Why buy the Cadillac when the Chevy will do?

why buy the cadillac when the chevy will doTimes have changed since this saying came about, when the Cadillac was the gold standard. The point is still incredibly valid – why pay a lot of money when your needs are satisfied by less. I was reminded of this saying this weekend while looking for a barrier to keep my new dog from running up stairs. The pet stores had pet gates, and I was shocked by the sticker price. So, I looked at baby gates at Target. The price differential between a low end baby gate and a low end pet gate was 2-3 times, and nearly 15 times differential between a low end baby gate and a high end pet gate. I don’t need a bunch of bells and whistles, just a barrier to put on the stairs. So, the baby gate met my needs.

These types of situations arise all the time in business. Whether it is systems, equipment, design, space, or pick your project, too much money is spent regularly because the scope and outcomes are not clearly understood. Money is poured into bells and whistles that aren’t really needed. It is pretty amazing when you start focusing in on the actual scope – your time and money can be dramatically reduced. This is different from wanting a Cadillac, but only willing to pay for a Chevy. The difference is knowing your needs, the scope. How are you ensuring you are clear on your needs and not getting a bunch of bells and whistles that aren’t really needed?

What does it take to change behavior?

changeLast week, the temperatures in the Portland metro area were forecasted to exceed 100 degrees for three straight days. If you are in other parts of the country, this may seem mild and not a big deal. But in this area, many people do not have air conditioning and are not used to temperatures at that level. So, it was no surprise on the first day that the number of people out walking early in the day was significantly higher than it normally is at that time of day. But, by day two, the number of people out walking had dropped back to normal levels. The prompt for behavior change was a short-term event. Behavior changed for one day, then normal patterns returned as the weather normalized.

Have you ever attempted a change initiative in your organization? Many times they fail because people are used to the periodic change initiative, understanding that it will be an area of focus for a short period of time, then normal patterns will return. Sustained change requires a known benefit that is being targeted, and consistent focus on that change such that old behaviors will not return (or be accepted if they are attempted). How are you driving change in your organization?

How do you find your blind spots?

blind spotRecently, an out of town acquaintance was in Portland for the summer. Being from a major city, she never learned to drive. Not a big deal as she was staying close to downtown and could bike to work and around the area for fun. We were talking about how to get around and I suggested she be careful how she navigates the bike lanes. They are on the right hand side of the road and if a car needs to turn right, they would cross through the bike lane to turn, making it incredibly important to always watch for vehicle blind spots. Having never driven a car, she did not understand the concept of a blind spot, so I explained it to her.

Blind spots exist in business too. They are danger lurking in the wings that can’t be seen. And the only way to find those blind spots is through experience or, if it does not exist, help from someone who has the experience. Even if you think you have the experience, you may be too close to the situation to see the blind spots. How are you watching out for blind spots?

Assumptions and Biases – Are You Getting it Right?

assumptions and biasesA few weeks ago, I adopted a new dog from the Oregon Humane Society. As part of the adoption process, a collar and a few tags are provided. The collar happened to by pink. Off we went to the pet store to get a few more things including a harness and leash. There were no pink harnesses in her size. So, we purchased a lovely turquoise set. It works with the pink and I like the color. Then a funny thing started to happen. During our daily walks, almost everyone thinks she is a male, likely because she is wearing a blue harness and leash. Blue = male. A few get up closer and notice she is actually a female and correct themselves. It has been surprising to see the number of people making the incorrect assumption about her sex.

Whether you call it an assumption or a bias, people make a judgment based on experience or predisposition every day. In business, the ability to get it right has a significant impact on the culture and the success of the company. Checking the basis for the assumptions and making unconscious biases conscious can lead to better decision making. How are you checking assumptions and bias in your organization?


Circling the Drain

circling the drainHave you ever seen this? The economy, lack of desire for a product/service line or some other event causes a dramatic drop in revenue. As a result, staffing is cut. A few of the most talented people depart, leaving a weak team. A theoretical new revenue stream is discussed, but the specifics around how to make that happen never quite get there, making it difficult to attract the people that buy the goods or services. The ostrich approach moves into full gear as people discuss the plan (but don’t execute it), thinking the business has turned the corner, but miss the warning signs that things are not actually getting better. Lots of meetings happen, and people are focused on the activity rather than the results. Emails fly with large numbers of people being copied for no apparent reason and people feel better because there is activity. In the meantime, the business is circling the drain. The only question is, can someone put the plug in before all the water drains?

While it is difficult to turn a business around when it has gone too far down a path, the key is to have a flexible approach and ability to refocus as the markets change. Things to watch for include: dramatic changes in revenue, dramatic changes in the goods purchased or services provided, strength of the team in place, and a trajectory that is different than competitors or the market in general. To have forward momentum in a business, it is critical to have the right people in the right place focused on the right things. How are you having honest dialogue in your business to make sure that changes creeping in the business don’t cause you to circle the drain?

