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 is summer in the Portland area. The views are stunning—snow capped volcanoes that sit atop mountain ranges, green rolling hills and winding rivers that surround the city. The many bridges provide for a brief, but spectacular view that is unmatched. And that can be distracting for some drivers new to the area, or just visiting for the summer. Yesterday was a prime example. A driver proceeding well below the speed limit suddenly pulled over to the shoulder and stopped to observe the view. His actions created a hazard, unbeknownst to him, as he was distracted from accomplishing his task of driving safely.
Distractions in the workplace have a variety of impacts on the business. It could be as simple as lower productivity. But it could be a serious as someone getting hurt or killed. Many times, the distracted person is not the one who gets hurt. It is someone else that is nearby. How are you creating a distraction free culture?
When you think you set the bar too high, you’re actually setting it too low. A high goal may at first seem intimidating, but it will spur thinking about possibility. The trick is having a roadmap to get there, so people don’t think the journey is impossible. Once you gain traction, you won’t hear about the goal being impossible. You’ll hear, “What else can we do?”
Where are you setting the bar?
The long, cold winter led to a late start for the strawberries. It seemed like a short and intense season. After a few weeks, the disappointment set in that there did not seem to be any more strawberries in the patch. But on closer inspection, there were quite a few lurking below the leaves. With a sweep of the hand, the brilliant red berries gleamed in the sun. It took a bit more work to get to them. But, they were the best of the season. Had I given up on the patch, I would have missed the best part.
That is the funny thing about business. Sometimes we give up too soon and miss the fruits of our labor. There is a fine line between reaching peak potential and moving on at the right time. You have to keep a keen eye to understand the business landscape and when the season is shifting, indicating it is time to move on. How are you keeping your eyes open and moving on at the right time?
It was the end of the day. I sat down and turned on Murder She Wrote. Clearly not in first run, the episode was from 22 years ago. As with many episodes, the actors are recognizable today, even if they weren’t that many years ago. But, I couldn’t quite place one of the people. I know I had seen him in something else, but what? Thank goodness for imdb. Very quickly, I was able to locate the actor. He has been in many movies and tv shows over the years that I recognized. With the search results in mind, it was obvious. He had mastered his craft so well that I did not know his name. He was familiar. But only because of his face. His craft let him be who he needed to be at the time. A character actor. A jack of all trades.
The jack of all trades is crucial to many organizations. It is the glue that makes things work. They go from role to role and perform it well. But somehow the people aren’t recognizable. Only that they are a critical player in the show. The thing is, the show doesn’t go on without them. Who are your character actors? How do you celebrate their importance?
It was more than a decade ago. I walked into the classroom only to be greeted by my name. The class was Mergers and Acquisitions at Rice University. One of the last on the way to my MBA. The professor was Jim Hackett. Only he wasn’t just a professor. He was the CEO and Chairman of Anadarko Petroleum, a Board Member/Chairman of the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas, and Board Member of my employer, Fluor Corporation.
He was clearly a busy guy. But somehow, he managed to learn the name of every person in class before they walked in. When each person walked in, he greeted them by name. My classmate, Chris Doyle, was so impressed with his leadership that he lobbied for him to teach the class. And not only did Jim Hackett show up, but so did his key leaders to discuss the ins and outs of the M&A adventure his company was undertaking. His last session capped off with the importance of leadership.
It is not every day that you come across a person that not only takes the time to learn about the people, but also understands the impacts of business on the community. There were so many amazing lessons in business. The ones that lasted the longest, more than a decade now, are the ones about showing up as a leader. How are you leaving a lasting legacy with the people you meet?
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?
If you saw City Slickers, you’ll remember Curly holding up his finger and stating there is one thing and you need to stick with it. For a business, that one thing is being clear about your purpose. From there, there are a number of little things that are needed to make your business hum. Here are twenty tips to help you do just that:
Your purpose and how it shows up every day
- Be clear about who you are and what you do
- Make your values known and only hire people who are aligned with your values
- Find the balance between having a Taj Mahal and looking like you are going out of business. People need a decent environment to be productive and to be engaged
- Get rid of the things that are hard. Doing business for and with you should be easy
- Constantly innovate to stay relevant, provide value to customers and outperform the competition
You at your best
- Eat well, get enough sleep and exercise regularly. These are necessities for keeping your mind clear and focused, and managing stress
- Minimize meetings. There are typically only a few that have any real value
- Focus on return on your time. Spend it on things that matter and not just the things that pop up
- Surround yourself with people who inspire you, stretch you and bring out your best thinking
Teams that outperform their competition
- Hire the best people, align goals and allow them to make decisions. Be clear about responsibilities, accountabilities and decision making
- We vs. Them. Them is the competition, not coworkers
- Ensure you have all the skills and capabilities at the table so you are making informed decisions
- Engage with the best partners, whether investors, suppliers, bankers, etc. They will round out your knowledge and team with you to grow and innovate
- Meet with your customers to strengthen relationships, align on how you can best work together
- Walk around and talk to the people in your business every day and visit remote locations frequently
Keeping score and outperforming
- Set the bar high to cause people to think, stretch and achieve more. At some point, you’ll realize you actually set the bar too low
- Know the drivers of your business and how they are performing
- Understand your business cycles and how to adjust up and down as the market changes. Companies that outperform act before their competitors
- Know when, where and how to invest to grow the business
- Act quickly with good, but imperfect information. Speed is more important and course corrections can be made along the way
The sounds of thudding on the roof were loud and unexpected. After a moment, I realized the sounds were not coming from the roof, but the second story. What was she up to? And just then, my dog appeared. She was quite pleased, smiling broadly. With a feather in the corner of her eye. She had just shredded a feather pillow. Thousands of small feathers were scattered across my room. A mess to clean up, and, given the quantity of feathers, I’m sure they will continue to pop up over the coming weeks. She was just being a dog and enjoying herself while she shredded away. And while she has learned a lot about manners in the relatively short time I’ve had her, clearly there is more work to do to set the boundaries and expectations.
People in business do what they think is natural and right every day. They are proud of their work and eager to show it to you. And sometimes, as they stand there proudly, you will be shocked and dismayed. You know that like the feather pillow, there is a mess to clean up and there will be lasting effects. But before you go ballistic, think about whether you have set expectations. Your people are likely doing their best with good intentions, but may not be clear about expectations. How are you making sure you don’t have a feather pillow moment of your own?