Wednesday, April 15, 2009

"Confidence is what you have before you understand the problem." Woody Allen

"Passion is born deaf and dumb." Honore de Balzac

"You are a victim of the rules you live by." Jenny Holzer

Today's image: Clothes Pins by thenewclotheshorse. Great shot. Thanks for sharing.

Minding the Gap

Improving performance
The three questions
The five action steps

To achieve your objective, to reach or exceed your goal you'll need to become obsessed with the gap. The gap is that territory between where you are now and where the goal resides. In my experience, leaders that focus only on the objective, singularly on the goal, are the ones who are most likely to fail in reaching their goal.

The three questions

On a daily basis leadership must ask three questions...

1. What is happening?
2. What is not happening?
3. What can I do to influence the action?

The five action steps

On a daily basis leadership needs to ensure decisive action is taken...

1. Measure. Observation is certainly very important. Being aware of what is happening and what is not happening is critical. Reducing these observations to measures, to data, is key. Establish a scorecard or a dashboard and track metrics. Data is everywhere - capture, organize and share it. Remember Drucker ..."Information is data endowed with relevance and purpose." What are the numbers?

2. Study. Once leadership has metrics at hand attention should be focused on doing the homework. The process of reflection leads to analysis and helps one to develop a cold unvarnished interpretation of process and events. This step requires thinking out loud, encouraging dissent and open, intellectually honest debate. THINK. RETHINK. What does your "gut" tell you? What do the numbers mean?

3. Decide. Set standards of performance. Begin reading "through" the numbers, get a feeling for what's working and why. Make informed, considered, carefully measured decisions. Create a daily action plan. What are the numbers suggesting we do next?

4. Act. Put things into motion. Make something happen. Leadership must instill a bias for action. Remain flexible, keeping the team focused on the finer points of execution. All the rules and discipline of great performance art are in play. Celebrate success no matter how small. Catch people doing something right. Are we executing on plan? What numbers are our actions producing?

5. Learn. Leadership must lead learning. Leaders are responsible for developing a deep understanding of what's driving their business (and what's not). The great leaders know their numbers cold. The temptation is to be seduced into putting the numbers aside, which leads to confusing activity with progress. This is where metrics play a vital role. The scorecards or dashboards, the numbers, work to keep the team honest. Discover what activities are working (i.e., producing effective results, the best numbers) and which are not. Experiment and learn to fail faster. Keep the words of the great Sir Ken Robinson in mind "If you're not prepared to be wrong, you'll never come up with anything original." Score and evaluate all activity. Step up, fine tune, productive practices and abandon practices that fail to meet established (and dynamic) standards of return. What are we learning? What have we learned? What do we need to learn? What needs to be done? This is the essential step where game-changing innovation is fostered.

"If you do what you've always done, you'll get what you've always gotten."

One of the biggest challenges of leadership is nurturing the important process of unlearning. It is the responsibility of leadership to produce results and this requires the constant questioning and testing of all conventional wisdom. One must not simply accept industry dogma as is but dare to break free from accepted practices. This is the price to be paid in any quest for true greatness.

It's all about daily discovery within the context of workflow. It's not a matter of getting better but rather an exercise in changing up activity, and getting dramatically different. To reach or exceed your goals and objectives you and your team will first have to get serious about doing your homework, concentrating on all the factors at play around and near a constantly moving target. To succeed consistently you'll need to learn to think like a merchant which means you'll have to focus on today's receipts, weekly and monthly tracking is too late to matter in today's changing world. To win dedicate yourself to becoming a master in the game that is minding the gap.

(FD: Today's post was inspired from materials developed for one of our popular 2008 workshops "Leading the successful station brand: Lessons learned from America's best local retailers." As many of you are aware we also happen to be merchants, accordingly, we closely follow and study retail. Our retail operation serves as a real-time working lab. One of our favorite questions to ask those who propose to teach others how to sell retailers - or charge for insights into how the business of retail works today - is "Please, tell us about your retail store?" The answer too often reveals ... 1. No retail ownership experience whatsoever 2. Little or no actual retail management experience. 3. Little or no recent experience advising retailers. Buyer beware.)

P.S. If you have not done so already, please do not forget, today is the day to pay Sam. He's expecting it.

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