How Many People Walk By?

Easy vs Hard - do people walk by?Last week I wrote about a water leak at a house I walk by on a daily basis. After two weeks, two calls to the water department, three attempts at knocking on their front door, and knocking on three neighbors doors, the water is still flowing heavily down the hill and down the drain. This house is on a fairly busy corner. Many people walk by at all times of the day. So it raises several questions: do people walk by and not do anything? Do they walk by and not notice? Or, do they attempt to reach the people, like me, to no avail?

All of these situations are problematic and not what you would want in your business. In business, it is important that people are paying attention and notice when things go sideways. They are engaged in the business and care. They do notice and raise the flag to get issues corrected. And when the red flag goes up, there is a mechanism such that it is easy to resolve and the person is recognized for doing the right thing. Do you have a company culture where people are engaged and it is easy to get things done? Or is it hard to resolve situations and people just don’t care? How are you creating the culture you want in your company?

What are your red flags?

what are your red flags?It has been raining pretty significantly for days. I didn’t notice it at first because it was dark and due to the amount of runoff in the hilly areas heading to the storm drains. After days of walking by, something didn’t seem right, so I took a closer look. And there it was – probably a broken pipe at the sprinkler irrigation box with significant quantities of water literally heading down the drain. The house was on the corner – it’s front door and driveway on one street and the leak on the other. It’s a house I walk past daily and is a few miles from home, so I don’t know the people. After knocking on their door and three others, I finally found someone home to alert. It’s likely the people are out of town. A few more days passed and a few calls to the water department, the issue was addressed. But the water keeps flowing. They will be facing a massive water bill and huge amounts of wasted water. Clearly there was no mechanism to alert the city or the people to the problem.

Many businesses face similar issues around leakage. They may arise in areas with low visibility. Without a mechanism to alert you to the issue, it can go unchecked for quite some time, resulting in a big surprise. Other times, it may be noticed, but unresolved because the people don’t have an avenue to resolve it. The challenge is to keep ahead of it and address the root cause before it becomes significant. Do you have warning systems in place that alert you to issues in your business? And if you do, do the people have a mechanism to resolve the issue before it becomes significant?

The Definition of Insanity

Definition of insanityIt happens about this time every year. Companies go through an annual planning process. People painstakingly put together their expense budgets. Cost of living and general inflation is factored in. All the numbers get pulled together and the expenses are too high. So, a note goes out that instructs people to cut expenses. Not do things differently. Just cut expenses. In some cases, a reorg is announced and people shuffle seats, sometimes accompanied by headcount reductions. In either of these cases, the people are expected to do the same thing with less. It happens every year. That’s the definition of insanity – doing things the same way and expecting a different result.

The world continues to evolve. To stay effective and competitive, the business needs to evolve as well. Rather than going through and looking at the expenses and revenues in isolation, a better approach is to look at how the business can operate most effectively. This includes how technology is used, whether processes are efficient and effective, and whether the needs of the customer are being met. The financial results are a symptom of how well the organization is working. How do you make sure you aren’t in the insanity trap?

Is the solution right in front of you?

the solution is right in front of youYou know those embarrassing moments when the solution is so obvious, but you have somehow overlooked it? I had one of those moments recently. My dog decided it would be entertaining to shred both ends of a bag of potting soil and spread some of the soil around the garage. It was a brand new bag. And with both ends opened, I needed to figure out what to do with it. While it was not a priority, it would annoy me every time I looked at it. There it sat for several weeks, until I looked six or so feet past the bag to a pile of empty tubs. All I had to do was carefully pick up the bag and dump it into the tub. It was an obvious solution. And it had been there the whole time.

Many times the solution to the issue you are working in business is already there. It may be the experience of a person somewhere else in the company, or it may be right there staring you in the face waiting for you to look up. The solution presents itself when you declare the issue and are open to the solution. By doing this, it opens the conversation for the people with the knowledge to come forward. Or it shifts your focus to resolving the issue. How are you making sure you don’t miss the solutions that are right in front of you?

Are you squirreling away nuts for a rainy day?

saving nuts for a rainy dayThe squirrels have been out in force lately pulling acorns down from the trees. They seem busier this year than in past years. And if you believe the news, it is supposed to be colder and wetter in the Northwest than in past years. It makes sense that the instinct is to stock up on an appropriate level of supplies to get through the winter. As these are grey squirrels, they actually remember where they buried their nuts (according to “Grey Squirrels Remember the Locations of Buried Nuts,” published in Princeton University’s journal “Animal Behavior”) and will be able to find them when they need them.

An area that is not always thought through adequately in business is the rainy day fund, the availability of cash when you need it. Depending on the type of business you are in, the seasonal and cyclical nature of the market will cause swings in cash flowing through your business. It is important to understand how deep and wide the downtimes can be. This allows you to know how to minimize cash outflow when times are bad. It also tells you how much cash you need to have available and for how long. When thinking through this, all sources of cash should be considered, including credit lines and the ability to reduce working capital. By going through the exercise ahead of time, you will know if your sources of cash are adequate or not. If not, you have the ability to secure those sources before you need them. How are you making sure you are prepared for a rainy day?

