What bothers you…? When I first started at Microsoft, I took over for a guy named Chris. He was very effective and efficient in his work. In an environment where everyone had too much to do and was always running from one thing to the next, Chris had a calm about him. At the end of the year right before the review cycle, there was an endless string of kudos that he would share highlighting the accomplishments of his team and himself. I was often amazed at how much he got done even though he didn’t seem to work as hard as everyone else.
I asked Chris what his secret was. He said plainly, that every time he had a fire drill he took the time to write down what happened and then he created a system to make sure he never had to deal with that fire drill again. For example, back in those days, there were a lot of data requests from Redmond about PC shipments in our territories, or licenses sales by software resellers. Chris created a list from IDC, Gartner and several other analysts about PC shipments in his territory, when the request came through he already had the data – responding was a snap.
In the classic book The Effective Executive by Peter Drucker, (if you’d like a copy, let me know), Drucker points out that the role of the executive is to identify issues and create solutions that eliminate or mitigate those issues permanently. He goes on to say that there are very few new problems, most are a repeat of an unaddressed issue. An “effective executive” designs solutions to these problems so that the organization can manage them efficiently. It’s a simple concept – what is an example of a problem that you deal with on a consistent basis? Design a solution so that it’s never a fire drill for you again.
At Nordstrom, for example, the return policy was an organizational solution to resolve most any customer satisfaction issue – we’d just give the customer their money back. It’s a pretty simple solution to a huge number of problems… think about how much goodwill that earned the company, but also consider how much time and energy it saved the employees so they could take care of more customers. Have you ever been waiting in line while someone was making a return and been frustrated because it was taking too long? The cashier had to call the manager over, get approval, fill out a form, all the while you just want to pay for your things and leave.
I’ll be sending out a survey to the company next week. I want each of you to identify one personal fire drill you could eliminate by being prepared, and one repeating corporate problem for which you’d like to see a solution. During your monthly one on one with your manager, discuss a consistent problem or fire drill, and work out a solution. From the list of corporate issues, I am going to pick out a handful of issues, and then we’ll convene working groups to resolve those concerns permanently. We don’t have to build Rome in a day or fix issues overnight, but we can make a difference every day with some good habits.
Let’s go be great!