Alignment Solutions Newsletter: Start Your Succession Process TODAY

July 15th, 2015


Start Your Succession Process TODAY

Alignment solution: Like the weather, everyone talks about succession but no one (or very few) does anything about it. For the good of your organization, it’s time to dump the excuses and start focusing on what you CAN do rather than on what you think you can’t do.

Recently I facilitated a workshop called “How to Develop and Implement an Effective Succession Process” for a group of executives. All of the participants, who represented a wide range of organization sizes and types, committed to taking action to implement a succession process. Why? Because they learned that there really are no excuses for failing to staff the critical jobs, provide the critical functions, and perform the critical skills that enable their organizations to achieve their mission and remain viable.

I define “effective succession process” as a long-term, systematic process for ensuring a pool of qualified applicants who can hit the ground running when vacancies arise in critical jobs, critical functions, and critical skills throughout an organization. Below are some common excuses for failing to implement an effective succession process, and reasons why they are not credible.

“I don’t have the resources.” A succession process is scalable. That means that whatever the situation in which you find yourself, you use the resources you have at hand while waiting for others to arrive (if and when they do).

“I can’t do everything an effective process requires.” There are elements of a succession process that EVERY organization can implement, regardless of its size or type (e.g., non-profit, public, private). Identify what you can do right now, and what elements can be done in the medium- and long-term. Succession is a process, not an event or task.

“It’s tough to justify resources for things people can’t see.” Educating decision-makers is a key leadership responsibility. Teach them that an organization without an effective succession process is unable to be fully successful in serving its customers and/or achieving its mission.

“I don’t have the time; I’m too busy putting out fires.” EVERY employee has a vested interest in succession, and each one has a role to play. Delegate tasks while retaining overall accountability and responsibility. Your organization’s viability and competitiveness depend on the extent to which it is able to staff critical jobs, provide critical functions, and perform critical skills.

“I’m working on a succession plan.” This is the deadliest excuse. Planning and implementation are two different concepts. Until you put the plan into action, your organization remains vulnerable.

It’s time to stop the excuses and start the implementation. Here are some steps you can begin to take TODAY:

  1. Identify the critical jobs, functions, and skills throughout your organization.
  2. Establish a formal or informal mentoring program.
  3. Create an expansive “big picture” or vision, and work backwards from there to identify what you can do to achieve it. Make that big picture the touchstone for everything you do.
  4. Put in place mechanisms to capture and share institutional knowledge so you’re not constantly re-inventing the wheel.
  5. Focus on what you CAN do instead of what you think you cannot.

To see what an ideal succession process might include, take our Succession Process Self-assessment. If you’d like to learn how to identify the critical jobs, functions, and skills in your organization, take a look at our article Organizational Effectiveness Triage.


To find articles and resources that may be of value to you, I invite you to visit my web site at www.BusinessAlignmentStrategies.com and my blog at www.OptimizeBusinessResults.com.


Alignment Solutions is a concise, bi-weekly newsletter written specifically to help organizational leaders optimize their business results. Your e-mail address is never shared with anyone for any reason. You may unsubscribe by clicking the link on the bottom of this e-mail.

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© 2015 Pat Lynch. All rights reserved.

Alignment Solutions Newsletter: How to Preserve Institutional Knowledge

June 24th, 2015



How to Preserve Institutional Knowledge

Alignment solution: The loss of institutional knowledge can be a major threat to organizational success. Leaders can mitigate this vulnerability by developing and implementing a process to capture and share that knowledge effectively.

The elements of a perfect storm that threatens organizational success are in place. Since the recession, organizational downsizing has resulted in the loss of subject matter experts, whose years of institutional knowledge walked out the door with them. Many organizations lack effective succession processes that could help mitigate this vulnerability. And with so many demands on scarce resources, leaders often find it easier to allocate them to needs that are most visible, leaving even key behind-the-scenes processes for another day. 

