self correcting problems

Self-correcting problems

Summer came late to the Pacific Northwest. That long cool, rainy season meant late planting for tomatoes. And I figured that meant smaller vines and fewer tomatoes. Was I wrong! Somehow, the vines knew it was going to be a shorter season and grew fast and produced a ton of tomatoes. They caught up.

The same happens in business. When teams know what to do, they see the setbacks and find a way to catch up. The trick is designing teams that have the skills to recognize and address problems along the way.  And making sure they have the resources to do what they need to do.

building and changing directions

Building and changing directions

The county has started developing a community park. The plot of land had a house and a barn. To my surprise, it only took a day to completely demolish the house and another day to remove the slab and haul away the debris. In contrast, right next to what will be the park, a house is being built. Based on the pace, it will probably be at least two months to complete.

Two months to build. Two days to remove.

There is nothing like physically watching things being built and torn down to remind us of how long it takes to create something new. And how fast a decision to change direction can happen.

change isn't always good

Are businesses ceding customers to third parties?

A lot has changed through the pandemic. And as a result, many implemented new systems to serve the customer better.  In some cases, those systems introduced a third party between the business and the customer, who now controls a significant portion of the experience. And doesn’t allow for purchasing or making reservations a guest, without a profile being completed.

At some point, “you may like this” recommendations may be made to the customer. Will that lead them elsewhere? Is having a third party controlling the experience (and collecting their data across a range of companies) better for the business or the third party? And does that system make life better or worse for the customer?

how effectively are you setting boundaries?

How effectively are you setting boundaries?

The pedestrian entrance to the local university is flanked by one house on each side. As you can imagine, people like to park there and walk onto the university. All year long, a truck has been parked in front of one of the houses, with cones blocking off the rest of the curb space. The owner of the house set a clear boundary that they don’t want people parking there. And no-one has disturbed the space.

We talk about a lot of things in business, but boundaries don’t come up as often as they should. When done well, boundaries set the basis for what is appropriate and what isn’t in how people interact with each other. And when they are made explicit, people understand the expectations, leading to lower levels of conflict and stronger relationships.

How effectively are you setting boundaries?

fear of missing out


My dog enjoys sitting outside on the deck. But there are times she opens the door to see what is going on inside. After a game of her opening the door and me closing it, she will finally decide where she wants to be. Her preference would be to leave the door open so she can go back and forth. She might miss something.

At work, there’s a lot that happens that people don’t want to miss. A meeting where something important is discussed. A project that will have a big impact on the company. Job openings. People want to know what is going on in places they can’t see. They don’t want to miss out. How are you creating the conditions so people don’t feel like they are missing out?

change isn't always good

Are you still doing things that are no longer necessary?

The local wooded park has standing water in places. And that means mosquitos. They love me, but I don’t care to be bitten. So, my ritual has been to hop out of my car and apply mosquito spray. Until one day, I realized the temperature had been well below the point where mosquitos are active for some time. I had been applying mosquito spray out of habit, not because it was necessary.

The same happens in business. We continue to do things out of habit that may no longer be necessary. It takes periodically, deliberately examining work being done to determine if it continues to be necessary. Are you still doing things that are no longer necessary?

what signals do you have to adjust behavior?

What signals do you have in your business to get people to adjust their behavior?

There’s a pedestrian crossing at the bottom of a hill where cars speed by. Recently, the city put in solar powered speed signs that warn people when they are going to fast. And they are doing the job! As soon as they went in, people started slowing down when the sign started flashing “slow.”

Signals that bring focus to behavior that is not in line with expectations are powerful. What signals do you have in your business to get people to adjust their behavior?

how far should it bend before being replaced

How far should it bend before being replaced so it doesn’t break?

Every day about noon, the wind picks up and blows pretty aggressively. On one particular street, the daily gusts have shaped the trees so they are permanently bent sideways from the wind. And in the morning, seeing the trees with their sideway lean causes one to wonder if a different landscape design would have been chosen if the designer knew this would be the outcome.

The same sorts of bending of organizations happens all the time to accommodate the daily flow of business. And eventually, the bending becomes permanent. The question is, do you leave something in place that is not designed to work that way, but has adapted as best it could? Or, do you remove it and put something more functional in its place?

failure vs learning

How are you scheduling important things in your business?

Friday. For many people, it is the day to wrap up work and get ready for the weekend. Often times, brain power and focus start to drop off. Thoughts start drifting toward how time will be spent over the weekend. And that’s why I was so surprised to see a company scheduling important training on Fridays. Not only is attention waning, but people had no opportunity to implement what they learned before time off, leading to a high probability the learning will be lost.

Important stuff should be prioritized earlier in the week. Not first thing on Monday, because people won’t be able to focus if they have a pile of work that needs to be cleared. Tuesday or Wednesday is best because people are fresh, ideas can be implemented and people can clear their desk before leaving for the weekend.

How are you scheduling important things in your business?

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?