, we keep going. If not, we start over with appropriate corrections. This is critical for injury prevention and for maximizing the impact of the exercise. All muscles are worked to ensure each is properly strengthened, so that there are no areas out of balance. If some are strong and others are weak, the strong ones pull the weak ones out of alignment and cause problems in the long term. By getting it right from the start, there is balance across the body, setting the foundation for the long-term.

Getting the basics right up front is critical to long-term success. Developing each area of the business equally creates balance across the organization and sets the platform for the long term. You can fix problems later, but it is much more expensive to do it that way than to get the basics right up front.

Have fun and appreciate those around you

Babs has unlimited energy and a positive outlook. It shows up in the form of having fun. People regularly talk about how much fun they have in Babs’ classes or in training with her. I look forward to our time together because we laugh hard and have a great workout. And during each session, she talks about how much she appreciates the people around her and what life has given her.

People want to have fun at work – that doesn’t mean goofing off. It means, enjoying what you do, enjoying the people you work with, working hard and getting satisfaction out of individual and team accomplishments. Business is all about people, so making sure people are having fun and appreciated is key to long-term success.

Lessons in business are everywhere. How do you find your inspiration?

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!

Losing your pants, literally. It puts a whole new perspective on risk mitigation

escalator riskThe slow steady rhythm of the escalator carried two women and one man down from the upper level. Hundreds travel the path every day without incident, but not this time. The woman’s pants were slightly long for her height. When she got to the bottom, the pant leg caught in the escalator. Just like the movies, things seemed to move in slow motion. She began tipping over and finally landed face first on the floor. The escalator pulled her pants off inch by inch as her companions tried to pull them from the grasp of churning steel. Several others sprang into action, trying to find the emergency shut off button to no avail. Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, building security shut the escalator down. The woman stood up to a small crowd gasping in horror, with a bruised ego and ripped clothing, but no other apparent injuries.

I was mortified for the poor woman and think about her every time I see the escalator. She could have been seriously hurt, and was lucky she wasn’t. Watching people go up and down the escalator, most are distracted by a conversation, reading, texting or talking on a mobile device, looking for the person they are meeting, carrying large objects, etc. Anything but thinking about the risk the escalator presents. And the small sign indication caution along the bottom rail goes unnoticed by those riding up or down.

There aren’t too many vivid examples like this that highlight a very obvious risk that most people don’t even think about. But these sorts of risks are in every business and go unnoticed. The outcomes can be minor, based on luck, or severe. How are you evaluating and managing risks in your business?

Are you looking at the needles or the forest?

forestIt’s been a full week of meetings. Different purposes, different groups. But one thing emerged as a theme out of all of them. Perspective. In each of the meetings, there was a tendency to get into the weeds and not focus on the main objectives. In each meeting, someone asked a question designed at redirecting the conversation back to the appropriate level. In these cases, more strategic, longer term perspectives. The challenge for the folks conducing the meetings is that there is so much going on that they struggle with the day-to-day and getting to the right perspective. They are looking at the needles rather than the forest. How do you keep your perspective in the right place? Do you have someone to challenge you when you are looking at the needles instead of the forest?

Service that makes you say “WOW!”

wowWe all know it when we see it – that little extra something that makes us want to come back because the experience was over the top. That was dinner with a few friends at a local restaurant. We were warmly greeted at the door by name, promptly seated and the dinner began to unfold one course at a time. Each was beautifully prepared, tasted amazing and presented in a warm, hospitable manner. Somehow we always had beverages, food was spaced out in a manner that flowed and the experience was wonderful. So much so, that we didn’t even notice dessert was taking a little longer than other courses to make it our way. We were surprised when we were told there wasn’t going to a charge for a few items to make up for the “not up to standard” service. Wow – that little extra touch had us talking for weeks.

Customers have a choice where they spend their money. What experience do you want yours to have?

The Value of a Sounding Board

sounding boardIt’s lonely at the top. And until you get there, you don’t really understand how true that statement is. You are responsible for the organization – its people, its products and its results. The tough decisions, the balls that need to be juggled and the lack of people in the company that you can talk to on sensitive issues and hard decisions that need to be made. It can be a heavy load.   But it can also be a lot of fun with the right perspective and outlook. That’s why it is important as a senior leader to have a sounding board.

Years ago, someone introduced me to the idea of a personal board of directors. People you go to for various areas in your life that have perspectives that challenge your own. For each person it will be different, but it helps to have people that have known you for years in some cases, and are new to you in other cases. These folks should push you to be your personal best – at work and in life. I’ve loved this concept and use it in my own life and it has made me reflect and adjust in ways that are difficult, but needed.

In addition to the personal board of directors, there may be times that more intense focus is needed to address a specific opportunity. At those times, it may be necessary to bring on someone who has been in the same shoes and made hard decisions from a leadership perspective. It’s important to be able to bounce ideas, thoughts and challenges off of someone who has been there and can help you sort through a clear path forward.

Do you have a personal board of directors or a person you can go to as a sounding board? How are you getting the advice you need to be successful?