Is your organization running on all cylinders? Is your organization capable of running on all cylinders? You may be getting the most out of your current infrastructure, but is you organization’s capability optimized, set up to produce 100%? An inefficient organization will never reach full capability or capacity. Don’t confuse inefficiency with under-capacity. When a cup is only half full, this represents under-capacity, not utilizing everything that’s available. However, if you picture a paper cup being squeezed such that it can’t hold as much as it once did, this represents inefficiency. An inefficient organization will never reach its full capability or capacity, it is not possible as some of their potential is being squeezed right out of them. When an organization has learned to yield its maximum potential, we can call this the “optimized organization”.
Are you in need of a corporate “tune up”, are all of your organization’s cylinders firing but you’re just not getting full power? Maybe suboptimal performance, processes and/or behaviors are holding you back. Let’s consider your organization’s weaknesses. I’ve always said a home builder is only as good as his worst contractor. Every contractor plays such an important role in the building of a house that one bad contractor can ruin your whole reputation, and in home-building, reputation is everything. This is the weakest link concept, “only as strong as your weakest link”. An offensive line in football is much the same where one weakness can be exploited by the defense and can overshadow the other stronger linemen. Have you identified your weakest links and ensured that you are leveraging their strengths and not exploiting their weaknesses? In the book, “First, Break all the Rules”, authors Buckingham and Coffman say you shouldn’t try to change or improve people’s faults, instead you should focus on their natural strengths. Through proper resource utilization, you can minimize the weak links in your organization.
Once you have your people in the right roles, how do you optimize even more? The concept of synergy, the sum of two parts being greater than the whole, is a big factor when looking at optimized efficiency. When you have a micromanaging environment, where 2 or more people are focused on the same task, the output is very often less than the whole. When you set your people loose, you can truly achieve a synergistic effect as an empowering environment and culture creates a synergistic effect. In most assembly line style manufacturing environments, the line workers are told to optimize the process they’ve been given. In empowered environments, not only are they optimizing the process they’ve been given, they are also always looking for ways to improve the process, “expand the cup”. There are many documented cases from automotive assembly lines where the line workers had the best ideas for improvement but in most cases, they were never asked. In the cases where their opinions were sought, amazing improvements were often the result. So by making continuous improvement everyone’s responsibility, you create a synergistic effect by getting more out of each and every employee.
Why are processes suboptimal in the first place, why didn’t we just get it right the first time? There’s a story of a young mother cooking a roast for guests and before she puts it in the pan, she cuts a portion of each end off the roast. When one of the guest inquires into the genesis of this unique chef’s secret, the mother replies, “well, that’s just the way my mother always did it”. The reality is that her mother’s roasting pan was too narrow for most roasts, so she had to cut it to get it to fit into the pan! Many organizations today operate under this same mantra, “that’s just the way we’ve always done it”. Well, has anyone stepped back and asked why we’re doing it this way? The status quo may have worked at one point, but as markets, resources and priorities change, you have to change your processes too, organizations must focus on “continuous improvement” to ensure that they are always optimized for the best performance.
Yogi Bera once said, “We’re lost, but we’re making good time!”. You may think you’re making good progress, but are you certain you’re “not” taking the long way? You may feel like you’re doing the best you can and when you’ve finally topped off that cup, it may appear that you’ve succeeded, but then you take a step back and realize that you could be expanding your capability and getting more into that cup after all. This is what separates good organizations from great ones, the latter make “continuous improvement” a habit and are always looking for new ways to expand the cup. So if you want to keep your organization in its peak working condition, always look for opportunities for that next tune up!
The mind, at the risk of sounding cliche, is truly a powerful thing. The power of persuasion by your mind, whether it’s internally or externally initiated, is truly fascinating! One of my favorite TED talks is Dan Gilbert’s lecture on happiness, where he reveals the mind’s amazing ability to rationalize any situation. He reveals a surprising slide that shows equal rates of satisfaction between lottery winners and paraplegics. Dan explains that when presented with a situation that can’t be changed, the mind has the ability to not just merely adapt to, but to actually accept the situation as for the best.
