When he returned to lead Apple, the late Steve Jobs shared with employees that the goal was to make much of what they do obsolete—not the mission of Apple, but the tools and techniques. His belief was that each person and every organization benefits by always being in the mode of continuous improvement.
Twenty years ago, I wrote the book Hardwiring Excellence: Purpose, Worthwhile Work, Making a Difference. The Wiktionary dictionary defines hardwire this way: “to connect components by means of permanent electronic wires.” I was familiar with the term hardwire from my father. He was always involved in some form of construction work. Many projects involved wirings. By putting the wire through a steel tube, the wire is protected from the elements and is held steady.
In researching the word hardwire, the above definition fit. The question was, “How can things be put in place inside organizations, so they are steady over time?” Other words that come to mind are “reliable” and “consistent.” Wiktionary also describes hardwire in terms of making a pattern of behavior automatic.
It is important to hardwire certain behaviors and processes. Hardwiring works unless conditions change. What if those behaviors and processes that once worked are no longer working—or not working as well as they once did? What then? This is the question that I have been asking myself and others. My conclusion is that some things should remain hardwired or, at minimum, hardwired to some extent. However, most behaviors and processes need to be rewired in today’s environment.
People and organizations are not the same as they were 20 years ago. For example, we can now get medical test results very quickly. The treatment of diseases is different from what it was 20 years ago. And it is not just in healthcare: I was in a restaurant and used my phone to get the menu; then ordered from that menu and paid from my phone. The meal was then delivered to me. Two years ago, I would not have been comfortable doing this. When flying, boarding passes are on our phones. Years ago, I stood in line as a person used a credit card while most of us had cash. The credit card user took longer. Today, it is the opposite. Some changes make things better and some may not. Regardless, there are times we need to adapt.
After I had presented at a conference, an attendee shared on social media how surprised he was that I was sharing that some things I have taught in the past need to be changed. Yet life is not static. Neither are organizations. My experience has led me to the understanding that much needs to be changed.
In the new book Rewiring Excellence: Hardwired to Rewired, Dan Collard and I share how to evaluate if a process, practice, or behavior needs rewiring, and ways to rewire a number of actions. Items to rewire include selection and onboarding of talent, professional development, employee engagement, customer (patient) experience, assessing the organization’s human capital, employee wellbeing, and more.
The question is, how well is what you are doing working? If things are working great, then leave them as they are. When I go to have my blood drawn, I will be asked my birthday by each person I encounter. This process is hardwired and seems to work. It’s a good one to keep. If results are not what they once were, or have never been what is needed, then it’s time to rewire. I do find it interesting how long an organization will continue trying to implement actions when they are not working. Why? They may not know another way. The actions may have become such a habit they find it hard to stop. Maybe there is that hope they will start working again. Maybe they are afraid to try another way.
In Rewiring Excellence, methods are presented that are doable and that will achieve the desired results. One example is onboarding. Most organizations have all new employees take part in an orientation. The goal is to introduce them to the organization. This usually happens on their start day. This is still a good idea, but now more is needed. Since the pandemic much has changed. A Director of Human Resources mentioned that some people accept the job and then don’t show up on day one. The book describes ways to start the onboarding process during the interview process.
Here are some tips on rewiring actions in your own organization.
- Always start with current results in the area to be rewired.
- If the results are what you want, you may be fine. The only issue will be if something changes: for instance, there’s a new competitor, or new technology enters the market. I was watching an old show the other day, and everyone was on a BlackBerry. Complacency often leads to losing momentum.
- If the results are not what is needed, ask whether this is a sudden decline or a pattern. In healthcare, the patient’s experience is measured by the government. The survey used is called the Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems, or HCAHPS. Since 2016, patient experience has been stagnant. That is despite investing lots of resources. This flat result leads to looking at how to rewire the actions and processes that have been in place for some years now. I address this in Rewiring Excellence.
- If results are not what is needed, look at the experience level of the staff. Today, there are more people new to leadership positions than ever before. Many of these individuals are in the process of learning. It takes time. Also, be careful to sequence learning in a way that does not make the person feel worse while you’re thinking you’re helping them be better.
- Be okay with saying, “At the time this made sense. Today it is a different environment.” It does not mean what was done in the past was wrong. It does mean it is wrong to keep doing things that are not working. The term rewiring works well in building the “no regrets” mindset. It helps us get away from the “live in the past” mentality and move into the “now” reality.
I am so excited about Rewiring Excellence: Hardwired to Rewired. We do not want access to the book or cost to be barriers. Until October 15, 2024, you can download a copy of the book at no cost at this link. Thank you…and please let us know your thoughts!