In a world of ever increasing competition, and "cheating" by foreign competition, it is critical that we never stop working to get better, smarter, safer, lower cost, higher quality, more productive, and work harder. I would always use the analogy of "climbing a mountain with no top", and not just focusing, as so many do, on getting to the top of the mountain and thinking they have made it, to illustrate this point. As kids we all played 'King on the hill or mountain'. The object of the game is to make your way to the top of the hill ahead of everyone else and then hold the top. The problem with that goal in the game, as in life, is that everyone else is fighting to do the same thing and even if you succeed in getting to the top, everyone else is working to knock you off. When you are on top you are a stationary target. Everyone knows it is easier to hit a stationary target than a moving target. Hence our focus was to climb a mountain with no top. To be number one in the line up that mountain and continually move ourselves upwards knowing the object was not to get to the top, because there was none, but to continually improve our way up the mountain and stay ahead of the competition.
If we failed or made a mistake on our journey, or slipped/fell down, using the analogy, we would learn from the fall, get back up and move forward with our new found knowledge and experience. We would not allow ourselves to think we ever had 'made it' to the top because that mentality guarantees you won't be for long! The tragedy was never in the making of a mistake or failing in process of improving but only if we did not learn from it and continued to make the same mistake again.
I would always ask my teammates to commit themselves 100% to this focus and mindset, and as always they saw the merit of this and make the commitment and it paid off then and continues to today!
I should probably explain what I mean by commitment. There is an old story about a chicken and pig sitting at a bar, drinking and telling stories and of course they are always trying to out do one another. They got into a discussion about who is committed to putting breakfast on the table every morning. The chicken insisted that she was committed when her eggs were cooked and placed on the plate. The pig, choking on his beer, said you are kidding right? You are just involved in making breakfast, I'm committed to the breakfast meal when my bacon is cooked and hits the plate. While we don't ask our teammates to go quite that far, well you get the idea.
The commitment to our Goal, Teamwork, Safety, the Chain of Communication, Sharing the 'Pain and the Gain', Pay for Performance, and Continual Improvement, all became part of our culture of success. SOMETHING WE WORKED TO LIVE BY EVERYDAY! I'd be the first to admit there were plenty of days where we didn't succeed but we always got back on the horse and rode forward.
One last point that most would tell you was BIG pet peeve of mine. It was the use of the word TRY. This word when used to explain the lack of progress was like the noise of nails run down a blackboard, grrrrrr! TRY is pure and simple a FAIL word and has no place in our culture as a company or as individuals. TRY is what our kids say when they failed and want off-the-hook! Instead of the 'TRY' word, it is much more positive and reinforcing to say I'm working on it and we will get there. History's greatest philosopher, YODA, has clearly articulated my point when he said to Luke Skywalker....."DO OR DO NOT THERE IS NO TRY"!!!
We do it Together!
NEXT Leadership post: What it means to treat people as you want to be treated and why it's so important.