The health of your people may be a sign of your health of the company

healthy people, healthy companyHave you ever walked into a company and everyone is sick? Not just sniffling, but full fledged colds, flus, pneumonia, etc. And they come to work, no matter how sick, because things need to get done. And the pile of things never ends. So, people are stressed and give priority to showing up rather than being effective and focused on the right things that lead to desired results.

When people get into a heightened state of stress, little problems seem big, reactions become more extreme, the ability to prioritize becomes diminished, the lens in which they see the world tends toward negative, and illness creeps in. When people are in a healthy, balanced state and have time to think, they become more creative, more focused, enjoy their work more and are more engaged. Studies show that companies with engaged people outperform their peers.

Here are three ways to keep your people and your company healthy and focused:

  • Provide clear priorities – There should be no more than 3-5 priorities at any given time. More than that becomes difficult to address. These priorities should be reviewed every week to ensure progress is being made and people remain focused on these items. Don’t get sucked into the never ending stream of little stuff that doesn’t really need attention, but can suck lots of time.
  • Ensure an appropriate balance of skills and capabilities – A company can only be successful if it has the right people in the right places, there are enough people for a company of your size, and the people have the appropriate skills for what they are doing. If you hear people saying there is too much work for the time available – make sure the priorities are clear, the tools are available, and the skillsets are appropriate.
  • Walk the talk – You are setting the example for your company, department, etc. It is important to make sure you are clear and focused on priorities, balance the strategic and the tactical appropriately, and find balance to manage your stress and health. Make sure you are taking time to get exercise, clear your head, and eat healthy foods that work for your body. By being clear, focused and grounded, you set the example for your team.

As we head into the fall and winter, how are you providing leadership to keep your team healthy and engaged?

 

 

The Truck Blockade

truck blockadeEver since the port closed in Portland for cargo shipments, the volume of trucks on the road has increased. It makes sense – if the goods aren’t going out on ship, you’d expect the rail and truck volumes to increase. The highways are three lanes each way, sometimes two lanes. The trucks typically travel in the middle lane, in very close proximity to each other. I call it the truck blockade because it is incredibly difficult to get from the right lane to the left lane as the trucks are typically too close together and too many of them to maneuver easily. After a bit of research, it turns out that the reason for this is safety (being in the center lane – more opportunity to maneuver) and fuel efficiency (driving close together – drafting).

It may or may not be obvious why certain actions are being taken based on your background and experience. Within a company, helping people understand why actions are being taken can help keep efficient, forward momentum. At the same time, it is important to understand if there are unintended consequences to the actions being taken that rise to the level of needing to make tweaks to the actions to keep efficient, forward momentum. How are you making sure that you the actions in your company are intentional, efficient and effective?

Chasing Your Tail

chasing your tailIt was a great plan. I had an hour of time blocked out for getting some marketing work done. But my new dog had other plans for me. Most of the time she is well behaved. Not today. Today, she decided to race through the place at full speed and shred her bed. Up and down I went trying to settle her down and divert her attention to something more productive. Each time I thought she was there, she started back up. My focus was in and out and I accomplished pretty much nothing in that hour. As the saying goes, I spent a lot of time doing a lot of things and accomplished nothing – chasing my tail.

It is a concept that has been the subject of many conversations lately. People talk about a lot of activity in their work, but can’t demonstrate results. Being clear and focused (and having an environment free of distractions) is crucial to achieving results. How are you creating an environment that keeps you and your people from chasing their tail?

The Rearview Mirror

the rearview mirrorOver the last few days, I’ve been on the road quite a bit. Looking at the path ahead and the rearview mirror to scan the environment to ensure a safe path. Some cars were weaving out of their lane, some were speeding ahead, others were moving slowly. By looking forward and behind me, I was able to adjust my course appropriately to make for a safe trip.

The trip got me thinking about a friend describing meetings he had recently attended. There were some new people in the organization. They were thinking about how to improve and innovate. Fantastic! What they didn’t realize was that road had already been traveled with considerable effort, ultimately discarded as not workable. Circumstances had not changed such that revisiting the effort would result in success. It was only in the meeting that the history surfaced and gave new light to the best road to travel.

It is true that you can’t be successful by looking strictly in the rearview mirror to manage a business. But understanding history is important too. How are you creating a learning environment that understands your history and the circumstances that supported it?

Are you diverting people without notice?

are you diverting peopleThe economy is coming back. You read about it in the papers, see it on the news. It really becomes apparent when you experience it in the form of increased traffic and construction. Driving to an appointment recently met me with two unexpected adventures in the form of road closures. While many times there are signs down the road indicating a closure is ahead, in both cases, there were no signs. In the first case, the closure was temporary as construction was being performed on the road and flaggers would periodically let people through. The second closure was for an extended period of time. Looking ahead two blocks, I was able to see the closure and make a turn down the appropriate one-way street. Had I not seen it, I would have been on an adventure going the opposite direction.

In the grand scheme of things, the adventure was not a big deal. It was 15 extra minutes. I plan for the unknowns – something will come up, I just don’t know what it will be. But many people do not. And in business, the diversions down different paths and adding difficulties into the lives of your people or your customers in an unexpected way can strain the relationships. If only once, it may not be a big deal. But if people are diverted from the objective regularly, you may lose them. How are you making sure you don’t divert people without notice?