Amplifying Voices: Does Your Organization Need a Vitamin or an Aspirin?
Amplifying Voices From: Elisa Camahort Page - Professional & Political
I was recently on a large group call for one of my projects, and we ended up having a discussion of what triggers a decision-maker at a company to go out and bring in a consultant to help them with something.
And we boiled it down to this: Will your services be used like a vitamin or an aspirin? Will companies use your services to create a great foundation and framework to do things right from the get-go? Or will they come to you when they’ve been doing things that have created a headache, and they want to make the problem go away?
Having been on both sides of this question (as a consultant and as someone running a company) I’m going to guess that people take a little too much aspirin to address corporate headaches.
Being a Vitamin
Adults in the U.S. are pretty good at taking some actions they perceive as preventative, like taking vitamins. Something like 80%+ of adults take supplements. But let’s dig a little deeper…
First of all, many of those 80%+ don’t actually need vitamin supplements because they don’t have any kind of vitamin deficiency. It’s a valid question to ask whether taking vitamins is actually prevention at all. (I say this as someone who has experienced perimenopause-related vitamin deficiencies I’ve only been able to address through supplements.) Meanwhile, fewer than 50% of American adults get the flu shot, for example, an available path to attempt to prevent something that can have horrible consequences.
When it comes to companies, I think that’s even more likely to be true that we have tunnel vision about what we should do to prevent future problems, especially if you’re an emerging company, watching every penny, minding every resource.
It can be easy to understand that you need to outsource certain professional services, for example, legal and financial services if you’re not a lawyer or accountant. I know with BlogHer we invested in those kinds of services from the beginning, because we didn’t want to have to clean up a mess later, for example not having well-written contracts that protected us.
But it can be easy to fool ourselves that we’ve all managed projects, so we will be able to select and implement the best tools for project management. Or we all feel passionate about whatever it is we are offering, so we’re going to be naturally awesome at explaining that passion to others. Or we all use online tools, so we will know how to build community online or leverage social media for “free marketing.”
Project management, social media, online community building, marketing…these are all skills, disciplines, areas of expertise, just like bookkeeping or contract law. If they’re not your skill, discipline or area of expertise the risk is that you invest…whether in tools or just your precious time…without really knowing how to get the results you want, and sometimes without knowing how to measure the results you are getting.
Being an Aspirin
And that can lead to headaches.
If you’re like me, you may be a little resistant to taking an aspirin when you’ve got a headache. Maybe the headache will just go away. Maybe I need to eat or drink. Maybe I just need to close my eyes for a little while. But eventually, if a problem, like a headache, doesn’t go away, you’re going to take some pain reliever.
One thing I’ve learned from running a company, though, is that deferring taking your medicine rarely makes a problem go away. The sooner you can sit down, have the tough conversations about what’s not working, and fully acknowledge what kind of help you need to make it work, the better.
Those aren’t always easy conversations. And sometimes they feel at odds with the other entrepreneurial drive…to walk in confidence and positivity. But make no mistake, problems fester and spread the longer they are ignored. The boundless optimism of an entrepreneur doesn’t help fix certain kinds of problems!
Treat the Cause, Not Symptoms
Even when you’re willing to have those tough conversations, it can be hard to identify the root causes of your headache.
Sometimes what’s not working is evidenced by what’s not happening. Deadlines aren’t consistently met. KPIs aren’t even heading in the right direction. Employees don’t stay.
Sometimes the evidence is in all the time you spend not doing your actual job, rather resolving team conflicts or clearing up miscommunications.
Those are symptoms.
The cause is likely either a problem in your process for setting goals and articulating what needs to get done or a sub-optimal system for getting those things done.
To quote Joe Jackson:
“You can’t get what you want, ‘til you know what you want.”
Sometimes you need vitamins; sometimes you need to be inoculated, and sometimes you need an aspirin.
Do you find yourself waiting until you need that aspirin? (You’re surely not alone in that.) Do you wish you could improve the foundational health of your company’s systems and processes, so fewer aspirins were required? Probably not alone in that either!
How are you working towards that goal? What is one way you’ve changed the way you do things to try to improve your outcomes? If you’ve done it before, even on a small scale, you can do it again.
If you had to pick one thing to tackle, what would it be?