Les McKeown's Predictable Success Blog

  • January 9, 2021
  • minute read

If There Is a ‘Success Formula’, This Is It 

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A version of this article first appeared in Inc.com

Listen to Les McKeown read this blog post:

As we’ve already seen, the essence of successfully growing any organization is the ability of that organization to make – and implement – high quality decisions, not just occasionally, but consistently.

In most organizations - whether it's a business, a not-for-profit, a church, a charity or even an NGO - the vast majority of those decisions are made extemporaneously, on the front line, by an individual or small group of people responding to events, usually within the constraints of their own functional roles.

Think of how often your impression of an organization is impacted by the small decisions a front-line employee makes in the course of their day-to-day job: the attitude of the greeter at the church you attend; the attention to detail shown by the team installing new windows in your living room; the dependable responsiveness of one of your supplier’s purchasing team – all of these contribute at least as much as anything else (if not more so) to the success of their respective organizations.

Don’t kid yourself that things are different for you. Precisely the same dynamic applies to your organization, whatever it does: by far the majority contribution to your organization’s success lies in the hands (and ears, and mouths) of your people, be they employees, staff or volunteers.

Here’s a simple calculation to dwell on: Depending on their specific role, each of your employees are likely to make between 15 and 50 micro-decisions every day, each one of which will materially, and cumulatively, impact the perception (and ultimately the success) of your organization: 

Will I be pleasant to this person on the other end of the phone? 
Will I bother answering this email today, or leave it until tomorrow? 
Can I be bothered taking the additional two minutes it will require for me to pack this order properly?

For an organization employing just 10 employees, that’s a cloud of between 150 and 500 succeed-or-fail events that is generated every single day. Get most of them right, you win. Get most of them wrong, and you lose.

Go ahead – do the math for the number of employees in your organization: how many ‘daily decision points’ do you need to get right?

How many in a month? A quarter? A year?

Getting these on-the-fly decisions right is mostly about three things: hiring, training and culture.

Hire the right people, give them the training (information and tools) needed to make good decisions, then build a culture that empowers them to implement successfully. All of which is simple to reduce to a written paragraph, of course, but it's a lifetime’s work to get it right. 

And the trick is to get all three right – in this case, two out of three simply isn't enough.

- Hire the wrong people, and all the training and culture in the world won’t compensate.

- Hire good people, place them in a good culture, but fail to give them the training and resources they need, same result – poor execution.

- Hire and train good people, but build a lousy culture, and those people will leave like scalded rats. 

Take a little time to review your hiring practices, your training provision, and the culture of empowerment in your business. This doesn’t need to be a massive time-suck – spend 10 minutes doodling your own thoughts on a notepad, then grab three or four of your most honest, open people and ask their unvarnished opinion.

If you’re getting them right, great. If one or more of them are less good than they should be, then you know what you need to do.

What about you? How are you doing with hiring, training, and building culture? Let me know in the comments below!

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