The Road to Full Potential

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Reflecting on my life, I have always been about helping others reach their potential. Nothing brings me down quite like witnessing aptitude and abilities not being realized in personal and professional relationships. It remains something I battle with myself, but let’s leave that aside for now.

About three years ago, I urged that Professional Growth Systems commit to taking clients to their potential, backing away from transactional consulting (e.g., a service here, service there) to becoming partners with clients wanting to go for it all. It took some time, but the team committed to a new purpose, To Realize Potential. We are now in the second year of engagement with clients on that basis, with new Realize Potential clients joining as I write. Clients invest in organizational improvement as they would in legal services or auditing. Large clients may have in-house corporate development resources. Still, the challenge for internal resources is to acquire all the required skill sets and to challenge the powers that be to face issues and one another. A bit easier for outside help to do.

The Road to Full PotentialSo, where lies this road to potential? What are the waypoints on the journey? Our experience with over 300 engagements is that the wealth of untapped potential is closer to the organization’s frontline than the C-suite. Why? Let me explain.

A strong leader with a sound strategy can have profound impacts and certainly is a pre-requisite. That is why the process for engaging us in a Realize Potential engagement is a two-way street. The client has to ensure that we have the goods. We have to ensure the client has the commitment and courage. Effective partnerships are rare and fragile. A sound, honest footing to build from is vital.

But the quality of execution separates the excellent from the also-rans. And implementation is owned at the bottom of the house. Leaders inspire and commit to an effective strategy, but the rank-and-file dictate performance quality.

Case in point: Shortly after their launch in 2002, I had the honor of working with Sprouts Farmers Market, based in Phoenix. I had worked with the predecessor company, Henry’s Marketplace, established in San Diego by the Boney family. The third generation of Boneys started Sprouts. At the time, they had thirteen stores and were adding several stores a month (a remarkable feat in itself), each of which was profitable upon opening. They are now nationwide with 362 stores.

Over the years of working with them as Henry’s and then Sprouts, I had seen national chains with deep pockets try to replicate the Sprouts concept. In some cases, they would place stores in the same malls. Exact location, same-store design, similar inventory but vastly different results. Why? Rivals could not match the Sprouts’ organizational culture and execution. Time and again, these also-rans folded while Sprouts continued to grow.

The secret to their success lay in the core values established by the first generation of Boney family owners and which continues. The core values were a commitment to the customer, commitment to employees, and having fun. Attending their company Christmas party was akin to a multi-hundred-person family Christmas. Extraordinary to experience. When I stopped working with them, their CEO continued the tradition of showing up for each store opening and bagging groceries for a day. He was also signing birthday cards for each employee, which took him hours on some days. Talk to Sprouts employees, and they will tell you they love working there. The organization’s culture dictates what it feels like for the customer to shop there. Doing business with those who love what they do is addictive. And this is why competitors have been unable to match them.

Here are some additional data to make the case for investing in the frontline:

  • Over 200 strategic planning engagements have shown us those closest to the customer, i.e., the frontline is first to identify innovative strategies. They know customer needs best, customer satisfiers and dissatisfiers best, and are highly motivated to see those needs met as their work life becomes more manageable if it is so. One CEO I worked with listened to a butcher from his stores during a work session of frontline teams trying to define growth opportunities. He turned to me and said, “I had no idea I had such resources available to me.” Yet frequently, leadership prefers to leave the troops and customers out of the process. They do so at their peril.
  • In those same strategic planning engagements, consistently, the rank-and-file identified and understood problems in the organization very differently from top management, and their perspective was almost without fail more accurate
  • Years of process improvement work have proven that breakthrough concepts are first seen and best defined by the front line, the victims of “rubs” in existing processes and of dissatisfied customers. Those who work the process are also most committed and able to implement changes needed to realize the new process.
  • 78% of unwanted turnover in organizations points to “bad bosses” as the reason for leaving. Note, not bad “leaders.” They are not pointing to the top of the house but to frontline supervision.

I could go on and on. Despite all the above, organizations seeking a leg up usually invest in top-loaded planning, top-tier management team development, and other efforts that don’t deliver anywhere near the return on investment that investments in improved execution can bring about. The mindset seems to invest in those responsible to get more out of the front line rather than investing in the front line itself.

The most gaping hole in organizations is found in supervision at the frontline and mid-management levels. Untrained, overtaxed, and unappreciated; these people managers break the link to effective execution, stifle innovation, fail to engage employees, and bring about the loss of performance stemming from unwanted turnover.

For this reason, I drove myself to write the second edition of Creating High Performers. My commitment to realizing potential led me to focus on improving supervision, the critical leverage point in organizations.

If you are interested in learning what potential lies untapped in your organization, click on this link to learn about our free Discovery process. Discovery will illuminate where your organization is underperforming now and how to realize a return on investment from tapping into the potential that lies within.