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What is the Business Problem You Are Trying to Solve?

business problem

A friend of mine was telling me a story about how he had a project that had $100,000 left in its budget.  He and his team wanted to use it up, since the norm was if you didn’t use it, your budget would be cut by that amount the next year.

Sound familiar?

I asked what they wanted to spend the money on.  He said, “USB video cameras.”

Then, I asked, “why?”

“Because we’ve rolled out a video capability to the company.”

Interested, I continued my questioning.  “But don’t the laptops people use (and the company has already purchased) have a video camera already built in?”

“Yes, some of them do.  We want to buy cameras for those laptops that do not already have a camera and to create a spare pool.”

Good recovery I thought, but I wasn’t quite done, so I asked “But isn’t everyone already on a list to get a laptop refresh, where they all eventually will have a laptop with a built in camera, making these USB ones obsolete?”

“Well, yes,” he said.

I was intrigued because I kept hearing about people putting a piece of tape or a post-it note over the laptop camera for fear they might be accidentally captured on video when they didn’t want to be, so further investment in it raised some red flags.

“Do you even know if people use the video feature?  What’s the data tell us the usage patterns are?  How many video sessions are you doing in a day?  What are you going to do with all the cameras after the laptop refresh?”

I admit I was Feeling like Tom Cruise questioning Jack Nicholson in the movie “A Few Good Men”.  He was at his breaking point.

“No.  I don’t know any of that.  No usage data.  No trend analysis.  No strategy post rollout.  We just thought we should buy the cameras because the budget had room,” he said.

Needless to say, he didn’t buy the cameras.  No business case, no understanding of the business problem he was trying to solve, and no data.  Common  sense prevails.

I think generally, most good intentioned people are action oriented.  While not a bad thing, I think sometimes we make decisions without all the inputs.  Other factors and incentives drive us to do things that perhaps we wouldn’t do in our own personal lives, but at work we can ignore some common sense questioning that can get us in trouble.  If we all treated our work, or work decisions, like we were the owner of the company, my feeling is that different decisions would be made.  I think it’s always a good exercise to stop ourselves and ask what business problem we are trying to solve.

In that context, we might just make different decisions.

Your 2015 Leadership Wake-Up Call

As we think about how we make authentic leadership impressions  with each other, and the teams we lead, many people I talk to have used the same tools throughout their successful career.  Recently, I was talking to a great leader, my friend John (it’s actually his real name) and was asking him questions about how he goes about connecting with his broader team as President of his company.  John very quickly pointed to some good, solid tools out of his leadership tool belt:

  • Manage by walking around. John makes it a point to know each person’s name, and enjoys the personal connection realized by physically walking the floor
  • Open door policy. He makes it a point of setting aside certain hours where employees can come into his physical office and talk 1:1

As John’s workforce makeup changes from the Baby Boomer now to the Millennial of tomorrow, will those legacy tools be enough?  Will the new workforce be able to relate to John?  In short, can John stay relevant as a leader if he doesn’t modernize his tool kit?

In my role as a reverse mentor, I’ve helped executives like John realized that the tools of yesterday, while valuable, might not scale and be relevant to the workforce of the future.  By now you should have a solid understanding that the workforce of tomorrow has different needs from leadership than the workforce of yesterday.  As a result, leaders must evolve their tools to stay relevant.  That’s the wake-up call.

How to “wake-up” in 2015:

  • Keep what works, with a twist. Ask your team while walking around or during your open door 1:1 meetings about this and what they would suggest you try.
  • Commit to one new and different way to work. Talk about what you are going to try and do differently, and ask for feedback.  For example, “I’m going to start a monthly blog to share with the team.  Let me know what you think and what others are saying about it.”
  • Ask for feedback via a communications survey and personally read all of the responses. This will get you tuned into whether or not your workforce needs are changing in respect to leadership connections.

Recently, I read a blog authored by an executive I have worked with in the past.  He had even tweeted the link to it!  A couple years ago, blogging and tweeting were nowhere in this leader’s vocabulary.  Seeing that leaders are capable of evolving how they engage and inspire their teams was very humbling to me.

He “gets it”.  Do you?