Help them produce their best work

Ahhh, summer solstice. We revel in these long days of sunlight in part because we can enjoy our favorite summer pastimes after leaving work for the day.

For some companies, summer is a time to coast, or at least do little more than get by until September since so many staff member vacations are on the summer calendar. Because of this, it can feel like nothing big happens during the summer months.

For many tourist-based businesses, it’s go time.  All the marketing, prep, process / system building, cleanup and training are front and center. For others, it’s marketing / prep / analysis time.

For retail, it’s often prep time for fall & winter holidays, working on marketing calendars, orders, e-commerce updates, etc.

No matter what business you’re in and what summer does to your workload – summer is a great time to implement improvements that help your staff produce their best work. The return on investment is high and in most cases, the cost is fairly low.

Shedding TEERs

I use an acronym called TEER to describe the most common ways to improve staff performance and results.

TEER stands for Training, Equipment, Environment, Roadblocks.

Training is a fairly obvious one and includes not only skill, process and equipment training, but personal development as well.

Equipment is a great way to improve staff productivity. Have you entered a hotel and had the desk personnel ask you to pardon them for being so slow because they were waiting an interminable time for the check-in computers?

Such frustrations are reflected in their interaction with guests, and can produce mistakes because the check-in desk staff may hurry to make up for that slow computer when it does respond. If your budget is limited, update these machines first vs. that computer in the back office. The back office computer has a much lower daily impact on guest experience, despite being slow when running the nightly audit.

Environment is primarily about the space where your staff spend most of their day. It could be a desk, cubicle, home office, auto parts counter, warehouse or mechanic’s bay. Is their environment optimized for performance and quality?

An office environment can often be transformed by a second (or larger) computer monitor, regardless of the work being performed. Other spaces can be improved simply by reducing trips to retrieve tools and materials. Simple things add up. Staffers may have suggestions that they’ve been “afraid” to make. Ask.

Roadblocks are all about doing whatever you can to eliminate the things that impede progress or productivity.

Roadblocks are often connected to the other TEER components. More often than not, roadblocks tend to be situations, paperwork and processes created by management (present and former) that simply need to be reconsidered or made more efficient. Don’t be your own worst enemy.

Forgetting management

Often times, management tends to focus on personal development and related efficiency improvements and forgets to implement them beyond the management group. This can lead to an undesirable disconnect in culture. TEER can produce solid value for management just as it does for your staff.

Do your senior managers get training to improve their skills and productivity, but not middle managers? What about the reverse? While management may not need the same training as their staff, the need is still there at every level.

Likewise, the equipment that managers use may be different then that of their staff, but better (or additional) equipment that makes them more productive is just as valuable. I mentioned the benefits provided by a larger or additional monitor earlier, which can provide equally strong improvements for managers.

As with other areas, a focus on managers’ work environment may or may not match the environment concerns of the staff, but it’s just as important. Changes to reduce interruptions, lower noise levels, or provide standing desks and/or better chairs can make a serious difference in work quality and health.

Healthier people do better work because their health issues aren’t a distraction. This doesn’t mean getting rid of folks with health issues, it means helping them deal with them where possible – and it isn’t always about physical health.

For example, when someone whose work is repeatedly interrupted suddenly has that situation improved, the change is more than about productivity.

Finally, do managers have their own roadblocks? Absolutely.

What improvements can you make to help everyone work better?

Habit forming: What do you do every day?

Trails

Habits – at least the good ones – tend to help us get big things done that we might otherwise never accomplish.

One of the things I do every day is read a page from “The Daily Drucker“.

The Daily Drucker is a 366 page book of one-page-per-day excerpts from Peter Drucker’s books on business, management, entrepreneurism and leadership – all 36 or so of them.

First Things First

Why should you do something like this?

What do you do now?

Having a routine, a ritual or habit (call it what you will) seems like a good way to start the day. Not only does it go well with coffee, but more importantly, it acts as a transition action that signals your mind that it’s time to switch to “work mode” from “whatever you’ve been doing that morning” mode.

