One of my favorite business books of all times is Jim Collins best-seller “Good to Great.” I was hooked on the very first page when Collins writes:
“Good is the enemy of great. And that is one of the key reasons why we have so little that becomes great. We don’t have great schools, principally because we have good schools. We don’t have great government, principally because we have good government. Few people attain great lives, in large part because it is just so easy to settle for a good life.”
Think about that in the business context for a moment. If we already have B players on the team, do we stop chasing after superstar employees? Do we allow processes to remain “good enough” because to make them great would require us to be honest about our shortcomings? Do we begin normalizing the sea of complacency that forms because to challenge the “way it is” can feel uncomfortable and even futile?
We already know that the work day is filled with inefficiencies. Research finds that upper management can spend 50 percent of its workweek in meetings (with middle managers right behind at 35 percent). What’s more, the average U.S. employee spends about 4.1 hours checking work email each day, or 20.5 hours each week. When you compound that with added challenges like disparate systems, archaic processes, siloed data and redundant workflows, suddenly workplace inefficiency soars to even greater heights.
As business leaders—no matter if you are a Chief Technology Officer, Director of Human Resources or VP of Finance—we have a responsibility to fix what’s broken. Our teams expect us to always be looking under the hood (especially during the hard times) to determine if there is a better way to do something. They believe in our ability to innovate and transform, often looking to us for the answers to make something better. Our managers feel the same.
With these expectations placed upon us, we need to begin asking ourselves the hard questions like:
- How much money is being hemorrhaged by keeping legacy systems and broken processes in place?
- If I could start over, would I still choose to run my business the way I am today?
- What is the cost to employee morale and stakeholder perception if I continue to let things remain the way they are?
Though we likely know that as leaders we have to challenge the status quo, why do we at times remain reticent to do so?
A 2016 study conducted by Leadership IQ, which surveyed more than 30,000 employees, asked participants to answer whether their organizations openly share their challenges. Here were the results:
In other words, only 35 percent of leaders frequently discuss their organizational challenges. What’s more, research from Gallup finds that 70 percent of change initiatives fail. So, what can you do to ensure that you not only become a change agent within your company, but that your initiatives succeed? Let’s take a look:
- Identify Your Challenges: Before you can build a solution, you have to really understand the processes, systems and technologies impeding your organization’s ability to go from “good to great.” If you are in the retail sector, for example, that could mean integrating your phone and CRM systems to be able to deliver a heightened level of customer service. If you’re in banking, that could mean launching an application to remain more competitive. Begin by evaluating your existing landscape objectively, listing out the chief challenges and analyzing their impact to the business if they remain unaddressed.
- Dream of the Future: With your obstacles well documented, now it’s time to dream again. Imagine a world in which you no longer operate out of disparate systems containing conflicting data. Or an environment in which your business didn’t depend on and live in spreadsheets. These dreams become your desired future state and they are critical to understand as you build the bridge to a new way. The key word here is “possibility.” Oftentimes, when we get mired down in system and process bottleneck, we forget that other possibilities exist for a better way.
- Start Evolving: As Collins argues, “Greatness is not a function of circumstance. Greatness, it turns out, is largely a matter of conscious choice.” In other words, you can choose to put your ideas into motion. With a clear understanding of your existing problems and desired goals for future state, start innovating. Perhaps that means repositioning your in-house talent to better support a systems upgrade, or maybe it means teaming with a third-party firm to tap into a heightened level of expertise. The key is to build a plan and start executing because every moment spent in your current state takes away from your business moving forward.
Your organization put you in a leadership role because of its fierce belief in your ability to be the catalyst for change. It’s time to innovate. Where will you start?