BY Glen Edward Quiring
Excellence is not an aspiration. It is the next five minutes. - Peters #organizationalhealth #excellence #vitality
Don't wait for excellence.
Business and Organizations alike can often feel the press of needing to raise the bar as they provide goods as services. It always feels urgent. Soon after a long winded discussion, the urgency abates and everything is "back to normal".
I am convinced this is because excellence quickly becomes abstract. The conversation inevitably moves to "if we would only do THIS thing, or THAT thing. . . ".
I can't account for why this happens but it does. The only solution for such behavior I believe is found in Peter's quote above. Excellence needs to move from a topic of discussion to the way we operate day in and day out. Excellence isn't an idea. It is a verb the impacts our strategies AND our operations.
Try this. Next time your staff begins to talk about how things "should" be done in the future stop the conversation and rearrange your meeting agenda so excellence can have it's way in the current meeting. This essentially means giving up long winded dialogues about "what we should do" in favor of what we will implement right now in the moment followed by a promise (at least an action item for the next meeting ) to measure results and followup on its impact.
Excellence can have an impact on your staff. Just don't wait for it. Just do it.
Tradition and change are strange bedfellows.
Traditions are everywhere: families have traditions, schools have traditions, churches and corporations have traditions. People worship, teachers educate, governors govern.
Traditions acknowledge our accomplishments (educational). Traditions spark our imagination (vision). Traditions foster confidence. Traditions seep into the most mundane of our daily routines. To put it simply, tradition(s) adds value to our lives.
But tradition is also a double agent, an evil genius, if you will. It can spark imagination, but it can also snuff it out. It can foster confidence but it can undermine initiative. Tradition can express meaning through shared beliefs or create mundane events that isolate our understanding. When it adds value, everybody loves it. When it becomes Dr. Evil, everyone despises it.
Tradition(s) grows out of formative life stories. Most people love a tradition because they know the story that gives life to it. Remember when Hewlett Packard merged with Compaq? This was a battle of narratives: HP employees and board members knew change was imminent. How? They told and retold the HP story, the Hewlett Packard Way which served as a guiding force to its corporate mission, vision, and values. A merger with Compaq would mean a loss of this fundamental narrative.
Alas, all traditions, it seems to me, have a limited life cycle. This means that at some point tradition gives way to change.
Leaders know the value of change. But they also must also respect tradition. To Lead, consult, and manage change we must become experts at uncovering the narratives that spawned the tradition. When we understand this narrative we are then equipped to provide a new narrative; a narrative that respects the past, but fashions and tells a new vision that inspires new processes, new activities, new "traditions".
To be a great leader, respect tradition while making room for change. Really, the bed is beg enough for both. And in point of fact, one can't exist without the other.
Achieving vitality sometimes is more art than science. On the other hand, sometimes a simple list is enough to get us going down the right path.
Here is today's top five items to foster vitality in your leadership or business:
1. Be willing to fail.
2. Always be planning new experiments.
3. Always be learning.
4. Work at imagination.
5. Engage in activities that renew your strength and motivation.
A customer ALWAYS expects an encounter with your business or organization to be pleasant.
Last month I ate at a restaurant in Albuquerque NM. The restaurant came highly recommended by a hotel attendant.
When I arrived there was no host to greet me. A waitress cruised by and motioned that I should follow her. In just a few minutes a different waitress dropped a menu on the table and zoomed off. I was able to order my meal ten minutes later, The food came promptly and was good (not great).
Would I return to this restaurant? No. Sure, I received a meal which gave me energy for the evening. Beyond that however, I didn't have a great experience. What would have made the difference in this case? A simple, honest, authentic personal greeting. Essentially, I was treated as a unit on an assembly line. But what I wanted - in addition to a good meal -- was to be received as if I were actually welcome.
Regardless of who they are, customers always want to be welcome.
