Five Steps to Firing on all Cylinders

Five Steps to Firing on all Cylinders
Ever had one of those days when getting anything done seems to take an act of Herculean effort? At the end of the day you feel like you have been through a wringer, yet there is hardly a dent in your to-do list. The challenges — customer issues, product issues, people issues — just don’t seem to stop.   And this is all happening at the same time you are trying to accelerate the growth of your business.

Don’t despair – you are not alone.  As organizations grow, processes, structures and ways of working often do not evolve to keep pace with the changes.  Processes that once seemed to work fine, now don’t work at all.   While some people may thrive on performing heroics on a regular basis, many will secretly wish for a less stressful approach, one with some degree of order and consistency to getting things done.  Individually, people across the organization feel like they are the only ones seeing the chaos.  The result — everyone suffers in silence, while the chaos continues.

You wonder “how did we get to this point?”.  There are a number of factors that can contribute to this state:

  • Too busy.  There is so much going on that there is barely time to think.  You are buried in a long list of urgent to-dos and don’t have the time to think about why it is so long in the first place.  Checking off the tasks may seem like a good way to get results, but it only provides temporary relief.
  • “It has always been done this way”.  It is easy to get comfortable with a routine way of doing things.  As new people and customers are added, the old ways of doing things just don’t seem to support the growth. Processes that worked before start to break down. Instead of challenging the status quo, people continue to stick with what they are comfortable with.
  • Got burned before. We tried before and it didn’t work, so why try again now.  People may not realize that the environment and context may have changed.  They don’t consider that with some tweaking based on the previous experiences, they may have a solution that works today.

So what are your options?  You could keep doing the same thing and expect a different outcome. But, we all know where that will get you.  Or, you can decide to up your game.  Here are five steps you can take to get your team firing on all cylinders:

  1. Create a sense of urgency: Consider the impact that your challenges are having on your stakeholders. How are your relationships with your customers, partners, and investors being affected?  What are the potential long-term implications? What about your employees?  Is this the way to keep them engaged?  Thinking about the outcomes on your stakeholder relationships, and in turn, your growth potential will help to create a sense of urgency to act.
  2. Say something: Don’t suffer in silence. Talk to your team. Most likely, the rest of your team is feeling challenged by the same things.  Get the issues out into the open.  You can even reach out to people in other teams. Bringing people together to share their experiences and talk about the issues can be another great primer for action.
  3. Look for root causes: What is causing the challenges? What processes are not working?  Where are communications breaking down?  Does everyone understand the strategy and goals of the organization?  Is everyone working to deliver on common goals? What behaviors are contributing to the situation?   Do you have the resources and capabilities needed to deliver “wow” to your customers?  Understanding the root causes provides insight into what to focus on first.
  4. Mobilize to tackle the issues: Once you understand why things aren’t working well, and where to focus you can work on the solutions. It will take teamwork across the board to make the changes needed.  Engage the entire team to take ownership and help them feel that they can change things. Delegate process improvement, actions, and decisions to cross-functional teams that are committed to working together to tackle the challenges.  Be sure to align performance around common goals to increase accountability.
  5. Maintain the momentum: Getting, and keeping people unstuck from the old ways of doing things requires patience and constant reinforcement.  Be transparent.  Communicate your progress.  Celebrate wins along the way – both large and small.  Capture and share what you have learned along the way.   Recognizing the achievements will keep things moving in the right direction.

Excellence is a journey, not a destination.  Every organization requires some course corrections along the way.  It can be hard to find the time to step back when you are in the midst of tackling a long list of urgent to-dos. Taking the opportunity to zoom out and engage your team in dealing with the issues is a sign of strength and critical to growth.  Elevating the thinking from tactical to strategic will go a long way to identifying the changes needed to keep your organization firing on all cylinders.

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