This may not seem like a big deal, but think about your current morning routine a little. You get the kids off to school and/or care for your pets, livestock, clean snow and ice off the car and maybe you run into someone on the way to work who is just now learning to drive. You know what I mean…

The point is, while all of these things are going on, you’re really not in a prime mental state for being productive. Your staff isn’t either, if they’re going through this every day. It might take 30 minutes for your mind to settle down and get focused after all that – even if your office is at home.

Over the years, I’ve learned that even a brief minute or two to read and process what Drucker has for me that day (along with some java) are enough to reboot and refocus after the morning’s activities – no matter how hectic, stressful, annoying, cold, wet or pleasant they might have been. A distinct mindset shift point became useful at first and later became a regular part of my day.

You don’t have to use the same technique, but if you check into the habits of highly-accomplished people, you will find that most of them have rituals, habits and the like that they perform on a daily basis.

Many go through their ritual/habit process early in the morning before anyone “wants a piece of them”. Ever notice that no one wants an appointment with you, or a phone call with you at 5am? While this may not be the easiest time of day for you – it’s more than likely going to be a time when no one but you will ask something of you – even the kids.

These people are at least as distracted by travel, family, daily life and their business as you and I, so they use these rituals, habits and so on to keep them on track and doing the right things. It was Drucker (among others) who reminded us that “doing things right isn’t nearly as important as doing the right things”.

Helping your staff with this can produce massive leverage. If 5, 10 or 30 people start their day in a better, more focused mindset – would that help your business?

Beyond the morning

Daily habits go well beyond the morning routine. What else are you doing every day?

Think about the most important work you have to get done each week. Certainly, the “real work” you do – building things, delivering product, installing systems or parts and providing service – are the things that generate value for your customers, but (for example) the marketing of that work product is what allows that work to find a home.

Has your marketing and sales effort established an important enough part of your day that *something* from this part of the business is done every single day?

What other parts of your business merit daily, habitual attention? Are they getting it? Are they truly strategic or are they “what you’ve always done”?

Improvement

Be sure that your work habits include personal development. It doesn’t matter if you’re a butcher, baker or candlestick maker, much less an electrical engineer, diesel mechanic or whatever – your business is changing all the time. Keeping up is essential just to stay in the game. Make “getting ahead” a habit as well.

That’s a little bit of the trick to reading Drucker. Not only is it a transition maker, it refines the strategic and management thought process each day.

Not on my watch!

Watches (32) 1.1

Most everyone I’ve talked to who really cares about their work has that one thing that brings meaning, context and (as my kids used to say) “give-a-care” to the work they do.

You might have heard it described as “Not on my watch”, a reference to pulling watch duty on naval ships.

The best way I’ve heard it described is this:

What do you feel strongly enough about to say “That isn’t going to happen while I’m here.”

Whether you own the place or are working for the weekend, it’s that thing you just won’t rest about if it isn’t done right. It might be that thing you first notice when you visit someone’s home or business.

Are any of your employees working jobs that have little to do with their one thing? If so, they may be doing their assigned work while watching in frustration as the work involving their “one thing” is done at a level of quality or expertise that’s below their expectations.

Sometimes their response will be to take another job – one that leverages their one thing. Sometimes their response will be to take ownership.

Own it

You may see this when someone takes ownership of some part of your company – without being asked. It might be all or part of a process, a product’s quality or craftsmanship, a customer or a customer group. They take ownership by making the quality of that area their responsibility, perhaps going beyond your company’s standards. It’ll often happen without them being asked.

If you have employees, have you asked them (or put them in charge of) their “one thing”? If not, the signals will be there if they’re interested. They’ll make suggestions – often good ones – about how something is done. They may volunteer to help on projects that require expertise in their one thing.

If your company has people who seem less motivated than they should be, ask them if they’re doing their ideal work for you. If they could do any job in the company, is the one they’re doing the one they’d choose? If not, a pilot project can show you if they’re qualified to do that work.

If the pilot works out, you might find yourself with a newly motivated employee who really cares about the work they’re doing. New blood has a way of asking questions about things that’ve been forgotten, fallen in the cracks or weren’t considered previously – all because that new staffer (even if they’re simply new to that job) cares about that part of the business because it’s their “one thing”.

