I woke up recently in great spirits. I was spending time with a group, and they noticed my jovial demeanor. One person described it as childlike joy. Later on, another person shared that since they have begun meditating, they are doing better. It hit me: I had meditated every morning for the past week. Maybe this influenced why I had woken up in such a good mood. As he continued speaking, I realized that I had not meditated that morning. I was reminded that too often I start a new practice, things get better, and then I back off.
You have likely known someone who started a self-improvement effort and experienced good results, then slowly stopped doing what was working. Weight management comes to mind. The person adjusts what they eat and increases their exercise to achieve their goal. Medically, their health indicators all improve. They feel great and receive lots of compliments. Then what happens? They start nibbling on the sugary or fried foods they had cut out, they start skipping walks, and before long, they’ve gained back the weight they had lost.
This pattern is not unusual. It also happens with organizational behavior. An organization needs to improve. They bring in an expert to help them. They implement best practices that lead to improvement. The organization celebrates the improvement. This is a good thing…then over time, much of the practices erode. This leads to results stagnating and getting worse.
There are various reasons why tactics that work are reduced or stopped, or why they stop producing results. One is that the organization keeps acting at the same level without accounting for the changes occurring around them. The external environment is constantly changing, so the internal environment must always be adjusting in response. It is called continuous improvement. If one stands still, they go backward.
Another scenario is that an individual or organization declares victory. John Kotter—a best-selling author who is a thought leader in business, leadership, and change—writes that a sure way to have transformation fail is to declare victory. This does not mean we shouldn’t celebrate achievement. It means not to rest on one’s laurels.
Yet another element that can reduce gains is a lack of standard operating procedures. Called “SOPs,” they are the steps needed to achieve the desired outcomes on a consistent basis. Step One is to make sure SOPs are in place. It’s also important to keep them up to date.
Staff turnover is another reason companies lose gains. Unless there is a good onboarding program, new people are not aware of the processes that need to be done the same way every time. Thus, consistency suffers, and customers may quit coming back.
A few tips:
- Leverage the power of tracking yourself. This is discussed in Chapter 29 of my book Sundays with Quint. Major League Baseball’s Peter Woodfork, the SVP for Minor League Operations & Development, shared with me how much he liked that chapter. It makes sense. Baseball is the consummate example of a field that tracks outcomes for consistency. I was thrilled to get a call from Peter. He is an exceptional leader. Again, the best want to get better. Many apps track things for us today. I use one to track my steps each day. I can then connect my efforts to outcomes.
- Remember: Clarity, clarity, clarity! In looking at cause and effect, often the issue is a lack of clarity in communication. Vagueness equals inconsistency, and that equals not achieving goals. At times, to achieve a goal requires 100 percent compliance. If this is the case, it must be made clear. If the CEO asks leaders to complete an assignment, I feel 100 percent is in order. If the CEO is okay with less, they need to say so. Let’s say the CEO tells all leaders to complete an assignment by a certain date and publishes results that show 82 percent of the leaders completed it. Unless the CEO said that 82 percent is okay, the message will be that CEO requests are optional. Not everything needs to be 100 percent. Clarity does need to be 100 percent.
- Keep standard operating procedures and checklists current. In studying declining results, such items not being kept up to date seems to be an issue. Ask yourself: Does the organization have a standard process to assure items are up to date? This is no different from checking the expiration dates of food in your kitchen.
- Prioritize selection, onboarding, and consistent investment in people. Another reason results may decline is the presence of new employees. Yes, we are grateful when new people join us. However, if the selection and—most importantly—onboarding processes are not great, neither will the results be. In addition, ongoing training and investing in resources is critical.
Knowing the why behind a procedure is critical. My experience is that most of the time, the why is understood. The how is often understood. So is the what. The hard part is taking the action consistently—every leader, every employee, every customer, every time. Knowing oneself and having systems in place (including measurement) are critical for achieving consistency.
P.S. I did take time to meditate before I wrote this!