A self-critique of success, failure, and opportunities for growth
Today’s post is from our SafeSourcing Archives.
I believe it’s important to take a look in the rear-view mirror once in a while. To evaluate where you started, what it took to get further, your method for navigating, or things you wished you had done differently. Over the course of 6 years at Safe-Sourcing I have learned a lot, and think it’s worth sharing what I want to keep doing in the form of professional habits. However, the most valuable lessons might be just identifying how I want to grow, and what I want to do better:
Taking notes: Just do it. Maybe you want to appear as though you didn’t need to be told something to do it, or you just don’t like writing things down. Researchers have determined that we only retain about 11% of what we read or hear on average, and that isn’t nearly enough when you are having a fairly detailed conversation upon which the success or failure of your project may be determined. So do yourself a favor: Take notes for everything, and save them in a format that works best with your workflow (Laptop document, email, cellphone app, hand written, etc.) and check them off as you implement them.
Correlation: In procurement and inventory control, this means having unique identifiers that link 2 or more variables together. For example, how would your GPS app navigate you to the right location if there were multiple buildings with the exact same address in your city? A lot of people would get to the wrong place. Unique identifiers are a lot like addresses; they lead to a unique product or spec, so that there is no room for ambiguity in identifying exactly what you are looking for. Committing to a specification of a product because it “looks like” the specification of another is relying on luck to get the right product to fit your needs, and it will eventually end up biting you. Relying on exact matching of unique identifiers will make sure that what you want, and what you get, end up being the same thing.
Changing/Adapting: This requires a consistent willingness to reinvent one’s-self, and the humility to assume we always have new things we can learn. Sometimes this means taking notes, implementing a new policy off of those notes, and changing the way we do something going forward without having to check that its getting done right. This could also mean not adhering to static job descriptions and titles, so that when we see a need arise, we find a solution and create a path forward regardless of if the waters have been charted yet or not.
Things I want to do better:
Training “Sessions” vs ad-hoc feedback: Not everyone can turn on a dime, especially when they’re deep in the weeds. How would you find a dime in weeds anyway?? When I’ve seen new policies not get implemented quickly enough with my team (or even myself), I know it’s because I need to undo/redirect old habits. Every day we come across opportunities for improvement, but sometimes that opportunity is buried in an email from your boss 23 emails down a chain of long emails. A more formal training session has worked much better in many cases I’ve seen, and is something I would like to use in the future to develop my teams.
Reward, and provide opportunities to practice: Related to training, I really do think practice is necessary to change a previously habitualized work policy. It can be as simple as having the team do mock phone calls, draft document templates, or create faux financial calculations. But actually going through the motions of a new procedure helps re-wire the muscle memory, and memory ques, that people often need to happen in order to change habits. Furthermore, in highly dynamic businesses, I need to reward and recognize those that put forth the effort to adapt and learn quickly. The better my team is at this, the easier it makes my life as well.
Pass along the method, not just the order: Perhaps my biggest takeaway from looking back is that I want to empower my team to make the right decisions, not just teach them to take orders. This means I need to take more time to sit down with a team member, and review how to approach and analyze a problem. I would focus more on how to arrive at a conclusion, rather than just praise or criticize the result. This would be the counterpoint to the old-school means of changing activities by beating policy into the heads of employees. Policies are informed by objectives, and without understanding how to strategize to achieve those objectives, following policy will manifest as filling orders even when it doesn’t make sense to.
Likewise I need to ask well-worded questions to illicit a breakdown of how my mangers think about problems as learning opportunities for myself. I want to take a first-principles approach to both learning how and teaching how-to problem solve. As mentioned above, I believe humility is going to be a key ingredient to enacting this self-managing policy. However, I believe a lot of managers have an aversion to humility because it seems like such an antithesis to authority. I read an article recently by Dan Cable that I think summed up nicely why this is not the case:
“Humility and servant leadership do not imply that leaders have low self-esteem, or take on an attitude of servility. Instead, servant leadership emphasizes that the responsibility of a leader is to increase the ownership, autonomy, and responsibility of followers — to encourage them to think for themselves and try out their own ideas.”
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