One Thing I’ve Learned About…Simplicity


by Jim Johnson

Over the past few months, I’ve developed and introduced a new initiative to my team. I lead a great team who is responsible for: a call center, eServices (online/phone lending), fraud, card admin, deposit operations, online account opening, etc.). We are calling this initiative the “Challenge to Change”.

What I wanted to do was to show the team how they can impact our bottom line (we call that our Measures that Matter) by adding something to their daily habits/routines. I didn’t want them to stop doing what they should be doing. No, I wanted them to add a simple step – a simple addition that could have significance in hitting our corporate goals.

Our call center, for instance, handles hundreds of calls every day. This team is effective in handling a wide variety of issues. They have been asked to view the customer’s financial profile and determine if this person has a full relationship with us (we are a credit union). Once they look at the profile, they are to ask themselves: “what’s missing?” Even if they see that more than one thing is missing, we have kept it simple. PICK ONE. Then talk about it.

We have created a list of “conversation starters” that assist the call center rep to begin a conversation that will lead to a deeper relationship with us. We are using current technology tools to log this interaction. Our technology can be viewed by anyone in the company and will keep the conversation momentum moving as the customer is in the deciding stage (we don’t assume that the sale will be made on the first attempt – it will take multiple interactions).

Here’s what I’ve learned while developing this initiative:

1. Know what my team is already doing. I spent significant time with team members asking them to show me what they look at when beginning an interaction with a customer. I had them explain (when necessary) what they could see/know from the data available on our core system. I gained valuable information with this step.

2. Understand their routine. Everyone approaches the same job in different ways. I had to discover how my team works. Some take short cuts. Others don’t. Some know their technology tools well. Others? Not so much. But I had to spend time with the team to know what they know and do.

3. Keep it simple. I knew that if I wanted to introduce a new habit, I couldn’t turn their work world upside down. Knowing my team and understanding their routine helped me know when and where to introduce change. It helped me to keep this process simple.

The new process only adds one step in their routine. One step. That’s it.

4. Communicate. I met with my call center 3-4 people at a time. I’m a word-picture guy. I drew charts, pictures, and graphs to lay-out what they do and where the change was going to happen. I asked a lot of questions and listened. I asked for feedback and got it. I made changes to the process based on the feedback. It was critical that we were all on the same page.

We are planning to launch this initiative this month. We have some testing to do with our current technology. We believe it will work and be a great “leading indicator” of our monthly corporate goals. It will drive more business to our branches. It will keep the relationship conversation going.

We didn’t build a complex machine to do this. We’re keeping it simple. We’ll be inspecting what we expect and encourage development and growth as we launch.

Change isn’t always easy. But keeping things simple, understanding the team’s work and process helps change happen.

Sharpen the Axe


My pastor, Denny Miller (, shared an interesting message yesterday. He got me thinking of how we as leaders manage people, projects, and processes.

Abraham Lincoln said that if he was given 6 hours to cut down a tree, he would spend the first 4 hours sharpening the axe. As Denny shared, there is great wisdom in Lincoln’s insight, isn’t there? But how does that apply us – business leaders and managers of people?

I’m sure there have been times when you’ve been assigned a new project or have come up with a new initiative. You are excited to dive in and show what kind of results you will get from this. You assemble your team, tell them where this project/initiative is heading, and you launch. You get the project done. Your team learns a little. You show results…but maybe they’re not the results you (or your boss) was hoping for. Why?

Did you sharpen your axe first?

Using Lincoln’s illustration, the tree represents your goals/results. You need to chop down that tree. You can see it. You’ve got the right tool. You are motivated. But if you don’t sharpen that axe, your results could be lacking: not done on time, project costs elevate, team gets discouraged.

So how do you sharpen your “axe” to ensure that you hit your results?

1. Know Your Team. Most teams have some outstanding folks. Then there are some who are along for the ride. And then there are many in the middle who can lean one way or the other. Sharpening your team is to prepare your team.

* Do they have the right skills to hit the results you are expected to hit?
* Are they motivated to succeed or are they “flat”?
* Have you communicated enough about where this project/initiative is heading? Do they know the road map?
* Have you challenged ALL of your team? Or will you just dump 80% of the work on the 20% who always end up with the load?

Your team and their efforts are the edge that will make all the difference in the cutting down of your tree.

2. Know Your Goal. Aligning your team’s efforts with your company’s truly important goals is critical in your team’s success. You, as the team leader, must communicate what those goals are. You must “connect the dots” from your team’s daily work to these goals. There is purpose in their work! Help them find it, understand it, and live it!

You may think you have sharpened the axe, but if you cut the wrong tree down, you did not win. Cut the right tree down.

3. Know Your Progress. Most projects/initiatives are not completed in a day. It can takes weeks or even months. It is your responsibility as a leader to let your team know how things are going.

* Are new skills required mid-stream? Then train and develop your team.
* Does your team know if they’re half way through the “tree” or close to the end? Keep a “scoreboard” or dashboard updating results along the way to the goal.
* Does your team know if their work is resulting in success or do they feel it’s just busy work? Keep connecting purpose back to their work.
* Have you been encouraging little successes, coaching to strengthen weaknesses, and counseling to get some of the team back on the right track? If you don’t do this, who will? You are the leader.

This step is very important in the process of hitting your goals. It requires communication. It requires further “sharpening” if motivation gets dull. It requires momentum. It requires your personal involvement as the leader.

4. Finish Strong. When you put in the work, keep your axe sharpened, encouraging your team along the way, celebrate when the work is done and the results are achieved (or exceeded!). Show your team where they grew (they may not specifically know – point out individual accomplishments and growth steps).

5. Prepare for the Future. The axe will be pulled out again. Keep your team focused and honed, ready for the next challenge.

Cutting down a tree is hard work. Having a sharpened axe makes all the difference. Having a developed, motivated, capable team will also make a huge difference as you tackle and succeed in reaching your goals.

Sharpen the axe!

4 Disciplines of Execution


I recently finished this book that was recommended by the wife of one of team members. She is a manager at our local Olive Garden and they are working through this book.

Do you need to get results? Needing to get your team focused on your corporate goals? Are you as aligned as you think you are? This book will help.

I have used the concepts in the book to create a new initiative for my team that will directly impact our bottom line. By making some small, intentional changes in routine behavior, we will be creating leading indicators of how well we move our big “WIGs” each month.

I strongly recommend this book to you. Add it to your summer reading list. You will not regret it.

You can order it here: