The renowned management expert Peter Drucker has said that “culture eats strategy for breakfast”. He further describes how important it is to have the right culture in the organisation in order to achieve good work in the business.
For me, my daily focus is on helping organisations with their improvement work. Here I see that we can have good models and methods (which is also a must for success), but if we don’t have the right attitude in the organisation, we won’t be able to improve either. It becomes stagnant in the same place, with the same problems as before.
In two weekly letters, I wanted to describe two crucial rules you need to follow in order not to get derailed in your improvement work. We start with the rule of perfection and correction.
Rule 1: Perfection and Correction
I quite often encounter cultures where people are worried about making mistakes. Because if you make mistakes, there is an imminent risk of being scolded. And being criticized for mistakes is never fun, especially when the person giving the criticism doesn’t understand the rule I describe below.
So how do you avoid criticism? One way is to constantly work towards everything having to be perfect before you say you’re done.
This makes it a “showstopper” from really driving the improvement work. Because if you’re worried about the criticism that will come if you get it wrong, then you’re also constantly worried about whether the improvement you want to make is really good enough. What if someone thinks differently or criticizes me and us for this?
Everything can be changed
What we need to keep in mind is that we can always change things. Ok, maybe not “always”. There are things in the world that when we face them need to be very well thought out and tested, such as those related to safety, for example in a nuclear power plant, medicines, rocket launches, or the like. The consequences of a mistake will be too great for it to be ok to take a chance.
However, most of us do not work in such an environment and we have different assumptions about what must be perfect and what must not.
If you want to change the process for example around
- how to apply for a pre-school place,
- investigation of development needs,
- creation of work orders or
- planning of marketing campaigns,
it’s not critical if the improvement isn’t as good as it could be if you just thought for a few more months. Or perhaps involved (even) more people.
No, it’s about coming to the realisation and confidence that what we have thought through together and now want to introduce is good enough for now and that we can change it back or develop it further if it turns out not to have the effect we wanted.
Don’t stand on one leg
There is a Chinese proverb that says “he who is afraid to take the next step, will easily stand on one leg”. You need to take the next step in your improvement efforts, and now.
I say over and over again that “remember that what we do and decide now, we can change it later if we think of something better or it didn’t turn out the way we thought it would”. It allows us to really move forward and not be paralysed by the fact that everything has to be perfect before we move on.
Don’t wait for perfection, but use the opportunity for correction.
This applies to every step of an improvement process, such as our workshops and ongoing decisions. And it also applies to deploying the improvements we have in mind, i.e. we don’t just work on designing and building, but we really implement it in our operations.
Watching out for
Some examples that warn that we are too worried and that it will be slow to work are:
- If we have to constantly check with everyone before we decide how we want it.
- That our workshops include “everyone” just to ensure that everyone has a say.
- When the boss, or even several bosses, have to be present at our work just to make sure we don’t do anything crazy.
- When we constantly need to think and test just a little bit more, because we might have missed something.
So the first rule is not to wait for the perfect thing, but to implement the improvements you have in mind with confidence in yourself and your team, and that you have thought well enough. And that you can work on improvements in the future and make corrections on an ongoing basis.
Improving a business is not done in one big leap, but in many small steps where we constantly learn from mistakes to do better today than we did yesterday.
In next week’s newsletter, I’ll continue with rule number two, which is tightly linked to rule number one that you read about in this post.
I’ll talk to you then,