In the shadows

You may have departments within your company doing their own thing because they can’t get that work done any other way – at least not to their satisfaction and/or within the timeframe they need.

At a recent #StartupWeekend, I spoke on this topic with people from several different business sectors ranging from retail to light manufacturing. Each of them knew of a department within their company that had a “Shadow IT” group.

“Shadow IT” is a small departmental group (or a person) building technology solutions for themselves that they couldn’t get from their company’s IT (Information Technology) group.

One person from a large national retailer (not *that* one) is doing their own thing because they felt it was the only way to get the solutions they needed. Rather than wait or do without, they built it themselves.

This isn’t unusual – but it’s a sign of someone’s “one thing”.

That person doing the Shadow IT work might be the person who needs to take on that role (or join that team) in your company . Perhaps they become the official Shadow IT group for projects that don’t yet have an IT budget and haven’t appeared on management’ s radar.

As an employer, do I care?

You should. The under-served “one thing” staffers may not be disgruntled, but they may not be fully engaged. If you’re unaware of people (and their “one thing” assets) within your organization who could serve your business goals in ways you haven’t considered and at a level of quality that you might not have thought possible – what are you missing?

Ask them privately if there’s a project or job in the company that excites them. You never know what you might find. Having little startup-minded groups inside your business isn’t a bad thing.

Are you un-coachable? Drips might help.

Heading into Battle

Frustrated with the rate of change or accomplishment of new work in your business?

I had a conversation recently that might help.

Ann: Sometimes I think some of us are un-coachable.
Mark: Reminds me of “When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.” It’s huge for those who teach and/or coach – you have to meet the student where they are rather than where you want them to be. Anyhow, I don’t think it’s being un-coachable, it’s a form of being overwhelmed.
Ann: We hear and understand but we just can’t get traction and do it consistently and …
Mark: Habit momentum is important. Start one thing today, then when it becomes a daily habit that’s part of your life, add another.
Mark: IE: D,D,D
Randy: I *knew* you were gonna get that in there.
Ann: D..D..D..?
Randy: DDD stands for “Drip, drip, drip.” In this case he means that if you do a little bit each day, the small efforts add up. It’s something I have to *constantly* remind myself about.
Mark: Right, but it’s important that you make sure the *right* bit is what’s getting done each day.

Little changes, big results

Ann: But what does Drip mean?
Mark: It’s a euphemism for incremental change.
Ann: Told you I was un-coachable
Randy: By making incremental changes, those little changes that we might not be able to make as a whole eventually add up to big things.
Ann: DDD = small deltas
Randy: Exactly. And one of my favorite Rohn quotes applies here. “For things to change, you must change.”
Mark: With DDD, the concept is that it’s easier to change one thing in your business than to change 20 or 30. When we look at our business, we can often come up with 20-30 or even 100 things that we’d ideally like to change, so it’s often difficult to get ANY of these changes to happen because of the sight of them as a whole.
Ann: Yes, it’s tough to get traction.
Mark: Absolutely – and that’s the painful part. In most cases, even establishing two or three of the changes will make a substantial difference to our business. Some see two or three changes as a failure because they’re focused on a list of 20 or 30 as “success”. If they aren’t in the right mindset, these initial successes actually discourage them from continuing to chip away at number three, much less 21, 22, etc because the effort as a whole feels like a failure or a journey that’ll never end. It’s too easy to miss the incremental wins when you’re focused on the end (or what you think the end is).

What IS a Drip?

