I heard a neat little maxim recently that really had some resonance for me:
“You don’t have to be sick to get better”
My old friend and US Vistage speaker, Lee Thayer, used to say that the first line on everybody’s role description in any business should read:
“My primary role in this business is to make it the best there is in the industry, BY ANY MEASURE”
Please note the words By Any Measure because adding that puts meaning into the maxim. We can’t achieve what we can’ t measure so making the comparison on a level playing field makes it easier to assess where improvements need to be made.
Lee also said that he didn’t like the Japanese concept of kai-zen, or small, incremental changes, to achieve the improvement. He much preferred a big, dramatic change that would resound throughout the business and build enthusiasm.
There is a good reason for this approach as big improvements are noticeable in the business whereas small incremental changes creep up relatively unnoticed until someone checks the figures and notes the change.
However there is good evidence that kai-zen works in the right hands. For example, Sir Dave Brailsford, former head of Team GB Cycling and now head of Team Sky Cycling is a great enthusiast for the small regular incremental change.
He has a ferocious adherence to the smallest detail that can be changed for the better as the results in both of his recent appointments testify. Team GB was extremely successful at the 2012 London Olympics and did you realise that Team Sky has won the Tour de France three times in the last four years?
Just watch the way that Team Sky dominated the race this year. It brought cries of “They are suffocating the race” from commentators who should know better. If people didn’t like it they had the answer in their own hands. As Dr Steve Peters says, somewhat dismissively “Deal with it!”.
There is no doubt that Team Sky are the one to beat but it doesn’t stop them constantly looking for small incremental changes to equipment, riding styles, tactics and strategy not just to stay ahead but to consistently move ahead.
In so many cases we leave change and specifically improvement changes to a time when we most need them perhaps in a recession or when we experience surprise competition.
The time to implement improvements to whatever we are doing be it in design, operations, quality, service and so on is when we are at our busiest, not at a time of desperate need.
For example the sales effort can start to be slowed down when the order pipeline is long and deliveries start to suffer. That is just the wrong time to slow down, that is when we are sick, and then the need to get better is paramount. Desperate times generate desperate measures that are not always to the benefit of the business and its people.
In the 1920s, a French psychologist, Emile Coue, became very fashionable for his strictures on self -improvement. He suggested for example, that we should daily clasp our hands tightly and say several time:
“Every day and in every way, I am getting better and better”.
Auto-didactic it may be but if the constant repetition of the phase achieves its objectives who can argue?
As the saying goes, we don’t need to be sick to get better. Indeed we certainly should not wait until we are sick to try to look for improvement. It may be just too late if we do. Dramatic change or incremental change? Whatever is best for you and your business but constant, dedicated, planned and programmed improvement is essential.
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