Building momentum on the flywheel

Back in May when I talked about the major changes we were in the midst of (the focal point of which was the layoffs), I noted that I felt that we weren't getting enough joy in return for all the effort we were putting in. Since then, we have made many tough decisions and focused our attention as a company on the key areas we felt would have the greatest impact on our performance.

These changes were by and large designed to create some short-term improvements in the financial performance of Habanero as well as creating some new permanent habits in Habanero that would improve our sustainability. No one or two or even three of these initiatives alone were the silver bullet. Rather, they were all small, deliberate pushes on the flywheel that is Habanero, with a focus on impacting our momentum.

I'm rather fond of the flywheel analogy (it's Jim Collins' not mine), as it illustrates two important aspects of this sort of meaningful, complicated change:

  • There is not much in the way of immediate gratification. It takes time to even notice change let alone see significant, real results.
  • It respects the fact that real change requires consistent, disciplined, and often unglamorous effort. It's more about the consistency, in my mind, than it is about the brilliant strategy (or big pushes).

It is becoming really clear that we have changed the momentum of the flywheel — we have great evidence that shows us that our focus on performance is paying off. The key is to keep cementing in the new habits we are developing related to cash flow, profitability, sales, marketing, and client experience management and make them permanent.

Getting to the joy

Getting back to my initial comment about not seeing enough joy for the effort we were putting in, this feels like an appropriate time to check in with that. There are many things that impact us all individually when it comes to feeling the joy in our jobs. Actually, we should really talk about this in terms of Habanero's Harmony Value: what are some key things that might be getting in the way of each of us finding passion in our jobs.

The following list comes to mind for me:

  • Inefficiencies and irritants — if I could just get down to it and get my stuff done!
    It can be super frustrating to work at limited levels of productivity and have to re-do work. Task switching, re-invention, and our prickly working relationships with our clients all make for a rough ride for us. Quiet time, project flow, and more structured client experience management approaches are the sorts of strategies that we have been working on in aid of this. The view is that if we can do a better job of making sure our effort goes into moving us and our clients forward, we will reduce some frustration and therefore leave more room for? you guessed it, joy. (Yes, of course, productivity and financial performance leading to our Sustainability Value was the primary driver here, but this is an outcome none the less.)
  • Knowing we're on a winning team working with a winning plan
    When we have business set-backs like we had earlier this year it impacts our trust in the business. It has an effect on your trust in my ability to lead the business, our trust in the market, our belief in our model, etc. As we all know, trust is easy to undo but it takes a great deal of time to re-build. We need to keep performing the way we have been performing over the last four months while living our values and making progress towards out BHAG to build that trust back slowly over time. Believing you are on a winning team with a winning plan has a tremendous impact on motivation, alignment, and passion.
  • All work and no play makes <%name%> and really dull <%boy/girl%>
    We're human beings. We need to play and have fun. It fuels our imagination and creativity, builds important connections between us, and gives us energy for the stuff that feels more like work. I've heard from one person that was away from Habanero for a while that some of the excitement and fun of Habanero had eroded away a little. My sense is that we might be seeing this improve and where we don't have a measure on our scorecard for it, there have been many subtle pieces of evidence about that.
  • We need to be clear about why we're here and where we're going.
    I always think of the vision (or BHAG) as where we are going — that point on the horizon — and our values define the path we are going to take to get there. Our purpose is why we get up in the morning and come to work (it's our reason for being as a company). I always think of these three elements as the intellectual and emotional foundation for any enterprise of any type, and I'm of the belief that the pursuit of well understood, clearly articulated vision, values, and purpose are part an ever-present part of the journey of every company.

Vision

We went for a long time (over a decade) without any real form of an articulated vision for Habanero, and in the last few years we have been talking (a little) about our BHAG. This is really more of a vivid description of what we feel we can become with respect to our key relationships to customers, employees, and the business itself and how we operate (perpetual beta). I think we have lots of work to do to really make this vision sing in Habanero, but I feel good about the foundation.

Habanero will be become a truly remarkable IT services company and achieve the following outcomes:

  • Delighted Customers — we are a core strategy for our clients
  • Exceptional Business — an admired business platform
  • Stellar Careers — best IT consulting employer
  • Perpetual Beta — we never stop evolving

Purpose

Our purpose is the longest standing (I think it's actually older than Zack) and perhaps least talked about element. Our purpose states that: Habanero is a vibrant, sustainable community that exists to provide challenge, opportunity, and success for ourselves and our clients through the innovative use of technology.

The idea of the vibrant community is incredibly important, and what I believe to be true about our community is that when it is really vibrant — when we are all living our values and experiencing passion and connection to our work — the community can produce something very powerful not only internally, but with our clients, partners, and even peers in the market as well. Of course, vibrant community is primarily an internally focused idea, but I believe that there is something in the heart of this idea that has a big impact on why clients want to work with us, and I see that manifest itself in two key ways:

  • How we meet our clients' explicit expectations. There is something very Habanero about the way we meet our clients' requirements. The solutions we build have our fingerprints all over them and make them uniquely Habanero. If we decided tomorrow that our future was in designing and manufacturing refrigerators, I think there would be something undeniably Habanero about the fridges we would create. There's a great deal more to talk about what makes us unique in this area including user experience, technical approach, solution concept approach, etc.
  • How we meet our clients' implicit expectations. The recent news about the Best Employer award seems to have stirred something in our clients (as did the client party). I've received a fair number of notes from people talking about how much they like working with us (the people of Habanero) and how we have such a wonderful, competent group of people. There's something that really seems to resonate with people when they hear things like the Best Employer news, and I think it speaks to the idea that there is something very important that our clients get from working with us that is more of a product of our culture and ultimately our values than the product of work we produce.

Now getting back to looking for the joy

I brought up the client perspective on our vibrant community because I think it provides an interesting perspective on our community that might not be evident to us. From the outside world, we have a very vibrant and distinctive community. People seem to admire it and are in many ways drawn to it (note all the clients who want to jump the fence and join us). I believe pretty strongly that living our purpose, being a vibrant community, means we are finding the joy. From that perspective, we weren't there six months ago, but it feels like our focus on performance has helped in part get us back on track.

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