Archive for the ‘Optimizing Business Results’ Category

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

Friday, 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 and my blog at

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!

SM Icons

© 2015 Pat Lynch. All rights reserved.

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

Wednesday, 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 and my blog at

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!

SM Icons

© 2015 Pat Lynch. All rights reserved.

Alignment Solutions Newsletter: How to Optimize Business Results

Wednesday, December 3rd, 2014

How to Optimize Business Results

Alignment solution: To optimize business results, focus on helping your employees become fully successful.

No matter what business you’re in, people are the key to your success. Even organizations that are heavily automated or technology-driven rely on human beings to create the ideas and to run and maintain the equipment and technology that generate the revenue. Because employees’ abilities to achieve their designated goals determine the extent of the organization’s profitability and sustainability, it makes good sense to set your people up for success.

To help employees become fully successful, I suggest to my clients that they create an employee-centered workplace®, an environment in which every person, process, system, policy, and program is focused on enabling people to thrive. Such a setting makes good business sense: when workers have management’s full support to use their talents, you end up with delighted customers, engaged employees, and a successful business.

How do you create an employee-centered workplace®? Begin by focusing on four areas:

  1. Supervisors: provide them the support they need to enable employees’ success.
  1. Organizational culture: ensure the organization is employee-focused, not employer- or even customer-centered. When Fred Smith started FedEx, his philosophy of People-Service-Profit demonstrated his belief that if you take care of your people first, they will provide the service that enables the profits. The success of his company reflects his wisdom.
  1. Organizational processes: make sure employees have the infrastructure that enables them to do their work easily rather than sets up obstacles to success.
  1. Rewards and recognition: establish a total rewards program that compensates employees fairly for their contributions to the organization’s success.

To learn more about creating an employee-centered workplace®, take a look at my article, “The Employee-centered Workplace®: The Key to Optimizing Business Results.” Or take a brief self-assessment that will indicate how employee-friendly your workplace is.

To find other articles and resources that may be of value to you, I invite you to visit my web site at and my blog at

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!

SM Icons

© 2014 Pat Lynch. All rights reserved.

Effective Delegation Tool for Busy Leaders

Monday, May 12th, 2014

Early Saturday morning I went to the Long Beach Fire Department’s Training Center to attend a traffic control class for CERT (Community Emergency Response Team) members. The CERT program manager, Firefighter/Paramedic Jake Heflin, a highly respected and nationally recognized expert in emergency preparedness and response as well as a sought-after FEMA-certified trainer, came in a few minutes later. The look on his face suggested he hadn’t slept in days. Professional that he is, he rallied to get the class started by introducing our Long Beach Police Department trainer.

During the break, I asked Jake how things were going. He had just returned from a week-long trip to Phoenix, the White House had called him to request that he write a letter explaining how emergency preparedness would affect one of its initiatives, his work had piled up in his absence, and he was worried about the funding for his position, which ends in September. Plus he hadn’t seen his family in a week, and Sunday was Mother’s Day in the U.S. No pressure!

“Pat,” he said, “I need to be operating at the 50,000 foot level. Instead, I’m down here in the weeds. I need to learn now to delegate.”

“Jake,” I replied, “I have just the tool for you. It’s a very simple question that provides immediate clarity. Ask yourself, ‘Am I the only person who can do [the task at hand]?’ If the truthful answer is ‘Yes,’ then do it. Otherwise, delegate it.”

Though the question is a simple one that cuts to the chase, I find that leaders have a hard time actually releasing tasks they should be delegating. Sometimes there is no one to whom they can hand things off. However, even that “excuse” often can be overcome with a little creativity. Most of the time, there are beliefs that hold leaders back. See if either of these rationalizations resonates with you:

“No one else can do it as well as I can.”

“I can do it faster myself.”

Although these statements may be true, here’s why allowing such beliefs to prevent you from delegating tasks is problematic on three levels:

1. Organization: you are not serving your organization well because you are misallocating scarce resources, namely your time.

2. Employees: you are failing to develop your staff by withholding opportunities for them to learn and grow.

3. Self: you are hurting yourself because you unnecessarily are increasing the amount of stress you face, which has a negative effect on your health as well as on your performance.

So please – do yourself and everyone else a favor: stop making excuses and start delegating! By releasing those tasks that others can do and focusing on those that you are uniquely qualified to do (or that you love to do), you will experience a dramatic increase in well-being. As a bonus, those to whom you delegate the tasks will appreciate the trust you are showing in them.

© 2014 Pat Lynch. All rights reserved.


Setting Priorities Need Not Be an Elusive Competency

Tuesday, December 31st, 2013

The ability to set and, perhaps more importantly, to implement organizational priorities is a critical success factor for leaders. When there are dozens of things to be done, someone must step forward to bring order out of chaos. Too often, however, workplaces are filled with employees who feel discouraged because they are spinning their wheels, or frustrated by the lack of clear and consistent direction, or burned out because everything should have been done yesterday.

Here are some reasons why people find it difficult to set and implement priorities:

Indecisiveness due to fear of making the “wrong” choice.

Reluctance or inability to make hard decisions.

Mistaken belief that good intentions are enough.

Low level of importance or urgency.

Lack of accountability – i.e., there are no consequences for non-performance.

Consider these facts:

Priorities involve choices about how to use time.

There can be only one “top” priority: by definition, there is a rank order to choices.

Priorities are what you DO, not what you SAY you will do.

When everything is a priority, nothing is a priority.

Here are ten ways to improve your ability to establish and implement priorities:

Establish priorities:

1. Realistically determine importance and urgency by asking and truthfully answering two questions: (1) “What’s the worst thing that can happen if I do/don’t do XYZ?” And (2) “Can I live with that outcome?”

2. Only people, things, and tasks that are directly aligned with achieving the mission or goals can be priorities.

3. Treat the setting of priorities as a resource allocation issue: develop realistic, WRITTEN time lines and schedules that indicate when you will accomplish what is needed to achieve each priority.

4. Use effective, easily utilized and understood decision-making tools (e.g., ranking, paired comparison, matrices, other forms of analysis).

5. Specify decision criteria BEFORE you start making choices.

Implement priorities:

6. Have someone hold you accountable for achieving your stated priorities.

7. Set your priorities BEFORE you make commitments that require your time.

8. Focus on the end result or “big picture.”

9. Identify a reasonable number of priorities at any given time; add others as you complete them.

10. Find a process that works well for you and follow it consistently.

If you could do only one thing to increase the quality of your life, it would be this: make self-care your #1 priority – not “one of the top” priorities or “a” top priority, but THE top priority. Why? Perhaps counter-intuitively, tending to your own needs enables you to do a much better job of taking care of others. There’s a very sound reason why airline flight attendants tell you to put your own oxygen mask on before trying to assist others: if you pass out, you are no good to anyone, including yourself. In fact, you have just become part of the problem.

As an added bonus: the techniques suggested above work just as well in personal situations as they do in the workplace.

© 2013 Pat Lynch. All rights reserved.

Not Everyone is Capable of Being a Manager – Are You?

Saturday, December 28th, 2013

If you have worked for nearly any organization in any capacity for any length of time, no doubt you have learned this fact: not everyone is capable of being a manager. Often employees are promoted to a supervisory/managerial position because they were really good at the job they were doing. Unfortunately management requires different skills, abilities, and competencies that they may not have. Sometimes the people who are hired or promoted have great potential, but their organizations don’t invest the resources in helping them be fully successful managers. In other cases, people are promoted to manager despite the fact that they don’t want the job: although they’d rather continue what they were doing, for some reason they felt compelled to accept the new, unwanted responsibilities.

Chances are very good that during your career you have had the misfortune of working for someone who never should have been a manager, or you’ve observed others (employees or supervisors/managers) in that situation – or perhaps you have been that person yourself. It’s not a pretty sight. And the results of this type of mis-match between person and position cause harm to the manager, the people he/she supervises, customers, vendors, and ultimately the organization.

So how do you know who is or is not capable of being a manager? Recently I saw a question on this topic posed by a journalist: what are some signs that people are NOT cut out for management? Although I prefer to answer questions from a positive perspective – in this case, pointing out signs that people ARE capable of being managers – I think there is some value here to identifying the characteristics that ought to disqualify candidates for managerial positions. Below are my answers to the original query. You are not cut out for management if you:

don’t like people.

don’t like working with others.

don’t have passion for the business.

are unwilling and/or unable to delegate tasks and responsibility.

are unwilling and/or unable to give and receive constructive feedback.

are unwilling and/or unable to act like a manager.

are unwilling and/or unable to take on management tasks instead of doing whatever you used to do.

are unwilling and/or unable to take responsibility for your employees’ poor performance.

are unwilling and/or unable to develop your employees.

need people to like you.

need to be one of the “guys” instead of the boss.

are a poor communicator.

are inflexible.

So what about it? Are YOU capable of being a manager? If not, let others be the boss. You are better off pursuing a career path that allows you to be fully successful using the talents and competencies you DO have.

© 2013 Pat Lynch. All rights reserved.

Alignment Solutions Newsletter Dec 18, 2013

Wednesday, December 18th, 2013

Face Your Fears,
Clear the Organizational Clutter

Alignment solution: To optimize business results, clear the organizational clutter.

I see a lot of “clutter” in organizations that has nothing to do with piles of paper or disorderly desks and offices. Organizational clutter can take many forms. See if any of these resonate with you:

  • Layers of bureaucracy that stifle creativity and innovation.
  • Maze-like organizational structures created to avoid confronting unsatisfactory employee performance or dysfunctional workplace relationships.
  • Hierarchies that slow decision-making and obstruct efforts to serve customers well.
  • Programs that drain resources and do not support organizational goals.

The consequences of such clutter include misalignment with organizational goals and substantial barriers to optimizing business results.

One reason for organizational clutter is that people are afraid to get rid of things. All kinds of scary implications come to mind: What if we discard something we later need? How would employees react if we discontinue this program? What if the replacement program, process, or structure isn’t as good as the one we have now? Rather than making tough decisions about what really is needed and then releasing what is not, leaders often just add on to what is there. The result, of course, is an inability to optimize business results.

A simple tool can help you eliminate some forms of organizational clutter by allowing you to confront the fears that prevent you from releasing things that no longer serve the organization well. It consists of asking and truthfully answering these two questions:

  1. What is the worst thing that could happen (realistically) if we did XYZ?
  2. Can we live with that outcome?

For example, what is the worst thing that could happen if you confront an employee who is not performing? Perhaps he or she would sue the organization. How likely is that scenario though, particularly when there is no legal basis for the action? A more plausible outcome is that the person will be unhappy, and perhaps will leave. Can you live with the loss of a non-performing employee?

People often blow their fears way out of proportion. Thus it is important to be realistic when considering the worst thing that could happen if you take, or fail to take, a given action. Consider the likelihood that this outcome will occur as well as the risk that it poses to the organization. Once the anticipated negative outcomes are examined realistically, they generally turn out to be quite acceptable. In fact, they often result in positive outcomes that people may not have considered previously because they were so focused on the specters conjured up by their fears.

To learn about ten additional actions you can take to clear organizational clutter, take a look at our article Clearing the Organizational Clutter.

Note: This article was adapted from my 2010 article Two Questions that Eliminate Organizational Clutter.

To find other articles and resources that may be of value to you, I invite you to visit my web site at and my blog at

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!

SM Icons

© 2013 Pat Lynch. All rights reserved.

Alignment Solutions November 20, 2013

Wednesday, November 20th, 2013


Alignment solution: To assess the likelihood that your employees’ efforts are fully aligned with the organization’s goals, ask them, “What’s your job?”

If you ask your employees, “What’s your job?,” what percentage of them would respond by listing the tasks or functions they perform? What percentage would tell you how their efforts contribute to achieving the organization’s mission or goals?

And why should you care about how they answer?

An organization cannot optimize its performance unless all of its people, processes, systems, and programs are aligned with its mission and goals. Thus the difference between a workforce with a task-oriented view of its efforts and one whose perspective is results-oriented can have a dramatic impact on organizational success. My experience as a FedEx employee during the company’s early years was that no matter what tasks or functions we performed individually, we viewed our collective job as ensuring that every package was delivered “absolutely, positively overnight.” The company’s success speaks to the effectiveness of alignment between the organization’s mission and employees’ perspectives of how their work supports it.

The first step in ensuring alignment throughout your organization is to assess how your employees view their work. Asking staff at all levels, “What’s your job?” is an easy, quick way to determine where their attention is right now so you can decide whether, or to what extent, you need to re-direct it to the desired end results.

To see examples of the striking differences between task-oriented and results-oriented perspectives, and to learn six steps you can take to improve your organization’s performance dramatically by changing your employees’ perceptions about their work, take a look at our article The Transforming Power of Asking, “What’s Your Job?”

To find other articles and resources that may be of value to you, I invite you to visit my web site at and my blog at

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!

SM Icons

© 2013 Pat Lynch. All rights reserved.

19 Lessons from the Affordable Care Act’s Roll-out

Monday, November 18th, 2013

There seems to be widespread consensus that the Obama administration’s roll-out of its signature Affordable Care Act (ACA) has been a nightmare. Although one may say that “hindsight is always 20/20,” the fact is that this debacle could have been avoided – or at least mitigated significantly. Simply stated, it seems that the people in charge failed to think through this enormous undertaking.