One way to thrive despite this storm is to develop a process that reduces your organization’s vulnerability by retaining, sharing, and using its institutional knowledge. Ideally this process would exist within the context of a robust succession process. However, it also may be developed and implemented on its own. Here are eight steps for creating an effective knowledge management process:

  1. Specify a champion who has accountability for implementing this process
    This person must be an active advocate who has the authority to match the responsibility for capturing, sharing, and using institutional knowledge.
  2. Identify the desired information
    Ask questions such as, “What do the people in each job need to know, and how do they obtain that knowledge?” and “What problems have arisen? How have we resolved them successfully?”
  3. Prioritize the information
    List the information in order of importance and/or urgency. For example, if the only subject matter expert is retiring next month, obtaining the knowledge in his/her head goes to the top of the list. If a recurring problem results in a negative impact on the business, sharing and using the information needed to
    address it becomes a high priority.
  4. Determine where, and in what form, the information is located
    Who are the subject matter experts? Does the information currently exist – e.g., in a report tossed in someone’s drawer, in an old training manual?
  5. Identify various methods to obtain and preserve the information
    For example, interview your experts, document their relevant stories, have them demonstrate skills, allow employees to shadow them, and provide formal and informal mentoring opportunities.

    Train student interns or employees how to extract the information (e.g., conduct interviews) and have them transcribe the taped interviews. Provide them with a script that covers the what, how, and why.

  6. Share the information
    Create desk manuals, searchable knowledge briefs, process visuals, and YouTube videos. Discuss the information during staff meetings. Identify the learning points in stories. Specify what’s in it for people to learn and use the information. 

  7. Use the information
    Provide opportunities to practice the skills and apply the information, such as through job shadow programs and special projects.

  8. Evaluate the results and tweak the process as necessary
    Design evaluation into the knowledge management process so you are able to assess its success in reaching its stated goals.

Organizations that thrive use their resources effectively and efficiently. A viable knowledge management process will enable you to obtain and capture information on a regular basis, and to disseminate it through a variety of media. Don’t wait until people are walking out the door: start today.

To learn about how to create effective knowledge briefs, take a look at our article Knowledge Briefs: The Succession Planning Tool with Benefits.


To find articles and resources that may be of value to you, I invite you to visit my web site at www.BusinessAlignmentStrategies.com and my blog at www.OptimizeBusinessResults.com.


Alignment Solutions is a concise, bi-weekly newsletter written specifically to help organizational leaders optimize their business results. Your e-mail address is never shared with anyone for any reason. You may unsubscribe by clicking the link on the bottom of this e-mail.

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© 2015 Pat Lynch. All rights reserved.

Alignment Solutions Newsletter: What are You Building?: Why Context is Critical to Organizational Success

June 10th, 2015



What are You Building?:
Why Context is Critical to
Organizational Success

Alignment solution: Your success in achieving desired outcomes with others requires that you understand and honor a key difference between partnerships and teams.

A story of unknown origin tells about a man who visited a construction site during the Middle Ages. He approached one worker and asked, “What are you doing?” The man replied, “I am laying bricks.” The man walked further and posed the same question to a second worker. The answer: “I’m building a wall.” Approaching a third worker, the man asked the same question and got this response: “I’m building a great cathedral that will last through the ages.”

Context is critical because it shapes how people see the world, think about issues, and make decisions. Imagine the difference the three workers’ perspectives must have made in how each one approached his job every day! Which perspective would you prefer that your employees and customers have?

As a leader, one of your most important responsibilities is to provide a context that inspires your employees to do their best work, and compels your customers to become advocates for your products or services. You can’t do that by laying bricks – i.e., focusing on activities or methodology. While both are necessary, neither is inspirational or compelling. You can’t even inspire people by building a wall – i.e., talking about the products you make or the services you deliver. The way you create your “great cathedral” is to create a compelling “big picture” that clearly demonstrates the value your organization delivers when people purchase your products or services. For example, while FedEx’s early success depended in part on its hub-and-spoke delivery system, that’s not what inspired people to use its service. What caused the company to become wildly successful was the competitive advantage it created by adopting and implementing its slogan “absolutely, positively overnight.” Employees were inspired to meet that standard for every package, and customers gained peace of mind knowing that their important packages would be delivered safely and on time to their intended destinations.

