The Multiplier Effect – Just One Drop

Ruthless consistency is in the details. Very small things, done right many times, can have a massive effect.

They discovered this at a GE plant where the phosphorous coating is applied to fluorescent light bulbs. After the coating is applied the suspended light bulbs are moved through a drying system. And because phosphorous is expensive, a trough system catches the drops of phosphorous that fall throughout the drying process.

But it turned out that at this plant the trough system wasn’t quite long enough to catch the very last drop of falling phosphorous. One drop. No big deal, right?

Think again. By extending the trough system to catch that last drop, the plant saved … can you guess? … over $150,000 per year. This is what I call the multiplier effect. Very small things, multiplied over a large number of instances, can have a huge impact. 

Where does that multiplier effect come into play in your business? Where can you and your people find that one drop?

Your thoughts?


Are We Making Progress?

You know that in most cases money isn’t what gets your people jacked up. In fact, money is a very limited motivator. It’s well established that the intrinsic motivators – clear goals, recognition, making progress, a supportive environment – are much more robust. But which one has the most impact?

Most managers rate “recognition for good work” as the number one motivator. Rings true, doesn’t it? The only problem is … it isn’t. “Making progress” is. When your people sense they’re making progress at their work, their drive to succeed is at its peak. They feel an emotional high. And when they can’t make progress because of obstacles – within the organization or outside of it – their drive gives way to helplessness and frustration.

People want to achieve. It makes them feel good about themselves. It makes them feel their work is meaningful. And it makes them feel valuable. Give your people the opportunity to succeed. Remove the obstacles and distractions that keep them from succeeding. And then, yes, remember to recognize them.

Your thoughts?


Climbing the Right Mountain

When I was young and foolish, my buddy Ken and I decided to test our rock-climbing skills on Mt. Cascade in the Canadian Rockies. Having done almost no research we drove to the mountain, picked out a route that looked promising, and began to climb.  Without ropes, of course.

It was all going well. Until it wasn’t. The climbing got increasingly difficult and we realized we were at the limits of our abilities and risk tolerance. Just one problem. We now had to downclimb. Hmmm, hadn’t planned for that.

At one point Ken couldn’t find the next move down and his legs started shaking from fatigue. “I don’t think I can hang on,” he yelled, his voice faltering. This, at the exact moment I was about 20 feet directly below him on the rock face. Which meant if he were to fall, he would crash into me and send us both plummeting off the mountain and into the obituaries section of the annual alpine journal.

Fortunately, Ken was able to steady himself, find the next move, and with considerable anxiety we were able to downclimb to the base. At which point we noticed for the first time the memorial plaques bolted to the rocks for the climbers who had lost their lives there.

The point? It’s easy for you and your team to get jacked up about a goal. Just make sure it’s the right goal. Know your capabilities. Know the risks. Do the research up front. Be clear on why it’s the right goal.

One more thing. Have a strategy for retreat and know when to trigger it. It may keep you out of the obituaries section of the annual business journal.

Your thoughts?


Leading for Speed

Do you have what it takes to successfully create a fast-growing organization?

Take out a pen and draw three horizontal scales from 1 to 7. Resisting the temptation to go easy on yourself, rate yourself on the following questions (1=low, 7=high):

1) How well do I truly learn from mistakes by changing my beliefs, decision-making and actions?

2) To what extent do I surround myself with – not “good”, not “very good” – great people?

3) How persistent am I in strategizing, taking action and making adjustments to achieve results?

These are the three attributes common to CEOs on the Inc. 500 list of fastest growing companies. If your total score is less than 18, then hold a meeting in the mirror and ask, “How do I need to change to help my organization grow?”

Your thoughts?


The Purpose of Purpose

When addressing a class of Stanford grads in 2005, the late Steve Jobs said, “The only way to do great work is to love what you do.”

When researcher Jerry Porras and his colleagues interviewed 200 people around the world who “made a difference” in their fields, what do you think was their common trait? What they do matters deeply to each of them.

Get people whose inherent sense of purpose aligns with the role you’re hiring them for. Or who can discover a sense of purpose in that role. Having a clear and compelling “why” provides the motive force behind the “what” and the “how”.

People who love what they do take initiative, reflect on their work, and continually look for a better way. They are deeply engaged.

That’s the purpose of purpose.

Your thoughts?


Talk – Action = 0

Here’s a formula for you. It’s the motto of D.O.A., a hardcore/punk band: Talk – Action = 0. If you talk about something but don’t take action then it means nothing.

Like the strategic planning charade. All strategy but no execution equals zero results. (It’s actually worse as you’ve squandered time, money and effort.)

This is the touchstone for evaluating every strategy, every project and every initiative: What did I do versus what I said I was going to do? Hold yourself to this exacting standard and you will find that, like all of us, you commit too much in too little time. Your ambitions overtake reality.

Commit to less but do more. Under-promise and over-deliver. It enhances your credibility. D.O.A. has figured this out. Will you?

Your thoughts?


Ruthlessly Consistent and Consistently Irrelevant

It’s one thing to be ruthlessly consistent and another to be consistently relevant. Aligning people, processes, structure and infrastructure with the wrong focus can be very effective … at leading you to failure.

