It was a quick trip to Trader Joe’s to pick up half a dozen items. Walking across the parking lot, plotting my path, there was a wallet with a $20 bill peaking out right in the middle of the walkway. I picked it up thinking how panicked I would be if I lost mine in this day and age. Without opening it, I left it with the front desk thinking the person may still be in the store. Five minutes later, I was at the cashier. And to my surprise, he asked if I lost my wallet. Wow! They had quickly notified all the cashiers within the space of a few minutes to try to reconnect the person with the wallet. What a great example of quickly adjusting to new circumstances in a way that is not disruptive to the ongoing operations. How are you able to act quickly as circumstances change in your world?
It was another rainy day, like many at this time of the year. And as you might expect, there were a number of car accidents on the road. This particular point in the highway is a trouble spot. The road inclines and bends to the right to weave around the hills. Given the design, the water flows rapidly across the left lane in a way that causes hydroplaning at times. I drive this path often and know to watch for it. But not everyone does. Today, there was a pretty significant accident in this spot.
In business, there are many risks in the road ahead. Sometimes you know to watch for them, because you have been down the road before. Other times, you may be on a road you have not yet traveled. How are you watching for the risks ahead to make sure you are able to safely navigate them?
The Oregon Ballet Theater in Portland, Oregon recently just wrapped up a brief run of Romeo and Juliet. It was beautifully done from the costumes to the performance. Given my vantage point, I was able to see the dancers in great detail. The expressions on their faces, the grace in movement, and athleticism – all were extraordinary. What never ceases to amaze me is the combination of strength and flexibility necessary to be a top dancer. It all looks so easy and effortless. And necessary. The fluid movements and grace would not be possible without both elements. Imagine a ballerina perched on one toe, with her other leg pointing toward the ground rather than the heavens. Or the danseur (male dancer) performing a split leap toward the ballerina, but not able to lift her above his head and place her on her toe. The ballet would not be the same without strength and flexibility.
The same elements are necessary in business. Strength gives the business the ability to persevere, and have the knowledge and skills that allow it to gain position against competitors. Flexibility allows the business to adapt and change course quickly, to make decisions rapidly and maintain a cost structure that allows it to be competitive. Both elements are necessary in equal proportion to be highly successful. How well have you built strength and flexibility into your business?
My dog loves going for walks. The more the better. Being the yellow lab she is, the mere hint of heading out to explore the world gets her doing backflips. The leash appears and her focus is intently on the road ahead. She knows the route and plows ahead. That is until a squirrel appears on a fence, a branch or the ground anywhere in the vicinity. The walk becomes a distant memory and chasing the squirrel is the only thing that matters. If not for me holding her back, she would be way down a different road or in a backyard, completely off the path. Of course, if I trained her better, she would ignore the squirrels all together.
Its funny how squirrels don’t just appear on walks. They appear everywhere in business. They are the little things that start moving around and distract attention from the goal and cause a loss of momentum toward the things that matter. With training and focus, they can be ignored completely. But if not, they can have a significant impact on the results of the company. How do you keep your organization from chasing squirrels?
Driving down the road today, an SUV was smashed head on into the guardrail intended to mark the beginning of an exit. Given the direction and position the other vehicles, I couldn’t help but wonder if the vehicle had decided not to exit was and tried to get back into the freeway, missing the mark. I don’t know what actually happened and can only speculate. The interesting thing about this particular exit is that there are several signs over the prior mile indicating the exit only is approaching. The striping on the road also changes, indicating the lane is exit only. Regularly, there is a last minute shuffle as the opportunity to merge runs out and vehicles attempt to merge with little room. The traffic moves well in this area, so it is not a matter of trying to line jump, it is a matter of not realizing it is time to merge. It always surprises me how frequently people seem to miss the obvious signs on the highway.
This situation is not isolated to driving down the road. It happens frequently in business. There are signs about changes coming in the market, costs in the business, shifting of customer needs, etc. But many times they are missed because the focus is elsewhere. How do you make sure you don’t miss the signs in your business?