Once your employees and customers see that big picture, the logical next question is, “How do we get there?” Instead of looking for what CAN’T be done due to real or perceived obstacles, people who see a compelling context focus on what CAN be done to make the desired picture a reality. With that mindset, they will find the answers they need to achieve their desired outcome. Although it won’t happen overnight – even today, great cathedrals take time to build – they will get there. And if you keep that picture alive by referring to it constantly, by “connecting the dots” between what you do and how it impacts that outcome, and by making the picture the touchstone for employees’ and customers’ decisions, your competitive advantage will last for the ages.

What context are you providing for your employees and stakeholders? Are you asking them to help you lay bricks, build a wall, or create a great cathedral? The success of your organization depends on your answer.

To see examples of how to distinguish between what your organization does and the value it provides, take a look at our article What is Your Business?


To find articles and resources that may be of value to you, I invite you to visit my web site at www.BusinessAlignmentStrategies.com and my blog at www.OptimizeBusinessResults.com.


Alignment Solutions is a concise, bi-weekly newsletter written specifically to help organizational leaders optimize their business results. Your e-mail address is never shared with anyone for any reason. You may unsubscribe by clicking the link on the bottom of this e-mail.

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© 2015 Pat Lynch. All rights reserved.

Alignment Solutions Newsletter: Partnership or Team? Knowing the Difference is Key to Success

May 27th, 2015



Partnership or Team?
Knowing the Difference is Key to Success

Alignment solution: Your success in achieving desired outcomes with others requires that you understand and honor a key difference between partnerships and teams.

A recent conversation with two colleagues led to a discussion about the difference between partnerships and teams. Whereas a key characteristic of teams is having a common goal, they said, partnerships don’t require a shared goal to achieve outcomes of value for each party. That is, while partners must share a purpose or vision, their respective expected outcomes from the collaboration may be very different.

The example my colleagues used is the partnership between Starbucks and Barnes and Noble. Consistent with its mission to “inspire the human spirit one person, one cup, and one neighborhood at a time,” Starbucks’ goal is to sell lots of coffee. To achieve its mission of operating the best specialty retail (bookseller) business in America, Barnes and Noble’s goal is to sell lots of books. By creating a partnership for the shared purpose of enhancing customers’ shopping experience, both companies increased their sales when Starbucks started selling its coffee in Barnes and Noble book stores. Because each company brings something to the table that the other doesn’t have, they are able to provide greater value than either one can offer on its own.

Think about some of the partnerships in which organizations engage. Although partners share a common purpose, their respective goals, as well as the roles they play in achieving that purpose, are different. Here are likely goals of some common partnerships:

Public agency and university faculty collaborate on a research project
Shared purpose: reduce homelessness in the community
Agency’s goal: serve its clients more effectively
Faculty members’ goal: obtain data that can be used to publish scholarly papers

University and corporation create a center for technology on campus
Shared purpose: enhance the community’s economic well-being
University’s goal: provide a quality educational experience
Corporation’s goal: develop a local, well-trained labor pool

Non-profit organization and corporation co-host a 5-K run in the community
Shared purpose: improve the community’s health and well-being
Non-profit’s goal: raise money for cancer research
Corporation’s goal: create a sense of camaraderie among employees
  
Corporation and celebrity promote a new product
Purpose: offer a product that will make people’s lives easier
Corporation: sell the product
Celebrity’s goal: positive exposure, perhaps increased status

Here are five ways to set your organization’s partnerships up for success:

  1. Identify a clear common purpose or vision
  2. Specify your respective roles and stick to them
  3. Recognize and accept that your partners’ desired goals are different
  4. Ensure your expectations of your partners are realistic and aligned with the purpose
  5. Use your shared purpose as the touchstone for your respective actions and decisions

The bottom line: a partnership can be more effective and rewarding for both parties if you remember that there are different, legitimate routes to the same destination.


