Friend or Foe?

Continuing to do what we have always done expecting different results is the definition of insanity. Given that we accept this definition I submit to you that the status quo is a reflection of the continuing to do mantra. Don’t you think? Through the past fifty years we have learned and used various tools to help us examine different ways to do our work. From Industrial Engineering to the Total Quality movement of the 1980’s CQI, to Six Sigma and Lean in the 1990’s at GE, to the current 5S and Kaizen and the myriad of other tools available, we have been bombarded with the need to change.

With that as our entry point this month I want to have a discussion on what we do in our businesses and our jobs. In other words I want to talk about the status quo.

We are in the customer service business. We supply systems, and services and parts and supplies. Most of you do this work really well. That is where the trap shows itself. Good is the enemy of better or best. When we are good at anything we tend to repeat it and we get very comfortable at it. That is the good news but there is a bad news balance to it. We get complacent and stuck in a rut. You think to yourself “I am good at what I do. Why do I need to change?” Well that is when good becomes the enemy of better or great.

You get in a rut. You keep doing things the same way you have learned to do them – your way. “Your good way.” Now you become the point of resistance. You become a roadblock. You get in the way of improving things. You start protecting the status quo. Obviously this is both good and bad. It is good if what you do is the best it could possibly be. How likely do you think that might be?

So that is the answer to my opening question; the status quo is generally a Foe.

“When the world around you is changing at a rate faster than you are the end is near.” Jack Welch former CEO of GE. The truth is the world in which we live is constantly changing and the rate of change is accelerating. The world that our customer lives in has changed and continues to change rather dramatically. How have you adjusted your work to adapt to your customers?

In the 1800’s we introduced an electric engine into business and it replaced the steam engine. We changed the tool but it took a generation of management before we changed the methods and the processes to reflect the new tool. In the 1950’s we introduced the computer. We implemented dealer business systems in the 1970’s and 1980’s. What we did was we copied the forms and put them on a computer screen, as an input map, and did everything faster. We didn’t change very much but we installed the new tool and we were proud of the fact that we were up to date. However, today we need to change the methods and the processes to reflect the true advantages of the tool.

Because we are in a rut we aren’t jumping through hoops to make changes. We are resisting change. Yet we need to enlist everyone on the team to help us change. How about we do something different. Let’s focus on the customer. What are the needs and wants of the customer? Human nature, another oxymoron reflecting the status quo, says that we will work harder to satisfy our customer than we will to satisfy our boss.

Start then, with the needs and wants of the customer when we are going to challenge the status quo. Ask the questions of your customers – What are your need and wants? Do we satisfy your needs and wants? Now it will be clear what we need to do. Won’t it?

If we know what the customer wants and needs then it should be clear what we need to do internally to satisfy those needs and wants. That is we need to operate in the most effective method and efficient manner possible. That describes internal excellence. We need to use all of the tools at our disposal and evaluate everything we do to satisfy the customer. Then we need to implement the internal excellence we have identified as necessary. That is quite straight forward. Find out what the customer needs and provide the methods to excel at satisfying those needs.

Once we know what we need to do to excel it will be very clear what kind of training and tools and technology we will need to provide to the employees to excel internally. This is the result of challenging the status quo. But it is from a different perspective. It is the customer perspective.

Have a look at what you do and see if there might be a better way to do it. If you don’t think that there is a better way to do anything then ask your customer what they want and need from you as a preferred supplier. Don’t worry, they will tell you. Then you can determine if you can satisfy these needs or not. If the answer is no then you need to find out what you have to excel at to satisfy these needs. And off you go to improvement. Off you go to becoming better at what you do. You leave “good” behind and become better. It becomes very straight forward, isn’t it? Good luck with getting better. You and your customers will be very happy you did.

The time is now.

by Ron Slee
August, 2016
Water Well Journal

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The Water Well Journal is the leading resource for those working in the groundwater industry. The flagship publication of the National Ground Water Association is delivered to more than 24,000 people every month and covers technical issues related to drilling and pump installation, rig maintenance, business management, well rehabilitation, water treatment, and more.

Since many of the companies in the groundwater industry are small family-run businesses it is critical that Water Well Journal provide much more than technical content. That is why Ron Slee’s monthly columns addressing management, supply, and inventory issues are valuable. It is that type of information that helps the publication achieve NGWA’s mission of advancing groundwater knowledge.