Think of the last job or the first job you hated… really hated.
For me, my first introduction to unbearable, truly awful jobs came when I was 12, growing up in rural Maine. I decided to take a job picking eggs at a local chicken farm, DeCoster Egg Farm. So there I was, a scrappy five-year-old kid, walking up and down aisle after aisle, sticking my hand in the chicken cages to collect eggs—all the while hoping not to get pecked or clucked to death!
I wanted to be the superstar egg collector, so I made my rounds as fast as possible, scurrying my little legs down each aisle. The first day, I collected 5,000 eggs. I also decided the job was that horrific that I either had to quit or change the situation. I chose the latter. The next day I came in and reconfigured the whole egg collection process, removing all the unnecessary steps. I was able to collect 10,000 eggs, then 15,000. By the end of my 90th day, I was picking 70,000 eggs a day. From that day forward, I learned a valuable lesson about leadership: you must own both the problem and solution. It is a profound realization that has stuck with me my whole career.
Last week, we held a Trilix workshop centered on how to reignite a move towards workplace excellence within our departments and organizations. We invited the business community to come out and make a commitment to themselves to start to do better, specifically to begin to own the process, technology and systems issues that plague their environments. Metaphorically, we were asking them to find a better way to collect the eggs.
Our event kicked off with a panel discussion that included me and my good friends: Suma Gaddam, Senior Vice President & CIO, Care New England; Darlene Major, Vice President Corporate Information Systems, Amica Mutual Insurance Co.; and Tom Pesaturo, Principal, Exceeda Consulting. After the panel, our attendees broke into small groups and were asked to pinpoint their top challenge and outline the steps needed to reach a more favorable outcome. We had an awesome time at the event (be sure to check out the pictures here), and I want to share with you a few critical concepts that came out of the day:
Our Employees are Hurting
We confronted the brutal reality that our employees are in pain. Specifically, 53 percent of American employees are not engaged and haven’t been for some time. What’s more only 30 percent of our employees feel they have the materials and equipment needed to do their work right. In short, we have not yet mastered the people, process and technology ratio, and it’s often our employees that lose out.
With our employees disengaged and disempowered, our organizations are at significant risk. I particularly like how Suma put it when talking about the danger in this problem: “It’s really about the survival of the organization; you lose your superstars when you don’t fix the problems.”
Think about that for a moment. It’s about survival of the organization. When our employees hurt, we are at risk of them checking out, underperforming and potentially leaving. Fortunately, we have a wealth of tools and technologies at our disposal that can greatly enhance the day-to-day of our employees.
Continuous Improvement is a Mindset
I have long subscribed to the Jim Collins’ school of thought “good is the enemy of great.” I would add, mediocrity is the death of greatness. We celebrate mediocre or good business wins because they aren’t overt losses yet, in so doing, we fail to realize we could have been extraordinary.
As business leaders, we need to embrace a mindset of continuous improvement, believing that everything and anything can run, operate, perform and function GREAT. This means actively searching for manual processes to automate, for broken processes to fix, for legacy technologies to replace. It means refusing to say, “It’s the way it’s always been done.”
To adopt a spirit of continuous improvement, you need to be personally ready as an individual leader. You must be in a mind space where you no longer accept the status quo, and that takes energy and effort. But when you do, you can ignite a change movement. At Trilix, we believe that this movement leads to workplace excellence, a heightened level of excellence that is reached when operations and culture are fused together.
To begin subscribing to the notion of continuous improvement, we must be willing to solicit ideas and perspectives across the organization—not just as that top. As Darlene perfectly put it, “It’s about empowering and listening to your employees and having them come up with fresh and innovative ideas so that they start to feel like they are moving their company forward.”
Change Starts on the Frontline
Tom made a powerful statement during the panel. He said he always reminds his clients that “To define is to destroy and to suggest is to create.” As he explained, “When leaders define the change that is going to happen, they get low adoption rates and low engagement because their employees are not part of the solution. Workplace excellence is about empowering individuals to make change.”
As business leaders, we can’t set or enforce the vision; rather we must build it and share it with our teams. When we all own the vision, we all own the steps we must take to execute against that vision. The challenge is that some of us have more of an appetite for change than others.
When I think of readiness for change, I always think of this model which outlines the three archetypes people assume:
- Climbers: These are the change agents, the individuals who thrive in the face of adversity. They are typically the first to get on board with change.
- Campers: The individuals in this group have the capacity to welcome some change but also feel worried the change might bring complication. So therefore, they do nothing. They take the wait and see approach.
- Captives: These individuals are incredibly change-adverse, seeing change as danger headed their way. They will fight the change at all costs.
Though we move through all archetypes at all phases of our career, the more we can assume the role of the climber, the more we inch closer to workplace excellence within our organizations.
One Step Starts it All
We ended our panel discussion answering one fundamental question: when you hear the phrase “workplace excellence,” what phrase comes to mind?
- My answer was “transformation.”
- Suma said, “continuous improvement.”
- Darlene said, “empowerment.”
- Tom said, “engagement.”
Workplace excellence starts with one small step, one small thought and suddenly you begin to build the bridge to better business outcomes. We left our attendees with one small ask: what is one thing you can do differently tomorrow to start tackling your top process, system and technology challenge?
I will leave you with that question as well. What is the one thing you can do to move your department or organization forward? Sometimes all you need to do to move the needle forward is think of one concept, idea or phrase.
Since our inception, we have been committed to redefining what it means to reach workplace excellence. There are many ways you can stay involved in our conversation from participating in our workplace excellence blog series to bringing us into your organization for a Lunch & Learn! To find out more about these opportunities, drop us a line.