The phrase "day-to-day" rarely conjures thoughts of serenity among leaders. Too often, organizations' daily operations occur at full-tilt with leaders and front line staff doing their best to handle sudden changes and crises of all size and variety. The cost of doing business in this way is the
removal of leadership from its vital role of growing the business. In an interview with Soundview, author and consultant Ray Attiyah (The Fearless Front Line) provided practical insight into
how to remove yourself from the rush of the everyday and put your focus back where it belongs, on the creation of new business opportunities.
Soundview: You've posed a simple question to leaders over the years, "Where do you spend most of your time?" What's the reaction been when they genuinely consider the question?
Ray Attiyah: They're spending most of their time on day-to-day operational items to help make sure that the day-to-day performance is executed flawlessly. When I ask them the follow-up question "Where would you like to spend your time?" the top two answers that I've seen over the
past decade and a half have been, "I want to spend more time with our customers and talking about the future" and "I want to spend more time developing my employees." Unfortunately, they get mired into the day-to-day urgent items and as the business has become more complicated they get sucked into
more and more of the Run part of the business rather than improvement and growth.
Soundview: In The Fearless Front Line, you write, "Unnecessarily complex systems have an intense gravitational pull." How does a company get to the point where its systems become the main focus of the organization?
Attiyah: As businesses grow and evolve, whether it's from a start-up into a transitional period or from a mid-sized business into a large organization, the systems that they have in place become very complicated because rather than reinventing their systems to support their new
business model, all they do is continue to tweak their current systems.
This happens in business all the time. Instead of stepping back and reinventing their operating system and how the company operates, it just ends up becoming complicated because we just keep adding more and more things to it rather than removing things.
Soundview: The Run can create a specific type of individual, the marathon manager. What are the characteristics of a marathon manager?
Attiyah: A marathon manager is someone who actually enjoys running. They come to work every day expecting to have fires to fight. They're looking forward to just surviving the day. A marathon manager is one who has been trained and has seen his or her boss in the past be successful
and promoted for being able to run all day long. In the Run-Improve-Grow model, the Run part of the business is really the day-to-day execution to make sure our current business model is executed. This includes getting our products and services for our customers and buying materials. It also
includes getting sales from current customers with existing products. Too often people consider that part of the Grow, but I define getting sales from current customers are part of your Run. It helps sustain a business. Our marathon manager is one who is there just to sustain and survive the
day-to-day operation. They spend more of their time managing the current business than leading and looking out to the future.
Soundview: To counter the Run, you help readers to develop a Fearless Culture. Part of the process involves identifying the most value-added (MVA) function of all team members. If you disagree with the employee about his or her MVA function, how do you resolve the conflict?
Attiyah: When you talk about most value-added function, if you have somebody who's in a management role, many times this person thinks that his or her most value-added function is to make sure that the work gets done. When I look at a front-line supervisor for example, their most
valuable activity is to lead and develop people. In the book, I discuss how to ask different questions that shows people what should be considered as their most value-added function. So rather than asking a marathon manager, "How is everything running today?" try asking him or her, "What are the
two or three things your team came up with out of their daily huddle that were improvements that they put in place?" This begins to set the standard of what I consider to be the highest and best use of your time. Many times people have been promoted or moved into roles based on their ability to
run. That's a phenomenon I call "Made a manager out of convenience."
To really create a fearless culture, you want to create one that has everyone working on his or her most value-added activity. That includes the front-line whose biggest value-added activity is to bring up ideas and act on them.