Always give your customers a simple, personal friendly greeting. It will set the tone for their entire experience. It will facilitate repeat business and it will generate a loads of good will as they share their experience with others.
I recently traveled from California to Missouri and then back again. My family and I frequented restaurants, rest stops, gas stations, hotels, gift shops. Without exception, what caused us to think highly of any particular visit was our hosts attention to details designed to make our visit "nice".
Organizational strategy is a key component in vitality. Never emphasize strategy, however, at the expense of the details. Every tiny detail creates a positive experience for your guests. Every positive experience translates into a larger fan base.
Strategies are critical in war. But the battles are won with masterful handling of the details. So, invest today in the little things. It will have huge payoffs tomorrow.
It was 7:00a.m. Paul liked to arrive to work before the other staff. He wanted to set a good example for the other family members and staff.
As he sat in his office working on his working to-do list, there was a knock at his office door. He sighed and paused a moment. "I thought the door was unlocked?" Paul looked up from his neat papers and noticed that the second eldest was already making his way across the office toward his desk.
The "Vision" Guy
"Good morning," said Paul. "What brings you in early?"
"Well, Paul I wanted to talk about our situation. I really had a hard time sleeping. I'd like to review some of my mid-night thoughts?"
Paul wave his hand, gesturing him to sit down.
"With all due respect, I think you need to come up with a vision for the store and communicate that clearly and often." People need a strong vision. People need to feel like the store is going somewhere.
"I see," said Paul. "You don't believe we have that now?" Paul asked in as curious a voice as he could. He knew the vision and mission statement by rote. He thought all the staff knew the the vision of the store.
The second eldest shifted in his seat. "Yes, well, we do have a vision and mission. But we need you to champion the cause consistently and regularly."
Again, Paul cut in, "So, we have a vision, but you don't think I talk about it enough. Is that it?"
The second eldest shift in his seat again. "Well, yeah, the staff relies on you. When we meet for weekly staff meetings, sometimes the meeting just seems to flounder. It's like we don't know to what end we are working", said the second eldest.
The room got quiet. Paul broke the silence, "Hey, thanks for coming in to speak your mind. I can see you feel strongly about it. I have another meeting to get to, so let's pick this up later okay?"
The second eldest shrank a bit in his chair and then lept to his feet. "Okay, later then." The second eldest turned around and walked out of the office staring at the floor.
Its a "matter of Integrity" Guy
It was just after lunch that the youngest family member popped in. He bounded into Paul's office. "Do you have a minute?" said the youngest.
"Sure I do", said Paul. "You know I have an open door policy. You are always welcome."
"Well, I've been thinking about our situation. I think our problem is that we need to stand firm in our product integrity. What I mean is that Mom and Pop created these formulas and though there is pressure to adjust the formula, I don't think we should do that. Mom and Pop gave us these jobs -- they wanted us to carry the formula to the next generation. I think we need to be absolutely faithful as we do that. We can't capitulate to pressure to change it. The integrity of the recipe is really why we are here! I mean, really, the quality of our formula speaks for itself. The product sells itself", the youngest exclaimed with some urgency." Paul remembered the youngest had made this point in staff meeting.
"I can see you feel rather strongly about that", said Paul. I will give it some thought. Can we pick this up later?"
Paul peered carefully but strongly at the youngest. The youngest blinked and realized that the conversation was essentially over. "Yeah sure. We'll talk about it later." The youngest turned and walked out of the office.
The "Marketing" Guy
Paul had had a long day. He had reviewed sales reports and inventory levels. Paul's eye's were tired.
Just as the store began to close, Farmer John dashed in. Farmer John was a good customer. He purchased goods nearly every week since Mom and Pop opened the store. As was his routine, John grabbed some rolls and sausage and paid cash to the young lady at the register. As he walked toward the exit he popped his head into Paul's office.
"Hey Paul", said John. "How you doing?"
