I recently returned from a bank conference where one of the optional activities was zip lining. Just imagine, flying through the mountain on a small cable, wind in your face…can you see it? I could, the only problem was at the end of the journey, the only way back to civilization on the ground, was a 100 foot free fall. They lost me on that!
I hate free falls. I have never been able to handle them. My wife on the other hand loves them. She in fact did take the opportunity to zip through the mountain and experience the final drop. I asked her what it felt like to have someone strap a cable to her harness and tell her to” just step off the cliff”. She indicated while exhilarating, it was a bit concerning because it is so unnatural to step off into an abyss. She later informed me that there was one person who had to be persuaded for almost a half-hour to take the plunge. There was no other way down.
Okay to the point. Yes, I understand that in the context of this example, there is a great rush and a sense of accomplishment to performing this task and I also understand that business owners, leaders and entrepreneurs everyday must sometimes take the plunge to venture into new opportunities, risks must be taken to gain rewards. I truly believe this, I have taken my share.
But there is one free fall we must avoid at all times and it is the way we manage our business, sales practice or organization. We must avoid cultural free falls!
Have you ever been to a place where you lost control? Your day or month slipped away, your best intentions altered; customers are unhappy with your service; and your people have lost all motivation? These are examples of cultural free falls. Any of these episodes can destroy momentum and even your organization itself! Sometimes as strange as it seems, cultural free falls are very subtle and don’t occur overnight. However, regardless of the speed of the fall, all cultural free falls that are not addressed end up in the same place, (yes you eventually land). It is a destitute and dark place…the Valley of Apathy.
The worst thing any organization can experience is a culture of “I could not care less”, or “what’s the use”. If you ever hear statements like “what difference does it make”, or “it’s not my job” or “no one ever notices what I do”, you are deep in the Valley of Apathy and if not addressed immediately, there is no ladder or rope long enough to get you out!
Fortunately there are solutions for avoiding a cultural free fall. Here are a few tips:
1) Be consistent in everything. Make sure your culture is solid throughout and keep focusing on the fundamentals that sustain you. Do the things that make you successful EVERYDAY and keep score to know!
2) Take nothing for granted in the peak times. One of the easiest things to do when all is well is to take your foot off the accelerator and coast for a while. I did this one year. I had a great year end of production and decided to ease into the new year rather than stay focused. As a result, I found that my year did not take off until March instead of January and I spent the rest of the year playing “catch-up”. Enjoy your successes, but don’t linger on them too long to start a free fall!
3) Proactive communication with your people: Customer and colleague, stay in touch! You can avoid a great deal of turmoil with a proactive approach to staying informed. How are your customers feeling about your service? Ask your co-workers or employees how they are feeling about their responsibilities and their environment. Recognize great performance; a little effort can go a long way here!
In closing let me say again I know sometimes free falls are necessary and even exciting. My hope on any free fall however, is that they are by choice; like the one my spouse took where she evaluated the risk/reward, was properly instructed and given the right equipment to make her experience as pleasurable and safe as possible. It makes it much easier to hear “just step off the cliff” in this scenario versus the alternative of the unexpected drop-off. I think you get the picture!