During a transition form one corporate position to another, one position in Toronto, Ontario, the other in Halifax, Nova Scotia, I spent a week doing the tasks one must do when re-rooting our lives. This was the second such move in 18 months. I was becoming adept at many of these moving tasks: the others I would leave for my wife to finish. I was a U.S. guy working for a U.S. company. The company and I were both newbies in Canada. My task was basically to get this small group of recently purchased local operating companies to more resemble and perform like their US corporate models. Implement change: dramatically and quickly.
I took a week to make my transition from Toronto to Halifax. My wife and I drove from Toronto to our tiny condo in Massachusetts, then to Halifax. I found a temporary place to live where I would search for a permanent place while my wife would fly back to Toronto to “take care of the details”. She wasn’t keen on this career move. She hadn’t been keen about moving to the Toronto area: then she had fallen in love with it. I told her that she would again fall in love with an area. She wasn’t buying it. I had a lot of silent time during our 30 hours of driving; a lot of time to think about my new position.
Here I was, moving into a senior position, moving into a different region of a country, not quite foreign, not quite the one I had grown up in: moving into a market where I had only the slightest glimmer of what the market was like, to lead men and women whom I only knew thus far from safe and sterile operating reports. This is what I live for.
The talk had been that I was moving to an op-co (operating company) where there wasn’t much talent or opportunity. I had been weaned on markets in Boston and Toronto. I was moving into a market that more demographically resembled Montana. Lots of miles (kilometers), not so many bodies. I had visited the area a few years earlier on a motorcycle trip with my wife. I had been charmed. The people, they speak English, they speak French, they speak Newfoundlandese: they are friendly and wonderful people. I had experienced 10 days of perfect weather, something that’s not supposed to happen in Atlantic Canada. I would be working in op-cos in places with names that conjured up visions of pioneers and early North American settlers: Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia, Newfoundland. And New Brunswick, what a pleasant surprise. Yes it would be a challenge: but what a gift.
So, during this long ride, doubt settles in. My wife is pissed. I’m going into a marketplace where I don’t know crap. What can I possibly do to implement needed change, improve the morale, and get numbers from the minus to the plus? I had time to think about tough times that I had managed through in the past. What worked, what didn’t? I had time to think about bosses whom I’d like to be like, and time to think about things that I’d promised myself that I’d never do if I ever got into “that” position. I thought about years of “atta boy” and years of memos. What had I learned over the past 20 or 30 years? It came down to these 3 things:
1) Get better at doing what we do every day. Constant and consistent improvements lead to constant and consistent improvements. When we do this at least we feel better about doing what we do.
2) Do the right thing. When we do the right thing we can feel pretty good about what we are doing.
3) Enjoy doing what we do. We spend way too much time in our careers not to enjoy them. Sure there would be bad moments, but why have bad days? If it’s not fun, we ain’t doing it right.
These became the three rules. They seemed general enough to hold me over until I got to know the local ground rules. It was like going to play ball in a park you had never seen, where the basics would be the same, but the ground rules just might be bizarre. I had nothing specific that I could bring. I’d be addressing my new associates in my second week there. This is what I’d have to go with. These three rules would be the foundation of the foundation.
The rules took on a life of their own. Change was implemented, minuses became pluses, the not so talented proved to be very talented. Those who really bought in seemed to fall into a not-so-vicious cycle: they would get feeling good about getting better and doing the right thing, would develop a contagious positive energy, would experience more success, would get their mo-jos going, get this real positive momentum. When it would wane, they get back to the basics and find their way back.
So now I’m back in the States: a new position with a new company, new ground rules. Stick to the basics: 1) Improve constantly, 2) Do the right thing, 3) Enjoy the ride, -might as well, in 50 years or so most of us will be worm farmers.
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