you said what?

How well are you framing your questions and asks?

“Where are you?” he asked as we started our first meeting over Zoom. I’ve been asked that a lot and it is usually about where I am in my house. So I answered “my dining room.” And that’s not at all what he meant. He wanted to know where in the country I was.

It’s so easy to misinterpret what someone is saying because of the lens we wear. And that’s the challenge in leadership. Being clear and giving context to questions or asks makes all the difference in getting the response or output we are looking for. How well are you framing your questions and asks?

are you using the right tools?

Are you using the right tools?

For a lot of years, the annual ritual for planting my garden starts with using a hoe to turn up the dirt and amending the soil, mixing the nutrients and the turned up dirt with a shovel. The practice got the job done, but was not efficient. This year, my neighbor lent me her rototiller. What a difference the right tool makes! Not only was it faster, but it did a better job.  Not just a little better job, a significantly better job.

The same happens all the time in business. People use tools that work, but aren’t designed to do the job quickly or effectively. Having the right tools can make all the difference in how quickly work gets done. And how much the people doing the job enjoy it. Do you have the right tools in your business?

problems get tossed over the wall because it is easier that way

Problems get tossed over the wall because it is easier that way

Every week, the yard crews come through the neighborhood on different days and mow, trim and blow. Each crew uses roughly the same technique, ending with blowing leaves and trimmings along fence lines. But the cloud of leaves, trimmings and dust doesn’t just stay on one side of the fence. Some of it ends up on the other side. The tossing of stuff over the fence happens as part of the job because there is no attempt to keep it contained to one side. And at times, a little makes it over the wall and at other times, a lot makes it over the wall.

The same thing happens every day in business. People go through their day tossing problems over the wall. Sometimes they are small. Other times they are large. It happens because it is easier to let the problem migrate somewhere else than to contain it and fix it. And the situation will continue until someone steps in and resolves to start fixing issues and stop throwing them over the fence.

risk measurement and management

How are you ensuring you don’t skip mitigation measures when risks arise?

The woman was just past the entrance inside of the store. And then it happened. She had a sneezing fit. And as one sneeze after another came, she removed her mask. It is a natural reaction. But the mask is a risk mitigation measure meant to protect others.

Those same sort of natural inclinations to remove mitigation measures happen all the time in business. Risks can be infrequent, but highly impactful if they happen. But mitigation responses are designed with the expectation that people will think through all of the mitigation options when risks arise. And they fail because right at the moment the mitigation measures are most needed, instincts and experience kick in. And the mitigation measures designed for the moment are forgotten or overlooked.

How are you ensuring you don’t skip mitigation measures when risks arise?

Are you rebalancing?

Are you looking at your organization for balance and adjusting when necessary?

I recently took a flower arranging class. It was a lot of fun creating something where nothing existed before. As the class worked to create the arrangement step by step, the instructor cautioned us that the tulips would continue to grow. And the lilies would open up and take lots of space. Both instructions were giving us advice to choose the height and placement for what was to come.

She wasn’t kidding! The tulips grew four or five inches, while I thought they might grow two. And the lilies opened up, covering half the arrangement. As a result, the arrangement ended up out of balance after a few days with the tulips out running the rest of the arrangement and the lilies covering many of the other flowers.

The same thing happens in building out organizations. Some people and departments start outpacing the rest of the organization. And other departments and people take over, not allowing others to be seen and reach their potential. Even if you know it is coming, the best laid plans don’t always work. That means it is imperative to watch for it and continually rebalance so the organization and people operate in harmony. When was the last time you rebalanced?

are you making it easy to do business?

Are you making it easy to do business with you?

It was a beautiful weekend, temperatures reaching 80 degrees. And that meant people flocked to the big box home improvement store to get items for their outdoor projects. The line stretched from the two checkout counters to nearly the back wall.

I just had a few items and wondered whether the lines were shorter inside. And they were. Actually, there weren’t any lines at all. I walked right up and was checked out instantly. I mentioned my surprise to the person checking me out and she said on nice days, the lines are always long in the garden center and short inside.

The situation made me wonder how companies help customers navigate their business. Are people available to help customers navigate their experience efficiently? How are roadblocks removed to make doing business easy? Do you look at where customers experience bottlenecks and reduce them? What can you do to make doing business with you easier for your customers?

how are you delighting customers?

How are you delighting your customers?

Over the weekend, I went to the local nursery. It is just up the street from where I live, but in a direction I don’t usually go, so I had never been there before. I pulled in and the owner came out and greeted me, helped me find what I needed and gave me tips for success in growing my new plants.

As we talked about the bare root plants and dirt, it became clear to me I’d end up with a huge mess in my car. As I live just a few minutes from the nursery, she volunteered to bring my purchase to my house at no charge. It was such a great experience, I’ll definitely be back.

Opportunities to delight customers come around regularly if you listen for them. And by adding the small touches you can guarantee they come to you next time first. How are you delighting your customers?

are you adding unnecessary steps?

Are you adding unnecessary steps?

The other day I decided to make chicken stock. The WSJ had a recipe several weeks ago and it looked really easy. And a great way to use the whole chicken while creating another ingredient I often use—chicken stock.

So, I pulled out the pot, took the strainer part out and dumped all of the ingredients in the pot and let it go for a few hours. At the end, while looking at the built in strainer sitting on the counter that I removed, I kicked myself for taking that portion of the pot out that would have made it easier to strain at the end. Instead, I ended up with a much more manual process that took longer.

These sorts of situations happen in business all the time. We end up taking out parts of the process that would have made the process smoother in the long run. Or we add things in that end up slowing the entire process down. How often are you adding unnecessary steps into your business?

What conditions are you creating in your business?

What conditions are you creating in your business?

The motorcycle first caught my eye on a winding road. It was behind me and following a little too closely. But it wasn’t until we got to the main road and were stopped that I saw a dog pop its head up from behind the driver. As the motorcycle passed, the dog was clearly visible. It was in a backpack with its head and front legs on the shoulders of the driver flying down the road at 60 mph.

Many miles down the road, we stopped at a light. The motorcycle, a car in front of me, then me. And that’s when it happened. The dog started to shimmy out of the backpack. Panic set in that the light would turn green, the motorcycle would move and the dog would pop out of the backpack and land on the road. Luckily, the dog popped out of the bag and started running down the road before the light turned green. It ran up to a parking lot and was caught by its person before being hit by the oncoming cars in the next lane. Crisis averted.

There are a whole bunch of points I can make with this experience. But I’ll keep it to just one. When people don’t feel safe or are highly uncomfortable, they will bolt. What conditions are you creating in your business?

how do you adapt to extreme situations

How do you adapt in extreme situations?

About a month ago, a big snow storm hit the area, leaving snow in many places for a week. And for a few days, the snow was so high, leaving the house was nearly impossible. And while only a few ventured out bundled up, the birds were out in force. They were flying around and chirping away. It was too cold for people to go outside, but tiny birds were quite happy out in the freezing temperatures. How did they not freeze? Apparently, they have several mechanisms to survive the cold.

There are extreme situations that can test businesses every year. Just like birds have built in capabilities to make it through, businesses can build in capabilities too. What are the extreme situations you experience in your business? How are you building in capabilities to make it through them?