In almost every field of endeavour there’s a gap. A gap between current performance and potential performance and while we might not ever actually reach our full potential we have to move towards that point.
The challenge though is that potential is hidden. It’s a latent force that we all know is there, if we could just unlock it. Every person, every team, every organisation has it, it’s just that you have to consciously and consistently work on it in a very disciplined way. As Churchill said, “Continuous effort – not strength or intelligence – is the key to unlocking our potential.”
Releasing potential, making people and things better, is in many respects, the purpose of leadership. The leader’s task is to put in place a logical approach that opens up potential in a consistent way.
Here are some thoughts that might help.
Step 1: Break it down.
Clearly the possibilities are endless, so let’s take a systematic approach that looks at the playing field and then zero in on the things that might have the greatest impact.
Business is a complex multifaceted thing and it is sometimes hard to put things in order to break things down, but if you think about it, business performance will almost always be a function of just three things - People, Strategy and Execution. Everything else falls from those three.
The individual and collective human element of the organisation, with all its talent, personality, beliefs and motivation.
A method or plan chosen to bring about a desired future, such as achievement of a goal or solution to a problem.
The implementation of a plan effectively and efficiently through, resources, structure, systems and process.
Still, even with this initial breakdown there is a lot to consider. A possible key is to look for Centres of Gravity.
Step 2: Centres of Gravity
Colonel John Warden, in his book Winning in Fast Time, talks about the importance of Centres of Gravity in strategic planning. Warden’s theory was that everything exists in a system and each system has Centres of Gravity, points that, if impacted, can massively change the nature of that system. Further, Centres of Gravity have a disproportional impact.
In other words, with only minimum effort or cost, you can have maximum effect.
So, as you look to tap into the potential of your organisation you have to ask yourself, what are the Centres of Gravity? Those areas of the business that, if you could change them or even adjust them slightly with minimal effort, would result in opening up the potential of your organisation.
If you were looking at People for example, it could be talent, or leadership, or communication. If you were focusing in on Execution, it could be a particular system or process or even your current structure.
Ultimately you are looking to change things, with minimal cost and effort to open up potential that already exists, it just needs to be released.
Step 3: Question Everything
While this structured way of looking for opportunities to open up potential is useful, it is not enough. You have to create an environment conducive to uncovering the potential.
Questions are THE most powerful tool you have in this endeavour. You have to be willing to question everything. In my experience questions that begin with what if…have an unusual way of opening up new and clear thinking.
· What if we tried selling into this new market?
· What if we completely got rid of this process?
· What if we let our teams self-manage?
Another way to approach this is to step outside of your organisation and be someone else.
· If we were our competitors what would we do?
· If we were a customer, what would we change?
· How do we appear to prospective employees?
Clearly the questions you ask need to be thought through carefully. If you ask quality questions you get quality answers but if the discussion that follows is allowed to flow freely, without inhibition, judgement, prejudice or ego, the results can be ground breaking.
Step 4: Tap the Intelligence of the organisation.
Finally, you have to get everyone on this. It may seem on the surface that it is part of the Annual Strategy Workshop. Wrong!!! Well yes, it can be part of a strategy workshop but really you want everyone in the organisation engaged, consistently looking to open up the potential of the organisation.
Here are two thoughts:
1. Make excellence part of your culture.
I can think of two clear instances where companies have engaged the whole organisation. In the first, the idea of Operational Excellence was introduced to the entire company. It was on the agenda at every meeting, leaders were expected to drive it and it was included in performance evaluation. It became a natural part of the company’s conversation.
In the second a small team of developers had emblazoned on their wall the word AWESOMENESS, followed by the words, make our customers go WOW! Those simple words and the team’s commitment to them drove every decision they made.
“Is this really awesome?”
“OK. how can we make it better?”
They were consistently challenging average, pushing themselves to find something better. Opening up their own potential and the potential of the product.
2. Create Events?
A way to really tap potential is to create events designed for that very purpose. A great example of this is the tech industries use of Hack Weeks. There are a lot of different versions, each designed to suit the company’s needs, but basically Hack Weeks are about giving employees time to collaborate, innovate and learn new things by having a week away from their day-to-day responsibilities to work on projects of their choice. I have often wondered what the impact on traditional more established businesses would be if they introduced a hack week.
Another way is to just set aside a specific time, maybe just 30 minutes, where the team get to dive in on just one challenging question. I have seen this method result in both performance improvements and new opportunities that would never have existed with that consistent weekly event.
A Final Point.
At the very core of human existence is an innate desire to fulfil our potential. If our primary role as a leader is to drive improvement and to use the resources at our disposal to greatest effect then we have to be able to help release potential.
Don’t miss a wonderful opportunity, approach the challenge with intent, structure and discipline.