Paul manufactured a smile. "Hey John, I'm doing well. I've been looking at these sales reports all day. I'm a bit concerned." But Paul was lying through his teeth. He wasn't a bit concerned. He was very concerned and scared and frustrated. Judging from the visitors he had today, it seemed everyone had solutions to the store's dilemma. Everyone but Paul himself.
"Well Paul", said John, "competition is fierce these days. government doesn't make it easy to do business any more. My son just finished his master's degree in business. We were talking about business in a small town. He tells me that all companies need advertising. You've got to advertise and get the word out. That's what your parents did anyways. They always had an ad in weekly Sun."
Paul suppressed the urge to run outside, jump in John's truck and drive right over him. Did John think Paul was a complete idiot? Instead of voicing that out loud, Paul said to Farmer John "I can see you feel rather strongly about that. I will give it some thought. Can we pick this up later?"
Paul laughed about the image of Farmer John all the way home. He sat down on the back porch and lit his old pipe. It was a long time since he fired up some cherry tobacco. He sat there in his lawn chair underneath sparkling stars. It was mostly quiet in this little town. Tonight, all he could hear was the mockingbird singing from the telephone pole and the constant hum of his pool pump. He sat in silence as the voices of his three visitors bounced around in his head. Vision, integrity, marketing: Paul's visitors had highlighted important business tactics.
But there was something seemed odd about the visits. He couldn't quite put his finger on the what made him so uneasy.
Paul sighed. It seems everyone was looking to him to fix these new challenges. He took a hit on his pipe. "How can I possibly live up to the expectations of everyone around me?" He exhaled and enjoyed a long, still silence.
Last week my family and I crossed desserts, went through mountain ranges, and cruised through valleys and plains. The diversity from one ecosystem to the next - sometimes within the same state -- was impressive.
I appreciated these diverse geographies. They were new and refreshing. When we returned to California, I realized -- like many others, I think -- that I prefer my home context. I've lived within that context most of my life. I don't think about how I live there, I just do it.
If you operate a business or lead an organization, you too are part of an ecosystem. And, interestingly enough, unlike your personal life, the life of your organization or business is highly dependent on your operating or business plan.
As we meandered through the states, we slept overnight in hotels along the way. In every case, their business plan was obvious. These plans seemed to vacillate between two extremes. On the on hand were hotels generate profit by managing (limiting) expenses -- spend little and maximize revenue. In these hotels we enjoyed complementary breakfasts of powder eggs, bacon which tasted like cardboard, and second rate cereals. On the other end of the spectrum were hotels that lived to create a good experience for their customers. The hallmark of these hotels lie in attention to the details. The swimming pool was clean, the spa was hot, treadmills worked. The staff seemed to go out of their way to provide service and the bacon was really good. For these hotels, each customer was an investment in future revenue.
Regardless of the kind of enterprise -- for profit or not for profit, government, educational or religious -- your success lie in your capacity to identify your context (your ecosystem), foster understanding of that context within your organization, and operate with intention. Work your plan so that it resonates with that context and watch your business thrive.
The walls displayed graffiti, the windows were broken and the doors were all boarded up; it was a scab on an otherwise high functioning corner. Directly across the street was the king of town: gambling, shopping, eating, entertainment. He was a one veritable one stop resort area. Across from it stood his cohorts. Two other well known and high functioning casino resorts.
How does this happen? That is, how can this corner, this worn out old casino and hotel, remain under developed on a prominent corner in the largest gambling city in North America? Better yet, while investors built and rebuilt areas of their gambling resorts, what was happening on this neglected corner?
I don't really know and it would be foolish to assume too much. But it reminded me that vitality in any enterprise is a continuous cycle. A business never "arrives" at success in such a way that continual investment isn't viable.
All ecosystems - regardless of their nature - have a cycle of renewal. When renewal and growth cease to function, the ecosystem breaks down, the life cycle ceases.
What will you invest in today?
