I once helped manage a company that was in huge growth mode--meaning a ten-fold revenue increase in about 3 years.
How do you get those numbers? First, from advantages that I had nothing to do with. Like an amazing product that brought real advantages to a growing life-sciences market. Second, a great sales team. That meant demand for the product was baked in.
Third, we had an indescribable advantage.
And that was: luck.
It happened when a crushing customer order bumped into a new product rollout. The question was, could we deliver the order on time? We needed some real info, the kind you only get when you hear the confidence in someone's voice.
"I'll meet you on the factory floor at 7:30 AM," the logistics manager said. Together, we looked over deliveries and the cash forecast. We were heads down into the data, right there in the middle of the action.
The factory manager saw us conferring with each other and came over. Then we waved to the shipping manager--could he answer a quick question? We quickly conclude our conference, confident we could make the delivery.
This first get-together worked so well, we made it a daily occurrence.
Before you know it, we had a full-blown just about-company-wide huddle underway. Quality experts side-by-side with purchasing. Receivables manager next to IT folks. Sometimes, salespeople would come by to hear the news with their own ears.
The huddle's only agenda was: what do we have to do today? And sometimes the huddle permitted those incremental improvements that--when well done--make the difference between rockin' it and wrecking it.
For example, I remember when we installed bar code printers in the factory. Manufacturing stockpiled some finished goods to hold us during the downtime. Billing was alerted that there would be fewer invoices that day, but we would need a surge of activity just afterward. IT jumped in, and before you knew it, we were back on line with a major productivity boost.
We held that huddle for years with the simple understanding that we would meet at 7:30 for a stand up meeting. We would each quickly mention what was foremost on our mind for the day. We didn't discuss any issues there--but we might say something like, "I'd like to hear more about that later." If you had a question, the idea was that someone in the huddle would help you find the answer. If you had answers, people knew the huddle was where to catch you.
Sometimes, new initiatives would just spring up. You'd hear, "Do you need those new model drawings today?" Or, "Have we credit checked the new customer?"
The real product
As I look back on that time now, we created real wealth for the company's owners. But we made so much more:
Accountability. That sense that you could commit to do something for the common good and get it just right.
Collegiality. We were all in this together.
Abundance. The team felt enormous good will, along with a sense that information was free.
And lastly, leadership. The feeling that no one had to be told to do what was necessary--that by having our collective fingers lightly on the pulse of the organization, any one of us would do what was right for the enterprise. That translates to leadership at all levels, and an indescribable feeling that everyone is pulling together.
How do you create your own company culture of accountability? Here's my huddle checklist:
- No chair or owner. Everyone is invited.
- Each person takes up to 30 seconds to describe what they must get done that day. (Or, alternatively, where they are stuck, or some other forward-looking notice).
- Standing only. No sitting, jokes, food or war stories.
- Every person keeps notes for quick follow up.
That's it! Easy to practice, helpful to all--and a game changer.