The Standard

“The standard is the standard.”

–     Matt LaFluer (b. 1979), first-year head coach of the 13-time World Champion Green Bay Packers

We know it when we see it.  The standard.  If we’re setting expectations well, no one need ever doubt our “standard.”

Seth Godin turns 59 today.  Seth makes me better, every day.  A client of mine uses #getbettereveryday, and Seth Godin is the embodiment of that hashtag.  I don’t agree with everything he says, yet if I had to argue on behalf of everything he says, I could.  His thoughts are that well organized, his perspective pointed and direct, but approachable.  Clarity is not only his friend, it might be his twin brother.  He is the standard for marketing thought and for directions to execute great marketing.  Subscribe to his blog here, and if you don’t think it makes you better, you’ll be mistaken.  Just sayin’…

Salvatore “Sal” (Teddy) Lococo would have been 62 yesterday.  There’s no link to Sal on Wikipedia, there’s no webpage for his work.  Sal was my friend and also my barber.  He was “the” barber in Milwaukee.  He cut Bud Selig’s hair every Friday morning at 10 AM, and until Buddy messed it up (usually within about an hour), he looked like a million bucks walking out of the shop.  Nothing drove Sal more crazy than Buddy being on TV with his hair “all wrong.”  “For —-‘s sake, Buddy!”  he would blurt out!  “What did you do?”  If you clicked the link on Selig’s name, you saw a photo.  Sal did not do that.  That was 100% Buddy’s handiwork!

Sal cut my hair every other Friday at 10:30.  He even made me presentable.  He cut it for both my mom’s and dad’s funeral, refused to accept payment and still did an incredible job even through real, Sicilian tears.  “Stevie, I can’t believe your dad is gone.  That’s just ——g breaking my heart!”  We cried real tears when Sal passed last year, because of the friend he was, not the barber.  That said, he set the standard for haircuts, and even though I like what my current stylist does with what’s left of my hair, Salvatore “Sal” (Teddy) Lococo was, and always will be, the standard-bearer.

In well-run organizations, the standard is the standard, and it is clear to anyone who cares to look.  We can try to raise it, and we should.  We can try to enhance it, which of course we should.  But we know it when we see it, and if we have to ask what it is, there’s more broken than just our standard-setting.



Too Much of A Good Thing

“The hardest choices in life are the choices between two good things.  And we always take good things too far.”

–     Roy H. Williams (b. 1958), “The Wizard of Ads” in his book, “Pendulum

Williams’ book, co-authored with Michael R. Drew is a very good book.  The point today isn’t about Pendulum, though.

It’s about choices between two good things.

Perfect is the enemy of good enough, especially when we keep in mind that perfection is usually not attainable.

Delighting customers and increasing margin are both good things.  Too much of one ultimately affects the other in a negative way.

The way I see Roy’s perspective here:  In business, it doesn’t have to be choosing one good thing at the expense of the other.  We can always choose in a broader context.  We can choose now, and then consider changing conditions and perspectives until we want to / need to choose again.  That second part is how we keep from taking good things too far.

Getting The Fit Right

“None of us is as smart as all of us.”

–     Ken Blanchard (b. 1939), American business author and thought leader

My first exposure to Ken Blanchard was The One Minute ManagerSince then, a few times each year, something he’s written or said comes in to play for me.

This week, it’s about “fit.”

A client of mine is in strong growth mode.  It’s a great business, and the entire organization “gets it.”  They also need to add several team members to accommodate their hard-earned growth.

Talent is easier to come by than fit.  Intelligence is easier to find that the right “fit.”  A job description is easy to hire to, a culture isn’t necessarily more difficult to hire to — it’s just much, much, much (yes, that was three “much-es” with italics added for even more over-the-top emphasis!) more important to get right.

Some companies / authors refer to it as the “No A**hole” rule.  It doesn’t have to be that harsh.

It might be as simple as finding someone who adheres to Blanchard’s point above — and who’s willing to get smarter every day, along with the rest of the team.

How do we get it right?