Dean: Do you guys think Ann’s phrase about “Getting traction” is a good description of the problem?
Mark: Traction – I agree it is, which is what drips are all about. Drips generate confidence and momentum as they become habits, forming a foundation for bigger change. Traction.
Dean: What if the drips aren’t enough to make a business work? I have a friend who’s been “running a business” for years, working three hours per week. After a decade, little progress.
Mark: Drips are about new habits and making change, not building the whole business. And…Drips aren’t about hours. They’re tasks.
Dean: For example?
Mark: Say a client needs a print newsletter, an email newsletter, blog posts and videos. If I drop all of that on them at once, they won’t get them done. There’s too much to take on at once and it’s overwhelming. Instead, we break each one out into a drip. In other words, each one is a new habit (product or outcome) you want to introduce into your business.
Dean: OK, let’s talk about starting the print newsletter.
Mark: I’d probably rough out a layout in maybe an hour. I’d spend the next hour writing content.
Dean: Starting from scratch, you’d just need one hour?
Mark: No, I’d spend an hour on the newsletter until the first issue is done. The idea is to chip away at that single habit or change for an hour a day (or a week, whatever I have to work with) until the first cut is done. At that point, I should have a process that’s ready to delegate or outsource.

The key to Drip, Drip, Drip is to stay focused on each change and keep working at it till it’s done.

Are you a drama queen?

Memories: A Lament
Creative Commons License photo credit: -Jeffrey-

Dan Kennedy is known to say something to the effect of “If I wake up at 2 am thinking about you or your business, you’re in trouble.”

I can relate.

For me, the “are you worth it?” measuring stick is often drama-related.

Drama happens. It’s part of life. On the other hand, if you intentionally generate drama when it isn’t necessary (is it ever?), your effectiveness/ROI aren’t what they should be.

If a vendor introduces unnecessary drama into my life, that vendor is the next one I replace.

If a contractor or staffer introduces unnecessary drama into my life than they are worth, they are the next one I replace.

You may say you’re set in your ways, crotchety, fussy or whatever – regardless of your age. All of those are excuses for things you can change about your business persona.

Keep in mind that no one searches Monster.com looking for crotchety people who are a pain to work with.

Drama isn’t picky

It doesn’t matter whether you’re the leader, the newbie, an employee, a vendor, a contractor or a temp – if you’re creating this sort of environment around you, you will either drive people away from you or you’ll provoke them to “offer you an opportunity to seek work elsewhere”.

Not being a drama queen (or king) doesn’t mean you don’t report/discuss problems or enter contentious discussions. It means that you don’t turn them into an episode of “Real Housewives of Orange County”.

If you manage the drama makers and fail to address the environment they’re creating, you could lose the best people on your team. Not only do they not want to deal with that stuff, because they are your best, they can easily find another opportunity. Think about how it would hurt to lose your key person in any one department *tomorrow*. Now think about what happens if you lose 2 or 3 of them – all because you wouldn’t take action

Real Customers of Orange County

Yes, there are customers who introduce as much drama as the “Real Housewives”.

Ultimately, you can either feed this beast, tame it or slay it.

If you feed it, you’ll repeatedly have to deal with their drama.

Every contact with this kind of customer which goes “untreated” has a cost.

  • Your staff doesn’t want to deal with them, so they avoid calling them back.
  • They get slower call backs than they expect, so this stirs them up even more.
  • They will have less legitimacy with your staff than a typical customer, because your staff tends to be more focused on the drama rather than what’s being said.

That last one is really dangerous. These customers can be more invested in their work than is typical, which is what drives their drama. If their concerns are discounted because of their emotional baggage, you could miss something quite critical.

If you tame the customer’s drama, you’ll get better customer relationships from it. If you keep at it, you can usually change their attitude.

I’ll always remember a classic conversation my support manager (Hi Julie!) had with a frequently cranky customer. He was a nice guy, but he’d get more excited about an issue the more he talked about it. As he worked himself into more and more of a frenzy, she stopped talking about the problem they were trying to solve. In a calm, quiet voice, she asked him if he was upset with her. He said no, realized what he was doing and they resumed the conversation without drama. Without the infection drama brought to the conversation, the situation was quickly resolved.

That customer became one of our advocates, and was someone who referred his peers to us as new customers. Yet he started out as one of the dramatic types. The kind you didn’t want to call back.

That leaves the beast you must slay. Like vendors, contractors and staff, you’ll eventually encounter a customer who must be fired. The cost of dealing with them is too high. You’ll know when it’s time. The benefit of not having them around will far exceed the revenue.

