It’s a thin line

It’s a thin line between love and hate. This is a great quote to underscore the inherent challenge of delivering excellence or managing to very high quality standards. Recall this great song by Annie Lennox in case you need a soundtrack in your head while reading this.  It’s easy to point out what’s wrong with something, but a much bigger challenge to make it better.

Walking the Tightrope, source: unknown

It’s like walking a tight rope… if you believe high quality is essential to achieving your goal.  On the one hand, you can take the demanding boss or snooty patron approach and simply demand better/more.  This might get you an immediate response, but often elicits such a negative reaction from the people around you that you lose their authentic trust, loyalty, and commitment.

One the other hand, if you tip towards forgiveness and understanding, you actually get less in the moment and hope that next time things will be better.  This might engender fonder feelings from those around you, but fails to set a higher bar, push the envelope, surprise and delight.  It is simply fine (given the circumstances).  Unfortunately, over time, “simply fine” leads to mediocrity.  Eeew.

It’s a difficult competing commitment: be a kind generous human being (like Jesus Christ) or be an innovative bearer of high standards (like Steve Jobs).  Can’t you be both? Sure, and to do so, vision, vigilance, and veracity come to mind.  Introducing the V-3 method of leading for quality!  It helps you walk the line of pushing for mo’ betta, while accepting the inevitable influence of variables, unexpected interruptions, and, well reality taking things back to the lowest common denominator.

  1. Vision: paint a compelling picture of what could be, so others are inspired to act.  In fact, paint is insufficient, you must craft it in Technicolor, no THX.  Yeah, that’s the ticket.  Powerful imagery has proven impact on individual motivation by “priming” people with impressions about what is possible and how it will make a difference.  More importantly, a great vision helps clarify a choice and “allows” others to achieve versus forcing them to respond to a command.  A clear and compelling vision attracts people who desire the same things as you, making achievement at very high levels of quality more sustainable.
  2. Vigilance: don’t let there be exceptions and don’t let there be distractions from the highest priority aspects of your quality mission.  Allowing exceptions and distractions lets people off the hook before they achieve mastery, and may negatively effect their desire to try next time. See more on this concept in Why Chinese Mothers are Superior by Amy Chua.
  3. Veracity: use facts and present them in ways that inspire continued efforts to try harder.  Providing feedback on progress is essential in support of persistance and high achievement.  But the facts must be relevant and presented in appropriate scales.  One study on goal achievement compared weight loss on a wide scale of 25 pounds versus a narrow scale of 5 pounds and found that participants needing to lose 4 pounds were more likely to slack off in the wide scale (because 4 is small compared to 25 while it’s huge compared to 5).

It’s a thin line between engagement and overwhelm.  One last tip:  if you tell someone something is “not good enough” the next action on your part is to pitch in and help make the situation better.  This is a doubly-good thing because mimicry is a powerful social motivator and it’s energizing to have fresh legs in the face of a difficult challenge!

Hockey is life #4-get in the corners

I could go on forever, but I’ll make this the last installment of this series (at least for this season!).  This lesson is about never forgetting about the core of your business.  In hockey, that means gaining control of the puck so you can have the opportunity to score goals.

There are many times when a play breaks all the way down the ice for a dramatic shot on goal.  This is such an exciting aspect of the game, the NHL decided to implement the “shoot out” as a tie breaker strategy.  But the real game takes place in scuffles where the puck is loose and nobody is sure where it’s going to go.  If you want to be in on this action, you have to get in the corners and mix it up.

Photo Yahoo! Sports

Photo Yahoo! Sports

This lesson is about staying in touch with the basics, getting your fingernails dirty, and never being above the play.  You have to be in the real action, to get the real insights.  Real insights lead to innovation and competitive advantage.

In hockey, gaining control of the puck in a corner can lead to a sudden shift in play, often with dramatic results. In your own end, you play defense in the corners to gain control of the play and shift momentum to the wings for a breakout.  In the offensive end, you play for control of the puck so you can pass to a player in scoring position.  Control comes from great body position, full contact, and great stick handling.

It’s often smelly and sometimes painful.  But that’s the front line and you can’t win the game if you don’t win the corners.

Ways to get in the corners in real life:

  • Take a shift on the front line of your business.  Pour coffee, move bags, make sales calls, answer phones.
  • Engage in the tough issues during meetings.  Don’t hang back and let others define the outcome in a way you don’t think is right.
  • Jump in to help during an unexpected problem.  Often times this is where a new idea emerges that can change the course of your business.
  • Change diapers, give baths, play on the floor.  You connect with your kids in ways you’d never imagine!