To find articles and resources that may be of value to you, I invite you to visit my web site at www.BusinessAlignmentStrategies.com and my blog at www.OptimizeBusinessResults.com.


Alignment Solutions is a concise, bi-weekly newsletter written specifically to help organizational leaders optimize their business results. Your e-mail address is never shared with anyone for any reason. You may unsubscribe by clicking the link on the bottom of this e-mail.

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© 2015 Pat Lynch. All rights reserved.


Alignment Solutions Newsletter: How to Remain Focused in Pressure Situations

April 22nd, 2015


How to Remain Focused in Pressure Situations

Alignment solution: When under pressure, there are steps you can take to regain and/or retain your focus so you can stay on track.

As a volunteer Disaster Action Team leader for the Los Angeles Region of the American Red Cross, I see a lot of people on the worst day of their lives. Typically we arrive on the scene of a residential fire or flood to find the residents dazed or in a state of shock, unable to think straight. They have no idea what to do, and often they are so overwhelmed that the simplest decisions are beyond them. Our job is two-fold: to provide immediate assistance for their physical needs, and to empower them to make decisions that will aid their recovery.

The same type of scenario plays out every day in the workplace. Although employees generally have not suffered the devastating loss that results from a personal disaster, the pressurized situations in which many people work result in the same outcome: feeling so overwhelmed that they become incapable of making decisions. If that stress feeds on itself, the situation can become truly dysfunctional.

Here are four techniques I’ve learned by helping people move from victimhood to empowerment that can help you stay focused and remain functional under duress.

  1. Step away and take some deep breaths.
    Walking away for a few minutes allows you to disconnect momentarily from the immediate source of the stress. Deep breathing will help control your physiological responses and bring the rational part of your brain back on-line. This will enable you to identify a wider range of options than just “fight or flight.”
  1. Focus on the desired outcome.
    Sometimes we get so caught up with what’s out of control or has gone wrong that we can’t see the bigger picture. In addition to stepping away physically, take a figurative step back and remind yourself of the desired result. Identify where you are now, then specify the tasks required to reach your goal.
  1. Break the goal down into small tasks, identify milestones, and celebrate progress.
    For some people, the thought of having to complete a daunting task or achieve a challenging goal is enough to bring on decision paralysis. To help you move forward successfully, (a) identify some milestones that indicate progress and (b) list the specific tasks required to achieve each one. Start with the first task for the first milestone, and work your way forward. Celebrate when you achieve each milestone.
  1. Take the time to acknowledge negative emotions.
    To remain focused on your work, you must make the time to acknowledge negative emotions. While you need not do so in the moment, failing to address those feelings in a timely manner will impede your progress. One of my favorite techniques for dealing with negative emotions productively is a “pity party.” (You can replace “pity” with any negative emotion; the process is the same.) Simply set a timer for 10 minutes and, during that time, feel as sorry for yourself as you possibly can. Wallow in your pity, yell, cry, blame others, and do whatever it takes to really feel that emotion. When the timer goes off, the party is over. Move on. Repeat later as needed.

Next time the pressure begins to build and you feel that your ability to focus on the project or task at hand is slipping away, try the above techniques. Sometimes taking a momentary break and engaging in some deep breathing will allow you to center yourself. Other times you may need to ask others to help you put the situation into perspective. The point is, you can learn to function in a healthy way even in pressurized situations.


To find articles and resources that may be of value to you, I invite you to visit my web site at www.BusinessAlignmentStrategies.com and my blog at www.OptimizeBusinessResults.com.


