Steer With Both Hands
Imagine yourself biking on a nature trail through a forest preserve. The sunlight falls energetically upon your face. Notice the crisp air as you whiz past the trees and brush on the pathway. You find yourself navigating a few complicated and unexpected twists and turns on the rough terrain. By now, you've probably become numb to the sound of the bike tires tearing through the gravel and broken tree limbs below. After some time, you come upon a clearing in the road. You lean back a bit on your seat, enjoying the view and all that Mother Nature has to offer you today, as the path ahead appears to be clear given the open space that surrounds you. You embrace the peaceful feeling, maybe even taking one of your hands off of the handlebars to adjust your helmet or grab a drink from your water bottle. For the more advanced riders, you may even release both hands, lean back a bit, and let the bike guide you along. You are relaxed, comfortable, and refreshed, as it seems that the trail ahead seems linear and calm...
Often, we find managers describe their work in this way. The beginning of the fiscal year starts off a bit rough. On-boarding new staff members, changes to processes, and making adjustments to adapt to fluctuations in the industry are ambiguous and unexpected, yet good managers deploy strategies and align human assets to meet the needs of their stakeholders and clients. At some point, managers look around and notice that systems are working well, staff members are working autonomously, and the world feels stable. Unfortunately, some manager decide that they have come upon a "clearing in the road" and take one or both hands off of the management handlebars. They begin to cruise at work, resting on the laurels of small wins, and enjoy the sunlight.
As a manager, if you find yourself "relaxed and leaning back", we suggest you take a different approach. Managers should always keep both hands on the handlebars. While managers should embrace the successes of their teams, it is important that they are steadily focused on the next set of twists and turns that will inevitably arrive. It is during the "calm" that managers should reassess what's working well, so that the current successes are sustained, and look forward for ways to improve systems, processes, and resources for human assets. Managers need to pay attention to the "sound of the gravel below", ensuring that they are acutely aware of variations in the industry and searching for opportunities to stay ahead of the curve. More importantly, managers should use this opportunity to revisit the current goals and benchmarks and consider moving the needle toward renewed stretch goals.
So, if you find yourself enjoying the sunlight and the warm breeze, remember that you are still on a trail in the forest preserves. Though you may find sections of calm paths, it is critical that you steer with both hands, at all times!