Originally posted on Linkedin by Dr. Ted Marra

What if we were really concerned about helping people – all people – achieve more with their lives? You may have heard me say in a previous Post, although a conservative when it comes to religion, I believe that ‘The life we have is the gift which God has given us. Our gift in return is what we do with that life’. OK, you can argue with this, but the fact of the matter is that I believe, at least, that we as humans would be happier if we felt we were achieving more or something better with our lives. The worst thing we can do is waste our lives – to accomplish or achieve nothing with the gifts we have been given and each of us has gifts – talents, latent or obvious, which we must recognise and utilise to the fullest extent possible – it is our responsibility to do so! Every time I conduct a workshop, I say there are three things you must in this session: (1) learn; (2) have fun; and (3) get to know the special insights, talents, knowledge, experience, and ways of interpreting the business world around us which each person in this learning session brings with them.

In fact, my belief on how one achieves greater happiness is simply this: ‘Greater happiness is achieved through the continuous pursuit and achievement of worthwhile goals’. Clearly, those without ‘goals’ have a great challenge and need even more support from the rest of us in framing or creating goals which they can achieve and in so doing feel better about themselves. In the game of life, our responsibility, it seems to me, is not to be simply observers, but to be participants – to not just warm a seat, occupy space, but contribute something directly or through others by helping them achieve something they value.

You see, in my mind, happiness and achievement are intertwined – like pancakes and syrup, love and marriage – whatever. Being happy releases the spirit and one’s creativity and capability to dream – to consider the possibilities and to achieve. Achieving then adds to the overall euphoria of the spirit and the process continues to build on itself – a perpetual positive cycle.

It is only when we allow others or our own ‘perceived’ failures or set-backs to intervene and break that cycle that we can often sometimes encounter challenges. We must guard zealously about allowing anyone to step on our dreams – people who do this are of the worst kind in my mind and they often do it because they think themselves superior or they think you are inferior and will never be able to achieve your dreams – or maybe they are jealous because they have no dreams of their own.

To truly succeed, you must fail! The most successful people in the world – in history – have all failed and then gone on to be even more successful because they reflected on that failure, learned from it, improved their approach and kept going. The worst thing any human being can do is stop – to begin to feel sorry for themselves and do nothing more. The less you do the less you want to do – it is self-fulfilling prophecy.

One of my passions is to help others achieve more. So, I got to thinking about achievement – in my own life first as that’s the one I know most about and through deep reflection I searched for answers on how I achieved the goals in my life – starting first with my exercise and running. So, let’s build a model together. This may take 2 or 3 Posts if that’s OK with you. In the end you may agree or disagree with me. I am looking for partners, by the way, to help me validate this model. I had planned to start with para-Olympians for reasons which I believe are pretty obvious.

The model will have several layers. We will start at the outside – get some of the ‘edge’ pieces so to speak and work our way in until we have completed it – but again, take this as a ‘work in progress’.

To me, as I reflect on my own experiences and achievements – no matter how insignificant or small they may seem to others – what’s important is how I perceive them – you have to ‘think’!

What do I mean? You must imagine or consider the possibilities. Look, if you want something better or different or you want to achieve something more or what you really want in life not just what you feel you have been given then you have to give thought to it. Ask yourself ‘What can I do – better or differently or new? What do I want to do?’ You must you must be creative – and everyone can be creative – please read my Post on Creativity Labs®. My Uncle Joseph, a true genius by standard measures and a country philosopher who lived in a little village of 250 people in the mountains running a small market use to say: ‘In life you never know the hand you will be dealt. All you can do is to play it to the best your ability.’ The challenge is that we often do not really understand our full ability to achieve – sometimes we need help or a role model or a ‘trigger’ of some sort as an example.

You see for me, I have always been motivated by: (1) doing the things I like to do; (2) doing them with people I enjoy being with – people who stimulate me and my creativity, people with whom I have fun; (3) helping others to learn – about themselves, about business, anything – getting that light bulb to come on as never before if only dimly lit – it’s a start! Notice that ‘money’ is not on the list. I have never been motivated by money. OK, you have to have enough to live a good life – not just survive, but I don’t worry about it. I have confidence that the money I need will come – and you know what, that has always has been the case for me.

