The Right Prescription…

Once we come to terms with the fact that our organization is almost certainly leaving money on the table, the most natural response and most frequent response I’ve seen a business owner or executive take is to jump right into identifying exactly which things are killing their profit and taking swift action to implement a cure. While this is a normal approach, it’s not necessarily the right approach…

Make no mistake, it’s a rare occasion today where someone can say “I don’t have access to the information I need” and that be a valid excuse. If anything, we carry more information around in our pockets than we could ever possibly apply; well, at least access to that much information by way of our cell phone… And there’s certainly no shortage of people who are willing to offer their opinion. The key to achieving the results we’re after, especially when it comes to stopping the bleeding where profit is concerned, lies in determining what’s truly causing our issues.

I learned to change the oil in a car before I ever had a driver’s license and I’m absolutely certain that I could still do it today, more than three decades later. That said, there’s not a scenario that exists today where I’m going to try. I also know my way around the electrical panel box in our house so I could probably replace a light switch or outlet if push comes to shove. And a few years ago when we replaced our roof, I didn’t mind climbing the ladder to be part of the process. But in none of those cases does it make sense for me to try to do it all myself. Nor am I willing to trust just anyone to do it for me! The primary value I’ve gotten in having experts do each of those things isn’t just in me avoiding the physical labor; I could make a strong case for needing more of that! The real juice from each squeeze is in having a trained eye perform each task and be able to recognize any potential issues that may be related to the task, whether it be right away or even months down the road.

The same idea holds true for having a strong relationship with a family physician who understands our medical history. We can run into a doc-in-a-box most any time of day, let them poke and prod a bit, and walk out with a piece of paper for just about anything we want. But if they don’t have access to our file, that fifteen syllable word scribbled on the paper may not play well with our other meds or a pre-existing condition. If it’s the right prescription we’re after, we’d do well to see someone who knows us and is an expert in their field.

I found an article on called The Number One Cause of Business Failure: Team failure are usually the result of leadership failure, that opened by stating “Bad leadership destroys engagement, raises stress levels, reduces morale and ultimately it leads to failures that can kill businesses.” Near the end of the same article, the author emphasized that “Things rarely fail because of technology or natural complexity. No, they fail because the teams are not engaged, inspired or empowered.”

If we want to have even the slightest chance of getting the right prescription for what’s killing our profitability, and potentially killing our entire business, would it make any sense at all to trust that to anyone without proven experience in achieving the results we’re after? In a conversation with one of my best friends recently, he asked if I knew what someone who graduated dead last in the medical school class. I immediately replied: DOCTOR… But having a certificate on the wall ain’t the same as delivering results!

Education or Application?

In March of 2000, as a 23 year old 250 ton stamping press operator (and carpenter on the side), I applied for and was somehow offered a position implementing the latest and greatest lean manufacturing initiative the company I was working for was pushing down from the corporate office. I had been working in some capacity for nearly ten years at that point and took more than a fair amount of pride in being willing to outwork most everyone around me. I had done reasonably well through high school, in spite of refusing to study or do homework after the first semester of my freshman year, and I had only (lightly) hit college with a stick. LIke a ton of awesome folks I’ve seen over the years, that work ethic played a significant role in me being offered that new position. The challenge was that I had almost no preparation for what I would be expected to do once I accepted - and that was just the first challenge!

In addition to being far less than prepared with whatever requisite skills the interview panel believed I actually had, my primary responsibility in that new position would be getting my coworkers to change the way they had been doing their work for years. Not only did many of them have more years of experience in doing that work than I had on the planet, my position carried ZERO authority and the process I was working to implement garnered very little support for the facility’s supervisors and managers!

To say I was in over my head would be putting it very mildly… No big deal, it was only a job. Did I mention that my actual first day on that job was my first day back at work after our honeymoon? Yeah, that didn’t add any pressure at all!

All said, I was still expected to produce results. Not just results in how things looked, those results needed to show up through increased productivity and overall profitability. That forced me to devour every resource I could get my hands on that would help me communicate more effectively, earn influence with those folks I needed buy-in from, and eventually lead that particular initiative in a way that achieved positive results. And that really set the tone for the next two decades of my career. Since then, Cindy and I have invested a fortune (literally) into the tools and mentorship we’ve needed to learn to lead effectively - a large part of that investment being at times when we had very little left after paying the mortgage. But just like I had to in my first training position, we always made sure we got a solid return on our investment.