Bottom line: Be the professional who doesn’t make people’s lives more complicated, dramatic or contentious. Even better, be the one who defuses those situations.

Who needs a mentor? Not me!

Note: I am blogging on behalf of Visa Business and received compensation for my time from Visa for sharing my views in this post, but the views expressed here are solely mine, not Visa’s. See full disclosure at the bottom of this post.

Thanks to the kindness of a few people and a good mix of intent and luck, I’ve been fortunate to meet a number of people that I consider mentors or significant influencers.

In several cases, I’ve managed to work with them in person, via email or phone calls.

More often than not, I meet them at conferences – but not at conferences related to the industries I work (or have worked) in. That’s where the intent and luck take over.

Who are mine?

For me, the list is easy: Jim Rohn, Dan Kennedy, Peter Drucker, Tom Peters, Dan Sullivan and Chet Holmes.

Each of them have something in common: Without hesitation, they can name a mentor who was instrumental in getting them on the right path in their earlier years. They all struggled, and in some cases, did so mightily and more than once in their lives.

At their level of achievement, the fact that they can point to a mentor who was instrumental in their success is a critical lesson. It’s one each of us should take away from observing what makes high-achieving people tick.

None of them claim to “figure it out” on their own – even though they specialize in a particular area of business and have substantially raised the level of “play” in their respective specialty.

If these people managed to find and learn from mentors, shouldn’t all of us?

Why do entrepreneurs need mentors?

You might be wondering why you even need a mentor.

A few reasons…

  • We can all use a dose of clarity now and then. Sometimes more often.
  • We need to hear a perspective that we don’t have about our challenges .
  • We need a fresh set of eyes on something we’re about to do, already doing or failed at doing.
  • We need someone to be honest with us when no one else will.
  • We need advice from someone whose experience and knowledge is far beyond on own.
  • We need to be asked the question that will transform what we do.
  • We need the counsel of someone who will provide a stern correction before we make a ridiculous mistake.

Where do you get these things now?

How do I choose mine?

I’ve found that you don’t often choose them. In fact, sometimes they happen to you or someone brings them to you. There’s a lot of “when the student is ready, the teacher will appear” going on when it comes to mentors.

It can take serious effort to find a mentor. You might have to pay them. Don’t cheat yourself on this – the results from working with the right mentor can (and should) be worth at least 10 times your investment – hopefully more.

Here’s the things I look for:

  • A history of success that’s 10-100 times beyond where I’ve been – in any field. Recurring success, preferably.
  • Someone who can see through me and isn’t shy about doing it.
  • An ability to ask simple questions or make simple suggestions that floor me or make me rethink my angle on something. You can find this most often through their writing (books, blogs, etc).
  • Someone who asks questions about myself or my work that I can’t immediately answer.

What would you look for?

What about other influences?

Other influencers come from outside the business world, or their influence has little (if anything) to do with business. For example, Hildy Gottlieb has a habit of making comments that provoke me to think differently and before long, that thought bubbles up and provokes some of my sharpest clarity in discussions that end up helping her. While our relationship is not at all about business, business tends to be the context where I process our conversations – at least initially.

What about you?

You might think you don’t have any business mentoring someone, but that just isn’t true. There are always people who need advice, a little wisdom, some clarity and an occasional poke in the ribs. Make yourself available to someone – it’s likely to improve far more than their life. More often than not, it’ll make you reconsider some of your own struggles, even if they are worlds apart from the person you’re mentoring.

Mentorship and influence isn’t just about dollars and cents. It’s about dollars and sense – and a lot more.

 

DISCLOSURE: I am blogging on behalf of Visa Business and received compensation for my time from Visa for sharing my views in this post, but the views expressed here are solely mine, not Visa’s. Visit http://facebook.com/visasmallbiz to take a look at the reinvented Facebook Page: Well Sourced by Visa Business.

The Page serves as a space where small business owners can access educational resources, read success stories from other business owners, engage with peers, and find tips to help businesses run more efficiently.

Every month, the Page will introduce a new theme that will focus on a topic important to a small business owner’s success. For additional tips and advice, and information about Visa’s small business solutions, follow @VisaSmallBiz and visit http://visa.com/business.