A simple but interesting example from my own life occurred when I left the Navy and started my career with IBM. My first 6 months was to be spent at a training site in Michigan with about 25 other new hires. Since most of us lived in other states, I agreed to share an apartment with a colleague. When we were informed by our chosen apartment complex that the only apartment available didn’t have a dishwasher, we were at first disappointed (who wants to do dishes!), but eventually convinced ourselves that this would be just fine. As it turned out, not only did we manage to rationalize the lack of this little luxury to the point of satisfaction with the situation, but our minds had truly fooled us. You see, we lived in this apartment for a full 6 weeks, scrubbing away at those dishes, only when the sink could be heard calling mercy, before I noticed an appliance in our kitchen that looked amazingly like a dishwasher! Yes, we were dumbfounded for a few moments, wondering why we didn’t notice it earlier. The mind is a powerful thing!
So how do these head games apply to leadership and management? Motivation can be both internal (a self motivated individual) or external, as from a management perspective, where the genesis is typically purely external. Just as we can convince ourselves that we’ll be better off without that dishwasher, a good manager can motivate someone to believe they can do better, or in the negative case, to believe that they are a failure or worthless. Some minds are strong enough to overcome negative input and actually turn it into a powerful self motivator. External motivation can come in many forms including competition, peer pressure, fear and even from a simple motivational poster.
I mentioned before the mind’s ability to self persuade, both from internal and external sources. Some of the best examples of internally generated self motivation are from the sports world. Examples such as Babe Ruth’s called home run in the fifth inning of Game 3 of the 1932 World Series. Or Tim Tebow’s emotional declaration in 2008 that he would push himself and his team to play harder than any other in the country, after a shocking early season loss, only to convincingly run the table and win the National Title. These are cases where individuals were able to convince themselves of the possible, not that they willed it to happen, but they significantly increased their odds by believing that it would happen.
The skillful ability to motivate yourself or someone else to achieve a goal, or to some level of achievement, is only eclipsed by a great leader’s ability to inspire someone from within. Inspiration actually creates the desire (or want) to achieve from within where motivation convinces an individual that they should do something. When you walk out of a inspirational movie, you want to go do something great, not because the movie or actors told you to, but because the story inspired you from within to want to do so. A great leader has this ability to make you want to do something without actually having to specifically direct you.
Leaders have the ability to inspire, generating your own internal motivators, whereas managers motivate, creating an external source of direction and cause. So whether you consider yourself a leader, a manager, or a follower (the reality is everyone has the chance to be all of the above at one time or another), be aware that your actions, words and thoughts have great influence on not only others, but yourself as well. This video clip is a simple example that demonstrates this with a coaches ability to motivate a player, a player’s ability to inspire his team, and the mind’s ability to fool oneself to accomplish something that was previously thought impossible. Remember, when it comes to persuasion of one’s mind, everyone has their head in the game!
On a recent back roads trip to visit a remote customer, I decided to use my trusty GPS system for guidance. There I was, cruising comfortably along, assuming that I had set the GPS up correctly and entered the right address for a successful journey. Then, out of the blue my friendly on-board computer says, “In four hundred yards, continue straight”. Interesting that this machine just wanted to assure me that I was still pointed in the right direction. I really hadn’t received any directional instructions in a while, so quite frankly, I was beginning to wonder if I was still on the right track. It really was rather reassuring to have that interim positive update!
In general, giving consistent feedback is a good philosophy to follow, and unlike the typical back seat driver, the goal here is to focus more on positive feedback. In any organization, whether you’re dealing with your lower performers or your number one star, everyone needs a nod now and then to know when they’re on the right track. It is often believed that your superstars don’t need as much attention, that they’re self motivated. Everyone benefits from motivation and recognition, even your best performers. A perfect example is a star athlete or even a renowned scholar who has always performed at the highest levels and succeeded above most others. Even with a rich history of success and accolades, the one thing at the top of their mind is will they be tapped for the highest recognition. In the case of the star athlete, it’s probably the hall of fame for their sport, and for the renowned scholar, it could be the Nobel prize. So you can see, even your most talented employees are most likely still wondering if they’re fully appreciated.
