Following the systems and habits approach, you can start to find ways to improve. You can focus on small improvements and then systematize them to form positive habits. But how do you determine what to improve?
Recently I went to a popular pizza place in Cleveland. The restaurant was very busy and dealing with the typically large lunch crowd. But the ordering process at this particular pizza place can be extremely painful to customers because they don’t employ thought-out systems to run this particular process within their business.
The line typically wraps around the restaurant because there are so many businesses in the area and no other pizza options for lunch. But because they have several entrances, it is very unclear where the end of the line actually is. Add in the fact that after you order you remain somewhat in line as they cook your pizza. It can be very confusing.
Once you approach the counter to order there is a disorganized and chaotic mess, which you have to order through. You have to yell your order and they often ask follow up questions that are barely heard through the noise.
Then you wait. Sometimes you don’t know if they even heard you or if they forgot you. Friends may receive their order in a few seconds while you stay waiting and waiting.
Finally they give you your order and you head to a table to eat. Each time I went to this particular place I am left frustrated with the ordering process. But it is clear that this process works for this business. They either feel that the chaos adds to the excitement of the place or that this is the most efficient and effective way to serve pizza. Or they just never really cared to try and improve it.
But improvement isn’t always natural. We humans tend to develop patterns based on choosing the easiest option or an instant gratification option instead of a long-term benefit. We do this over and over and form patterns around these choices. Suddenly our long-term success or failure is linked to a series of shortsighted decisions that we made.
But we all have areas that can be improved. Interestingly enough, those close to us probably already know this. They probably know that you have bad driving habits or that the new car you bought was a bad decision given your finances. They probably see the fast food diet and know that is why your having difficulty losing weight.
But for some reason our emotions tend to try and save us from feeling pain so we find ways to block out the truth. This creates a situation where it can be extremely difficult to improve. We may not be evaluating our systems and habits objectively. We may not be actively looking for ways to improve our core habits. And, even if we are actively looking, we may be viewing everything through a biased perspective.
There isn’t a quick and easy fix to this. This takes years of work to apply our external evaluations internally. It is difficult to get past the emotional response to criticism enough to take active steps to correct the issues. But if you can get past these barriers you can unlock something that few have; the ability to effectively correct weak areas and strengthen positive areas of our lives.
Many businesses that have succeeded in this have relied on various constant improvement methodologies. It may be Six Sigma, Lean, Business Process Improvement (BPI), Total Quality Management (TQM), Kaizen or a host of other processes. These tend to use specific methods to isolate areas of opportunity and develop a culture around constant improvement. They make constant improvement the norm and employees start to be able to navigate their internal systems in a way that is always looking for a way to incrementally improve something.
We can look to these models and then apply the framework to our personal lives. We can find small, subtle changes that we can make. As we make them over and over until achievement and growth start to follow. It may take some time but eventually you realize that you have taken some significant steps forward. Because you did so systematically, you continue to leverage this growth and add to it, instead of having recurring problems slow you down. You actively find ways to look at problems and solve them over the long term, not a short term, quick fix.
A key for me to overcome the emotional, defensive response to criticism has been to remove the problem from attaching to me personally. I do this by looking at it systematically and realizing that most of the time it is a problem with a particular routine or system in my life. Then it makes it easier to objectively address the problem and find a systematic solution, rather than feeling that I am a failure for having the issue.
This also works when working with others. A great sales leader I previously worked with was great with this technique. He would help his sales people make corrections to how they sold by focusing on the process. Then if a sales goal wasn’t met or a sale was missed, he didn’t attack and criticize the person, he simply helped them identify where in the process they could improve.
While it may be difficult to find an area to improve the reality is that all of us can improve. Regardless of what we have achieved or accomplished improvement is always possible. As soon as you stop actively working to improve you will start to move backwards but by focusing on constant improvement you will be able to grow beyond your internal limitations.