3 Ways to Drive Continual Improvement
Reflect on your success in business and life. Think of all you’ve done to get where you are. Consider the books you’ve read, the conferences you’ve attended, and the courses for which you’ve paid (the good ones and the not-so-good ones). Surely the path has had some twists and turns, but you’ve met each challenge with patience and curiosity. Now is the time to look to your future and ask yourself two questions:
- What will I need to do better a year from now?
- How can I learn those skills as effectively and efficiently as possible?
Successful people continue working on the skills necessary to propel them toward the next big thing. Though you might not know exactly what you’ll be doing a year from now, continual improvement is the key to achieve more in business and in life. Here are three things the most successful people do to challenge themselves.
1. Get ready before you need to be.
“Is there anything else, before we go on to our next thing?” This question surprised me the first time I heard it -- and I got it more often than not. One day while traveling to a client meeting, I opened my notebook at 37,000 feet and wrote, “If they offer, here’s what I’ll ask.” Since then, I’ve used this tactic hundreds of times to come up with the one (yes, just one!) extra “ask,” should the opportunity arise.
When you need to be “on,” it’s often too late to gear up. Scan your calendar and look ahead to the next 10 meetings with your clients, staff, vendors or community members. List the topics you can imagine naturally becoming part of those conversations. Think about books to discuss with a client, upcoming opportunities to share with staff, specific requests for vendors and that one big idea you have for the local nonprofit foundation you support. Remember to prepare for the “anything else?” question.
2. Give and observe the process.
When I was in college, an academic counselor told me, "To get more, give more. To learn what you'll need, teach what you know.” At the time, I took her advice literally. I tutored fellow students and I volunteered at the local library. It wasn’t until years later I realized just how profound this advice really was.
When you’re in a position to share what you know, you get to watch the process unfold. Since I left university more than 20 years ago, I’ve mentored others, given them ideas, acted as a sounding board and counseled them. Each time, I watched as they weighed the options and learned to navigate through career and life, just as I'd done.
The next time you’re asked to meet over a cup of coffee or go for a walk with someone seeking your advice, say yes. Watch the process unfold. How do they invite you? How do they prepare for the meeting? What do they do to facilitate the discussion or follow up? If you’re lucky, they’ll do some things really well and they might not do things up to your standard. Either way, you have an opportunity to observe that learning process.
3. Create your own accountability.
I write more when I’m on a deadline, and my content is better quality. I'm more productive in the two days before I leave on vacation. And I work out more when a race is scheduled on my calendar. You see, I'm much more engaged in what I’m doing when I feel as if I’m accountable to something or someone.
Make up your own accountability factor if you have to, or ask someone to help you. Recently, I emailed a mentor and asked him if he’d be willing to offer advice and feedback after looking at one of our businesses. He said yes and then offered to do something special: He emailed several of his associates, friends and advisors to ask if they’d also attend our meeting.
I flew to New York City with my wife and business partner, Jodi. We gathered in a conference room with my mentor and four other trusted individuals to talk about our mission and the tactics we currently used to grow our business. In less than two hours, those five had helped Jodi and me outline a strategic plan for one critical component of that business.
When we left I, promised to let them know how things went. Every four to six weeks, we sent my mentor an update. We shared lessons learned and committed to a new milestone. A year later, when we returned to New York to visit him, he told us he’d often given people advice. Rarely, though, was he kept so informed of the results. Then he asked, “When are we going to do that again?"
Everything you’ve done, every conversation and every one of your travels have gotten you here. Congratulations!
Now the big question remains: What will you do to achieve your next level of success?
Your future depends on you.