Transformative change. It’s been a popular business phrase for a very long time. Transformative means…
causing a marked change in someone or something
I guess folks mean something substantial. Something that sticks and has a big impact.
One reason this podcast is entitled Grow Great is that I view growth as the goal. Maybe it stems from my early career in the consumer electronics business when Japan ruled the day. Constant improvement was the popular business banter. The Japanese call it Kaizen. Pure and simple – it’s figuring it out and growing all along the way. Getting better every day.
People want to be part of something bigger. Something monumental. Something challenging.
We want a cause. Some of us crave it more than others, but I’ve never encountered a high-achiever or an aspiring high-achiever who didn’t fully embrace joining a movement, a cause.
That’s why when I first read of a man from Springfield, Missouri who opened the books of a new company in 1983 resonated with me. A decade later, in 1993, John Case of Inc. magazine was credited with coining the phrase, open-book management. But Jack Stack and SRC Holdings created it. In 1992 Stack wrote the book, The Great Game Of Business.
Jack was running a plant for International Harvester when word came down, “we’re closing your plant.” Stunned, thinking they’d been doing good work, Stack dove into finding out what went wrong. How can our plant close when we’re doing what’s asked of us? He taught himself by asking great questions. He learned about business and along the way, grew a resolve to buy the plant and keep it going. Rejected time and time again for loans he and 13 employees cobbled together about $100,000 and finally got loans in excess of $8M. Along the way, Jack knew the employees needed to understand what they had never understood before – how companies make money and what’s required for businesses to be sustainable. That meant Jack had to open the books and share key numbers with employees. It worked so magnificently that within 5 years (by 1988) the company was worth in excess of $40M and they had saved over 100 jobs. And as they say, “the rest is history.”
Jack Stack created a revolution. He created a movement – a cause. Admittedly, it was a big cause – “let’s save our jobs, let’s save our plant.” Does every movement have to be that dramatic? Or that enormous? No. Movements can be positive and they come in all shapes and sizes.
Many years ago I learned what Jack Stack discovered. Ironically, it was about the same time, too. The early 1980s. Jack’s success eclipsed mine big time, but the lessons learned were similar – people need a game to play.
More specifically, people need to see where they fit and how their work makes a difference. As a teenage employee, I learned very quickly the importance of congruency. I once worked for a boss who said one thing but did something different. His actions were rarely congruent with what he preached. I learned firsthand the negative impact that had on employees and the culture. We struggled because none of us had any clue how we made a difference. We were just working for our paycheck and our commission.
Let’s learn some things together from all this. Let’s create a movement and get people energized by understanding how their work makes a positive impact on the company.
Step 1 – Give People A Story
Storytellers focus in part of the characters. The story is all about the characters and how they behave. Well, your company is filled with characters – employees, team members.
What’s their story? I don’t mean you dive into their personal lives. I mean, what’s their story in the context of why they’re holding their role in your company? Have you told them the story and shared with them how they affect the outcomes for your company?
If you don’t give people a story about how they fit, they’ll create their own. And it won’t be good.
Most people lean toward filling in gaps of knowledge with paranoia or the prospect of something negative. It’s commonplace. Maybe human nature. Leaders are wise to assume it. And then fixing it. There’s no downside to assuming that people will say negative things to themselves if you don’t intervene as the leader!
What happens if a person doesn’t properly perform their job? Do they truly understand it?
It’s your job to make sure they know that story. Not in some “I’ll kick your butt” speech, but in an honest, open conversation about what’s required for the company to achieve the goal.
Step 2 – Keep The Big Thing In The Forefront
What is the goal?
Some think it needs to be financial. That’s up to you. I’ll just tell you that people need to understand how important the numbers are. Jack Stack and his original workforce didn’t understand it. They never attempted to learn until they got word their plant was going to be closed. Learn from their story. Know the numbers that determine success. Teach them to your team. But you need something bigger.
Maybe it’ll help to share with you an objective that I established years ago in a retail company. MTA = Most Talked About.
There were many other elements, but I wanted to focus on a singular effort of dazzling customer experience. The challenge I issued was simple – how can we be the most talked-about store (in a positive way)?
You gotta mean it. It can’t be a platitude. Words don’t matter if the actions won’t back it up.
What’s your big goal? Make it plain, easy to understand and real. Make it big enough to be ongoing and long-term. Most Talked About was a goal we knew we’d always work toward.
Step 3 – Live It
Revolutions are led by real people. Genuine people. Pretenders don’t successfully lead revolutions. Check yourself. Look in the mirror and get real with yourself first. Fix whatever ails you as a leader because the troops will spot it instantly.
Nobody ever worked harder to help the boss get a new BMW.
Nobody ever worked harder to help the boss take a fancy vacation.
That doesn’t mean the boss – YOU – can’t drive a fancy BMW or take a fancy vacation. it means that can’t be the battle cry for your movement.
The goal has to be alive in your life and your leadership. That goal has to be your passion first.
Step 4 – Don’t Compromise It
It must be a cause that speaks to others. When you get it right, it’ll resonate with the right people. When it doesn’t resonate, then you know you’ve got the wrong people.
Don’t waver. Stay the course.
You’ll be tempted to squeeze people into slots where they don’t belong. Resist.
You’ll be tempted to accept people who don’t fully buy into the WHY you’ve established. Their talent will call out to you and tempt you to think you may be able to make it work. No, it won’t. Waste no time fooling yourself.
Hire nobody who refused to see the reason. Revolutionaries want to be alongside other revolutionaries. Don’t match them up with mercenaries. Accept only the real, genuine thing – people who see what you see and want to achieve what you do.
Step 5 – Let Everybody Know The Result (Did We Win?)
Have you ever bowled?
Would you like to bowl in the dark…without seeing the pins? What’s the point, right? I mean, the whole object of the game is to knock down the pins. But if you’re unable to see the pins you knock down, there’s little point in throwing the ball down the lane.
Sadly, we can operate our businesses daily without letting our employees know whether they’ve hit any pins or not. We think they should be thrilled to show up every day not knowing if their efforts are resulting in a win or not. Your team isn’t that stupid. Or foolish.
Teach them the game they’re playing. Teach them how to play it. Then keep coaching them how to get better. And let them see visible results of how well they’re doing. Are they winning? Are they losing? How can they affect the outcome? By playing the game better and better and better.
You’re now ready to go back and close the loop on the circle or cycle. Go back to step 1 and keep reminding people of their story. Keep putting in the work to create a movement. It’s the very best way to implement – and to keep implementing – change.
Be well. Do good. Grow great!
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