Furthermore, recognition shouldn’t be reserved for the elite few. We should never assume that someone knows they’re doing a good job and knows they’re appreciated, that is the quickest way to accomplish just the opposite. If your goal is to keep everyone engaged and in the game, they have to know that their work matters, and their good work matters even more. There are many ways to recognize everyone’s solid work or positive outcomes, and even a simple mention of an accomplishment at a team meeting will go a long way. As long as your recognition is justified, and also selective enough as to not be overdone, it will continue to be a very effective motivational tool. So go ahead and and be that back seat driver, just remember that even your best drivers will appreciate hearing from you now and then.
For the past month, the untimely passing of Michael Jackson has dominated the press. I won’t deny that he was a very talented artist, however the cult like worship of him and the fanfare surrounding his funeral is just hard for me to comprehend. My role models are my father, veterans and heroes of American wars past and present, inventors and entrepreneurs, our founding fathers, selfless public servants, you get the idea. Sure there are artists (musicians, actors and actresses) that I enjoy and athletes that I admire, but I see them as people, just like you and me, who happen to have a unique talent. On the other hand, it’s those people who use their talents to change the world, protect our freedoms, and truly make a difference who are the true heroes worthy of fanatical worship ( I am not necessarily suggesting we should worship them, just that they are worthy!). If we held public servants and teachers in higher regard, and publicly supported our soldiers as much as we do our favorite artists and athletes, this world would be a much better place. The overzealous infatuation with the stars of the media is not an intellectually healthy pastime. It is fine to be passionate about an artist or athlete (I know many who are big fans of Michael Jackson), however when this passion comes at the expense of engaging in healthy obsessions, then it becomes counterproductive to society. It is healthy obsessions that have produced this country’s great innovations and companies, artists and athletes, and the reason many still go into public service with a passion to help others. Yes, I included artists and athletes. These are great vocational choices, and they do provide a service to society, but it’s obviously better to aspire to be one rather than excessively idolize one.
On the subject of star athletes, who have really become larger than life in recent years, there’s been plenty of press lately due to huge off season multimillion dollar contract signings. Now, I believe in free market capitalism and I also understand the supply and demand economics of pro sports. As long as people are willing to shell out big money to watch the games, and support their teams, then the sports leagues can justify the big salaries. The fundamental anomaly I see however, is with the food chain, the circle of life for a pro athlete so to speak. Our school districts across this nation are struggling to fund their budgets and in some cases canceling sports programs, and yet there is a seemingly continuous flow of millions into our pro sports teams. If you think about it, school is basically the initial training ground for pro athletes (both intellectually and physically). It seems a little ironic and self defeating that we would allow our schools to suffer, jeopardizing the very core of youth development, all while applauding the bigger and bigger contracts when we land that star player on our team. Neglecting the very source of today’s treasured sports heroes presents somewhat of a paradox. This would be like fishing a lake dry only to realize that there are no fish left to repopulate the lake. Please note, as a fiscal conservative, I am not suggesting that we over tax pro athletes and owners so we can fund our schools. I am only pointing out the moral conundrum that this presents.
My goal is to put a little perspective around priorities today and give us something to think about. If you’re reading this, you probably already agree with most of what I’ve said here, but unfortunately, much of society doesn’t quite get it and the media’s untiring coverage of celebrities and athletes only fuels the fire. Not so long ago, our heroes included astronauts, soldiers, scientists and explorers and our values were much more grounded. I’d hate to see this spirit fade away and become mere ghosts to that of the (less deserving) modern day media heroes. That is why it’s vital that we exercise the personal leadership to keep the focus on the right priorities (and maybe the media will follow, someday). Thank a veteran, hug a nurse, teach history, coach a youth team, invent something, drop off cookies at the fire station, volunteer with Junior Achievement, go to the school bake sale, support your PTA, learn an instrument, run for your school board, and of course, call you dad. The bottom line is never lose sight of the people and values that should really be at the top of our list. By keeping our priorities in check and personally investing in each other, we will sow the seeds for a fundamentally better tomorrow.
