Today’s audio is 15:40 minutes long.
Experience Extraction – Part One (of I-Don’t-Know-How-Many)
Today, it’s about extracting value from a resource, namely from people. Sounds awful, doesn’t it? Inhumane even. But it’s not. It’s quite necessary and effective. And I’ll argue that it’s far more than some selfish leader or dictator tactic.
By now you know how fond I am of being a learning organization. Too few are though. Most get up in the morning and do exactly what they did the day before. Some scramble, but only when something forces them to. I spoke a bit about “hustling” and “scrambling” at another podcast I do over at Leaning Toward Wisdom, but I’ll give you the abbreviated version that you’ll be able to quickly relate to.
You have an agenda for tomorrow – assuming tomorrow is a work day (and for you, any day can be a work day, right?). You’ve got meetings at precise times. You’ve got a few things that absolutely, positively must get done. Other things can be put off. So it goes. Just another day, right?
Until something happens to disrupt it.
Think of something that could do that. I’m thinking of the recent ebola scare that now seems to have subsided somewhat. What if that poor man who walked into the hospital in Dallas had walked into a Southlake facility? Got nothing to do with public works directly, but I’d imagine that would rattle every window and door in Town Hall. Suddenly, the whole city government goes in full-blown scramble mode.
Well, these things happen to us more often than we might realize. Some examples I cited in the podcast had business application. A business opens up and aims for a certain dollar amount of sales per day. But as the month comes to a close they realize they only got 37% of their intended target. They scramble. Like a football quarterback, scrambling happens when plans fail. Or when something unexpected happens.
What does that have to do with extracting experience? Everything.
We know about some things. For instance, we know Chuck is leaving at the first of July next year. We know you have plans to “retire” about a year later. That’s a lot of years of experience walking (maybe running and screaming) out the door. At least out the door of the City of Southlake. And since you’re a high integrity guy who is interested in leaving the place better than you found it, there’s the desire to get things ready.
So what’s the plan?
It’s okay that it’s not fully developed, but time it ticking. Meanwhile, the work continues. It’d be like that dentist working on that patient while that patient is running. But how it has to be because that’s your environment. And I’ve got news for you, that’s EVERYBODY’S environment. Everybody I know feels pressured to complete the project yesterday. Everybody I know laments that they never catch up, or get ahead. We’re all drowning in our work because in this digital age everybody is doing the work of three people, and it’s rapidly migrating to four. Such is life.
Many of us are failing to plan because we don’t take the time (or we think we don’t have the time) AND because we don’t think there’s much use. After all, how many intentions have we blown just this week. As the old Negro slave slogan goes, “Mean to don’t pick no cotton.”
Sometimes we fail to plan because we’re not sure what we’re planning for. Bosses hijack our day. Problems erupt that obliterate our calendar. It makes it hard to embrace the thought of wasting time planning.
But consider the alternative – and don’t worry, I’m working my way toward extracting experience and learning. Imagine the football team that goes to the line without a called play. Eleven players. Some may be thinking along the same lines, but how would you know? Many of them are thinking one thing, while the rest are thinking of something completely different. Whether on offense or defense, it doesn’t matter. Suppose some are thinking RUN and others are thinking PASS. What are the chances of success? ZERO. NONE. They have no chance of success. I can guarantee their failure.
Now, call a play, one they’ve practiced many times before. One they’ve proven they can successfully execute. Let’s assume offense. They know the precise signal at which the ball is going to be snapped. The linemen know their blocking assignments. The skilled positions know exactly what their responsibilities are. The ball is snapped and one lineman loses his balance. Just one player is off balance as the ball is snapped. The other 10 are all doing fine. Suddenly, a defender is in the backfield with the quarterback who is now running for his life. He’s scrambling. And they had a plan – a plan they all knew how to pull off. Now, success resides primarily with one person, our quarterback. The longer he can “stay alive” the more time it gives the other players to get in some position to help him, especially the skilled players who might be able to receive a pass.
Scrambling elevates the pressure to perform under undue pressure. And it happens. It can’t be avoided 100% of the time, but as we’re able to avoid it – we want to.
Enter learning. What can your team learn from Chuck before he’s gone? What advantages can you take while he’s in his current role? What plans can you form while you’re in a position of strength – without the pressure of his absence?