Organizations cannot optimize their performance unless they execute their projects successfully. Toward that end, here are nineteen lessons that leaders can learn from the ACA’s experience and apply to the implementation of virtually any large project:

    1. Create a clear “big picture” of the desired outcome, including users’ expectations of what it will do. Work backwards from that picture.

    2. In advance, gather ALL the people with relevant knowledge and expertise and have them collectively think through what it will take to develop and implement the project successfully. Don’t wait till things fall apart before you go back to ask the experts for their advice.

    3. Insist that ALL players/stakeholders be actively engaged and that everyone’s voice is heard.

    4. Make sure the end result is user-friendly by hiring “interpreters” who can speak the language of both the end users and the experts who are charged with creating the system or process.

    5. Conduct a pilot program with a small sample of the end users. This allows you to get valuable feedback, work out the bugs, and maximize your resources.

    6. Communicate truthfully, fully, and in a timely manner to clients and stakeholders before, during, and after implementation.

    7. Ensure the decision-makers are fully informed about short- and long-term consequences of the project as well as potential pitfalls.

    8. Test the system before rolling it out. Address the deficiencies and re-test. Do not go “live” until the system truly is ready for its debut.

    9. Have one or more experts or nay-sayers play the devil’s advocate role to poke holes in the implementation process.

    10. Create an implementation plan (vs. an action plan).

    11. Assign responsibility and create meaningful, timely consequences for non-performance.

    12. Set realistic timelines for progress and completion. Monitor them continuously and investigate promptly if they are not met.

    13. In the face of evidence that the implementation is not on track, stop and address the problems; do not insist on moving forward anyway.

    14. Make the roll-out process transparent to all stakeholders.

    15. Justify the costs at all stages of the project, beginning with the initial estimates and including any bid amounts. Closely scrutinize cost over-runs as they occur and take immediate action to stop or mitigate them.

    16. Make sure the costs are realistic: not extremely high or low.

    17. If you use a bid process, weigh expertise more heavily than cost. The lowest bidder is not necessarily the best choice.

    18. Don’t tell the experts how they must do the work. Tell them what outcome you need and let them determine the best way to achieve it.

    19. Put the right person in every job.

The above lessons can save you time, energy, and significant resources, not to mention keep your organization’s reputation intact. Many of them cost nothing to implement; others are likely to have a large ROI (return on investment). Why not apply them when developing your next large project?

© 2013 Pat Lynch. All rights reserved.

Alignment Solutions November 6, 2013

Wednesday, November 6th, 2013


Alignment solution: For any project or initiative, agree on a clear desired outcome before you consider the methodology and inputs.

What are the benefits of beginning a project with the end in mind?

  • Compelling results: employees and stakeholders become inspired when they focus on the desired outcomes, and they quickly see the value the organization provides.
  • More efficient use of resources: with a clear, common picture in mind there is less wasted effort and more flexibility.
  • More rapid achievement of the objective: people are more productive when they can connect with results rather than with tasks or methods.
  • Higher morale: when everyone is on the same page there is less conflict, confusion, and frustration.

One of the biggest mistakes I see people make at all organizational levels is focusing on the means instead of on the end results. That is, they get so caught up in HOW they will do something that they often spend precious time debating over the merits of one methodology over another, forgetting entirely WHAT it is they want to accomplish. As a result, they get bogged down unnecessarily at the beginning of a project, which drags down the entire effort. Or they become so immersed in identifying why various methods will not work that they conclude the outcome is impossible to achieve, and they give up.

When you focus on results rather than on methodology or inputs, an important shift occurs: the questions about the project change, as do the answers. For example, instead of asking, “CAN we accomplish the desired goal?” – which leads people to look for reasons why they cannot do so – asking “HOW can we accomplish the desired goal?” causes people to look for ways they can be successful. They also can be more creative and flexible because they haven’t been tied to a particular methodology in advance.

The strategy development process provides a common example of how things go awry when the focus is on methodology. When people are more concerned with doing a SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats) analysis and fighting over terminology (e.g., whether goals have objectives or vice versa), the effort is doomed. To ensure success, articulate a clear picture of what the outcome will look like, then select the methods that are aligned with that result.

To learn what specific steps you can take to ensure everyone in your organization is focused on outcomes instead of on inputs, take a look at our article How to Set Your Organization Up for Success.

To find other articles and resources that may be of value to you, I invite you to visit my web site at and my blog at

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!

SM Icons

© 2013 Pat Lynch. All rights reserved.