So first you must ‘think it’ – what it is that you want – what might be possible and at least ‘directionally correct’ that will ‘start you on your way’ toward achieving what you want. Even the proverbial ‘elephant sandwich’ begins with the first bite.

What comes second? It is critical to have the energy, the passion, the belief that you can do it! For this you must ‘feel it’! What do I mean? ‘Feel’ that it is possible to achieve your dream even if it is in small steps – always moving toward the goal you wish to achieve – step by step if necessary and even if other tell you ‘No way can you achieve this – the naysayers’. Remember, every journey begins with the first step – take that first step – ‘believe’ that you can – that you ‘want to’ – that you ‘must’! If you need to, believe that ‘your life depends on it’ – meaning your new and better life!

Then you must summon that inner strength – that inner strength that we often don’t feel we have until we are put to the test (look at Winston Churchill) – and sometimes that test is pursuing a goal that is so important to us that we cannot stop ourselves – instead we propel ourselves forward – we chase our dream with gusto. We must summon that confidence – even a little and just enough and the courage – even a little, just enough to take that first step. It often gets easier after that first step! Remember it was Nelson Mandela who said, ‘Courage is not the absence of fear (most of us have some fear of something – that is normal), but courage is the ‘triumph over fear’. Be triumphant! In other words, you must ‘do it’ – you must take action! Not runaway from, but run towards the goal!

Once you have acted, then it is time to ‘reflect on it’ – understand, examine constructively what you did and how you did it. What did you did you learn – about yourself, about what you did and how effective it was in helping you achieve or get closer to your goal – to reaching your dream? Is there anything you could have done better or differently and, if so, what is it and what difference would it have made? If you still have some way to go to reach your goal, how will your next ‘step’, your next ‘action’ be influenced – changed or be different from your first, if at all? Why?

OK, are you still with me? We now have the edges: (1) think it; (2) feel it; (3) do it; and (4) reflect on it. These are some of the ‘basics’. I will be adding much more to this in later Posts.

However, just one more thing before closing this Post, as I am an ‘old Quality guy’ from way back (see my Posts on ‘The Future of Quality’ together with Professor Dr. Tony Bendell).

Linked directly to this concept of Quality is the point I made in my book, ‘The Wisdom Chronicles: Competing to Win’ as well as numerous Posts/Journal Articles and that is the importance of the Deming Improvement Cycle.

Dr. Deming originally defined this cycle of improvement to be: plan, do, check and act – light years ahead in thinking than others. I prefer plan, execute, measure and improve, but that’s just me. Actually I would expand his cycle to include ‘reflect’ after ‘measure’ and before ‘improve’ although I am certain he, in his wisdom, contemplated that point somewhere in his thinking – implicitly if not explicitly. Just so you are aware, one of his favourite quotes – one which I use frequently is ‘Management knows so much which is not so’. Give it some thought – it’s very true.

The point is that this cycle is actually a foundational component of two vitally important things: (1)– rather than be in a ‘do, do, do’ and then ‘do it over again to get it right’ mode of thinking and operating; and (2) the essence of a ‘systematic’ process – meaning repeatable/capable of being easily replicated, not ad hoc or informal, not a loose set of activities subject to interpretation but ensuring consistency – the foundation of quality as it will better ensure minimal variation.

You may think that for the next few minutes I have ‘lost the plot’, but trust me as I will bring us back to the focus of this Post!

In my 42 years, you cannot possibly imagine the number of organisations I have seen who ‘shoot first’ and then ask questions later – like, ‘Why didn’t that work the way it was supposed to or the way we thought it would?’ Organisations where senior management are so anxious to ‘do’ something whether it is the launch of a new product when publicly announced in news releases (as I saw at General Motors many times) that they just ‘do’ it regardless of the potential consequences and negative impact on customers!

The problem being that in their haste they didn’t do their homework, didn’t collect and analyse the right data and information, acted not on the basis of ‘fact’ but assumption – in other words, they did no planning – and, in fact, many of them wouldn’t know how to plan if it slapped them in the face! Taking this approach of ‘just do it’ guarantees that at best your actions have a 50% chance of even coming close to achieving what you wanted!

