2 Steps To Getting Lean Enough To Succeed

What if Congress had to get rid of an old one every time they wrote a new one? Think about it.

Now let’s take this to the business arena. What if the CEO could only introduce a new objective and all the new work that goes into implementing it, after eliminating an old objective and all the work that went along with that one? Just writing this I hear the cheers of millions of hyper-productive employees who have been multi-tasked into exhaustion.

Just as we’ve seen in lean manufacturing, an absolutely critical factor for success isn’t what you add, but what you take away. By this we’re talking about having the clarity and courage to remove situations, people, and obstacles in your own leadership that stand in the way of growing momentum from simple inertia to catalyzing success. 

Naturally, there are obstacles that are easy to give up once you take an inventory and realize that you’re tolerating them. So start with that.

Once those are gone you’re left with sticky attachments that are really difficult to cut loose: the customer who sucks up inordinate resources with the promise of a future payback that’s isn’t quite materializing; or the receivable you spend so much effort attempting to collect that it’s getting in the way of growth. How about the mildly disruptive employee who doesn’t reach the potential you saw when you hired, despite all your coaching?

There are things that we carry around in our organizations and in our mentality that make things more cumbersome than they need to be. Treat your leadership like you would treat a manufacturing floor and get leaner now. Here’s are the two fastest ways to achieve this.

Come out of hiding. 

Many people avoiding sticky issues saying that they like to allow time to let things work out on their own. Sure, that could be a legitimate hands-off leadership approach, but it can also be the mantra of procrastination or worse, avoidance.

The problem is that a leader who avoids making decisions is also giving up control. For example, I worked at company that got behind in payments to a key vendor. Instead of addressing this directly, the CEO chose to avoid conflict with the vendor at all costs. This made life difficult for the engineering team because when quality and delivery issues arose, they were under direct orders not to hold the vendor accountable. Naturally, this caused the engineering team to lose confidence in the CEO. 

On the other end of the spectrum, clients whom I’ve advised to address similar situations immediately have found their vendors to be receptive and adaptable by altering their terms. By addressing the issue directly and not avoiding, there was less stress on everyone involved and a better outcome was created.

Move on, even when you’re right. 

Far too often I see leaders get tangled up in pursuing a matter on principle. This can be as tangible as money they’re rightfully owed, or as conceptual as an acknowledgement of error. 

In the end, it’s about being right and getting admission from the person who has wronged them. The question is how far they’re willing to win. If the best revenge is living well, then the ultimate loss is being driven by anger, frustration, and bitterness no matter how things turn out in the end.

Letting go of money is certainly a big deal, but bad debt is also the cost of doing business. Tally up the hours spent pursuing it in thought and action, then add that cost to whatever effort you put into earning the money in the first place through your goods and services. It may be a hefty amount.

Now add in the very significant cost of placing your focus on the past instead of the future. You may find that you can make up the bad debt and more by pursuing new business and creating new opportunities. Now the cost of pursuit becomes staggering.

I’m not advocating walking away from a tough situation--that would be avoiding. Instead my message is to fight for a while, then assess the situation pragmatically and move on when the time is right. You’ll definitely feel better and your performance will improve when you let go of old injuries. I’ve never had a client do this and regret giving up being angry too soon. The opposite is far too often the case.

If you’re in this kind of situation now, I recommend doing the following: figure out your ideal outcome; assess the lengths to which you’re willing to pursue it; create a measurement so you know when you’re reached the point of diminishing returns; and if you hit it, then move on. 

In a recent conversation I had with Marshall Goldsmith, who has been named the number one leadership thinker in the world, he made a marvellous observation. He said that the person with the power to decide gets to decide. They don't have to be the most right; they have the power. I’m not telling you anything new when I say that you can’t control other people--only yourself.

Getting lean takes rigor and boldness. In this economy, productivity is at a premium and room for error is almost nil. Still all too often I see companies engaged in activity that may get them near their goal, but won’t make it over the finish line. Lean is the work of successful leaders, both as actors and as role models who can transform their teams by example.

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[Image: Flickr user Simon Pais-Thomas]

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