I love industry economics. The lean times, while difficult, challenge us to be more innovative and intelligent. Our world has so many similarities to sports, and I love to draw comparisons. A great movie that exemplifies this is “Moneyball.” If you haven’t seen it I may spoil it for you here, but it’s been out for 10 years, so I have no qualms about it. It’s a true-to-life account of the 2002 Oakland Athletics stellar season tying the Yankees for wins league-wide. While they didn’t win the world series, they took a losing small market team and adjusted to their strengths, focusing on getting on base rather than hitting home runs. This hyper focused effort gave them an edge and a 20 win streak, a feat that had never been achieved in American League history. It’s a record that still stands today.
Possibly a more impressive stat about their season and streak was their financial position. Their player payroll was $41 million while the Yankees operated with a whopping $125 million. Essentially they spent ¼ of what the Yankees spent per win. Sometimes we equate “better companies” with more money, and I believe there is a lesson to be learned from the 2002 Athletics: money doesn’t guarantee success.
With many companies in the industry forced to adjust their models to outside forces such as elections, cartels, and global financial stability, what can we do to ensure we have a sustainable model regardless of the price of our commodities or the availability of a “quality” workforce? How can we constantly do more with less and still maintain a competitive edge?
Many service and operator companies rely on diversification for financial solvency. Mergers, acquisitions, service and regional expansions are the norm, especially in 2021. These can present even greater problems. I’ve met front-line employees who months after mergers are unsure of their future employment or what their new role will be. It’s not uncommon for this uncertainty to go on for years. Often these are major publicly traded operators, not mom and pops. While this may be a Sun-Tzu corporate model, I think it has more to do with a lack of understanding of what teams need to be excellent.
In my previous editorial, I explored the challenges of creating a sustainable corporate and operations culture, focused on safety first (here I explain why I believe they’re intrinsically linked). Often we use buzzwords like, “integrity,” “zero,” and “doing the right thing” borrowed from across the industry to brand our culture. While these may sound good, without authenticity and representing the belief structure of our teams we’re just applying a coat of paint to a rusty frame. We must do the difficult (and at times daunting) task of knowing our team’s beliefs about work ethic, safety, and our processes in order to build something sustainable.
It’s easy to create a set of goals or values that corporate leadership believes in and press them down hoping for osmosis to take effect. Realistically, it rarely works this way. It’s hard to see the world through your people’s eyes without knowing what they see. The greatest shortfall that comes by not knowing your team’s beliefs is not knowing how to support or coach them. If you were Phil Jackson in the early 90’s you could have told your team, “Just be like Mike.”However, what made the other players great teammates were their complimentary gifts. They didn’t need to do what he could do.
The silver lining here is that motivation and values/beliefs are intrinsically linked. There are only so many reasons that personnel strive to succeed and excel, or struggle to do so. I’ve created this questionnaire that you can download or upload into google forms or other free survey tools to better understand your team’s belief and value structure. There are many ways to make sure you’re doing this correctly, and I’m happy to help with the process. A few standard questions I ask are:
What leadership roles or positions have you held in the past?
What challenges have you faced in your leadership positions?
What are your values?
What does performing a job “safely” mean to you?
Have you ever been forced to choose between safety and quality? How did you decide?
It may be that your personnel believe that excellence is possible, but that it’s someone else’s responsibility. They may not feel valued or challenged to be excellent, as there is no reward or recognition. Without established metrics for excellence, and methods for measuring it, it will rarely happen accidentally. If we want a truely sustainable safety culture, we have to focus on operational excellence alongside safety excellence and develop a clear and united path to achieve it.
Safety is at the core of an excellent operation. It would be hard to sell a company as great when people are constantly getting hurt under their watch. We need to define what excellence means for our companies, our teams, and our individual front-line employees. We also need to understand what their pre-constructed values and beliefs are, and adjust them accordingly. If you’ve ever heard someone on your team say, “that’s not how we did things at (insert company name)” you’ve seen how pervasive this can be. What does excellence look like for the team on a daily basis? Per task? Per quarter? How is it quantified? Who on your team is a good leader, and how can you reproduce their qualities? Do they agree with your values and goals? As I said this task can be daunting, but it is also extremely rewarding and can be done affordably.