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How Do We Get Better?

November 10, 2015

How do we get better?

We are always under pressure to get better but when faced with this question, most of us become introspective.  We look at ourselves and try to find the little things we can improve immediately to be better.  This is good and does provide some small incremental efficiencies, but we need to look at the question differently so that it can have a greater impact.

How do WE get better?

Individual and incremental improvements will always be worthwhile, but to really generate recognizable change requires that we refocus on two key parameters – scope and time, or who and when.

The who part of this requires that we look at our co-workers and well as our partners and customers.  Internally, we need to consider what do we need from our co-workers and associates and what do they need from each of us?  Consider an eight person crew team in their shell on a river, if one person starts to row harder it will actually slow the boat down since the team will not be in sync.  At the same time, if all eight rowers are moving in perfect harmony, an easy stroke will quickly outpace that other boat.

The same is true for our company.  We need to be a team and we all need to perform in harmony.  As individuals, we need to think of the bigger picture in terms of what we need from others and what we must provide to others in order to perform better.  Then, our managers must all realize that they are key to coordinating between teams.

Imagine an orchestra that was told to play Beethoven’s 5th Symphony without a conductor on the podium.  Some instruments would start playing first and others would join and eventually it would sound like a somewhat choppy version of what Beethoven wrote.  But with the conductor in place to lead, they play a masterpiece.  That is the role of the leaders throughout our organization.

So, what about our partners and customers?

Consider that we can certainly ask them what they want and work internally to deliver that solution, but then we will always be stuck in today and reacting to immediate needs.  We need to unleash our experience and expertise to lead our partners and customers into tomorrow, rather than just satisfying immediate needs.

I once learned from a customer that the relationship between a customer and a vendor has three levels.  He said:

  1. If you do everything you say you will do, I won’t sue you.
  2. If you improve my systems and products, I will renew your contract.
  3. If you help me expand and gain new business, I will refer you to other companies.

By contract we have to do everything we say we will do, but our real goal is #3.  And that means we need to not just do what we say we will or what they ask for, rather we need to utilize our collective creative skills, experience and expertise to do something really new and different.

This brings us to the other element of what it takes to be better – Time.  It is very easy to get lost in the immediate, day to day trivia and issues, so that we suddenly find ourselves behind and struggling to keep up.  This makes us always focus on today and we never have time to look into the future to find that illusive “new and different” something that will make a true change for ourselves, our partners and our customers.  Solving the daily issues never goes away, but we all still need to stop every once in a while and step back to look at where we are today and consider where we want to be in five years.

Everything will be very different in five years.  It sounds like a long time out, but the reality is that change is happening so fast that it is nearly impossible to keep up.  The only hope is to get ahead of it and become part of those who will create the future, rather than the ones who will react to it.  Look at your partners and customers and, knowing where they are today, think (or dream) about what their world will look like five years out.  Who will their competitors be, what new technologies will disrupt what they do today.  Share your thoughts with others and be prepared to take some risks in defining something that does not exist yet.  Thinking about today is already old.  We all need to picture what the world will look like in the future and start building it now.

Then we will truly by BETTER.

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