I remain an enormous proponent of closing the KNOWING-DOING GAP because I’ve seen it all my life in real world companies. I’ve seen it at high levels and low levels. People are think they need to learn more before they can better. But these same people universally admit they’re not yet doing all they know to do. And still they’re yearning to learn something they don’t yet know. Something they believe will cure, or help cure, whatever ails them.
Step one is formulating a plan to get everybody doing what they already know they should be doing.
Members of your team are no different than any other team. Some are performing at a high level consistently. Others less so.
And not all roles are equal. Some deserve higher compensation because they’re more vital. For instance, in a company where sales mean the world, then salespeople earn more. Their performance impacts the organization more than most others. Your department has some people who fill roles that impact the overall department more than others. This is important because plans have to take into account the value of the resource, and people are a resource. Now we’re not talking about the inherit worth of human beings, we’re talking about the value role people and positions serve.
Let’s say some low level hourly worker is slacking off a bit. He’s not doing everything he knows to do. Should a lot of planning go into fixing that problem. Sure, at some level it should, but that planning needs to be pushed down to the VERY LOWEST LEVEL possible. Is it a big deal? No. Should it continue? No. But it’s not risking the entire department to have guys earning $10 an hour slacking off now and then. It happens.
Now, let’s say we’ve got some engineer on staff who consistently isn’t performing at a level that has long been established. That is, their not being asked to learn something new, take on a new task, develop some new program. They’re just not quite performing as they should in their daily tasks. That’s a bigger priority. Is it a stop the presses problem? No. It just needs to be addressed by that engineer’s boss.
Let’s keep moving up the food chain. Let’s say somebody on your staff isn’t doing what they know they should be doing. Consistently. The higher up we go the more impact that person has on the whole department. The greater their influence, the greater their impact. For good or bad.
Leadership is pretty simple as far as power or impact goes. Who can most put the organization at risk? Who has the power or authority to make decisions that can hurt us the most? Start at the top with the City Manager and she’s got the most direct power. She can make decisions that will risk all the rest of you. That means her leadership trumps everybody else. And she’s got a burden that goes with that. So do you.
What plan can you create and implement? Implementation is critical. Unexecuted plans are worthless in real-time. Our football team with a stumbling lineman doesn’t care that they did that play perfectly 100 times in practice. What matters now is that the plan failed. That doesn’t mean the plan was faulty. Or that they wasted their time planning and practicing. It just means something happened that demanded they adjust and scramble.
So what’s the plan? Learning starts with doing what we know to do. English teachers have notoriously taught writing students to learn proper grammar before you start breaking the rules of grammar. It’s the same principle at work of doing what you know before you start veering off into new ventures, or breaking new ground.
It’s about consistency. It’s about being able to perform the plan over and over with predictable success. It’s about getting a team of people performing with predictable success at what they already know. Then, we can start learning more.
Let’s stick with our football analogy. If our starting wide receiver is in the final year of his career, he can teach us some thing. He doesn’t have to be a future Hall of Fame candidate. He’s played in many games. He’s seen lots of defenses. Maybe it’s the very subtle things can knows instinctively because he’s been doing it so long. Maybe it’s more structured than that. But whatever it is, he’s got experience that we’d be foolish to let slip through our fingers without some plan to extract that, or pass it onto our other wide receivers. Or our coaching staff.
Back when I was doing a lot of hockey coaching I went looking everywhere I could for people to help me better understand the game. I’ve never played it, but I was a very good coach because I was an avid, enthusiastic learner. I can’t even skate. But I’ve coached a number of championship teams at all ages. Because I knew I had to extract experience and value from others. I picked the brains of professional players. I connected with professional and amateur coaches. I read everything I could find. I studied players and teams. And coaches. It was a solid 15 year plus stretch of idea, experience and skill extraction. Deliberate. Planned. Intentional.
I had only one goal – to make myself the most valuable coach possible to my teams. I wanted my service to go as high as possible for a person without firsthand experience. I knew it was possible. I also assumed, correctly, that it would take me longer, but that was okay.
Time is an important element. Especially for you, what with Chuck and you. But that compression of time isn’t a panic thing. It’s just a specific period of time that requires more precise planning.
There’s no excuse for any of us to avoid proper planning and proper execution of the plan. We just have to make sure that when execution fails it’s not because our team doesn’t know what play we’re running because we didn’t plan one, practice one and communicate one. Way too many organizations get all that wrong. They’re playing sandlot football up against a professional team that knows what they’re doing. And the results show.
We’ll pick it up next time. In the meantime, think about what you want to do and what you know you need to do.