leadership dot #3138: patio

In a nod to the circumstances they face, our local Culver’s appears to be breaking up their new patio area and replacing it with a second drive-thru lane. They also added an all-weather hut to shield their staff from the elements as they manage the traffic and pick-up orders.

It reminded me of the Stockdale Paradox referenced in Jim Collins’ Good to Great: “Confront the most brutal facts of your current reality AND retain faith that you will prevail in the end, regardless of the difficulties.” Culver’s is acknowledging that they need to invest more into the business, despite the fact that they recently renovated the inside dining room and added that patio, AND they obviously believe their changes will pay off. It would be easy to lament the disruptions brought upon by COVID but instead, they have instituted an approach that moves them forward.

Maybe it’s time to break up the equivalent of your new patio, too.


leadership dot #3134: returns

During the holiday season, many people took advantage of the ease of online shopping but now they are discovering the downside: trying to do returns. The process is complicated by the lack of paperwork, packaging, or receipts which leave in-store clerks helpless to return products they do not physically stock.

Walmart has ventured into third-party selling (as Amazon has long done) which is great for them on the revenue side but has caused untold delays in their stores. I had the misfortune of waiting behind several people trying to return an online order from a third-party and they were told they needed to have it boxed and ready to ship before the clerk could process it. There were miscommunications. Clerks didn’t know how to print shipping labels. For everyone involved, it was a nightmare.

The crux of the issue is that great ideas at the corporate level never got translated into effective training and implementation at the front-line level. The clerks at customer service were not equipped to effectively handle all the minute logistical details of what is essentially an entirely new business and everyone in-store has to pay the price.

If you create a process or system change in your organization, follow the path of implementation all the way through to the end. It’s not just getting the order there that matters, but how you handle getting it back.

leadership dot #3097: limitations

“Never promise more than you can perform.” It has always been one of my mantras and it appears that UPS follows the advice as well. In an unprecedented move this holiday season, the shipper announced that it was temporarily suspending package pickup from some of the largest retailers, including Macy’s, L.L. Bean, Nike, and the Gap because they had exceeded “specific capacity allocations.” UPS said they would resume deliveries from these companies again when it had the ability to handle them.


UPS has been proactive in working with retailers to anticipate the extra volume generated by the pandemic and holiday shopping – the two conditions combining to create an expected surge in online orders. The delivery company has partnered with several stores including Michael’s, Walgreens, and Staples to serve as drop-off and pick-up points for packages. Other retailers are providing incentives for customers to get their orders curbside instead of delivered. It has been a year-long, systemic approach to avoid unrealistic demands that UPS knows it cannot meet.


People often think that companies can add, add, add services without acknowledging that the personnel and infrastructure do have their limitations. Rather than push both to the breaking point, UPS has devised a system that allows it to deliver as promised what it accepts. Take a lesson from the brown truck people and set realistic limits on what you promise.


leadership dot #3091: targeted

Today is World AIDS Day, a commemoration to raise awareness and reduce the stigma surrounding the international HIV epidemic. We’ve come a long way since the day was established in 1988 – but we still have far to go with an estimated 1.2 million people in the United States infected and 40,000 new cases added each year.

All organizations can learn from how we’ve gone about tackling this disease. Instead of trying to spread resources equally throughout the nation, the CDC and Department of Health and Human Services have identified just 48 counties (out of 3143 counties and their equivalents) and rural areas in seven states that account for greater than half of the infections. They are targeting these areas for four interventions: early diagnosis, sustained treatment, pre-exposure prevention, and quick response to outbreaks. They’re not trying to do everything – or do it everywhere – rather, leveraging their efforts where it can have the greatest impact.

It’s another example of the power of data and utilizing key metrics to let you know both where to focus your work and whether your strategies are working. We could all benefit from such discipline.

leadership dot #3073: direct

There are billboards in town advertising a new product that I decided to give as a gift. I went to their website to see where I could purchase the item but that only referred me to a phone number. I called, but there was no answer so I ended up buying a competitor’s product.

In a separate situation, an ad on my Facebook feed featured an article of clothing that was of interest. I clicked on the link, but instead of being directed to that item, it landed me on the front page of their catalog. I gave up rather than search for the item I may have purchased.

A similar scenario occurred when I followed a link to an organization’s website and found myself on the homepage rather than connected to the specific resource the original article referenced. Even with their search function, I was unable to find what I was seeking and departed empty-handed.

Organizations invest so many resources trying to direct consumers to their offerings, but then falter during the last mile. Time is the most precious of resources. If you want people to act, not just be aware, you must make it direct and easy for them to do so.

leadership dot #3069: long-term

One of the hardest jobs of a leader is to make the long-term feel real. Most things that benefit the future require change and often sacrifice in the short-term, and, unless the leader can make her team really internalize the benefits, it’s a long slog of resistance.

