Ready – Fire – Aim Revisited

Back in the 1980s, the phrase “ready – fire – aim” was popularized by management experts as a solution for growing companies at a rapid pace. More recently, business titan, Jeff Bezos, was quoted as saying, “Being wrong might hurt you a bit, but being slow will kill you.” If you think about it, both observations make the same essential point – make a decision! You don’t, however, have to be a Wall Street wizard to apply this principle.

Several years ago, I had dinner with Jay, a successful friend of mine. He had just attended a day long retreat for colleagues running multi-million-dollar companies. I asked him what he had taken away from the meeting. “See-do,” he said. I asked him to explain.

“As we went around the room sharing ideas, one of the things I noticed was that every one of us, talked about a usable idea we had discovered and every single one of us had attempted to implement it immediately. Not all of them worked out, but I was stuck by the fact that none of us hesitated or overthought the concept. In other words, we saw and we did.”

I have tried to live by that principle ever since. It’s not easy. Our always brain wants to protect us. Therefore, any time we introduce uncertainty into our routine, it begins to flood our thinking with all the reasons this new idea could be harmful. To make matters worse, it releases the stress hormones, adrenaline and cortisol into our nervous system making the feeling of uncertainly all that more intense. Since no one likes discomfort, our first instinct is to draw back and be careful. Unfortunately, this reaction has one of two effects: 1) It discourages us from acting all together or 2) It compels us to analyze the idea to death, in a desperate attempt to remove all the risk. There’s even a term for this – analysis paralysis.

Successful decision makers, like Jay, acknowledge this and act anyway. Might there be some initial discomfort? Probably. Is there a chance for the decision goes wrong? Sure. But if you continue to make decisions and learn to manage the discomfort, you’ll be further ahead over time even if you make lots of mistakes.

What’s the great idea you have been tossing around for the past few days, weeks, or even months? Uncertainty of outcome prevents most of us from becoming more successful than we are, no matter how we measure this. Do you need to have a clear plan for implementation? Yes. Do you need to have your resources in place? Sure. But don’t spend so much time getting ready that you never act on the opportunity. Success is about making decisions, not over-analyzing them out of fear. Put your discomfort aside, pull the trigger and enjoy the adventure.

Improving Performance Does Not Have to be Rocket Science

Sometimes it’s the basics that produce the best results. A while back, I met Bob a manager for the Hot Topic retail chain. You’ve probably seen one of their stores in the mall. They advertise themselves as Pop Culture and Music Inspired Fashion. Target market? Well, just visit one and you’ll get the idea. Most of their patrons are ages 18-30, as are their employees. But in a world where the average retail employee leaves within four months of being hired, Bob has been able to retain his people for three times as long. How? Three simple strategies – He teaches them the business. He compels them to make decisions and he makes it fun. Allow me to explain.

First, he teaches them the business. Most retailers show their people how to fold the tee-shirts, work the register, and locate inventory. Bob takes time to explain how the store makes money. “Know that special that we’re running on jeans?” he’ll say for instance. “That’s called a loss leader. We don’t make any money when we sell them. But it draws customers into the store where they’ll buy items where we do make money. By the way, if you sell them at the sale price after sale is over, we’ll lose money. So please don’t do that.” When the store is slow, he’ll show whoever’s around how that $30 piece of jewelry nets the store about $3 after cost-of-goods, rent, wages, advertising and so on.

Second, Bob compels his people to make decisions. His typical response to questions requiring judgment is, “What do you think?” No one gets a pass. In a world where young people have learned to look on a screen for most answers, Bob believes it is his responsibility to compel the development of critical thinking. Those working for him long enough learn that lazy questions will be met with this response every time and that they had better start thinking for themselves. Even if they resist at first, deep down most understand his motivation and work up to his expectations.

Finally, he makes it fun. One strategy is to run point-of-sale competitions between his employees. Every so often, he will spend a bit of time teaching those working the marketing principles behind point of sale. You know, that’s the area around the registers where customers make impulsive buying decisions and where most stores earn a good portion of their profit. (“Let me grab a couple of candy bars while I think of it.”) Then he’ll divide the team in two and assign each one the left of right side of the register and give them the opportunity to merchandise it. After a week or so, he’ll tally up the sales from each side and buy the winning team a pizza.

Bob will be the first person to admit that not everyone shares his enthusiasm for all this. He knows that few of his employees will follow him into a career in retail. But he takes comfort that he’s teaching basic life skills and educating those who work for him a bit about how business works. Besides, his store earns a healthy profit simply because his employee turnover saves thousands of dollar per year in training, overtime and hiring. You’re probably not in retail. But how can you adapt Bob’s strategies to your organization? I guarantee you it will pay off.