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Stop Trying to Fix What’s Broken and Start Doing More of What’s Working

What keeps leaders up at night? Things like figuring out how to tweak a business model; how to do things faster, better, and cheaper; and how to fix the things that are broken in the organization.

Whether explicit or implicit, every business is founded with the goal of being the best. After all, no one invests his or her time, money, and heart into being mediocre, right? So, with the intent of producing the best product or service and delighting customers again and again, leaders spend much of their time analyzing results to fix the issues that are causing their business distress.

But why are we always so focused on what’s NOT right? It’s partly human nature, partly habit, and partly societal pressure perhaps. The problem is that when we do this, we neglect to focus on what actually is working. And that’s where the real opportunity lies.

Within our own four walls, we all have high performers; we have the blueprint for great success. It’s time to ask yourself: What would happen if I stopped looking for the things that aren’t working and started looking for the things going well – the precious “Bright Spots?” What if I spent time discovering and replicating those activities? With this mindset, before long you’d wind up with an organization full of “what’s working” examples and a lot less “what’s not.”

Bright Spots are the parts of your organization that are performing at a high level. All leaders know where these spots are, but few do anything to leverage them. Leaders often assume the best performers have natural talent and skills and that best practices are being shared. But, this isn’t necessarily the case. Usually the best performers do not even realize they’re doing anything great or different from the rest. Or, they’re simply too close to identify what sets them apart. So the odds of any sharing of best practices are slim to none. This means that leaders and high performers simply don’t know what it is the high performers are doing to set their performance apart.

Why isn’t anyone digging deeper to find out exactly what these high performers are doing? If their secret sauce could be uncovered, simplified, and shared, you would create an organization of Bright Spots. And what could be better for your business?

Simplify and Implement

While it’s easy to identify who your high performers are (you can do this by looking for the most successful aspects of your business), finding out what makes them successful might take a bit more sleuthing. Your high performers think they’re just doing their jobs, unaware that they have practices, habits, knowledge, and skills that should be shared with others. An even greater secret is that high performers often figure out what to stop doing or not do at all to achieve extraordinary results.

If you ask your other people why their results aren’t as strong as those high performers, you’ll probably get the “yeah, but” answer. “Yeah, but his restaurant is located on the hottest corner in town.” “Yeah, but that sales person has always had that client wrapped around her finger.” The “yeah, but” show can go on and on. But it doesn’t have much merit because you have high performers who are showing that, yes, there is a way to do better within the same environment and circumstances.

So, how do you decode the mystery of your high performers?

1. Find the Bright Spots. Define the characteristics of high performance that really matter to you. Is it customer satisfaction? Sales growth? Productivity? Then, take a look at that specific area of your business. Is there a group of people doing similar activities? Can you rank or chart their performance? This is how you can see trends that will reveal the true Bright Spots.

2. Stop rewarding only new ideas. We tend to believe that the bigger wins will come from the newer or bigger ideas. What we forget is that the cost and time to come up with a new market, business model, product, or service is usually significant, while the cost and risk to replicate something that has already been proven is little to none. Rather than encouraging your people to reinvent the wheel or create a new way of doing things, consider rewarding your people who replicate the best results that are already in practice. After all, if something is working well, you know that if scaled it should continue to yield the same, only greater, outcomes.

3. Use your high performers as the teachers. Enlist your high performers as partners in scaling their secret sauce among their peers. Most people love to learn from each other in a collaborative fashion. It’s much more effective to have successful people act as mentors than it is for you to just tell employees what needs to happen.

When you feel compelled to spend all your time fixing the problems, remember that it’s more important to make a FUSS about what does work:

  • Focus on the high performers.
  • Uncover the drivers of high performance.
  • Simplify for mass rollout so that it’s applicable to everyone.
  • Scale the secret sauce throughout the organization.

Leaders, this is your call to action. Highlight the best stuff and the people that make it happen. Then help them bring their knowledge, their nuance, and their practices to everyone in the organization. The returns of replicating what works are far more astounding than simply fixing what’s broken.

February 26, 2013


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