The plan should include the actions to be taken, who will take them, when they will be taken, clear definition of any key interdependencies upon which successful implementation might depend, measures of success and ownership. There are a few other areas I like to include as well, but these are certainly the core of it.

Now you are in a ‘state of readiness’ to act – to implement – to ‘do’. Monitor the plan and make adjustments, bring additional support where needed based upon the measures of success and what they are telling you. Be as flawless as possible in your execution as that will better ensure the desired results – the desired impact you desire. As I have written in my book, ‘The Wisdom Chronicles’ as well as my Post on ‘Hyper-Decision Making’ the creation and use of ‘Decision Domain Councils’ can reduce execution time by as much as 50% and improve the quality of execution by at least 50% if not more.

The monitoring and review of the success measures is clearly the ‘measure’ element of the cycle. Without measurement – qualitative and/or quantitative (in all reality you will need some of both) how will you assess your performance? How will you know if further improvement is needed or whether you exceeded the goal(s) you set? How fast are you improving your performance? What aspects of or where your performance is improving – is everything improving or just certain components of performance? You can’t possibly know without measurement – you can’t manage your performance or its improvement without it. But, as you will see in my future ‘The Dark Side of Leadership’ that the 7th most deadly sin of management is ‘too much focus on the numbers’ which can have tremendous negative effects on a business. there must be balance – both in terms of qualitative (talking to people in your organisation, talking to customers and suppliers for starters) and quantitative and that measurement must be balanced – at a minimum reflect people, process, customer and financial measures. Again, in my book, ‘The Wisdom Chronicles: Competing to Win’ I also discuss the future of the ‘balanced scorecard’ an organisation will need.

But you would not believe the number of organisations that either try to ignore measurement; measure at too high a level – a level which is insensitive to what is really happening; use the wrong measures or inappropriate surrogates or indirect measures such as market share instead of customer satisfaction and the list goes on. Management’s reasoning in this latter case, of course, ‘How could we have such a large market share – be selling so much if our customers were unhappy? Therefore they must be happy!’ No comment!

The other issue and reason why management often is reluctant to measure is that with measurement comes accountability and who wants to be held accountable? Often easier just to find someone to ‘blame’ on a whim or as a scapegoat even though they never had any control whatsoever over the performance measure in the first place! Or they measure the easy things to measure – not the right things. Or, if it is a culture where there is ‘no punishment for nonperformance’ then it doesn’t matter anyway and there are many of those in existence.

Then you have organisations such as Johnson & Johnson Bio-Technology where at the beginning of the year they set goals, measures and plans (this was many years ago) and as the year progressed and they saw there was no way they could even come close to reaching the goals, they simply reduced them – in some case many times until they were low enough to be able to declare success at the end of the year and receive great bonuses. What a great approach! Maybe you should try it if you aren’t already using it!

Clearly, based upon the ‘measure’ part of the cycle, it must be your guide to any short-term or longer-term actions you take. When I say guide, I mean it should point in a direction for ‘doing the right things’ – the things you need to do and do right if you want to achieve your goal. Are you making progress toward your goal – your objective or not? As an Olympian, how could you perform without accurate measurement to guide you and your future development?

The last step in the cycle is ‘improve’. In most cases the ‘measure’ component of the cycle should provide fact-based evidence of the need to for adjustment or improvement – or the opportunity for adjustment to achieve even enhanced results if desirable. However, you should at this point ‘reflect’ on what has happened and what has either contributed to your good performance or lack of it in the case that you are in danger of missing your goal – or you missed it all together. When I say ‘reflect’ I am saying you must take away key lessons learned or learning points from the experience which you can use to build stronger performance through doing things differently or better in some way the next time. If you do not do that, you have missed a tremendous opportunity for improvement – from being the ‘best you can be’.

You cannot believe (although possibly you can) the number or organisations I have seen who miss huge opportunities for two key reasons: (1) there is no institutional memory – nothing is documented – the activities of a project or pursuit of an objective simply reside inside peoples’ heads and never gets communicated properly to those who need to know and then that knowledge can decay over time; or (2) they never conduct a ‘lessons learned’ session to ask and answer this simple question – ‘What could we have done differently or better if we did this again? Or ‘If we had to do it over again, what could we have done differently or done in a more innovative way?’ If this is the situation in your organisation this knowledge – this experience just becomes the equivalent to tribal knowledge which gets passed down from generation to generation through informal stories and faded memories. For example when I now speak to executives from Motorola and I ask,’If you had to do it over again, would you still put all your focus on ‘quality’? The answer now is ‘no’. the would focus on ‘cycle time’ as it drives the fastest results and most innovative solutions.

