The Wedding Toast: Lessons in Leadership from Love

Recently, I had the opportunity to share the joy and intense emotions of giving away my daughter in marriage. At this extraordinary event, I had the fatherly privilege of making the welcome toast. Reflecting on these thoughts in the days that have passed, I realize that these principles and practices that guide us toward happy and healthier relationships are key traits that great leaders exhibit. Please indulge me in the following excerpt from that toast I gave at the wedding of my daughter Francesca to her husband Matthew.

One of the privileges of being the Dad of a little girl is that she sits on your lap and you have little talks from time to time. One I remember in particular is when her mother was out shopping, because that’s what she did when Daddy and daughter spent time together, Francesca looks me in the eyes and says: “Daddy when I grow up I want to marry you” ….. I had to politely explain to her that Mommy wouldn’t like that too much! She then went on to say: “How will I ever find the right person to marry?” I said: “Honey, when you fall in love and if that person treats you as well as I do, then he’s the one.” Matthew you’ve passed that test.

So I can’t leave without a little advice for Francesca and Matthew…..You are starting your life together, what’s the most important thing? The most important thing is LOVE….that’s a great word but there are a lot of things that go into it. For my colleagues in medicine, you know we have to make acronyms out of everything to help us remember….

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Can our Board be better? A few considerations

The best healthcare boards are dedicated to the success of the organizations and communities they serve, have a sincere hunger to stay up-to-date and informed about industry standards and stay curious about emerging trends. Board members have to be well educated on the issues, well prepared for generative discussions, and be mindful of the interests and concerns of stakeholders. Being a contemporary healthcare board member demands a great deal and, in turn, can provide a rewarding experience.

Boards play a critical role in the long-term success of organizations. In addition to the expected fiduciary responsibilities, healthcare boards are tasked with promoting and embodying the mission and vision of the institution and advocating for its well being while setting aside self-interest. Advocacy includes ongoing education of politicians and civic leaders, fundraising and networking with potential donors, and telling the organization’s “story.” It is imperative that the board builds relationships in the community in order to expand services to meet community needs and partner with other aligned organizations.

The highest functioning boards share similar traits: absolute fiduciary responsibility inclusive of finances, safety, quality and the employee and patient experiences; development, implementation and monitoring of a long-term strategic plan; and establishing leadership goals and monitoring performance compared to the goals. Additionally, most not-for-profit boards are self-perpetuating so a key responsibility for today’s board is selection of new board members. Now more than ever, an important criterion for board member selection should be diversity. In this case, diversity should be considered in the broadest sense.

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Lessons from Global Health Development: Insights from Four Change Models

This is Part 3B of this three-part series.

Part 3A briefly reviewed four change methods. This Part 3B compares them to elicit insights.

Motivational Interviewing, Kotter’s 8-Step Model, Baldrige Communities of Excellence, and SEED-SCALE, reviewed in Part 3A, were selected to reflect and reveal the wisdom of a range of disciplines, applications at different levels (individual, organizational, community and population) and purposes to aid change practitioners in the thinking and doing of their craft. How can comparing these models elicit deeper insights to affect sustainable change sooner and better?

Some Questions for Cross-Benefit

Organizational leaders are inclined to plan and motivated to implement. How can leaders apply the individual-based MI change process, especially its relentless focus on the “why,” to better empower others to engage in large-scale challenges?

Organizational leaders and MI counselors are tempted to pursue short-term results over long-term empowerment and are challenged to sustain progress. How can they employ the iterative, escalating scaling process and longer-term, biologic view of SEED-SCALE to advance in a manner that harnesses the human energy of self-direction and local ownership? Read Full Article.

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Good Operations is Good Strategy

Good operations is good strategy. Operational excellence. Blocking and tackling. Within health systems, the ongoing importance of good operations should be highlighted as a foundational element of every strategic plan. Good operations is a “no lose” strategy that positions a health system for success regardless of the many external forces providing new challenges. Value-based contracting, risk-sharing and Medicare break even strategies are all dependent on the fundamentals of sound operations. Operational Excellence requires strong and improving performance across a broad spectrum of metrics related to safety and quality, customer service and cost efficiency.