  1. Let the team interview the short list candidates and give them a safe place to provide open, candid and direct feedback.
  2. Defer to the team if there’s more than a little doubt.  Turnover is expensive, and good cultures won’t tolerate weaklings in the pack.
  3. If you’re in love with a candidate but worried about the “fit,” trust your instincts.  There are lots of potential boyfriends and girlfriends that look pretty good near closing time.  Step.  Away.  From.  The.  Bar.
  4. Be willing to invest in the new hire’s success, and provide them at least one, and probably two mentors or partners within the team.  Teach those team leaders to speak directly to culture and to transparently work with the new team member to make them a) feel welcome and b) get productive quickly.  Oh, and c) encourage them to gather insight from the newbie that might help you build an even stronger team based on the new perspectives.
  5. Don’t hesitate to cut when you get it wrong.  You’ll know, instinctively, if the “fit” seemed right, but isn’t.  If it isn’t, it just isn’t.  Pull the chute.

When all of us get smarter, and when all of us make one another smarter, there’s no stopping us.  Getting the fit right is table stakes for that kind of approach to our business.

Motion vs Movement

“To do two things at once is to do neither.”

–     Publilius Syrus (85 – 43 BC), Latin writer

Motion is like a feather duster.  It stirs stuff up and makes us feel like we’re getting something done.

Movement is like a vacuum cleaner, for the sake of the analogy.  It picks stuff up and gets rid of it.  It moves us closer to the goal.

In an era that romanticizes multi-tasking, it’s important to remember that multi-tasking is also largely an impossible undertaking.  The more we try to do at the same time, the less we get done.  Publilius said it better than I a long, long time ago.

A less-cultured source, Larry the Cable Guy, would just say, “Git’r done!”

Motion does not equal movement.  And movement is ultimately what we’re likely to be judged upon.

How Many Boys?

“One boy is a boy.  Two boys is half a boy.  Three boys is no boy at all.”

–              Loren Stark, my late grandfather, who’d have turned 118 years old today

Grandpa, whom everyone knew as “Starky,” had the quote above to offer whenever I told him that I was going to bring a couple buddies along to “help with some work” on the farm.

Mary Poppins’ “spoon full of sugar” aside, ultimately, it comes down to whether we get things done or not.  Where we really need extra “boys,” let’s engage them, and make sure they know their share of the work.  But if all they’re going to do is distract us, and, oh, I don’t know, have us end up skipping gravel across the pond (not that THAT ever happened…), let’s tackle it on our own.

If three of us can make a bigger difference in three different places, then those places are where we ought to be.



Ready Or Not…

“…8, 9, 10!  Ready or not!  Here I come!”

–     Surely you don’t need me to attribute this one, right?  

When our eldest was in the hide-and-seek stage, she would routinely yell, “NO!  Not yet, Daddy!  I no ready!”  She wouldn’t say “I’m not ready,” it was a very adamant “I no ready!

What a business lesson that can be!

Too much of what we do in business these days is based on speed.  Too often, we simply insert “go” where “no” might be the more prudent approach.

Said differently, there’s value in knowing when “we no ready!” as long as it doesn’t become paralyzing.  General Patton’s admonishment (“a good plan ruthlessly executed today is better than a perfect plan two weeks from now…”) is a solid counter-balance here.

If we have a good plan, we’re ready.  Maybe not completely ready, just ready.  And unless we’re at least just ready, there’s value in saying, “NO!  We no ready!” until we are.

To paraphrase Dad, and as I quoted last week in this post, there’s no reason to use action as a default for getting ready.



Beyond Training – Permanent Improvement

“Perfection is self-defeating.  Constant, daily improvement is empowering.” 

–     A mentor, in reply to one of his team saying, “I won’t rest until it’s perfect…”

Training is great for skills.  Training is great for fundamentals.

Learning, though; learning is the key to constant, daily improvement.

Harvard Business Review wrote about this topic in an article (Reprint #R1903H) a few weeks ago.

The core of their position is that our teams are more adaptable than we often think they are, and that they really do understand, or at least sense, feel and internalize shifts in markets and the impact they have on our companies and our teams.  Ironically, the teams, HBR says, tend to be more optimistic about what lies ahead than do leaders.