Stuffing your products with even more features doesn’t make sense if what your customers really want is simple (ever see an 80-year-old struggling with a cell phone?). Cutting people to cut costs can be self-defeating if exceptional service is growing your customer base (think Zappos).

So where does the right focus come from? A well-designed strategic management process. Once you’ve got a handle on the competitive landscape, your internal situation, and the larger societal factors that are impacting your business, you can establish your focus. Then align your people, processes, structure and infrastructure.

First comes focus, then consistency. Now you’re relevant … and winning.

Your thoughts?


Yes Silly, Fun IS a Business Strategy

Fortune Magazine, among others, publishes an annual list of the best companies to work for. A characteristic common to many of these companies? Fun. They’re fun places to work, they have fun activities. (Like sumo-wrestling contests where everyone from the CEO to the service rep can be found crashing into each other in their plastic sumo suits!)

But wait a minute. Isn’t business about making money? Well, it turns out that the best companies to work for typically outperform their competitors financially. Why? Because fun helps employees feel good about their workplace. So they go above-and-beyond. They take initiative. And that’s what leads to better performance and results.

Think Southwest Airlines. Their former CEO, Herb Kelleher, was known to attend company parties dressed in drag. Ever flown Southwest? Unsurprisingly, their flight attendants are fun. But how do they do financially? Very, very well compared to their competitors.

Fun and business results aren’t incompatible. In fact, fun can help you achieve business results. So go back to the office, identify the people who are fun, form a Fun Committee and get out of the way!

Now, where did I put those panty hose?

Your thoughts?


What I Look For In a CEO

I’ve consulted with hundreds of CEOs and executives. And I’ve learned to be selective on the front end to maximize the opportunity for success on the back end. So what do I look for in a CEO? The 3 C’s.


If there’s no will there’s no way. If you’re a CEO, I’m looking for evidence of commitment not just in words but in action. Have you made personal sacrifices in order to win? Have you changed your behavior in some significant way? Have you taken decisive action that was unpopular or uncomfortable?


As a CEO, you need to possess at least sufficient capabilities in all areas critical to your job. That generally means some combination of traits and skills ranging from the analytical and technical to the creative to the interpersonal and intrapersonal.

Controlled Ego

The acid test. Are you in control of your ego or is your ego in control of you? If you’re unable to acknowledge your limitations, unwilling to accept responsibility for outcomes, or reluctant to share credit for successes then, ultimately, you can’t win.

That’s what I look for in a CEO. And that’s what you should look for in any executive.

Your thoughts?


Consistency 101

They might listen to what you say but they hear what you do. Make no mistake, you are constantly on stage. Your people are watching and judging everything you do. Everything you don’t do. Everything. So how consistent are you?

If you expect your people to change, then role-model that change. If conditions force your organization to sacrifice, then be seen as the first to sacrifice. If you want to bring attention to a cultural norm, then be an exemplar of that norm.

If you’re not consistent, you can’t be credible. But you have to be credible for your people to follow you. And as I once read, if you think you’re a leader yet no one is following you, then you’re just going for a walk.

Your thoughts?


Two Sides of Implementation

Your organizational change effort has failed. Why? Did it have more to do with the technical side or the people side of the implementation? The people side, right? Yet, what did you spend most of your time planning for? Of course, the technical side. I’ve heard the same from hundreds of executives. We plan for the technical side but fail on the people side.

So what’s the solution? Total Project Management. Plan for the people side as rigorously as you do the technical side. That means making sure your people understand and buy into the what, why and how of change. Ensuring they are equipped, coached and supported to make the change happen. And that they feel valued – respected and understood.

Technical and people. Both are necessary. Neither is sufficient. Total Project Management. 

Your thoughts?


The Paradox of Leadership

If you want to be an effective leader then you have to act like one. Yet that’s not as straightforward as it might seem. Here are a few counter-intuitive examples:

1) Admitting Mistakes Enhances Your Credibility

If you try to justify or defend your mistakes people will think you’re a weasel. Taking responsibility enhances your credibility because they see you’re not just acting in self-interest. The next time you make a mistake, ask yourself two questions: What did I learn? What would I do differently next time? Asking these same questions when your people make mistakes promotes a culture of learning, not blame.

2) Recognizing Your Weaknesses Can Make You Stronger

News flash: You’re not perfect. Not a big deal but ignoring your weaknesses could be. Unearth your weaknesses, acknowledge them and take action to address the ones that are holding you back. It doesn’t mean you have to be great at everything. But make sure your weaknesses aren’t self-defeating and surround yourself with people whose greatness complements you.

3) Putting Them First Helps Your Cause More Than Putting You First

People can sniff out a self-serving leader a mile away. When you strive to see through their eyes, understand their perspectives and feel with their hearts, you will be viewed as a leader who cares. People follow leaders who respect them, understand them and care about them.

4) Firing People Can Raise Morale

When you don’t hold accountable the person who isn’t meeting performance or conduct expectations, it demoralizes and demotivates everyone else. Yes, it’s your responsibility to give the person the opportunity, resources and support to succeed. But if they still don’t succeed, do what you know you need to do … and don’t be surprised when it boosts the morale of everyone else.

Your thoughts?