Safety and quality. Our consumers have historically assumed that a healthcare system – especially one with brand recognition – provides a safe environment and good clinical quality. They have had little information to guide decisions related to safety and quality. Health systems must compare performance against top quartile performers and make the changes necessary to achieve this level of achievement consistently. And make the information available to the public in a discernible manner that is meaningful to consumers and motivating to caregivers. Safety and quality must be embedded within any strategic plan.

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Developing leaders must navigate the hallway of hell

Enhancing our own leadership development along with the novice and advanced leaders on our teams is mission critical in healthcare today. The environment that we are challenged to be successful in is very harsh — increasing the cost of technology and pharmaceuticals, the ever-increasing cost of labor, on top of declining reimbursement.

The formula for success appears simple enough, but the challenge (as always) is the execution. Clearly, educating leaders and enhancing their skills will yield great outcomes; yet the material that must be mastered is not intuitive, and the skills must be practiced over and over to be mastered.

One of the first lessons to be mastered is abandoning time-tested strategy, focusing on maintaining current productivity and volume levels, and being content with the fundamental processes currently in place. In other words, leaders must be comfortable being uncomfortable, embracing the feeling of being unsettled. Read Full Article.

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Lessons from Global Health Development: Sustainable Change Contrarian

Part 1 of a three-part series

“We cannot solve our problems with the same level of thinking that created them.” ― Albert Einstein

In the U.S., some refer to healthcare system change as an oxymoron. It is complicated. It is hard. And while progress has been made, we have a long way to go.

But if such change in healthcare is challenging in the richest nation, then imagine it in low resource countries. In many sub-Saharan African countries, healthcare must compete with investment in other more impactful determinants of health such as education, food security, and sanitation that, if present, are weakly established. Layer in different governments, languages/dialects, and cultures; include frontier rural locations, tribal influences and religious differences and the challenge to improve health and healthcare in countries such as Tanzania, Madagascar, and Nigeria can feel truly overwhelming.

Historically, the traditional approach to both change in U.S. healthcare and global development has been to identify needs and direct resources, typically money, at the perceived needs. This pattern has resulted in little success and in many cases, regression, harm and/or increased costs. In global development, despite over a trillion dollars channeled to low resource countries in the past two decades, little progress – and often regress – has resulted (Taylor, Empowerment On An Unstable Planet). In U.S. healthcare, it has created and perpetuated a medical industrial system that is three times as expensive as other countries for almost median outcomes. The lesson? Funds are zero sum limited; human energy is not. And the only real empowerment is self-empowerment.

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It takes a team - the story of a turnaround that could have and should have happened

As discussed in the blog, Success or Failure: Healthcare Can Not NOT Change, healthcare is a business. And, considering the economic contribution they make throughout their region, it is big business. With each hospital closure that hits the media, it is not simply the services provided that is at issue, but the financial impact to the community as well.

Serving as a consultant at a very impressive $40M health system, I dove deep into the Community Health Needs Assessment and each component of the strategic plan. My initial task was to meet one-on-one with each member of the executive team and department heads – of course my daily rounds (LBWA) meant I was meeting front line staff throughout the day each day – before reporting back to the Board of the Directors at the end of the month.

Meeting with the CFO, she was gravely concerned with the system’s operating margins, which were the narrowest they had been in her entire 12-years. She provided me with benchmark data showing the continuous decline over the last several years.

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Leading Your Team Through Complexity

Leading and working in healthcare has always been complex, never more so than in today’s healthcare environment. Increased regulations, government reforms, alternative based payment models, rising consumerism and expectations have come together in a perfect storm swirling around the industry. On top of this, the world economy has become a destabilizing factor as we realize now more than ever how interconnected we are to our world partners, almost a giant game of Jenga, where one false move by a world leader could topple the whole tower.

So how do we lead in an era of increasing complexity and more ambiguity than ever before? In previous articles I’ve discussed the importance of mission and a common set of values to ground the organization and guide our decision making, and this is foundational. However, in this article I would like to discuss the skills and the leadership maturity it takes to lead successfully in a complex environment.

I’m going to use the term “maturity” here, not necessarily the chronical definition of age, but the maturity that comes with leaders who have had numerous and diverse leadership experiences. Leaders who have seen enough, had their share of successes and failures to understand the important role they play in guiding the decision-making process.