Alignment Solutions is a concise, bi-weekly newsletter written specifically to help organizational leaders optimize their business results. Your e-mail address is never shared with anyone for any reason. You may unsubscribe by clicking the link on the bottom of this e-mail.

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© 2015 Pat Lynch. All rights reserved.

Alignment Solutions Newsletter: There’s More than One Approach to Solving Problems

April 10th, 2015


There’s More than One Approach
to Solving Problems

Alignment solution: An appreciative approach to problem-solving can avoid the unintended dysfunctional workplace behaviors and outcomes sometimes caused by a traditional approach.

Years ago when I was in graduate school, I rented a duplex near the university that was owned by the wife of a marketing professor. Whenever repairs were needed, she sent her husband to fix them. No matter what the problem, he would show up with his trusty roll of duct tape. The day he taped up my oven because it wouldn’t get hot, I had to wonder why in the world an otherwise intelligent person thought that duct tape was the solution to every problem.

The answer came in the form of a familiar adage: “When all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” Although he was very competent in the marketing arena, outside the classroom, the professor’s only tool in his toolbox was duct tape.

Something similar plays out in the workplace every day. In the U.S., most people are taught to resolve problems using a standard approach: identify the issue, determine its cause, and find ways to solve it. Although this process works well in many situations, it falls short in others. Just as a hammer sometimes is the wrong tool for the job, so too there are times that the traditional problem-solving framework is an ineffective option.

Imagine this scenario: you’ve just gotten a call from a major customer, who reported that a series of mistakes by your sales team enabled a minor incident to become much more serious. When the team returns to the office, the questions begin: “What went wrong? Who messed up? What happened? Why did you do X instead of Y?” Team members become defensive. Perhaps fingers are pointed and blame is assigned. The heated discussion ends on a very negative note, setting the tone for the rest of the day and beyond.

Now imagine an alternative problem-solving approach to the same scenario. Focusing on strengths and past successes, an appreciative framework builds on them to identify ways to improve in the future. The discussion begins with, “What did you do well during that sales call? What or who enabled you to do exactly what you needed to do?” It goes on like this: “Let’s talk about a time when you faced this same situation and you aced it. What did that look like? What did you do then, and how did you do it? How can you repeat that success in the future? What will that look like?” Instead of feeling like they are on the defensive, team members are energized. Asking them about their strengths and their successes reminds them of what it feels like when they are working as a highly effective team. They want to re-capture that experience. Focusing on a desired future instead of on an unchangeable past inspires them to do whatever is necessary to reach that positive outcome every time. In fact, they are highly likely to end up with a much better solution than would have resulted from the traditional problem-solving approach.

I am not advocating that you discard the standard problem-solving approach. It remains a valuable tool in many situations. What I am suggesting is that when the oven isn’t heating, you forsake the duct tape for the best tool for the job. The key is to identify which problem-solving approach is most appropriate for a given situation AND to have the skill to shift from one to the other as needed.

To learn how you can use the appreciative approach to problem-solving in your organization, take a look at my article An Appreciative Approach to Problem-solving.


To find articles and resources that may be of value to you, I invite you to visit my web site at www.BusinessAlignmentStrategies.com and my blog at www.OptimizeBusinessResults.com.


Alignment Solutions is a concise, bi-weekly newsletter written specifically to help organizational leaders optimize their business results. Your e-mail address is never shared with anyone for any reason. You may unsubscribe by clicking the link on the bottom of this e-mail.

Click here to Join Our Mailing List!


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© 2015 Pat Lynch. All rights reserved.

Alignment Solutions Newsletter: Opening Pandora’s Box: Prerequisite for Excellence

March 25th, 2015


Opening Pandora’s Box:
Prerequisite for Excellence

Alignment solution: Only those who are courageous enough to face all the facts about their organizations – the good, the bad, the ugly – are able to aspire to excellence.