Do you have the right people in the right place?

right people in right placeFlashpoint is a Canadian TV drama series that ran years ago, focusing on a specialized police team that handles hostage situations. While each team member has common skills, they each have specialized skills and typically handle a specific role that is matched to their skills. In an episode that recently aired as a rerun, the negotiator and the tactical operations lead switched places. They were working through a hostage situation, and a third person had a clear view of the situation. No-one else could see what was going on. Her request to resolve the situation was denied by the negotiator who was handling the tactical role in favor of talking more. Things went sideways and resulted in some injuries. During the debrief after the incident, there was a significant debate on whether the call was appropriate. The perspective was that the skills were mismatched for the swapped roles, leading to an undesirable outcome.

While most business situations are not life or death, getting the right people in the right place can have a tremendous impact on the outcomes of business. When people are not in the right role, decisions and actions can be delayed, leading to suboptimal results. And it isn’t fun for anyone. Typically when people are in the wrong role, they do not enjoy it. When the right people are in the right place, they enjoy what they do and the right things happen more quickly. Do you have the right people in the right place? How can you get there if you aren’t right now?

Are your metrics misleading?

time for factsA recent article in the paper was based on research published by a university. It was an interesting article that had a significant number of statistics. The results were counterintuitive to both the researcher and the writer of the article, both having indicated they expected the opposite of what actually happened. The results were listed in a table off to the side, showing the absolute occurrences in two different groups, along with the population size. The numbers became very small very quickly in the percentage of occurrences. The percentages in most cases between the groups were very close because there were few occurrences. But the article focused on the percentage change between the two groups, which became a big percentage and misleading as to how often the occurrence happened between the groups.

For example, in group one there is an occurrence 1 time in 10,000. In group 2, there is an occurrence 2 times in 10,000. In group one, the occurrence happens 0.01% of the time, and 0.02% of the time in group 2. In either case, it is negligible. But framed another way, it could be stated that occurrences happen twice as frequently in group 2. That seems like a lot more!

How information is presented can have a significant impact on perceptions and form the basis of how decisions are made. How are you making sure the data presented in your organization is fairly representing what is actually going on so appropriate decisions can be made?

Getting Panicked Can Result In Big Mistakes

Don't PanicYou know that momentary pang of panic when you look in your rearview mirror and there is a police officer behind you? Even if you are just moving along with the flow of traffic, it can be a bit nerve wracking. That was the case yesterday. After several stop lights and he was still behind me, it was time to move over. Traffic finally started flowing as the congested area was ending. Then it happened. The red jeep that was behind the UPS truck jumped out in front of the motorcycle officer, cutting him off. How could he not see him? No signal to move over, no clearance in front of the motorcycle. Yikes! Not good. The red jeep kept going with the officer on his bumper. Then to make matters worse, the red jeep tried to get back over, pushing the UPS truck onto the shoulder. The lights came on indicating the inevitable.

It seemed that the jeep driver hadn’t realized what happened until looking in the rearview mirror to see the cop. Panic set in and that was when the near accident happened. The driver must have known the UPS truck was there as he was following it and was now beside it. But that panic in the gut caused focus to go elsewhere, nearly causing the accident.

That feeling of panic can cause devastating results in business as well, and it can have many causes. The key is to recognize when the panic hits and then not lose focus on running the business. Being calm and keeping the objectives in mind can help. So can having thought through various scenarios and how to handle them. How are you ensuring you stay focused on your objectives and are not focusing on distractions that cause panic and lead to disastrous results?

Have you really thought about all of the options?

Have you considered all the optionsPigs and goats. It was the solution to a problem that many face, the need to clear brush. I have to admit that it is not a solution that would have ever crossed my mind. For the manager of a farm program at a local winery, it was the solution that made the most sense. The goats were quickly and effectively able to clear the brush. The pigs were unleashed next to address the roots. They quickly and effectively cleared the root structure and completed the removal of the blackberries, leaving land that was cleared and ready to utilize.

There are always many options to resolve problems or grasp opportunities. To some the options may be obvious, to others they may not be known. Getting the right people around the table that have the skills and background, that are aligned with the organizations values can help get you there. In the case above, there was no time pressure and the values include sustainability and organic farming. By including the right people, they were able to utilize an option that fit with their purpose and values. How are you making sure you include the right people and get all of the options on the table?

Momentum vs. Technique

momentum vs techniqueSaturday morning starts with a tough workout with Babs, my personal trainer. Over the years, she has taught me a lot about the proper technique. When we first started, she would almost always tell me to stop and start over. After a reprimand for using momentum, she would instruct on the proper technique.

This week, she was reflecting that her regular group of people know the connection between mind and body, enabling utilization of the proper technique. Momentum is easier as the motion propels the weights or the body in a direction. With momentum, and not having proper technique, it is possible to get hurt or create an out of balance in the body.

Business is the same way. Getting momentum can be a little tough at first. But once things start moving, the momentum can propel the business forward. And while having momentum is critically important, it should never be at the sacrifice of technique. Without proper technique (skills, capabilities and focus), the business may veer off course, having a negative impact that may be detrimental long-term. How are you differentiating between momentum and technique in your business? What can you do to refocus on technique?