Road trip

The Power of a Road Trip

I spent many years in a “trust but verify” culture. What this meant was that I, and every executive above me, was expected to constantly show up in the retail stores to experience what was happening as the customers would.

Is there a bird’s nest over the front entrance risking bird poop falling on a customer’s head? Are customers being serviced in a timely way? Does the store look inviting with all light bulbs on and phones charged? Are the employees up to speed on the latest products and services? Can the store managers articulate their key initiatives and what they could do to improve?

There’s no question that knowing an exec could stop in at any time, kept everyone on their toes. The stores undoubtedly were cleaner and the customer service better as a result.

Of course these visits were always stressful. The general sentiment was that there was “No such thing as a good visit, only not a bad one.”

Which is what made the technique I learned from my predecessor so brilliant.

Every summer, instead of the usual pop-in store visits, Chris and his right hand guy, Jimmy, would pack up a van, wrap it in some marketing bling, and hit the road for a month visiting over a hundred stores across a nine-hour radius.

The schedule was pre-announced and there was one big rule: only positive feedback, celebration and fun.

If something was wrong, he or Jimmy would just quietly fix it, and make a note to circle back at some later point to see if there was a chronic problem.

This tour was all about noticing what was right.

He would do his homework and came prepared with all kinds of recognition, along with a token of appreciation for every employee.

The store managers came up with all kinds of creative ways to add to the fun.  Jimmy took tons of pictures of every visit. Every evening, they would Photoshop them into creative collage, including names of those recognized and why, along with descriptions of best practices. This “postcard” was emailed to the entire region every evening.

The other store directors jokingly referred to the month as “Chris’ love tour,” but Chris didn’t care, he knew what worked.

The truth is, the employees loved the love.

Of course, results skyrocketed during that time. Everyone wanted to be on top of their game when the tour stopped by their store.

And as you can imagine, there was not a bird’s nest in sight. The phones all had charge, and the employees knew all about the latest products and services.

Trust your employees to rise to the occasion, and they will.

Sounds easy, right? But I know a lot of managers who fumble their managing by walking around (MBWA).

There’s real power in getting out with your people with a single intention– to uplift, recognize and celebrate.

Post-Mortem of Success: Questions that Drive Sustained Results

Most great project managers know that it’s important to do a post-mortem after any major undertaking. In my experience, a post-mortem is much more likely to occur when something went terribly wrong. I have heard (and said) in the heat of frustration, “we just need to get through this now, but afterwards we need a very careful post-mortem.”

In this funny and insightful post, Lee Cash, shares the challenges with a traditional post-mortem and how to overcome some of them, The postmortem: what it is and how to survive one.

Postmortem: noun:

  1. An examination and dissection of a dead body to determine cause of death or the changes produced by disease
  2. Discussion of an event after it has occurred
  3. A blame fest where, if you’re not careful, you get attributed with everything that’s wrong in the world

In essence, post-mortems are an attempt to review a recent calamity that has befallen the business with the noble intention of isolating the offending causes and making sure they never happen again. The practice nearly always takes the format of a face-to-face meeting (if possible) and involves all of the key players who had a role in the “hiccup”, and hence why you’re all now sitting in a room waiting for the fireworks to happen.

The post-mortem seems less urgent after an over-whelming success. Most of us just celebrate, and then merrily race off to fight our next crises, or build our next remedial action plan.

Why Do a Post-Mortem of Success?

I recently had a celebratory conversation with a leader who was experiencing some fantastic results after months of challenges and struggling metrics. This was turnaround at it’s finest. I was delighted with the progress and wanted to recognize him. We did all that and then, I asked, “what is working and why?”
That’s where we got stumped.
He had theories, I had theories the truth is, so many action plans and efforts had been applied to the problem, we were unsure of which were contributing to the solution.
A bit scary was it the entire cocktail?
How do we isolate the variables?
How would we sustain the progress if we didn’t understand what had worked?
How could the lessons be applied to other areas of the business if we didn’t understand them?

How to Approach a Success Post-Mortem

We decided a deliberate approach was in order. Yup, I ended that celebratory meeting by giving the guy more work. Why, because I believe in the long-run it will save everyone time.

He’s spending time…

  • considering and discussing. what were the expected outcomes of the various interventions?
  • observing: what behaviors have actually changed?
  • measuring: doing deeper dives into the analytics to look for patterns of improvement
  • listening: to folks about what feels better now and why?

Taking the time to understand what is working may be even more vital than learning from our failures.