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Good Leaders Drive Results!

Leaders are expected to be creative problem solvers, challenge the status quo and visualize problems before they occur. Your success as a leader is largely dependent upon how quickly you seek improvement in broken processes, develop new procedures and maximize efficiency and effectiveness.

Below are three tips to help you stay in front of the curve when managing your people and organization through change and drive results: Read Full Article.

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Success or Failure: Healthcare Can Not NOT Change

One can not, not change – especially in business. And, though not always a popular perspective, healthcare is not only a business, it is big business. With many rural communities, the local healthcare system is the primary economic driver. It may sound harsh, but in business, it has been said that we are either growing, adjusting or dying.

As an avid fitness enthusiast, I can personally attest that I must either work to improve, or I will lose the progress I have made - requiring almost constant re-assessment and modifications to my programs. Especially as I age. What I was able to do 10, much less 20 or 30 years ago will no longer render the same results today. Very much like rural health.

Change and growth can be intimidating. It requires making choices on probability weighted outcomes. There must be a willingness to make additional investments, or cutting budget of one area to expand another. And, perhaps the scariest issue is leaving the known (what has been done), to embrace the unknown.

With any business, we must continuously evaluate our market to make effective strategic adjustments. Our communities’ needs, demographics, reimbursement, regulations and staffing – the only constant within healthcare is change. Read Full Article.

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Sustainable Population Health -- Who's on First?

Part A of this article clarifies the blurring terminology that can inadvertently stunt health improvement understanding and action.

Post-truth, Fake news, Misinformation (Dictionary.com words of the year for 2016, 2017 and 2018, respectively). Let’s be clear: How is population health different from community and public health? How does it relate to health disparities? A senior leader discussion on these topics can begin to sound like a rendition of Abbott and Costello’s “Who’s On First?”

The terms Community Health, Public Health and Population Health are often used with the same broad brush. But advancement in our thinking and action start with clarity of our language and terminology. Clearly there is much common ground with these terms. To start 2019 off with clarity, below is a summary delineation of these terms. Read Full Article

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In Praise of Corporate Tension

“Corporate will be here next week to help…”

“Corporate is sending out a team in person to review the project.”

“Corporate is coming out for a visit.”

These words can immobilize the most courageous of hearts. Many at the clinical sites believe corporate exists to disrupt and provide self-enhancement for the corporate individual making the demand. The incoming request often appears as a consistent disruptor to the local individual who is focused on the hospital, clinic or community issues. As a non-corporate individual, you are at the site addressing immediate and multiple priorities. The demands can range from concerns for improving patient care, addressing colleague concerns or responding to the corporate enhanced financial issues to name just a few of the more common daily agenda items. In fact, you may even be reacting to a situation affecting the greater importance (?) of your immediate supervisory interacting environment (i.e. keeping your local boss happy). Whatever the corporate demand at the time, it can seem to distract from the work necessary to be successful at the site. Furthermore, from the limited view in field, the request can sometimes make no sense as to its timing or priority except “Home Office needs it now.”

The tension between the entities in the field and the corporate power is real. The euphemism of “Corporate,” with all of its priority setting, sweeping powers, and down-flowing time demands can cause untold tension and disruption at the sites. However, corporate has its own demands and in the final measure is often made up of people just attempting to survive and succeed. Good leaders are conscientious individuals balancing competing demands, shifting priorities, and seemingly continuously adjusting metrics driven by someone else’s “higher-up” tinkering. Both sections of the organization contain people searching for a positive impact. Same organization. Different pressures. Competing language. How does that language sound as a result of differing views? Let’s take a look and listen in: Read Full Article.

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The Obstacle is the Path

“The obstacle is the path” is a Zen proverb that tells us that obstacles are the key to success.

Sometimes the only way out is through. The key to overcoming adversity is at times simple perseverance. Winston Churchill said, “If you’re going through hell, keep going.” Churchill was surrounded by people who, early in World War II, wanted him to give in to Hitler. He would not surrender. If he had, the world would be a very different place today.

