Getting better all the time

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Over the weekend I found myself in an unfamiliar small town.  Happily wandering around I came across an old fashioned bicycle shop that had some very modern looking machines in the window.  I wandered in and fell into conversation with the owner.    Having worked our way up and down the ranges that might be in my budget he took me over to a stunning looking carbon fibre sculpture.  Weighing in at 6kg it sported the very latest lightweight technology.  Stiff, yet flexible it is designed to allow smooth power transfer from the rider whilst insulating the rider from the worst of the road vibrations.

And the crowning glory?  Electronic gears.  Ultra lightweight gears that change rapidly and smoothly at the, very gentle, push of a button.  For the professional (or wealthy) rider there is no more holding a lever down until, after a bit of grinding and crunching, the gear is selected.  Just a gentle click.

This technology is available to anyone, in a little old fashioned bike shop near them (for the price of a small car admittedly).

I was brought up having drummed into me

if it isn’t broke, don’t fix it

Whether this was simply to stop me taking perfectly good things apart and turning them into non-working things with a few leftover parts or from some other motive isn’t clear.  It seems to be perfectly sensible advice.  Don’t tinker around with things that are working, you might damage them.  Don’t waste your time on the things that are in decent shape, put your focus elsewhere.  And if nothing is broken presumably you can pull up a chair and put your feet up, take it easy.  No point in sweating over stuff that is working just fine.

Of course it is hard to tell if something is not working optimally if you have nothing to judge it by.  As a youth I was very happy if I could actually get my bike to engage all the gears it was meant to, never mind speed or quality of the change.  It wasn’t until I understood that there was a better way that I saw things as ‘broken’.  The innovators amongst us have nothing more than curiosity.  They wonder if there is a better way.  And they tinker, not always knowing where the improvements lie.  They make things smoother, lighter, better.  And eventually after much incremental improvement we end up with the Shimano Di2 gears.

We have a choice, we can congratulate ourselves that all is well and take it easy, until someone else shows us the better way.  Then, if we are still in business, we can copy their innovation and try to catch up.  Meanwhile they have likely moved on again.  Or we can look for continuous improvement and breakthrough innovations.

All of this seems so obvious and I started asking myself why incremental change is so difficult when the benefits are clear.

In practice it feels very dangerous to tinker.  Especially with your people.  There are so many interconnected elements that it feels like a big bowl of spaghetti, if you pull one piece others move in unpredictable ways.  It feels safer to do nothing.

As individuals we are all familiar with the concept that expanding our self awareness is the starting point of self improvement, but in businesses this seems to be less accepted. What a manager needs is a way of understanding the spaghetti bowl.  There are many tools out there that can be used to diagnose issues with a business and it’s people.  So why aren’t they used more?

The diagnostic tools can be quite costly, spending precious budget to identify an issue that no one is aware of and that may not exist is awkward.  They can also be quite specific, leading to the concern that if your only tool is a hammer all your problems look like nails.  They can also raise expectations – if a manager or the HR department carry out say an engagement survey they raise the expectation that issues identified will be fixed.  Therefore budget needs to be found not only to run the diagnostic but to fix the as yet unknown issues.  What if it transpires that the workforce feel that the culture is ‘wrong’ and yet there is no appetite to change it?  What if the pay system is broken and their are no funds to improve things? What if…?  Better not to know about problems you can’t fix, eh?

A friend of mine has developed a simple and currently free diagnostic that aims to cut through some of this for businesses.  It asks a series of straightforward questions and produces a score on eight categories related to engagement and performance of a team.  Completely web based it can be deployed to a single team, a department, a business unit or a whole organisation.  It’s a lovely simple tool that shines a light on areas that are stopping the business reach it’s full potential.  The very fact that the categories ‘overlap’ highlights the ‘interconnectedness’ of things.  Because of it’s low key nature and broad scope, expectations can be managed – indeed I am considering using it as a form of feedback for some of the executives I coach.

Carrying out a simple broad diagnostic such as this raises awareness of areas that do need attention, they may not be broken but they would benefit from some improvement or innovation.  Armed with a generalised picture the manager can focus her efforts and limited resources on the areas that will make most difference.

If anyone would like to try the Team Dynamic diagnostic please get in touch or click here to take a look, who knows where it might lead.

It’s getting better all the time
(Better, better, better)
It’s getting better all the time
(Better, better, better)
Getting so much better all the time

LENNON, JOHN WINSTON / MCCARTNEY, PAUL JAMES

 

 

 

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