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?

Rushing Things

rushing thingsI was sitting at a red light waiting for it to turn green. Just as it was about to turn, a young man on a skateboard came flying into the intersection. He clearly didn’t want to wait and was moving quickly. As the light turned green, he flipped the skateboard over and rolled across the intersection. Luckily he got up unharmed. Everyone at the intersection was paying attention and didn’t move when the light turned green. Disaster averted.

But that’s not always the case. We have all had times when in haste to get something done, the results were less than optimal. Rushing can lead to setting sites on the finish line – like crossing the street, but not recognizing the hazards around. There is a difference between moving quickly and deliberately and rushing. The difference is that risks are identified and mitigated. Are you moving quickly and deliberately or are you rushing things?

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?

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?

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?