People Power: Tracking progress is a powerful tactic for change – Feb 2022

By Sam Allman

For most living things, habitat matters. Planting a cactus in the tropics or the frozen tundra would not be very wise. Expecting a penguin to thrive in the jungle or at a high elevation in the mountains would be misguided. There are few living things that can flourish just about anywhere, but we-as humans-can. We have been found thriving in some of the most uninhabitable parts of this planet. Some of us have even lived in space for a time.

Most plants and animals have ideal habitats in which they grow or develop in healthy and vigorous ways. If the environment of that ideal habitat changes, that puts the survival of that plant or animal at risk. We have evidence that many living things on our planet have gone extinct due to changes in their ideal habitat.

As humans, if our habitat is not enabling us to flourish, we are one of the few living organisms that can do something about it. “It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change,” said Professor Leon C. Megginson, referring to Darwin’s theory of natural selection. We are not stuck where we are; we can change, we can create change within our habitat, or we can move and change habitats. We never have to be stuck unless we want to be.

Our ability to change, create change and respond to change is the essence of being human. It’s our most precious ability, and it’s our innate quest to continuously learn that drives this. The impulse to learn in humans goes deeper than desires to respond and adapt. The impulse to learn is an impulse to be generative, to expand our capabilities in order to shape our habitat. It’s a skill that must be exercised and honed if we want to flourish and reach our potential. As we do that, our capacity to absorb and create high levels of change while displaying minimal dysfunctional behavior increases.

Even though that impulse to learn is ingrained in our species, it is recognized that learning, changing and making change are hard. Change is often uncomfortable. Sometimes it is just easier to accept the status quo and let things happen.

The ancient Babylonians are said to have been the first people to make New Year’s resolutions, some 4,000 years ago. I think they knew, even then, the importance of the ability to make change. So they made promises to their gods to do the things they knew they should be doing to improve. If the Babylonians kept to their word, their gods would bestow favor on them for the coming year. If not, they would fall out of the gods’ favor, and who wants that?

We have just passed that time of the year again. The start of a year can be a new beginning for us personally, for our businesses, for our relationships or whatever areas of our lives that need change. “Though no one can go back and make a brand-new start, anyone can start from now and make a brand-new ending,” said Carl Bard.

I hope you considered some of the questions I identified in my last column-questions you should ask yourself if you were to experience a second chance at life, like Kemp Harr did. I believe that the single cause of failure in life is cluelessness, being unaware of the need to change, grow or learn.

Our most potent source of awareness will usually come from the questions we ask ourselves. Even though feedback from others can be very impactful, most of us don’t listen, and we get defensive when we hear even constructive criticism from others, especially from those close to us. I have often said, “Feedback is the breakfast of champions.” It takes a strong ego to be grateful for criticism. That’s why champions are so rare. Because of that, most of us have to rely on self-reflection, or we become aware of the need to do something different by getting sick and tired of getting the same results from the same actions.

To arrive at change, the key questions we should ask ourselves are:
• What’s working?
• What’s not working?
• What should I do more or less of?
• What should I do differently?

These questions work for most areas of our lives.

The Japanese, with the help of American management guru Edwards Deming, revitalized the automotive industry by instituting a philosophy that each of us should personally adapt. It’s worked for individuals, businesses, entrepreneurs and athletic teams. It comes from a Japanese word that means continuous and never-ending improvement, kaizen, the belief that small changes over time can create huge life changes. Its message is that not a day should go by without some kind of improvement being made.

Life is a journey. Flourishing doesn’t happen overnight. Small daily improvements or changes are certainly easier than one massive change. Yes, sometimes a massive innovation of change is required to get us back on path. These are what I call defining moments. Kaizen is not a defining moment. It’s a sometimes-imperceptible incremental improvement.

The key tactic to making this management philosophy work in business is the same as for our personal lives. It’s what produces success in many of today’s weight loss programs, and it is based on the philosophies, If you can measure it, you can improve it and What gets measured gets managed.

Research is clear: human beings adjust their behavior based on the metrics they’re held against. Anything you measure will impel a person to optimize his or her score on that metric. It happens even if you are measuring your own behavior. It happens even when it’s pointless to measure and manage something, and even if it harms the purpose of an organization or a person to do so. I remember often measuring the number of credit cards I had been approved for. You can imagine how that worked for me.

Business authority Eliyahu Moshe Goldratt said, “Tell me how you measure me, and I will tell you how I will behave. If you measure me in an illogical way … do not complain about illogical behavior.” That’s why you have to be careful with what you measure.

In business, it’s easy to identify the key metrics. They can be found on a balance sheet, profit-and-loss and cash flow statements, average gross margins, age of inventory, expenses, accounts receivable, etc. It’s amazing what happens when small improvements are made on each metric across a financial statement-total financial results improvement can be exponential rather than linear. That’s how kaizen works.

There are many additional metrics that, when improved, can have a dramatic impact on any business, but you have to identify what you want to improve. To name a few:
• How many new potential customers have been in your business in the last 30 days? (i.e., traffic count, a measure of your advertising and marketing)
• How many customers purchased? (i.e., closing rate: the number of customers who closed divided by the traffic count)
• What is the closing rate for each salesperson? (i.e., productivity)
• What is the customer satisfaction rating of each of your installation crews?
• Which products make the most profit for you?

If you’re not aware of the metrics throughout your business, you are operating blindly. And worse yet, you don’t really know what you should even be focusing on. It’s like running around in a maze, and you haven’t kept track of where you’ve been, you are not sure where you are going and you’re not sure what to do to get out. That’s why sport teams measure everything. They leave nothing to chance. Millions of dollars are at stake.

Setting aside your business issues for the moment, what about your personal life? What areas of your life can you measure and improve-net worth, debt, weight, skill competence, credit score, savings? There are apps that will help you measure just about anything. So, how do you measure personal or spousal happiness, life satisfaction or career satisfaction?

Let me remind you of the simplest and easiest way to measure something. When you need to change or create change, you usually need to take some sort of action. Just measure whether you did it or not. Put a check on a to-do list that you create every morning. You will be amazed at your drive to accomplish what’s on the list.

Take a few moments to think about what you could change in 2022 that would have the biggest impact on the quality of your life. Do you just need to do it and check it off, or do you need to find the right metrics to measure your progress? If you can measure it, you can improve it!

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