Adversity gives us strength. Great athletes must challenge their bodies to develop the strength, skill and agility needed to excel. My mother is fond of quoting Ralph Waldo Emerson who said, “That which we persist in doing becomes easier, not that the nature of the task has changed, but our ability to do has increased.” The Russians are the masters of extended times in space. These cosmonauts were able to spend many months in the apparent weightlessness of space free of the constraints of gravity, but when they landed on the steppes of Kazakhstan, they had to be carried away on stretchers. They had lost so much bone and muscle mass that they could no longer stand.

In entrepreneurship, we are taught that the key to innovation is the “pain”. The pain is the problem that your innovation solves. If there is no pain, no problem, then there is no need for your innovation. Many entrepreneurs developed innovations that made them very successful when they found that the marketplace did not offer a solution to their own problem. They knew that others would value their solution if available so they offered a product or service to solve the same problem for others. Read Full Article.

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Impacting Change Through Challenge

While talking with volunteers at the information desk, in walks the sweetest elderly couple. Both were in their mid to late 80s. The wife is using a cane with one hand and holding onto her husband for support with the other.

An early August day, outside temperatures were in the upper 90s. It was my first week working within a $40M health system as interim CEO and consultant. The facility offered a vast array of both general and specialized services. Without counting the licensed beds, one would never know it was not an urban health system, but rather a Critical Access Hospital.

As they approach, I greet them with a smile and ask if there’s anything I can do to help. The husband said they were here for some laboratory work.

The long walk from the parking lot during the heat of the day had clearly taken its toll on them both, but thankfully, the Laboratory/Radiology department was nearby. The lab tech quickly came out, offering the husband a seat in the hallway and taking the wife back into the offices for her blood work.

I looked around and noticed the “waiting area” consisted of a few hard-plastic chairs sitting in a major traffic area right off the main lobby.

Little did I know what awaited me, as I told the husband I would get him some ice water and be right back. That is when the adventure began … Read Full Article

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What Southwest Airlines can teach us about running our own organizations

In an industry where its competitors have frequently gotten into serious financial difficulty, Southwest Airlines has maintained profitability every year for the previous 45 years. This is an amazing accomplishment. We will explore some of the strategies that Southwest Airlines has used to drive that success.

Southwest Airlines has only ever flown one type of airplane, Boeing 737’s. All its pilots, flight attendants, ground crews and mechanics are trained to work with every plane Southwest owns. Southwest must maintain a parts inventory for only one type of plane. I see two lessons to be learned from the strategy. The first is the value of simplicity. The second is the importance of sticking to your strategy. I am sure that over the years they were tempted at times to buy smaller planes to service smaller markets and to buy bigger planes to service foreign markets. Southwest did not yield to the siren call of chasing every potential customer. They would only pursue those customers who fit within their business model.

Southwest Airlines does not believe that the customer is always right. The late Herb Kelleher, former CEO of Southwest Airlines, said that the customer is not always right. “And I think that’s one of the biggest betrayals of employees a boss can possibly commit. The customer is sometimes wrong. We don’t carry those sorts of customers. We write to them and say, ‘Fly somebody else. Don’t abuse our people.’” So, what does this approach do for Southwest’s customer service? My own experience is that Southwest employees have always been warm and gracious to my family and me. But for more objective evidence we will look at the Temkin Experience Ratings. Southwest has rated number one for customer experience among US airlines every year since 2011 except for 2015. Read Full Article.

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Rural Health's Specialty Lies in the Special Care

It was my first time back to a rural hospital. Though I had practically grown-up in rural health – both with frequent visits as a volunteer and as a support services employee – I had not been within the walls of a rural hospital in many years. And never had I been in one as a healthcare executive.

I arrived early, intending to look around and meet a few staff to better prepare me for a meeting with the Critical Access Hospital’s Board of Directors.

One of my first interactions was with a nurse coming out of a patient room. She was clearly emotional. Practically crying. I had seen the impact of caring for patients over the years. But this was not that. No, it was not simply a nurse and patient, but something much more. Even with my many years of experience, I didn’t yet know what I didn’t know – or regrettably, perhaps had forgotten. (Read Full Article)

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A visionary leader is proactive

Reactive vs Proactive Leadership

I do a lot of reading on leadership. About 2 years ago, I read a book in which the author briefly contrasted reactive and proactive leaders. The author said that reactive leader does not seem to anticipate problems and does not see them coming until they are blowing up in his face. The reactive leader is constantly putting out fires. The proactive leader on the other hand sees problems just as they are starting to grow, or even before they begin, and calmly takes quiet and gentle steps to correct and avert so that the conflicts and disruptions are minimized or even completely prevented.