Balance has been the topic of conversation over the last few weeks. Through the course of conversations, most of the people say something to the effect that they do not have good balance. They struggle to stand on a BOSU ball, on one leg, etc. without falling over. Years ago, my balance was not good either. I first started working on balance with my personal trainer, Babs. Each time I would start the exercise she would say: “engage your core”, and only then could I balance. Babs later explained that by engaging the core, the muscles support the spine and allow for stabilization of the body. Without engaging the core, balance is nearly impossible. Another instructor talks about the importance of a strong, functioning core. Part of the process of learning balance is also learning how to catch yourself when you stumble, like tripping on a curb, so you don’t fall flat on your face. Having a strong core means you can course correct and recover quickly.
The same is true in business. The core of the business is values, strategy and people. By engaging the core, businesses can become strong and agile. They can find balance and make course corrections quickly when a curve ball is thrown. How are you engaging your core and finding balance in your business?
My new favorite gas station is very convenient- easy freeway access, the best pricing and I never have to wait for a pump. A few months ago, they made a change that is counterintuitive in today’s environment. They changed from giving the option to have a receipt printed to getting one whether you want it or not. Almost every time I pull up, there is a receipt from the last customer hanging out of the machine. I don’t know why the change was made, but can only speculate it was an oversight when other changes were made. And while a minor change, the cost of business is going up because more receipts are getting printed and customers now must wait for receipts to print that they don’t want.
Changes like these happen in business frequently. They are small, likely unintended, but causes the business to take a small step back. In isolation it is no big deal. The thing is, these types of changes are typically not a one off. They tend to accumulate. A bunch of small changes that become a bigger problem when added together. How do you make sure that the changes you make in your business make sense?
We all make mistakes at one time or another – even if we are sure we did everything right. Recently, I was involved in a situation where a package was sent to me that I didn’t receive. I was sure I didn’t have it, and the person that delivered it was sure that I did.
So how was the issue resolved? The person doing the delivery went through step by step to figure out where the package went. As it turns out, he delivered the package to the wrong place by accident. The person who got it didn’t pay attention and kept it. Ultimately, it was retrieved and returned to me.
At points along the way, I became concerned that the effort to resolve the situation wasn’t being taken seriously, that there was a view I had it and didn’t pay attention when I got it. The assumption was, I had made the mistake and not the folks who had delivered the package. It could have just as easily been me who made the mistake in the whole adventure. But in this case, it wasn’t.
Part of exceptional service is not casting blame, but allowing for the possibility of being wrong or making a mistake. Everyone makes mistakes at some point. Jumping to a conclusion on who is to blame isn’t helpful or productive. Figuring out why the mistake happened and making sure it doesn’t happen again does. At the end of the day, the customer will remember how the situation was handled as much as the final resolution. How do you allow for the possibility of being wrong?
Over the last few days, several folks I’ve had conversations with have talked about being in a partnership or have been thinking about starting a partnership. When asked why, the response is typically something to the effect of they like each other and think that there may be a service offering that may meet a perceived market need. Then usually there is some expression of frustration about how the other doesn’t see their perspective.
Partnerships can be great when people are aligned on the intention of partnership. In these cases, the sum of the parts is greater than the whole. More can be accomplished together than alone. The challenge with partnerships comes when folks jump in before discussing why, the intention of getting into the partnership and what they want out of it. At times, the goals can be incompatible and create problems that can be easily averted. It may be the best solution is to work together on a specific project with a checkpoint at the end to see if a more formal long-term arrangement makes sense. How do you ensure alignment before getting into partnerships?
Going to the gym is one of my favorite things. It’s a little social and a lot physical. Before class, people typically gather in front of the exercise studio to catch up before working out. The conversations run the gambit. And periodically someone walks up and asks about the class that is about to start. It always surprises me the number of people who choose not to attend the class at all, or choose not to come back because it was too hard. Time after time, instructors advise how to modify a movement or the appropriate level of weight for beginners. The point is, just get started. You may not be able to do everything that day, but if you stick to it, you eventually will.
Doing something hard challenges you to get better. It raises the bar on your potential. It makes you think about the possibilities. How are you challenging yourself and your business to get better?