Last week I had the pleasure of speaking at the Center for Public Excellence’s 2015 Excellence conference in Orlando. It truly was inspiring to be among people who are striving to ensure their fire departments provide the highest quality of service to their communities, and to be the best possible leaders. Here are three of my take-aways from that experience.

  1. The quest for excellence and continuous improvement requires steadfast resolve. It is not for wimps.

    In Greek mythology, Pandora was given a box by the god Zeus, who warned her never to open it. When her curiosity got the best of her and she peeked inside the box, all the evils that had been missing from the world rushed out. Many leaders are afraid to open their Pandora’s box because they are afraid of what they will find. Yet not facing all the facts means you cannot address what’s wrong, or improve what you do well.

  2. Honest self-assessment is the cornerstone of excellence.

    One need only consider the case of the Charleston Fire Department (CFD) to see that no matter how dire the situation, facing the facts can effect transformational change. Captain David Griffin told the story of the nine firefighters who lost their lives on 6/18/07 because the department refused to recognize and address the on-going serious issues that caused this predictable and preventable tragedy. As one of the first firefighters on scene that day, Captain Griffin was so mired in the dysfunctional culture that even the devastating loss of so many of his colleagues and the public opening of the CFD’s Pandora’s box by outside investigators didn’t stop him from leading the resistance to change. Yet over time the department found courageous leaders who enabled their personnel to face their individual and collective deficiencies and effect a huge culture change. Today, as an advocate of change, Captain Griffin reported that the CFD is on track to earn the fire service’s coveted credential for excellence in 2015.

  3. Excellence and continuous improvement are processes, not events.

    One does not “achieve” excellence; it is something that must be earned over and over. As one speaker noted, the status quo supports mediocrity. Because your customers and your employees deserve better than mediocrity, you cannot afford to rest on your laurels. There must be a culture of excellence, a strategy that provides a systematic way to achieve it, and an infrastructure that supports it over time. You elevate performance by hiring smart people and ensuring your leaders are the best of the best, by establishing a robust audit system to help you stay the course, by catching people doing things right and reinforcing those behaviors, and by uncovering the causes of bad behaviors, then taking steps to stop them.

There are many reasons why you may decide against leading your organization through a formal accreditation process. However, there is no reason why you cannot establish a self-assessment process to identify what you must do to provide the level of excellence that your customers and your employees deserve.

What steps will you take today to increase the level of your performance?


To find articles and resources that may be of value to you, I invite you to visit my web site at www.BusinessAlignmentStrategies.com and my blog at www.OptimizeBusinessResults.com.


Alignment Solutions is a concise, bi-weekly newsletter written specifically to help organizational leaders optimize their business results. Your e-mail address is never shared with anyone for any reason. You may unsubscribe by clicking the link on the bottom of this e-mail.

Click here to Join Our Mailing List!


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© 2015 Pat Lynch. All rights reserved.

Alignment Solutions Newsletter: How Do You Treat YOUR Internal Customers?

March 11th, 2015


How Do You Treat YOUR Internal Customers?

Alignment solution: Your customers aren’t just those outside your organization; they also include all of your employees and/or volunteers.

Last week the fire chief of a department that has achieved and maintained his industry’s highest certification for performance excellence was talking with me about his agency’s strategy. As we got into a discussion about who his customers are, I shared a story about a work-related epiphany I had in 1989 that re-shaped my definition of customers.

After the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award was established in 1987 to promote organizational excellence, FedEx CEO and founder Fred Smith sent all employees a memo stating that we would be the first service company to win the Baldrige Award. We immediately went to work to learn how to evaluate our performance and establish processes for continuous improvement.

At that time, I worked in FedEx’s Cash Management department. Part of our job was to make wire transfers to pay for large ticket items such as aircraft leases, equipment, fuel, and payroll. At the end of every month we would fight with Accounting over the same issue: they wanted us to make the journal entries for the wire transfers, and we believed that making those entries was their job. The relationship between our two departments was frosty at best.