Successfully maximizing the opportunities we face today involves establishing and living a learning culture, engaging the teams to help build and adapt it and collaborate, across lines, across companies and within organizations.  More ideas are better.  Remember, ideas are the currency of difference makers.

Last, and most certainly not least, if we can’t embrace uncertainty, we must at least have a plan to manage it, to make it a topic of conversation and to honor its place in our teams, broader organizations and the hearts and minds of the people we lead.

We’ll never be perfect.  But imagine the difference it will make when we get a little bit better, every day!

There’s No “I” in “TEAM,” or is there?

“Michael, I need your help.  I need you to realize that there is no “I” in team,” said Phil Jackson to Michael Jordan, perhaps the greatest basketball player ever to live.  “Phil, that’s cool,” replied Jordan, “I just need you to understand there IS one in “WIN!”

–     An exchange between the new (at the time) coach and his superstar player shortly before they won six championships in seven years

The fact of the matter, of course, is that there are several “I’s” in “team.”  Eleven at a time in football.  Five at a time in basketball.  70 at a time with one of my clients.  Teams tend to be as strong as their weakest “I’s,” so giving each “I” an understanding of it’s place in the team is the responsibility of coaches and leaders in sport, business, family, etc.

The Toronto Raptors ended the Golden State Warriors streak of championships last night.  Kyle Lowry stepped up as a major “I” in the deciding game, yet Kawhi Leonard won the series Most Valuable Player award for being a dominant “I” across the six-game total body of work.

Yesterday, in a meeting I saw people named Tina, Courtney, Marc, Brian, Kip and Dustin all use their “I” to make the team more better.  And yes, “more better” is still a technical term.

Are there times that I’s have to set themselves back a bit to help the team win?  Of course.  Kawhi only had six points in the first 20 points of the game last night, while Lowry had nearly 20 points in the first 12 minutes.  Which is exactly what set up a reversal of impact later in the game.  So, while suppressing our “I” sometimes is called for, maximizing it in the context of the other “I’s” around us is what puts the “I’s” in team.

The leaders job is to draft and hire the right “I’s” so that 11 = more than 11.  So that 5 = more than 5.  So that 70 = more than 70.  So that outcomes = more than expectations.

In short, there are lots of “I’s” in “win.”  Each “I” has to come to work with that in mind.  Each “coach” has to build an environment where they come together for a greater good than if they went it alone.

In business.  In sport.  In life.  It’ll make a difference.


The Smell of Diesel Exhaust

“Don’t just do something!  Stand there!”

–     Dick Heston (1933 -2002), my dad, mentor, friend and the voice I miss most

Yesterday afternoon, I drove behind a diesel tractor moving from one field to another.  The smell of diesel exhaust always takes me home, usually to memories of late nights, plowing to get ready to plant, the aroma of turned soil and diesel exhaust bringing me back to my dad.  Back home.

There are sometimes lots of moving parts.  Confusion.  Static.  Distractions.

Dad was a master at just soaking it in, and not doing something just to be busy.

Activity isn’t always our friend.  Reflective thought steps in then.  Contemplative thought.  “What if?” thought.

If today, you’ve got too much to do, don’t just do something.  Stand there, until you figure out what to do — next.

The Only…

“To be what we are, and to become what we are capable of becoming, is the only end of life.”

–     Baruch Spinoza (1632 – 1677), Dutch philosopher, as quoted in the 2001 Gallup / Buckingham / Clifton classic book, “Now, Discover Your Strengths”

I’m working with a company who believes in Strengths-Based Leadership as much as I do.  That’s joyful time spent, let me tell you!

It got me thinking…

Buckingham and Clifton were right, 18 years ago, and they’re right today, in both the macro and micro senses.

Honoring who we are — the wiring God put in us — and diligently becoming who we’re capable of becoming is the only.  Yes, I actually finished that sentence.  It’s the “only.”  It’s difficult for others to knock us off course, and it’s easy for us to make progress when we’re focused on those two variables.

And, more often than not, we’ll make a difference…