I had the good fortune to take two weeks off as the year changed and I spent some much-appreciated time with children, grandchildren and friends. A week of that time was at our cottage in the Endless Mountains of north central Pennsylvania. While watching the birds and deer in the yard, I managed to do some valuable reflection.
It is easy to lose an objective view of the big picture while thrashing around in the swamp, beating off the alligators. One can forget taking out a few of those alligators, as well as miss the fact the water level actually has dropped a bit.
I often talk about the need to celebrate success with your teams. There is an equal need to recognize your own success and celebrate that as well, even if that celebration is in the quiet of your own mind. I think it is human nature to spend time dwelling on problems; after all most of us are committed to continuous improvement which by its very nature says we are not there yet. There are more alligators, the swamp is not dry, and we cannot let up now. However, as I realized during my time off, there is value in taking your foot off the throttle long enough to see where you have been. That pause can go a long way to clarify the vision of where you are going.
Our normal gauge of success is based on the various metrics we develop to measure the exact degree of our success, as well as the exact amount still needed to reach our goals. That very fact, of not yet reaching some arbitrary goal, carries a connotation of failure.
In my “holiday reevaluation,” I did not use the performance metrics and the exacting numbers that we use to define our concept of success. Rather, I stepped into other realms not so cluttered by statistics, mathematics, tables, and graphs.
I looked at one team in particular. This is truly a continuous improvement team without the designation. It is a joint team of drafting, engineering, and manufacturing folks dedicated to producing case goods. This team has been core to a complete revision of how case goods are designed and produced in their company. Their journey has now spanned three and a half years. As we come closer to our stated goals, improvements are more difficult to measure, simply because they are less dramatic; we picked the low hanging fruit a long time ago.
The team meets weekly and discusses any issues that have arisen. Everyone comes prepared, their issues are written down, they are specific, and they are detailed. We maintain a log sheet of issues which includes the specifics, who is responsible for the resolution, and in what time frame it will be resolved.
Three years ago these weekly meetings could last an hour and the list of issues was two or three pages long. Now those meetings are minutes, the list is a few items—and they have developed a cohesive team that is based on mutual respect across the disciplines. This team has accepted their own accountability as well as their own authority. They own their success.
The cohesiveness of this team, the preparedness for meetings, the non-defensiveness toward issues, and the comparative absence of issues, are things that don’t show in the performance metrics. They are not posted on the bulletin board, but they are real and they are of great value. They define their success.
It took a week in the woods for me to recognize that fact. Take time to have your own experience in the woods, wherever you are, and celebrate. The swamp still is not dry, but it sure seems more likely now!