Stuck in 2nd Gear

Are you stuck in 2nd gear?

You know this feeling, pushing hard down on the accelerator while the car is stuck in second gear.  Sure, you can go at full speed, well maybe but only for a short time before the whole engine gives in.  The situation is only sustainable for a short time.  The only solution is to fix the problem - making sure the engine is working properly so it can perform to its maximum potential.

Leading an organisation follows the same philosophy.  By just trying to work harder when all the pieces are not there, you never reach full potential. This results in the team members involved spinning out of control, burning out. As a leader this is not the result you are wanting. You need to review all the elements of the business to check how well they are tuned, are all the right parts available, in the right place.  Do your teams have the right skill sets, equipment?  Have they got the ability to improve their processes, to fix the problems, be allowed to solve firefighting issues.  

The temptation is to jump in and help the team solve the problems.  Sometimes you feel helpless as you might not have the knowledge to support the team. It's ok not to have all the answers. Draw on the knowledge and experience of the wider team.  Occasionally, just like we do with our cars, we get external help to give it the once over, service it and make sure we know how to maintain it better. Seek advice, talk to people, other owners, advisors.

The aim is to have a smooth running machine, being the most efficient it can be while still doing the job it's asked to do.  Again, businesses are the same.  Information, products, services need to run smoothly, all the parts working in sync to achieve optimal results. This is the ultimate goal, one that might take years to achieve - if ever. Strive for perfection and achieve excellence - it may be a cliche, but it is still relevant.

So what? It’s great to talk about all of these aspects, but where do you start?  Do you just stand back and throw all of these issues in the air and start with the one you catch?  Actually, that would be OK.  Just starting is often the biggest hurdle many business leaders face.  Having the confidence to stop the daily grind, and solving the first problem. Everyone is busy, should you stop that momentum? After all what is happening might be great work - everyone is busy, so that is a great thing. Right?

The challenge is asking if all that activity is heading the organisation towards the same objective! Is the effort being put into the work equivalent to the output or the results? Probably not.

So it is all about aligning that effort so everything that is done is progressing the business. That is why I alway encourage organisations to start with redefining the purpose.  Yep, I understand you may have a well written mission statement and set of values.  The leadership may have crafted a wonderful business plan a few months ago.  But what does all of this mean to the wider team?  Have they had the opportunity to translate that to the work they do every day?

Creating the single purpose helps engagement, clarity and decision making.

Engagement is critical - if your team is engaged and understands how they can positively contribute to the success of the organisation, there is already a 20% productivity benefit. Then there is the benefit of transparent decision making. If everyone understands the purpose, the objective, then decisions based on this becomes clear, understandable and respected.

Now you are ready to tune that engine, Lean Thinking takes a continuous improvement focus.  Each improvement reduces the ‘waste’ in a process, eliminating those frustrations that occur each day.  Once you allow employees to ‘see and fix’ the issues, there will be more opportunities than time available.  Brilliant, just prioritise them, use the purpose as the first filter in decision making.  Each time an improvement is made the engine is tuned just a fraction more. Over time it will be that motor humming so sweetly, the one that turns heads, the one that everyone walks up to admire when pulling into a parking lot.

This all started with clarity of the purpose and enabling your team to make improvements towards that vision.  Simple and uncomplicated.


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