A reactive leader may be confronted with ugly contentions for any combination of the following reasons:

  1. Does not see the problem or consider that it might develop.
  2. Sees the potential problem, but does not want to be bothered over something that “might” happen.
  3. Sees the problem, but is afraid to act.
  4. Created the problem by misguided attempts to solve other problems.
  5. Enjoys contention and creates problems in part to create sparring opportunities or opportunities to assert dominance that are ego driven rather than leadership required.

The proactive leader does as Walter Gretzsky did and skates “to where the puck is going, not where it has been.” He has an eye to future disruptions. He sees the problems and is ready, willing and unafraid to act. He does not shy away from healthy conflict resolution, but prevents or minimizes unhealthy contention within his organization. He may disrupt his organization to move it where it needs to be to survive and thrive, but he will not allow his organization to be disrupted to no purpose.

I recently read an online article that presented reactive and proactive leaders as two equally valid leadership styles.i The reactive leader is presented in this article as strong in the surprise conflict, but weak in anticipatory leadership and the proactive leader as strong in long-range planning, but weak when called upon to “shoot from the hip.” I could not disagree more. A reactive leader is responding to whatever hits him and cannot have a firm hand on the tiller of the organization. For the proactive leader, the ability to extrapolate likely future scenarios and to predict human nature and act with vision and foresight does not make one unable to act upon the present urgencies and emergencies. Indeed, a proactive leader who has an eye to the future will be able to craft acute conflict resolution that is long lasting and strengthening to the organization.

Now, here is the part that stuns me, yet I have seen time and time to be true. This unknown author says that the reactive leader is often seen as the stronger leader, because he is often seen with guns blazing at a terrible dragon he is slaying for the organization, even if he is the one who fed and nurtured that dragon. The proactive leader is too often seen as weak or irrelevant. Why is he even needed? The organization seems to run itself. He often addresses problems discretely allowing key stakeholders to save face in front of the rest of the organization while bringing them effectively back on track. So much of what he does is unseen so it is assumed that it is not happening.

iPROACTIVE OR REACTIVE LEADERSHIP, WHICH IS MOST EFFECTIVE IN THE WORKPLACE? VICKY BAILEY, 2016-12-02

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Want to build your culture -- start by sweeping the floor!

Over the years, I’ve heard many stories, inspirational stories on leadership, one of my favorites involves President John F. Kennedy and his first visit to NASA in 1962. As the story goes, the President was touring the facility when he came across a janitor carrying a broom down the same hallway as the touring President. Kennedy, a great lover of people stopped him and asked him what he did for NASA, not missing a beat he replied, “I’m helping to put a man on the moon”.

As I reflect on this, I’m struck by the absolute simplicity of this statement, but also the way it speaks volumes. This individual clearly understood that he was an integral part of the team, no matter what the role. If he did his job well, he contributed to the overall success of the team, engineer, scientist, astronauts etc. His job, although different in almost every way imaginable from his colleagues, still contributed to achieving the overall goal, that of putting a man on the moon. Read Full Article

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Process Transformation – A Way to Reduce Cost, Improve Quality, Etc., Etc., Etc.

“Gary Skarke is an expert in the area of transformation. His company’s success, for the most part, has been outside of healthcare but has touched healthcare on a small scale. As we all know, healthcare is going through a significant transformation and most of what he will share in the article below aligns well with what is happening in the healthcare industry today."

This is the third article in a series of articles focusing on the many types of transformation his company has helped other organizations navigate successfully and how these same situations are occurring within healthcare today.” – Jim Wiederhold

Click here to read the first and second article.

Process transformation focuses on making major changes to the activities and tasks (the how) by which the organization delivers its products and/or services. A core process (i.e., one that adds value to the customer) might be inquiry to order, order to cash, or product line development. Tools used to transform processes frequently includes business process reengineering, process redesign, Six Sigma, Lean or other quality related tools.

