Saturday, April 27, 2013

Too Much Focus - Why Leadership Needs a Broad Lens

People need goals to solve problems, not suggestions.

Consider an organization that builds cars and has problems with the cars that they make consuming too much gas. This overconsumption is making them inefficient, smelly and otherwise poor quality which is impacting their brand and losing sales.

The leadership needs this overconsumption problem solved, so they begin collecting information on how to solve this problem. After research and thorough investigation, they realized that when you drive too fast in one of their cars, you burn more gas. The leadership asks the team how to keep people from driving the cars too fast. They found the simplest solution is to attach a 2x2x4 inch block of wood to the bottom of the gas pedal...a governor of sorts. This 'governor' would prevent the gas pedal from being fully depressed and would effectively reduce the speed that the car would go. After running some tests, they found that indeed, the blocks made the cars go slower, burn less gas, run longer and cleaner and improve the overall quality of the experience...just at a slower pace.

Problem solving at its finest, the leaders begin communicating how the cars go too fast and burn too much gas to the team and that these new wooden blocks are going to save the company from certain disaster. It's hard to argue with the speed/overconsumption logic and of course the test data is right there, so work begins and cars start getting shipped to go slower. Perhaps this will prevent the gas consumption to some degree, nobody is arguing that...but then nobody is really looking at the problem anymore. Instead, innovation gets applied to the problem of how to put the new block/pedal assembly in place as efficiently as possible and save money on this new innovation.

I call the goal of applying the blocks to all the gas pedals an input goal.

OK, I may be guilty of oversimplifying here, but you get the point. We have been taught that as leaders we need to quickly identify problems and just as quickly drive down solutions and get some action. How much innovation did we leave on the table here? Perhaps the guys that build the engine have known for a while that the air intake is too small and needs re-design. Perhaps the guys that make the body know that the material they use is much heavier than it has to be. Perhaps the wheels are too small. Maybe our speed hungry customers climb under to remove the wood blocks from the gas pedal when they get home and wonder what the heck we were thinking.

A good leader will likely keep asking questions and uncover all of these innovative solutions, but a great leader will help the organization understand the problem, set a high output goal and encourage everyone to drive towards it. How about instead of telling the team to apply wooden blocks, we challenge them to reduce fuel consumption by 50% and see what we can come up with.

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