One day during a Baldrige-related training session, the instructor dropped a bombshell: performance excellence requires us to treat our co-workers the same way that we treat our customers – i.e., exceptionally well. In essence, our colleagues are our internal customers.

I clearly remember thinking, “You mean we have to treat those folks in Accounting just like we treat our paying customers? You must be kidding!” No, he wasn’t kidding. And so began the transformation of how employees across the company viewed and interacted with each other. For many of us, this culture change was difficult. However, our collective unwillingness to disappoint our CEO was stronger than our resistance to change. I still believe that’s the only reason we were able to meet the high standards required to win the Baldrige Award, which FedEx did in 1990.

How many of you lead organizations in which your definition of “customer” incorporates your employees and/or volunteers as well as your external customers? Are you sure THEY know they are included?

Why is an inclusive meaning of “customer” so important? The way people think about each other informs the way they behave. Workers and/or volunteers who mistreat each other create a dysfunctional environment. Because unhappy employees cannot possibly provide high levels of service, your bottom line – and likely your organization’s reputation – will suffer.

An organization that strives for excellence must foster and maintain a culture in which it treats all its internal customers as well as it treats its external customers. If asked, would your employees and/or volunteers agree that they feel they are treated like your external customers? Ask them. If they do, good for you! If not, you’ve got some work ahead of you.


To find articles and resources that may be of value to you, I invite you to visit my web site at www.BusinessAlignmentStrategies.com and my blog at www.OptimizeBusinessResults.com.


Alignment Solutions is a concise, bi-weekly newsletter written specifically to help organizational leaders optimize their business results. Your e-mail address is never shared with anyone for any reason. You may unsubscribe by clicking the link on the bottom of this e-mail.

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© 2015 Pat Lynch. All rights reserved.

Alignment Solutions Newsletter: 3 Fire Ground Disciplines that Can Enable Business Success

February 25th, 2015


3 Fire Ground Disciplines that
Can Enable Business Success

Alignment solution: Three disciplines that keep firefighters safe – trust, focus, and situational awareness – also are enablers of business success.

Last Saturday the Long Beach (CA) Fire Department held a graduation ceremony for its newest recruit class. Before they received their badges and were sworn in as firefighters, the recruits engaged in a number of drills to display to their families and other attendees what they had learned during twenty weeks of intense training. As I watched them participate in those demonstrations, I could see parallels between their newly learned disciplines and success in the workplace. Here is how three of the disciplines that help keep firefighters safe on the fire ground also can drive business success.

Trust

Trust is the foundation of safety for fire and rescue personnel. They must be willing and able to develop and place their trust in themselves, their co-workers, their training, and their leaders. Because they often work with public safety professionals they don’t know, they must trust that those individuals bring the knowledge, skills, and experience necessary to keep themselves and their team members safe. Every day, firefighters experience situations that require them to put their lives in others’ hands. Without being able to trust that they will be safe, they cannot do their jobs effectively.

Workplaces with high levels of trust enable people to solve problems creatively, leverage opportunities, take appropriate risks, and forge ahead even when they don’t know what’s around the bend. When the trust is mutual, people feel confident that their leaders and co-workers will do whatever is necessary to support them. Such organizations can maximize their success.

Focus

For firefighters, being fully present in the moment can mean the difference between life and death – theirs as well as others’. Whether extricating someone from a mangled vehicle, providing medical care, or cutting a hole in the roof of a structure that is burning below their feet, firefighters must have the discipline to focus 100% on the task at hand.

Without focus in the workplace, leaders and employees become distracted. They may fail to observe important information or signals, make inaccurate decisions, and/or be unable to evaluate information correctly or in a timely manner. Especially in high stress/high stakes situations, individuals must be 100% present if they are to be successful. Those who are able to let go of everything other than what’s in front of them when necessary are those who can operate most effectively.