Visa Business_September Infographic_600

Will you lose your prized sources of business info today?

goodbyegooglereader

One last warning – Google Reader disappears tomorrow – July 1.

If you don’t want to miss out on what’s going on here, much less in the rest of your feeds, I suggest you migrate your Google Reader feed list to http://cloud.feedly.com, to http://digg.com/reader or other Google Reader replacements. Both Feedly and Digg have made the migration one-click simple.

Of course, you can also get email notices or a full email feed…but please do something to protect the info sources you’ve carefully gathered over the years.

To make sure you don’t miss anything from me, you can subscribe in the box on the right or paste http://www.rescuemarketing.com/feed/ into your new feed reader.

You can also get new post links on my Twitter and Facebook feeds. The Twitter feed tends to include discussions about business / startups and (occasionally) other topics as well as links of interest to business owners. The Facebook feed sticks to business with less chatter and more links to good business and startup reads. Try them on and see which fits.

Thanks, Google Reader.

The most expensive, most stressful thing on your desk

Nothing destroys a work day like distractions.

Ever realize that it’s “suddenly” dinner time and all you remember doing since lunch is reading Facebook?

That’ll show up nicely on a deposit slip. Hello, stress.

Distractions are a product of your work environment, your work habits and how those two things are communicated to others.

Your work environment

What you surround yourself with is critical to your work. Clutter doesn’t help – and I mean clutter of all kinds – physical as well as electronic.

These things are waiting to distract you, so you have to eliminate them from your work environment. Eliminate doesn’t necessarily mean trash.

Electronic clutter is particularly distracting to me, so I’ve surrounded myself with systems that “protect” me from it. Instapaper helps me get rid of open browser tabs that I was saving to read. Things, a GTD-oriented system, helps me store ideas and to-do items on notes, in my head, in emails, etc.

Because I know they’re not “lost”, they don’t clutter up my browser, mind, desk or subconscious. Don’t take the last one lightly. Worrying about forgetting something is very distracting.

Random phone calls are also a form of clutter, so I only take calls by appointment (with very few exceptions). I know – you think you can’t do this without losing sales. I thought the same thing.

My tools may not fit you. Use what fits. Discard what doesn’t.

Your work habits

Last night at a local restaurant, I spoke with one of my Scouts who’s home from college for the summer. He’s in amazing physical condition and has been for years, despite being a skinny little guy years ago. He says people often say they want to “look like him”, but they don’t want to do the work he did to get that way.

He tells them it’s as easy as working out every day, which may be hard to do until it becomes a piece of your life you aren’t willing to give up for anyone – even your immediate family. That hour a day that no one (or nothing) can take from you for any reason isn’t neglect. It’s building a better you so you can be better for them.

Habits are just as critical at work.

One of my mentors would growl “Just do more of what matters. Make more time by doing less of what doesn’t.” While he’s right and yes, it’s common sense, most people need help doing it.

Consider the three most important tasks you need to finish next week. Do you have to think about it to remember them? That’s not good.

I use my calendar and Things to tell me those three tasks. Neither tool forgets. I review Things every weekend and schedule work tasks on my calendar as if they were meetings, speaking gigs or other commitments.

In an age where you can watch TV on your phone and people can contact you almost anywhere, you have to take managing yourself seriously. Scheduling things (even blog writing) in my calendar is how I make sure that the important things get done – including family stuff and paying bills.

A full calendar makes it easy to say no to less important things you don’t have time for. If the important things like work and family are booked first, stuff that doesn’t matter enough has no place to go.

How those two are communicated to others

People appreciate when you don’t immediately answer your phone, but always return their call.

People appreciate when you don’t immediately reply to an email, but always reply.

People appreciate it when you don’t miss a ball game, a play, a concert or a night out, even if you have to work afterward.

When people see you glance at and then ignore a vibrating phone while in a meeting with them, they’ll ask about it the first time. When you tell them that you aren’t answering because you booked this time solely to give them 100% of your attention, your previously “unreasonable” call policy suddenly becomes reasonable.

