Yesterday is interesting but irrelevant. This simple phrase defines a strategy to spark exponential growth and efficiency in any organization. For me, it was the opening line of my first speech as a new Air Force Fighter Squadron commander. It encompasses a mentality of limitless positive change and endless possibility.
Too many times in our lives, we do things solely because ‘it is the way it has always been.’ We are subconsciously desensitized to inefficiencies surrounding us in all aspects of our lives, both professional and personal. Next time you do something, ask yourself why you do it the way you do. Is it because it is the most efficient method to accomplish the task or just because that is how you were taught?
Millions of dollars are spent every year on change coaches and efficiency experts to aid mega-dollar companies in becoming more efficient when the reality is each of your employees is the most capable avenue available of positive change.
Each employee knows his or her particular job better than anyone else…better than the CEO and better than the commander. They know where the inefficiencies are in the process and how to improve performance. What they need is clear guidance on positive change, direction to question everything and the empowerment to affect the inefficiencies discovered.
POSITIVE CHANGE. Simple change is not necessarily positive. It is the reason phrases like ‘continuous improvement’ become both white-collar buzzwords and blue-collar jokes. For a change to be positive, it must decrease the time required, increase efficiency, improve structure or increase simplicity. That’s it, simply put. No belt colors, no change coaches, no consulting fees. Every desired or required improvement must meet at least one of these criteria. If it doesn’t, don’t do it.
OLD DOG. The problem with this simple strategy is we all naturally become accustomed to our standard, repetitive duties. When you are new to an organization, everything repetitive to others is new to you. Once you have been there a while, you do not realize how desensitized you become…Guess that is why we are always reminded ‘you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.’ The old tricks, or methods of doing our duties, are what yields continual inefficiencies and the mentality which resists change.
QUESTION EVERYTHING. The military has an aspect most businesses do not: frequent 100% manpower turnover. Although many see this as a negative, an effective leader must capitalize on it. The welcome-aboard meeting with each new member of your organization should include this simple task: question everything. These two words must be a condition of employment. Always question the way business is done to find a better way to function. The newness of a job will wear off in 6-9 months. Before this happens and you become the ‘Old Dog,’ ask why the organization does each task the current way. Determine if your fresh, unvarnished opinion can yield positive change. The problem with this tactic is new employees are afraid of rocking the boat in the eyes of current ‘experts.’ For this strategy to be successful, leaders must instill in the culture of the organization a mentality that positive change is vital to the improvement of the team and continued success.
SIMPLICITY. That is it. The science of everything you need to improve your organization. Now, we all know it is not really that simple or everybody would be successful. The art of successfully employing this simple strategy is to empower each of your team members with the guidelines contained here…and requiring leaders to follow this rule: Don’t change for change sake.
If a change initiative doesn’t meet one of the four rules, don’t do it. Always remember yesterday may have brought you to today, but it most likely will not carry you through tomorrow. Embrace new ideas, new methods and always question the assumptions which define your business model. “Yesterday is interesting but irrelevant” must be an essential concept of employment.
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