One of the little discussed joys of teaching my kids how to do tremendously fun things like swimming, or riding a bike, is that I get to reuse lines that I hated when I was learning those skills. My favorite, by far, is a variation on this exchange:
“That was awesome, but remember to look straight at where you’re going, not down at the ground!”
“I know, I know, you already told me that!”
“If you already knew it, then why weren’t you doing it? Let’s try it again.”
While I disagree with some of the Sandler sales training methodologies, I like the title of their book You Can’t Teach a Kid to Ride a Bike at a Seminar. My four-year-old daughter is adamant about learning to swim this summer. Every chance we’ve had she wants to get in the pool and practice with me. In no time at all, it’s coming together. She’s determined to learn by doing it.
Something that kids learn quickly is that it’s easy to know something, and it’s hard to do it. It’s a lesson we seem to forget as we get older and settle into our professions, though. In my work with clients, I often find a tremendous disconnect between knowing what to do and getting it done on a regular basis.
People, departments, and organizations can get so involved in their day to day workings that they miss the obvious. Or they think, “That’s too simple to be helpful.” Or they think “Surely, we must have a good reason for NOT doing this blisteringly obvious thing, and I’m too busy to find out what it is right now…”
Over the past ten years, I’ve worked with small companies doing a few million in revenue to global, publicly-traded Fortune 500 businesses and every one of them had plenty of blatantly obvious, simple, of-course-you-already-knew-that, things that weren’t getting done. There’s a lot of learning going on, or the quest for something bright, shiny, new, or better, but they’re often missing the fundamentals.
One of the fascinating parts of the Checklist Manifesto was when Dr. Gawande explained why surgical checklists were so effective. It wasn’t because doctors were learning new techniques from the list. It wasn’t because it was teaching them some “secret 18 steps to successful surgery” that they hadn’t learned in med school. It was because it forced them to do everything that’s required and to think about every piece that’s required, in every surgery. It sounds simple and obvious, but the truth is that when the pressure is on, it’s easy to forget the simple stuff, and the simple stuff is where the greatest results come from.
We don’t want you wasting your time looking for the latest “secret,” which you can only learn from us, and which will leave you as lost after you learn it as you were before. Instead, we want you to be looking for the simple things that (for whatever reason), you’re not doing.
This attitude and desire for something “new” is one of the most common features of human nature that I see in my clients (and in my younger self), regardless of their industry or size. Perhaps it’s because we’ve been trained to be information junkies, or perhaps it’s because we’d rather feel like our lack of success to this point is because we didn’t know some magical secret, rather than because we neglected to do the obvious work. Whatever it is, it’s everywhere!
Here’s an example to make this more concrete:
One of the first things we do with every client is to determine a measurable activity that is critical to performance, and then start tracking that activity. Every customer service person in a large B2B organization says it’s obvious how to provide excellent service, but when we follow what proactive efforts they’re making, we often find they’re not doing much of anything. They are busy, they’re stressed, filling their days with work, but the activities that they told us were the absolute, bottom line, most important and most impactful aren’t getting done nearly as much as they need to be.
I was once told by an executive of a major organization after delivering multiple pages of recommendations that, “ We’re already doing everything you’re telling us to do,” when in fact they weren’t doing any of it–at all–and certainly with no consistency or congruency across the company.
I sure hope they bring their water wings to the pool.
Your challenge for this week:
Think back over the last couple of weeks. Have you heard any ideas, or been given any suggestions, that you dismissed as being “basic” or “boring” or “old news,” but that you still aren’t doing? If so, take a closer look at them and see how you can put them to work in your company.
If you haven’t, be on guard for it in yourself and the people you work with over the next week.