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Les McKeown's Predictable Success Blog

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5 ways to overcome blind spots 

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A version of this article first appeared in Inc.com

Questionable fashion choices, braying laughter, supporting the Mets – we all have our blind spots, right? 

Most of us do things which we’d instantly recoil from if we saw them in others – but because it’s us…well, let’s say we have less than objective vision about ourselves.

Organizations are exactly the same. Every business has its own blind spots – ineffective or inefficient activities which, unlike personal blind spots, cost money. In fact, I’ve yet to work with a single organization that wasn’t to some degree giving away profit because of habits, attitudes, policies or procedures that to some degree irritated and alienated their employees, customers or clients.

Of course the conundrum is, how do you ‘see’ a blind spot? As a leader, how can you know what you don’t know? The trick is in reframing your perspective. Just like catching a reflection of someone in a shop window and thinking that their yellow tie is an abomination – milliseconds before realizing that that person is you – so catching a glimpse of your business from a new perspective can reveal wrinkles and blemishes that you would never otherwise be aware of.

Here are the five most effective ways to see your business in ways you’ve never seen it before:

1. Play musical chairs

Pair up your senior leadership team (including yourself) and have them each swap jobs for two days. If you’re up for it, have everyone swap at the same time – then watch and learn. (If you’re a little queasy at the thought of what might could go wrong, only swap one pair of executives at a time.)

There is no single activity that will yield more insight into your organizational blind spots than pulling everyone out of their comfort zone and having them run a part of the business from a different perspective.

2. Invite in your supply chain 

No-one sees your blind spots better than the organizations in your supply chain – they interact with you all day, every day, so why not get their perspective?

Don’t waste your time with questionnaires – you’re dealing with blind spots, after all, so you won’t know what questions to ask: instead, identify your largest supplier and your smallest customer (they’re who you probably struggle most to please), and invite them in for a day. Give them a tour, set up meetings with key personnel, and ask them what you can do better. Then listen. Hard.

3. Visit same-size companies in other industries

Just as adolescents display the same awkward behaviors whether they’re in Baltimore or Beijing (and middle-age crises take surprisingly similar forms in Dallas and Delhi), so most organizational blind spots are size-related, not industry-specific.

In other words, your blind spots will have more in common with other businesses of a similar size and age than they will with other businesses in the same industry.

Find a willing, non-competing business that’s approximately the same size as yours and set time aside to get to know each other’s business in more depth. Act as peer coaches – reflect back what you see in each other’s business that’s good, bad and indifferent. Watch for dramatically different attitudes and practices from yours, and cherry pick those that will benefit your business.

4. Become a case study

Business schools are full of bright, enthusiastic individuals – both the faculty and the students – who can bring a wholly different perspective to your business. Why not volunteer to be a live case study for a semester at your local university or college? (If you baulk at the idea of untested students giving you advice on your business, talk to the executive education department – they work with seasoned executives who attend shorter summer courses.)

5. Take a sabbatical

There’s no better pair of fresh eyes on the business than your own. The catch, of course, is achieving the ‘fresh’ part. The easiest way to refresh your view of the business is to take a sabbatical. This doesn’t have to mean months away from the business (a non-starter for most business leaders) – your annual vacation can, if you plan it correctly, reframe your perspective substantially.

Most executives I know lose the potential benefit of their vacation by remaining closely in touch with the business, and/or using the time to ‘catch up’ with business-related reading or research, returning in much the same frame of mind as they left.

Try this instead: Plan your vacation as a complete break. Do things you wouldn’t normally do, and let your brain rest entirely from work. (I know, I know, easier said than done – no-one said reframing is easy.)

Don’t think of your ‘no-work’ vacation as ducking your responsibilities – instead, see it for what it is: the opportunity to ‘reframe’, a vital element in your leadership toolkit.


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