Most of us work in jobs where our day’s activities are largely laid out for us before we ever get to work. The only variation you can expect to see in your day relates to the latest problem with your product or an underperforming bottom line being thrust into your lap for problem-solving. For many people, that is not a work scenario that motivates or inspires them to perform at their best. I would submit that our work activities are largely driven by reaction to issues. We are always playing defense to use a sports analogy. Rarely do we get to play offense and try to score! To further the sports analogy – if you are always playing defense, you can’t score and if you can’t score, how can you win the game?! The daily issues we face are real and cannot be ignored. We need to tackle and fix those problems because they are paying our salaries and keeping the lights on. However, if we never are able to get beyond the fire-fighting issues of our business, we will become uncompetitive and irrelevant. That looks like a problematic future to me.
Playing defense in our work will at best deliver the status quo. Many execs would love an optimized status quo because it supports a good bottom line, but does it ever drive innovation and move you forward? Unlikely. And over time, the status quo will begin to lose its competitiveness because someone else is innovating and building a better mousetrap than yours.
The beginning of playing some offense begins with the decision that you are going to set aside a part of your day or week to do so. We always make time in our lives for the things that are most important to us. The same is true in business. We spend our time doing the activities that management dictates are most important. If there is no room to play offense in your business, it is because that activity is not valued enough. Now, if you were to play offense, would you even know what to do? If you could “score” against your competition, what would that look like? To me, offense in business can be generated with the kind of work projects that motivate and inspire your employees. I’ve always found that when employees can spend a small portion of their time working on a project of their own choosing, they bring their “A” game to that effort. Sometimes the project brings good results and sometimes it doesn’t. The passion they bring to their own projects can spill over into the rest of their job too. If you never release them to do their project though, you are guaranteed to never see that innovation.
A second avenue relates to opening up problem solving to your workforce. I’m not talking about fixing the status quo. You are doing that every day. I’m talking about strategic projects that differentiate you from your competition. That will get the creative juices flowing. Perhaps management is able to define a problem but is afraid to admit they don’t have a solution. Do you trust your workforce enough to let them help you? Your employees are on the front line of your business and know the process better than you do. Maybe they’ve got some ideas you don’t! No one has all the answers. Let your workforce help you out. One final thing – give credit where credit is due. If some rank and file employee comes up with a solution, heap praise on that person. It’s not necessary for you to “fix” everything or know everything. It is up to you to get everyone on your team bringing their best effort to the game. It’s about getting your company to out-perform the competition. Multiply your solutions by multiplying your problem solvers. Think about how good your performance can be if you treat your workforce as the solution rather than part of the problem? I think it’s a worthwhile chance to take. Don’t you?