What leaders can learn from my blender.
Insight can come from the most mundane tasks.
As photographer and author Chris Orwig said in his TEDx Talk, Finding the Magnificent in the Mundane, “beauty can be found in unexpected places… by savoring the moments in life.” The other day I paused while cleaning my blender and found meaning in a simple act - a metaphor which crystallized my thinking on an aspect of sustaining dramatic improvements in performance.
It’s always more efficient to "clean-as-you-go."
My family loves smoothies. So much so, we own a Vitamix blender. It’s central to our kitchen and even accompanies us on vacations. It is one of those workhorse appliances that nothing else can replace, and it has justified our initial investment a thousand times over. Its brought joy and health to our family.
The Vitamix has this cool feature: You don’t have to disassemble the jug, and when you finished blending, you just rinse, add hot water and a squirt of soap, close the lid, firing it up full blast, rinse, tip over and let dry. Because it's so easy, the clean-up experience eclipses that of any blender I’ve used in the past.
But, if you wait too long for clean-up, watch out. Let sit, old smoothie forms a tenacious coating 3M could patent, and it creates a breeding ground for bacteria.
The business end of a Vitamix (the jug), with its tight conical shape (providing the supersonic torque needed to liquefy any fruit or veg), contains a viciously sharp set of what I can only assume are indestructible adamantium blades. Cleaning out dried-on crud takes time I don’t have, poses a threat to my fingers I don’t need, and is entirely no fun at all.
I’ve learned it’s always more efficient to "clean-as-you-go," rinsing away the remnants of the last great mix-up, leaving the vessel clean to go to work again in an instant. Clean-as-you-go is a fundamental commandment in commercial kitchens, and for a good reason; It saves time, confusion, injury, and cost.
As a transformational leader, do you clean-as-you-go?
After investing time, money and effort to shift your business (perhaps a new product, market, process, technology, strategy, or value) have you forgotten to rinse right away?
Many businesses aim for higher performance. They seek to focus staff on the good stuff; a new way of working, and the achievement of a big hairy audacious goal. But they don't clear out the old policies, behaviors, and processes. These then plague leaders by keeping teams tethered to past ways of working. They form an insidious counter current that confuses staff when they have to choose between supporting the new or old, the right-now or future. When the tethers to the past aren't cut, staff and leaders pulling against them eventually frustrate and fatigue. They return to old ways of working, growing incompatible with the companies vision for growth
Don’t mix things up, dispense all that delicious goodness of change, and then neglect the business end of the transformation (the people and culture). If, after making a performance shift, you don’t rinse the crud off right away it will dry where it sits. That sludge will create risk and confusion you don’t need. It’s the breeding ground for dissent and conflict. When you finally have to deal with it, it will resist - taking substantially more effort to remedy than it would have if dealt with immediately.
Part of making a silky smooth transformation and being ready for the next one has to be the clean-up. Make a habit of not only defining what the new state is - define what it is not! Proactively help those around you rinse off outmoded assumptions, legacy processes, defunct values and out-flanked strategies.
Keep on mixing it up, bring Joy and Health to your company and clean-as-you-go.
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