You Can’t Get Better If You Can’t Get Started

Begin with improvement tasks that are easy to accomplish to get the ball rolling.

Once upon a time, there was a company that did a lot of things well but knew it had to get better. Key people in the company recognized the benefits of better organization, reducing unnecessary inventory, producing products in quantities that were really needed, having machines and equipment available when required, cross-training employees to increase their skills, and more. Yet, even though these concepts seemed to make sense and would have a positive impact on the company, there was so much to do just to keep the company running that these key people believed there was no time to make the company better.

A fairy tale? I think not. In fact, what I just described could be true for many companies today. They know they have to do something to get better and probably even know what that something is; they just can’t get started.

Many books have been written about time management, strategic planning (and doing), delegation, change management and other techniques that illustrate how to get things done. I have even devoted past columns to some of these concepts. Still, inertia runs rampant in many companies. 

Someone once said: “If you don’t know where to start, anywhere is good.” As a person who likes to see results quickly, I generally suggest starting with something that is easy and likely to bring success. Organizing a lunchroom, kitchen area or even a copy center are good ways to get quick results. Disposing of obsolete or damaged inventory, equipment and tools can free up a surprising amount of space without a lot of effort. Selecting two employees and having them train each other in one or two unique skills can increase each one’s skill set in short order. Showing a machine operator how to check fluid levels and add to them if needed can increase a machine’s uptime and longevity. Each of these ideas is certainly simple, but they still allow us to start something, somewhere.

A company can have trouble getting started if it is too comfortable. Comfort is too often the enemy of change. When we are comfortable, we need a strong rationale for changing something. If we think about it, many of us are so comfortable that we repeat the same actions over and over. We commute to work the same way each day, frequent the same restaurants, watch the same televisions shows, visit the same websites and even listen to the same type of music (and perhaps even the same artist).

When something happens to cause our comfort level to drop, we become more open to doing something different. If we are struggling in our jobs, we likely will explore other opportunities. If our favorite restaurant changes ownership and we experience a drop-off in the quality of the meals, we will look for a different restaurant.  If one of our best customers expresses dissatisfaction with our products or services, we will spring into action to find and eliminate the cause of this dissatisfaction. If one of our machines starts to produce defective parts on a regular basis, we will initiate the required maintenance activities to bring the machine back in line. 

Some might argue that it is actually fear that takes us out of our comfort zone and motivates us to do something, but fear can also prevent us from doing things. In the oft-quoted book “Who Moved My Cheese,” by Spencer Johnson, one of the questions that resonated with me was, “What would you do if you weren’t afraid?” If we are able to give precedence to the positives that can come from doing something, we can mitigate our fear of the negatives that might happen if we do it.

The table below provides some positives outcomes that can counteract the negatives associated with doing something.

There will always be reasons for companies not to do something that has the potential to make them better. We may have to leave our comfort zone, recognizing that getting better is no longer a “like to do,” but a “must do” for any company to thrive in the years ahead. 

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