Improvement Happens In The How Not In The What

One of the biggest mistakes people make as they take on leadership roles is they focus too much on the bottom line, and not much on how those results are achieved. Results matter, but unfortunately what they fail to see that improvement happens in the how not in the what.

When I was 18 years old I worked at FedEx Ground. I started at the bottom, loading trucks. No one ever told how things got done in a better way, people simply did things in whatever way came to mind. I noticed this, got really frustrated, and decided there had to be a better way to do our job. So, I started breaking down everything, beyond what I was doing, and in less than 2 months I reduced a 10 step process into 5, which led to massive improvements in being able to handle more volume with less personnel and less effort.

I saw that mediocrity was celebrated. And I didn’t want that become normal for me. So in the first 3 days I was there I told myself: While I’m working here, I don’t want this to become normal for me. I have to do something to change it.

And that’s what I did.

Do you think anyone took notice? They did. But they focused on the result. That is until Fred Smith came along and started asking me questions about how I made certain decisions and what prompted me to take action. He, as opposed to his plant managers, saw the whole picture. Because he understood that in knowing the how he could then adapt it to other plants.

The “how” we’re talking about is a mix of culture and processes. If people don’t know or understand what gets celebrated and punished, they will do whatever comes to mind in how they do their job, or they’ll simply look at how their co-workers go about their job and follow suit; without questioning whether or not that’s the best way or the wrong way.

Yes, I was a crazy horse that came into a situation where there wasn’t much of a culture of improvement; it was bottom line oriented. Once I started making progress with my experiments I was seen as a threat by managers, they just couldn’t hold me back because I was also making them look good but at the same time they felt threatened by me.

On the flip side, this wouldn’t have happened in a culture where improvements is celebrated.

Bottom line: Celebrate how get things done, not just the end result, if you want your team and organization to improve. Ask yourself: Are you inspiring mediocrity in others? How about are you permitting mediocrity? Do you celebrate it?