We were at a breakfast meeting when I happened to mention that earlier in the week, a colleague had a need for a ride home. Of course, I offered to help. I was feeling empathy for the fact that he had “lost” his keys somewhere in his office. I lose my keys from time to time, too. He had spare keys at home, so it seemed reasonable to get those keys. Then, we laughed, once he didn’t need them anymore, the lost keys would jump out at him.
The surprise came as I took him the very short distance to his home, so no freeway involved. His office is in an area that is
teeming with commercial and government buildings. It also had an abundance of homeless people. It was not an area I’d walk through at night. But a short mile away, was a beautiful, well-groomed residential area. The homes were historic, well maintained and the streets were lined by beautiful, large trees. Who knew?
Get Off the Freeway
The breakfast talk turned quickly from my story of the keys to the phone apps Waze and Google Maps. The consensus was that everyone at the table depended on one of those apps to get them somewhere. And, they were grateful that at least one time, the app advised getting off the freeway and taking surface streets. Several of us spoke of learning new things, like the town we had heard of on the news but had no knowledge of its location. Then, lo and behold, that quaint little town is right there where the app directed us to get off the freeway.
Taking the surface streets, we admitted, afforded us the opportunity to see new and interesting restaurants. And we would often see very nice residential areas we didn’t know were there. We saw new shopping centers, service companies, repair shops, and developed a whole new perspective on where “things” were in relationship to each other.
There’s Bad News Too
We know that folks in those beautiful residential areas, tucked away off the freeway, often complain about how the map apps will all of a sudden start directing people through their quiet little neighborhood. The traffic can be horrid when that happens.
So what is good for the traveler — being routed around an accident or construction — can be a nightmare for the locals as they deal with everyone jumping off the freeway. I know I like to feel like I’m making headway; even if it’s slow headway. And it seems as though when I’m on the surface streets, I don’t get annoyed when I have to stop at a light or stop sign. That is expected. But when I’m on the freeway, my expectations are to be moving at the speed limit. So getting off, while causing a bit of apprehension, is usually better for my state of mind.
Policies & Procedures are the Freeways of Business!
Of course, this discussion made me start thinking about leadership (seems most things make me think about leadership!) Just like people usually take the same route to work each day, our policies and procedures along with tradition, keep us on the same path in our businesses. If we have a strong process improvement program, that can act like the map app that forces us off the freeway once in a while. But generally, we keep doing things the same old way.
Sometimes the freeway is the fastest and most efficient way to get somewhere. And sometimes, following established procedures in business is the most efficient way to serve stakeholders. The trick is to have an analogous map app that indicates when it’s time to get off the procedure/freeway for a bit.
What are you doing to lead your people off the freeway? Is the organization stuck in the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” mode? How will you learn about the future needs of your customer? How will you take advantage of new technology? A leader’s job is to map out where the organization must go to stay relevant. As leaders, we are the Waze and Google Map app for our organization. Get off the freeway once in a while. See what’s in your market area. You will most certainly find a surprising thing or two!