A global software manufacturer reduced the cost to process a customer order from $800 to $125. Sales reps saved an average of two hours a week (7% improvement) contacting customers by phone. The CEO said, “Sales reps tell me the time they used to spend putting together sales forecasts now spend that time on strategies to make that forecast a reality.” Initially, the client was frustrated because they spent several months analyzing the “as is” order process and the team was totally unmotivated. Their over analysis was paralyzing them. They quickly re-energized when they shifted to redesigning the “to be” process.

In healthcare, organizations are compelled to improve their treatments, eliminate non, value-added tasks, reduce wait time and cost, treat more patients -- while improving quality and patient outcomes. Such dramatic improvements can generally only be achieved and sustained with a rigorous and aggressive process improvement effort.

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The recipe for creating value

When I was in college, the church that I attended had a booth every year at the local fair. We made a pastry called an elephant ear. I have seen at fairs funnel cakes which are made by pouring a liquid batter into hot oil and frying it. The elephant ear dough was mixed in a huge mixer. It had eggs in it. The dough was allowed to rise. It was then punched down, weighed out into balls and set on large cookie sheets to rise again. Volunteers sitting at tables would pat the balls into flat disks. These were fried in hot peanut oil and then covered with cinnamon sugar or powdered sugar. In the mid-1980s we sold these for two dollars apiece. They sold like, well, hotcakes. Many people would pay to get in the fair solely to buy elephant ears. There was always a line. If people saw that the line had gotten short, they would run to get in the line. We could sell as many as we could make.

I was in the booth one Saturday morning patting out elephant ears when I noticed Brother “Jones” handling sales. He was a very kind and pleasant man but age was upon him, and he was absolutely overwhelmed with the task. He had before him a line of people who were eager to get elephant ears and behind him stacks of elephant ears growing cold. I spoke to the team leader and asked him if he could arrange for Brother “Jones” and I to exchange positions, of course, handling it in a way that was not hurtful to Brother “Jones’s” feelings. The team leader declined to have us exchange positions but asked me to assist Brother “Jones” with sales.

We began to quickly make sales, and the stacks of unsold elephant ears got much shorter. Soon Brother “Jones” was at one of the tables patting out elephant ears. This was not a terrible place to be. There was always lively and pleasant conversation at the tables, and the task was ideally suited to his capabilities. I now had helping me another brother who was young, like I was, and energetic. We found ourselves waiting for elephant ears to be produced so we could sell them.

A new problem became apparent. The elephant ears were coming out of the vat and were stacking up waiting to have cinnamon sugar or powdered sugar applied. I spoke to the team leader who moved someone to assist with this task. Each time product piled up at a certain point in the process, I would ask the team leader to add or exchange human resources to speed the flow of product through the production chain.

The following day was Sunday. It was announced in church that the elephant ear booth averaged about $11,000 per year in sales, yet the day before we had sold $4000 in elephant ears. The fair would run each year for 11 days. We were not open on Sundays so we would run our booth for nine days each year. This gives us a daily average just over $1200. While Saturdays had more people at the fair than weekdays, demand always exceeded supply even on weekdays. We had tripled our sales that day by simply using our available resources more efficiently.

Several years later while in college, I read The Goal by Eliyahu M. Goldratt and Jeff Cox. This book is a business novel that describes the same process I did in the elephant ear booth but done in an air conditioner manufacturing plant. The protagonist identifies bottlenecks in the production stream by where product in process piles up and then eliminates the bottleneck by moving resources to that step. I highly recommend this book for business leaders.

The ideal value strategy requires no additional investment of resources but uses the current resources more efficiently to deliver quantity and quality, such as: a faster moving line delivering more and hotter elephant ears. We must not be afraid to make small investments when we know that there will be substantial return on investment. Large investments may be necessary and wise, but the larger the investment, the greater we risk, and the higher returns that are necessary to create a value result.

Read previous articles related to this topic:

Article 1: Your business’ future lies in an abundant strategy – not in scarcity

Article 2: Maximum Wow Strategies Lead to Scarcity

Article 3: Fat cutting from an organization can be taken too far – Are you starving your organization?

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