Situational awareness

From day one, fire and rescue recruits are taught to be alert to every aspect of their environment, and to anticipate what elements might be, or become, problematic. They must know at every moment where they are, what the mission is, and what role(s) they play in achieving it safely.

In the workplace, being aware of the environment means not only being attentive to problems and challenges that exist, but anticipating those that may arise. It also signifies seeking the opportunities that may present themselves. People must be able to process and interpret information in the proper context. For the organization to be successful, leaders and employees must have a clear understanding of what the company stands for, where it’s going, and how they will help it achieve its goals.

Even if your business doesn’t deal with life and death matters, you can enhance its success greatly by developing and practicing the disciplines of trust, focus, and situational awareness in your workplace. 


Alignment Solutions is a concise, bi-weekly newsletter written specifically to help organizational leaders optimize their business results. Your e-mail address is never shared with anyone for any reason. You may unsubscribe by clicking the link on the bottom of this e-mail.

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© 2015 Pat Lynch. All rights reserved.

Alignment Solutions Newsletter: What Business Can Learn from Disaster Response Teams

February 11th, 2015


What Business Can Learn from
Disaster Response Teams

Alignment solution: If your goal is to serve your customers as effectively, efficiently, and quickly as possible, consider what disaster response teams can teach you.

Today’s complex, fast-paced world requires leaders and employees to be agile, resilient, resourceful, and effective. Often working in highly competitive markets, organizations aspire to serve their customers as effectively, efficiently, and quickly as possible. As a member of the Long Beach (CA) Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) and as a Disaster Action Team leader for the Los Angeles Region of the American Red Cross, I’ve had the opportunity to help people immediately after disaster befalls them by working with team members in sometimes very chaotic circumstances. In the process, I’ve developed valuable skills and insights that are transferrable to the workplace. To help you optimize your organization’s performance, I’d like to share twelve of those lessons with you.

  1. When faced with any situation, conduct a “size-up” prior to jumping in.
    Your customers are best served when you take a minute to step back, assess the
    situation, and create an initial plan before taking action.

  2. Prepare in advance through training and drills.
    Putting new knowledge into practice through simulations and role playing gives employees added confidence when they are faced with “real” situations.

  3. Know and respect your own limits and those of others.
    When the right people are in the right roles, customers experience exceptional service.

  4. Develop the flexibility to work with whatever and whoever are available.
    Cultivating the agility to do a good job with the resources at hand provides a
    tremendous advantage when supplies are scarce.

  5. No matter the level of chaos, take a minute to connect with others.
    Sometimes a reassuring look, smile, or word is all a team member or customer needs to understand that help truly is at hand.

  6. Remain calm in the midst of chaos.
    People take their cue from their leaders: if you’re agitated, so are they.

  7. You create a “force multiplier” when you work smoothly as a team.
    Effective teamwork provides the synergy needed to serve customers well.

  8. The Incident Command System (ICS) provides a structure that can flex up or down as circumstances warrant. 
    Creating a structure that includes clear roles and responsibilities AND that is flexible enough to expand or contract as needed provides a tremendous competitive advantage.

  9. Provide supervised on-the-job training.
    “Learning by doing” can be the best teaching method if there is adequate supervision.

  10. Engaging in “after-action” debriefings enables continuous improvement.
    Taking the time to identify and discuss what went well and what you could do better next time will boost morale and result in increasingly better customer service.

  11. Call for reinforcements when necessary.
    Think of what’s best for the customer: if you are not the right person for the job at
    hand, find the person who is, and step aside.

  12. Self-care and personal safety must be your top priorities.
    If you don’t put your own safety and well-being first, you easily can become part of the problem instead of part of the solution.

In summary, being able to serve your customers effectively, efficiently, and quickly requires skills that emergency response teams use daily. If you are interested in acquiring those skills while also helping your family and your community, consider exploring volunteer opportunities with your local CERT organization (typically run through the fire department) and/or your local American Red Cross chapter.


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© 2015 Pat Lynch. All rights reserved.