The United States of America is celebrating its 233 birthday this July 4th. To understand fully how truly young our country is, let me provide a little perspective. Most are aware that the vast majority of other countries and civilizations have existed for thousands of years, with the oldest civilizations dating to about 10,000 years old or so. This by itself makes The United States seem like an infant on this earth, but also consider how long some of the great ancient world powers existed. The Persian Empire ruled the ancient world for about the same amount of time that we’ve been a country. The (Western) Roman Empire ruled for over 500 years and the Eastern Roman Empire (The Byzantine Empire) existed for over 1000 years. The British Empire was the dominant world power off and on for about 300 years. So not only are we far younger than just about every other country by a long shot, there have been numerous empires whose rule lasted longer than The U.S. has existed.
In our short 233 year history we have gained our independence, survived a civil war, settled 50 states, contributed to victories in 2 world wars, and sent a man to the moon. In the days leading up to America’s birth in 1776, under the leadership of our founding fathers, all 13 of the original colonies unanimously signed the declaration penned by Thomas Jefferson. This Virginian was chosen deliberately to ensure we had the vital support of the South in our quest for independence. The differing relations between the North and South continued for many years, leading us into a Civil War in 1861. Although this was the deadliest war in U.S. history, under the leadership of Abraham Lincoln, it effectively ended slavery and created an even stronger Union that would go on to become a world superpower. Between 1917 and 1918, after joining the Allied Powers in WWI, The U.S. was able to mobilize 1,300,000 troops to Europe in just over a year, and at its peak was sending 10,000 fresh troops a day to France, all by ship. This rapid mobilization caught the enemy unprepared for America’s involvement and was key in our ability to turn the tide of the war . Just over 20 years later, after losing nearly all of our battleships in the December 7, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor, we entered and fought a war on 2 fronts (Europe and The Pacific), and against all odds, The U.S. helped defeat The Axis Powers. I deliberately used the words “helped defeat” when describing the outcome. You see, it is true The U.S. sacrificed about 400,000 lives in the war, however, in contrast, our ally the Soviet Union lost over 25,000,000 (civilian and military).
Our population’s growth has been unprecedented. Shortly after our country was born at the turn of the century, our population was just over 3 Million. Today, about 10 generations later, our population is estimated to be over 300 Million. To accommodate America’s rapidly growing population, a celebrated General from WWII, President Dwight D. Eisenhower, launched what has become the largest system of highways in the world. From 1956 to 1993, 42,000 miles of Interstate Highways were built connecting all corners of America, enough to circle the earth just about twice. Finally, also this July, we will celebrate the 40th anniversary of the 1969 Apollo mission which magnificently achieved John F. Kennedy’s goal of putting the first man on the moon. When Neil Armstrong announced, “The Eagle Has Landed”, it was revealed that the lunar module only had 17 secs of landing fuel left, a miraculous event that was only seconds away from disaster! Over the next 3 years, we would send 5 more manned missions to the moon. The United States is still the only country to have flown a man to the surface of the moon.
Over the course of our history, The United States produced the following inventions: Bifocals, Refrigeration, The Telegraph, The Revolver, The Combine, The Printing Press, The Potato Chip (Yum!), The Motorcycle, The Game of Baseball, The Vacuum Cleaner, The Fire Hydrant, The Phonograph, The Fountain Pen, The Skyscraper, The Escalator, The Tractor, Cotton Candy, Air Conditioning, The Hearing Aid, The Bulldozer, Sunglasses and who can forget, The Wright Brothers famous Airplane. The list could go on and on with modern day technological inventions, but you get the idea, The United States is truly the land of opportunity where your only limits are the boundaries of your imagination.
If you are fortunate enough to be a part of this great democracy, as a citizen or as a guest, I hope you recognize and appreciate all of the rich history and amazing gifts that America has to offer. In her brief 233 years, she has accomplished so much and we should feel pride every day. America is rightfully named “The Land of Opportunity”, and it should be clear, if you put your mind to it, anything, and I mean anything, is possible. Happy Birthday America!