Earlier I mentioned that the guy who was dead last in his medical school’s graduating class is still called DOCTOR. While that’s an accurate statement, I’m guessing you’d be no more excited about seeing him than I would. Our concerns would likely be based on whether or not he could provide us with the results we need… Does he have the ability and/or experience to deliver those results? If we want to have any real hope of identifying and addressing the issues that are killing our business’s profitability, we’ll do well to ask those same questions! Are the individuals or resources we’re depending on capable of producing measurable results? Do they have a proven track record of yielding a measurable return on investment? Or do they just have a certificate on their wall saying they’re allowed to talk about something they’ve never really applied?

Had I not been able to deliver measurable results in the last 15 years I worked in manufacturing, I wouldn’t have had a job in manufacturing! I had no choice but to develop a very clear understanding of the difference between education and application, and that difference is what I’ve seen drive measurable results in areas that far too many people write off as intangible or touchy-feely. But before we begin working through some incredibly specific steps we can each take to capture lost profitability in key areas of our businesses, we need to have a clear understanding of what that application looks like!

Experience, Not Theory!

As I started calling your attention to What’s Killing Your Profitability, I explained how important it’s been for me to develop a crystal-clear picture of the results I’m working to achieve as I take action on any new skill I learn. Quite frankly, I can’t point to many things that have yielded results that are even close! But that’s not what I was referring to when I emphasized that we need to have a clear understanding of what application looks like… If we really want to address the leadership issues that are killing our profits, any ole approach won’t do.

Over the last twenty-five years, I’ve read more books, attended more trainings/conferences/workshops, and flatout studied how leadership impacts human behavior and overall performance as much as anyone I know. I’ve also gotten licensed with some of the largest leadership development resource organizations on the planet, and that doesn’t even touch on the tools I used in training teams in the behavior-based safety methodology across North America. The one thing I learned through all that is something I can share now with absolute certainty: results almost never come from simply hearing or reading information. Measurable results come for being provided with a practical approach to taking action on that information!

In a world flooded with coaches of this and consultants on that, many of whom can’t hit their ass with either hand, there’s no magic potion for capturing that lost profitability. Anyone suggesting that making the changes necessary to eliminate those losses will likely lie about other things too! Changing our behavior is hard. But don’t take my word of it, ask anyone who’s ever tried to quit smoking or drinking. You know what else is hard? Watching our bottom line suffer because we didn’t have all the tools necessary to make (and sustain) those changes!

Consider this… If you’re starting a gym membership on January 1, dead set on dropping 30 pounds, and you’re looking to hire a personal trainer, which one would you choose? The stick-figure who just passed a test to get a certificate, the one teaching an aerobics class who’s 50 pounds overweight, or the 50 year old car mechanic who looks like he should be on the cover of Muscle & Fitness? I know I don’t speak for everyone but I can promise you that I wouldn’t even ask the mechanic if he was a licensed trainer! Truth be told, that’s exactly how it unfolded for me when I was 21 years old and I learned more about nutrition and muscle development in a few months with that car mechanic than I had learned from reading magazines in the five years leading up to that! He didn’t teach me theory, he taught me what he had done.

I’ve been around coaches, consultants, and trainers who have had absolutely no hands-on experience applying what they were spouting off about. At best, they had read it in a book or heard someone talk about it. And I’m guessing you’re picturing the faces of a few you’ve dealt with like that right now too! I’ve never considered myself to be anywhere close to the smartest guy in the room, but I have worked incredibly hard to learn from my experiences and I’ve invested a ton of time and resources into developing strong relationships with great mentors. I’ve found that the best results come when we keep things simple, and simplicity doesn’t come from a theory we read out of a book; it only comes from practical experience.

If you’ll hang with me through each of the topics we unpack moving forward, I can promise you’ll find simple steps you can apply to address the things that are killing your business’s profitability. And it will all be based on what Cindy and I have experienced personally and have helped others with!