In a recent post I talked about Driving Corporate Change – Made Easier and how we can take the lessons from a book and apply them to what we are doing in the real world. I did the same for Business Retrospective – Finding The Bright Spots, digging deeper into one chapter and integrating it into my thoughts on reflection. This was fitting as we were also wrapping up 2010.

Today I want to talk about creating an environment for success.

Whether we call it working on the business, building a business architecture, franchising a business, or shaping the path (or something else); this is one of the most important differentiators between great and merely good companies.

The situation or environment we create will either multiply or divide the effort we put into our business.

Get it right and you will create something that will take on a life of its own and move forward despite the shortcomings we have as people. Get it wrong and you will be constantly wrestling with the beast you have created, trying to keep it going where you want it to.

People are both amazing and flawed. It is amazing what we can accomplish as individuals and even more importantly as groups. Yet it is amazing sometimes that we accomplish anything at all. Flaws include our wavering attention, focus and drive, our ability to get distracted or chase another rainbow, mood swings, conflicting desires, insecurities, miscommunication, etc.

The idea here is to create a business that reinforces what you want from people and discourages or nullifies the flaws or weaknesses.

When trying to make a change, the authors of Switch talked about shaping the path: tweak the environment, build habits and rally the herd.

In terms of building a business this translates to:

  • Situation and environment
  • People and Process
  • Culture and Leadership

Situation and Environment

Often we blame people for poor outcomes (bad people) when often, the situation creates the propensity for bad behaviour. Change the situation; change the outcome… often with the same team.

A good example is someone who is normally a courteous driver. Now put them in a situation where they are 20 minutes late for an important meeting (think day care closing in 10 minutes). Now that same person is a jerk behind the wheel.

Take some good developers. Now put an short and inflexible deadline on them. Suddenly they are not thinking straight, making mistakes they would not normally make and things start taking longer than expected. The stress and pressure caused by the deadline, impede the ability to be creative and see all possibilities; something normally cherished in developers.

Switch things up to reinforce the desired strengths, and productivity and quality actually go way up; making deadlines easier to achieve and the product better.

The physical environment can also reinforce the situational environment. There are always trade-offs so be careful that you create an environment that supports the most important aspects of what you want.