Removing the Obstacles

I like to sign myself up for some criticism every now and then by soliciting honest feedback from my customers via a phone call. They set the agenda and let me know everything that keeps my team from being their favorite, most perfect vendor. It is a wonderful way to make sure that my company’s solutions are in line with my customers’ problems. Plus it leaves us with a target to shoot at as we evaluate, create, and implement our plans and processes.

The good news for us is that usually my list of shortcoming is longer than their list. I am hyper critical of our performance and irrationally optimistic about our ability to improve. As long as my list is longer than theirs we are only competing with ourselves and that’s a strong position to be in.

During a conversation with a customer today, I reconnected with an idea that I believe is a major difference between great companies and average/poor ones. Great companies are filled with leaders who assume ultimate responsibility of the organizations shortcomings.

This means that the leader makes it his or her job to search for every obstacle keeping the company from improving and then works to remove it. The most powerful question I ask my team is, “What do you need from me that is keeping you from being able to perform at a higher level?” It may be resources, training, time, poor systems, a slow computer, etc.

I trust that I hired the right people. I trust my team’s insight. I trust when they ask for something it is because they need it. And I believe that if I take on the responsibility removing the obstacles that cause our shortcomings, my team will respond by bringing their best.

To wrap up, my strategy is to hone in to the key characteristics my customers are asking for, pile on my additional level of expectation, and then make sure my team has everything they need to execute. We may not always get it right, but we sure as hell put a whole lot of care behind our work.