If you work (or play) with focused attention, people will notice and appreciate it.

You mentioned stress. What about that?

How much stress would you have if you didn’t forget important things and routinely completed them?

 

Visa_small_biz_infographic_060713

Disclosure: I am blogging on behalf of Visa Business and received compensation for my time from Visa for sharing my views in this post, but the views expressed here are solely mine, not Visa’s. Visit http://facebook.com/visasmallbiz to take a look at the reinvented Facebook Page: Well Sourced by Visa Business. The Page serves as a space where small business owners can access educational resources, read success stories from other business owners, engage with peers, and find tips to help businesses run more efficiently. Every month, the Page will introduce a new theme that will focus on a topic important to a small business owner’s success. For additional tips and advice, and information about Visa’s small business solutions, follow @VisaSmallBiz and visit http://visa.com/business.

Are you going out of business…intentionally?

Last week, I wrote about the most expensive minute of your life.

This slideshow should provoke a similar discussion. How does it make you feel about what you’re doing now?

Does packing a suitcase make you more productive?

Think about the process you go through when preparing for an important business trip.

You make a todo list so you’re sure you get all the bases covered.

You think of every scenario that might come up at home while you are gone and every scenario that might up come while out of town.

Based on all the conditions and situations you can think of, you pack/prep/research accordingly and give instructions to the pet/house sitter.

Do it every day

Do you also use that same process to prepare for the next week of work? For the next trade show? For the next sales meeting? For your next customer appointment? For your next deployment?

Even though this kind of preparation works well for a big business trip, it’s unusual to find businesses doing it on a day by day basis. If you plan your work weekly, you may not need to do it each day – but that depends on the nature of the work you do, as well as the work you delegate.

Harvey Mackay says “dig your well before you’re thirsty” – which most of us tend to do before going out of town. So why would we do so little of this when we’re in the environment that we’ve (presumably) optimized to produce our best work? Yes, I mean your office, shop or whatever place you work in on a regular basis.

The earlier, the better

Recently my wife (who teaches junior high kids) and I were talking about our area’s proposed use of tablets in school. Personal electronics use in schools is all over the place policy-wise, depending on the school system. Unfortunately, discussions about electronics in school tend to focus on what can go wrong, perhaps due to the political pressures schools face.

Because junior high kids are at a highly impressionable age, it’s the perfect time to teach productive, socially-acceptable use of mobile devices. It’s also an ideal time to teach critically important work habits that help improve productivity, focus, accountability and follow up skills they’ll need to succeed in high school. If mastered before leaving junior high, they’ll help students meet goals they haven’t even discovered in high school and beyond. While it isn’t too late to learn these habits in high school, the earlier they’re learned and used, the faster they’ll benefit the student.

The value of “The earlier the better” works the same way for your company.

Do you also encourage your staff to do the “before packing a suitcase” kind of prep? When improving your own work processes, include your staff early. The habits you pass along will help your business in the short run and grow your staff in the long run. Finally, don’t forget to ask them about their best work habits – you might learn about the best one yet.

If you aren’t doing this, it can put your staff and your customers at some level of risk. Maybe not the risk of failure, but certainly you risk achieving “average industry performance”.

What’s wrong with average industry performance?

How does this sound: “We deliver average products and services in an average time frame at average prices.” That just screams “you gotta buy from us”, doesn’t it?

This is one reason the term “best practices” sets off alarm bells for me. Industry organizations publish their members’ “best practices”, but really – these practices tend to be the common practices of the average industry member. Why? The organization assembled the list of tactics and strategies from its membership, or in best case, from those considered to be leading that industry. Few recognize the practices that the highest performing organizations have adopted as their advantage until they become widespread – ie: average.

Below average organizations who are trying to improve work to adopt today’s best practices of their industry. Industry leaders have already created (or discovered) what will be tomorrow’s best practices, which will soon be the norm. That is, when everyone else figures out what the new norm is. By then, the industry leader has raised their game.

Everyday habits like your “before packing a suitcase” ritual are what set industry leaders apart.

PS: Here’s the story of the concrete suitcases in the photo.