Now, going back to our four components: (1) think it; (2) feel it; (3) do it; (4) reflect on it (please note that in future Posts on this model, these will be expanded considerably as stated before) from above, we can link in the Deming improvement cycle as follows:

For me, ‘plan’ encompasses the ‘think it’ and ‘feel it’ components. Let’s face it – the ‘feel it’ element is where the level of commitment, the passion and energy to make it happen comes from.

‘Execute’ is simply all about the need to ‘do it’ and do it the best way you can – as flawlessly as possible.

I would say that true ‘reflection’ can only be done if you have measured in some way what you have done – what you have achieved plus taking away key lessons learned and documenting what was done and what was achieved as a consequence.

Before I close this Post, there may be some of you who are still wondering what is meant by a ‘systematic’ approach as opposed to a set of ad hoc or informal and often seemingly disconnected activities. For this purpose I share with you a story from my many years of work with Duke Power in Charlotte, North Carolina. Duke Power is or was at that time, the largest electric utility in the region with some 6 million customers – residential, small business and large industrial companies. I was helping them to implement the Malcolm Baldrige Performance Excellence Framework as a way to help them achieve improved strategic management and improvement of the organisation and change the culture to focus on excellence.

So, one day I had the entire senior management staff assembled – the CEO, President and all the Senior Vice Presidents down to Vice Presidents – about 20-25 people as I recall. I was acting in the role of a Baldrige Examiner (which in reality I was for many years). Consequently I led with a question to the group simply saying imagine that I am a Baldrige Examiner here to assess Duke Power. Here is my first question: ‘What do each of you do every day to clearly communicate to all employees the importance of the customer?’ You could answer this one right? Let’s hope so.
In the case of Duke Power there was ‘dead’ silence for at least 5 minutes. Finally, Rick Priory the President raised his hand. I called on him. He said, ‘I visited 100 customers last year’. I quickly wrote it down on my flip chart and waited and waited and waited. Nothing! So I began as follows. I said, Rick, please tell me:

  • How many customers does Duke Power have (I already knew and had spoken with some in focus groups or visited their company)? Of course he said 6 million approximately.
  • I said, ‘Rick, what data and information did you look at and how did you analyse it to decide on which 100 customers to visit? Maybe you should have visited 200? If 100 was the right number, how do you know you visited the most important 100 customers – or was it just random selection?’ I mean, I know that often, a senior executive visits a customer – a large and strategically important customer only when there is an emergency like the customer is very unhappy and talking to the news media or threatening to do so. Or it may be that Rick hadn’t see George at company X in a long time and just thought it might be a nice idea to stop in and say ‘Hi’ to George.
  • I went on. When you visited the customers, did you have a specific agenda and use the same agenda consistently during each visit or was each visit just completely ad hoc and handled differently – in a unique manner?
  • How did you collect the information you gained – what you learned from the visits? Did you write it down or just keep it in your head?
  • When you got back to Duke Power after each visit did you share that information – that knowledge and what was learned with the people who needed to know about it the most or just keep it to yourself – to be used as a ‘trump card’ during a performance review and cause an unpleasant surprise for some employee?
  • At the end of the year, did you reflect on what you had done – all those visits and what was learned – the key lessons and then make a decision to do things differently or better next year?

Well as Rick began to cry, I thought it was time to stop and move on to something else. But hopefully you now have a picture of the difference between an ‘ad hoc or informal’ approach and a ‘systematic’ one. If you are on the leadership team, one of the very, very most important behaviours you must exhibit is that of being a role model – of leading by example! If you aren’t doing things right, how can you reasonable expect that staff will do them right unless you are a hypocrite or have a double standard in place.

The above is simply some of the ‘foundational elements’ of the Human Achievement Model – A Matter of Heart’. The rest of the story will come in Part 2 and I think you will find Part 2 exciting!

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