Aug 03

Building a Firm Foundation for Excellence

The summer break is going on and very soon the stores will have “Back to School” promotions / offers. Am I selling or promoting a stationary store in this post? Definitely not!!! So what does achieving excellence got to do with “Back to School” lingo?

Let’s try to think outside the commercial mindset that our minds have been flooded with. “Back to School” implicitly promotes the notion of reviewing/recapping what we have learned prior to the summer break, and subsequently learning new topics and extending our knowledge base in various subjects.

If we ponder on the above statement, our job profiles would probably also include the above. For example (from a Project Manager’s desk):
Once a project goes live, we are encouraged to have a lessons learned session. This session would at the very least consist of what went well, what did not go well and what we should do to improve for future. Subsequently, we may deploy several techniques – such as benchmarking, surveys, competitor analysis, etc… (depending on what the context is). This exercise as you may have realised incorporates a review/recap of what was done during the lifecycle of the project and may also extend to new learning.

It is very important for us to constantly learn about our environment, market, cultures, competitors, laws, regulations, policies, technology, etc.. (depending on your business) to at least sustain oneself. There are various ways of doing this and one of way is to subscribe to an active group / local chapter / magazine / related in a relevant area (if possible). Example: there are heaps of technology related websites, magazines, journals for one to know what is the latest in the market. Similarly, there are trade magazines that can give a new definition of how people are doing things today to increase productivity, profitability and/or also potential leads to identify opportunities that come along.

OK, we probably know all that has been said above; but the reality is that in many cases, we still end up attending several meetings for the silliest of items with no outcome yet important. In my last post , Mr. Imran had raised couple of interesting comments that inspired me to write this post. He initially disagreed on a statement made by me with regards qualification of a step as value add or not. During an offline discussion, we understood each other well and we found that there was no disagreement in the first place as we had clarified what we meant by few used key terms. I shall explain it with an example:

What is 7 + 5? An individual who understands all of the symbols used, its purpose, and how to process that information – would answer it as 12. The definition of “7”, “+”, and “5” is consistent with Math tutors that help us all to have one common answer -i.e. “12”.

What has the above example got to do with achieving excellence? It’s quite simple actually. In our work area, we should ensure that our definitions are well communicated and understood by all parties. For instance, the definition of “Customer” would differ depending on whom you ask. ie – definition of “Customer” for HR department would most likely be different to the definition of “Customer” for a Salesman. How many times have we spent numerous meetings to clarify our understanding of certain terms that were not consistent with the other party. What do we do then? One of the options is that we go “Back to Basics” and refer to a document that lists the definition and/or we amend/doctor a definition that is agreeable to the meeting attendees. In almost all, if not all facets of life (be it buildings, education, personal relationships, businesses, etc…) we require a sound foundation.

I’ve intentionally coined the term “Back to Basics” as it reminds me of revisiting the foundation blocks that is core to all of this. This is also consistent with a saying (Unknown) that inculcating & executing the importance of early childhood education and care builds a firm foundation for lifelong learning.

This is exactly what Imran & I did. We went into our definition of “Customer” and upon clarifying we came to the conclusion that there was no disagreement. Fortunately, this was quick – but I’ve noticed weeks of open ended items with no conclusion as there is no agreement on the basic definition of a term.

To keep this short, this post has hinted about various aspects that can be inherited within your business/organisation. Few of them include:
1. Establish common definition / understanding for frequently used terms within your company.
2. Empower your employees to keep abreast with the latest happenings around them. Ensure that they have the necessary means and resources for the same.
3. Promote the idea of continuous learning.

Point # 3 reminds me of post-it exercises that I have done several times before which have always resulted in instant improvement opportunities. I’ll try to write about this in a future post.

Whenever you spot “Back to School” advertising banners, I hope you remember this post as a reminder to revisit foundation blocks, encourage continual learning and looking at ways to better do things.

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