How to convince someone that…

  • eating that cupcake today could cause diabetes.
  • the extra effort is worth it to open a new market even though today’s sales are fine.
  • wearing an uncomfortable mask could mitigate COVID spread in the community.
  • the new way of work will produce better outcomes in the future, even though it seems counter-intuitive now.
  • the excessive use of disposable plastics is related to climate change which is related to the wildfires in the West.
  • the pain of cost-cutting or retrenchment today will ultimately create a healthier organization.

Following a leader who has a realistic view of sacrifices is wiser than choosing someone who focuses on immediate gains without consideration of the implications. The shorter your time perspective – whether it be for your health, wealth or livelihood – the more negative impact your actions are likely to have on the long-term. Start by thinking about how you want it to be in the future and act accordingly today.

leadership dot #3065: in charge

After participating in this election, it has become more apparent than ever to me that we need a national strategy for conducting them. Why do we have 50 different deadlines, procedures and sets of rules? Why do we use outdated processes? Because no one is in charge.

I spent 13 hours in the basement of our jail building counting absentee ballots this week. It was a tedious, manual process, probably much like they used in the 1950s. With 81% of Americans owning smartphones, I have to believe there is a way to create a secure app that allows not only easy voting but real-time tabulation of those votes. Why isn’t an office charged with the task (and given the resources) to take on such a challenge?

This election increased the number of voters, but did little to improve the knowledge of those casting ballots. We need one central site that provides information about all the candidates and propositions on the ballot – not just the high profile races. Even for people who wanted to be educated voters, it was not easy to find anything on the county-wide positions or judgeships – candidates should be required to provide information when they apply to be on the ballot (and it should all be fact-checked before appearing) and propositions could include a statement listing pros/cons. Why don’t we help people know who/what they are voting for instead of making it a popularity or name recognition contest? Because no one is in charge.

The variation in voting rules also adds to confusion and allegations of fraud. I’d advocate for one standard deadline to receive and to count ballots; one policy on what happens when a voter dies after voting but before the election, etc. We’re all voting for the same office – we should be doing so with the same rules. Why aren’t we? You know the answer.

There are times where autonomy and latitude are warranted, and other times where centralization and standardization make sense. The federal election system not only needs the latter, but modernization as well.

Consider whether there is an equivalent in your organization where a process has many players, but no central coordination. Do you have departments onboarding employees according to their own desires? Does the budgeting process vary by location? Is procurement up to the person buying something?

The more complex and distributed a system, the more an overarching strategy is warranted. Put someone in charge of making it happen.

leadership dot #3061: slice

I use my bread exclusively for sandwiches and suspect that many others do the same, but the bread that I buy has an uneven number of slices in the package. Consequently, as I come to the end, I find myself with a stray piece of bread.

I wonder if the baker ever considered that there could be a mismatch between what they offer and how the consumers use it. Not just for this package of bread, but in many other cases. Manufacturers add features that people don’t use. Clothes come with an assortment of pockets that remain empty. Software programs have tools that most don’t even know about.

You may think your idea is the greatest thing since sliced bread, but before you add the equivalent of an extra slice spend some time with your audience to see if they even want it.


leadership dot #3060: intervention

I’ve been surprised by the controversy around whether or not cities should allow trick-or-treating. Why does this require governmental intervention?

Our town leaders decided not to sanction the event but when all the cities around us went ahead with it, they changed course and said that it was up to residents whether or not to participate. I thought that was the case all along: send your kids out if you’re comfortable; have your light on if you’re willing to give out candy. The extra attention makes it feel like one more thing that COVID has taken from us when it really should have been left as a personal choice as it always has been.

I think this holiday can be a reminder for organizations that you don’t have to set rules and regulations about everything. People can work some things out for themselves, deciding whether to participate in social events, contribute to causes, or a host of other semi-voluntary options. Allowing people to decide on their own can contribute to feelings of autonomy and trust – as well as freeing up management bandwidth for the really important stuff!

So, trick-or-treat tonight – or not, just like always. (And just in case you’re wondering: you can stop by my house and pick up a fun treat bag from a table at the socially-distanced end of the driveway!)

Happy Halloween!


leadership dot #3056: buy-in

When you are attempting to make changes to a system, Leadership on the Line author Ronald Heifetz advocates for the concept of “giving work back.” He means that the change will be more effective if the group works together to formulate the change rather than having it imposed on them.

Adaptive challenges [vs. purely technical ones] can only be solved when the people with the problem go through a process together to become the people with the solution,” he writes.

It sounds like common sense but think of the times where this doesn’t occur. Government entities make policy decisions without involving those who are affected. Leaders try to impose a cultural shift before engaging employees. Community problems remain unsolved because organizations try to tackle only one piece of the system without involving the multiple organizations that are impacted.

Instead of “giving work back” to people in order to cultivate their buy-in and support, leaders too often falsely assume that it will be faster or easier if they frame the work themselves, but experience shows that it’s simply not true. Before you jump too far into your next change effort, take the time to engage others in defining the problem and securing their commitment to finding a solution. It may feel uncomfortable to share your power but it certainly will be time well spent.

See the 3-minute micro-lesson here on Giving Work Back.