The meeting had adjourned. Abruptly. The children and staff returned to their work stations with a uneasy feeling in their gut. The hard questions were left sitting on the table -- a sustainable future seemed out of reach. The staff longed for a vision that would inspire them, encourage them, empower them to work together. They couldn't say this, but they longed for the synergy that Mom and Pop once brought to the store.
Paul was the oldest. He returned to his office. He sat behind his over-sized maple desk. On the wall behind his desk hung his MBA and certifications from the Management association. On the desk sat piles of papers and books neatly stacked. In the middle of the desk lie a to-do list with items struck through in proper order.
He was anxious. Over the years, running the store was like the change in seasons; one always knew what was coming next: orders for goods and services occurred with regularity, deliveries happened without fail, staff did their job without supervision. It was a well oiled machine.
Or at least it used to be.
The Store faced new challenges. It's brand was tarnished. Sales were slumping and the staff were anxious. Uncertainly hung in the air like the thick winter fog. That staff meeting left Paul's mind racing, his heart pumping, and his face flushed. He sat alone in the quiet of his office and let out a big sigh. Staring into empty space he murmured to himself, "When did this get so complicated?"
"The product sells itself," said the youngest in the family. "If only that were true", mused Paul. When the Store was the only store in town selling product, perhaps that was true. Today, however, stores have popped up all over town. Oh sure, the Mom and Pop store still had the "true product" that was the signature of the store. But other stores sold variations on their products and each had achieved some success doing so.
The more Paul thought about their dilemma, the more difficult it felt. Reputation, sales, competition: these were only the touchstones of what he feared might be the real challenge facing the Store.
The Store, Chapter Two
The weekly meeting
The Schroeder children inherited the quaint little store in the quaint little town.
As was the routine when Mom and Pop were alive, the store staff gathered weekly to discuss operational issues. These meetings were mostly routine.
As the children gathered on this Tuesday morning a new hire of the store -- not related to the family -- spoke out with uncharacteristic authenticity. "Excuse me for saying so, but I was getting my hair cut last week. As I chatted with the folks there in the salon, it seemed that our store has an unfortunate image problem. People in the salon seemed to think that our product was expensive. But they also said that our store was snobby and that it exists only for upper class clients.
The second oldest of the children chimed in, "Yeah, its true, we have a bit of an unsavory reputation in the community. But really, what does it matter? Our product is the best around. We make our product just like Mom and Pop made it. It is as good now, as it was then. It sells itself, doesn't it?"
The new hire chimed in again. "Perhaps many locals don't really know us. Why don't we push some info out into the community? You know, do a public relations campaign. Maybe in the process we could uncover what are the needs of our neighbors?" This seemed to set off a round of murmuring while some around the table nodded in agreement.
The eldest spoke up now, "the best public relations method is to build meaningful relationships," he said energetically. Sure, we need to focus. Yes, we need to keep up the integrity and quality of our product. But its all about relationships."
The room went awkwardly quiet.
Just then, Mom and Pop's youngest joined the conversation. "I don't quite get that. I mean, we are all nice people around this table. Right? Each of us has a cadre of relationships that we nurture. If good public relations occur through personal relationships, why are we not loved in the community? If all we need to do is to keep doing what we doing (in the name of good relationships) how will we ever turn our current reputation on its head?"
He turned to the second eldest. "Furthermore and with all due respect" he continued, "products don't actually sell themselves. If this were the case, our product would be flying off the shelf. But that is not our current state of affairs is it? We started this conversation about our reputation but perhaps this topic dovetails with another pressing issue; namely, the current stagnation in sales. Our sales have really waned over the last couple of years."
"Well" said the eldest, "I see that our time is up. Let's review the items we need to order for next week and be dismissed."
And so, the weekly meeting ended precisely on time. Just as it did when Mom and Pop were running the store.
www.getvitality.org by Glen Edward Quiring is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
Based on a work at www.getvitality.org.