How to Make a Habit of Optimizing

I’m using the same picture for this post as I did for the Engager Dynamic called Optimize. I looked for a different one but this picture from the movie “Ben Hur” showing those beautiful horses aligned on a racing team according to their specific abilities tells the story of optimizing. Plus, I love the movie!

In my posts I’ve talked about Training and Evaluating among other things. These are one-on-one dynamics in many cases. In the analogy of coaching, these skills are about helping the individual player get better at their skills. Optimizing is more like what a coach does during a game. S/he works to find the best combination of skills for that situation against that opponent.

Putting it to Work

If your work is normally done in groups or teams this is easier. By team I mean the obvious group who work in close proximity to each other and focus on a task or set of tasks for which that team is responsible. There are other ways to think of teams as well. It could be a series of people each of whom hand off work to the next person in a system, adding their piece to it until the product or service is finished. These “teams” could even be across shifts where work is passed down from one to the next.

Look at your “teams” in whatever form they take. Evaluate the skills, talents, temperament, and pace of each team member and try different combinations like a basketball game coach looking for the right combination of ball handlers, defenders, height, shooters, etc.

If your work is not normally done in groups, that’s OK. Create a team. Find a work system that needs improvement. Put together a project team with the objective of studying the system to determine which component(s) and/or process(es) need(s) to be changed or removed to improve the system’s output. You could run several project teams at once or sequentially. If you run them one after the other, mix up the teams, game coach.

Making it a Habit

The definition of “Optimize” is “to make the best or most effective use of (a situation, opportunity, or resource).” In order to do that you need to clearly understand the work (situation, opportunity) and you need to clearly understand your people (resources). The team work mentioned above is designed to help you with both. The primary focus of this post, though, is to understand and engage your people.

In the movie, “Ben Hur” the main character puts his horse team together with the slower, steadier horse on the inside “to anchor the team in the turns” and the faster horse on the outside to bring the team around smoothly. That’s knowing your resources and deploying them to your advantage. Guess what. I don’t know about horses, but people are usually happier and more engaged when they are doing what they’re best at.

Think about your own work experience. When have you been most energized by your work and given extra effort and brought insight and creativity to it? Most likely it’s been when the work most closely aligned with what you are best at and therefore love doing most. Your people are no different.

The team suggestions above are intended to help you discover what each of your people is best at. Another way to do that is to ask them. I always have one-on-one conversations with my team early in the engagement. I ask several questions of each one and it’s always the same list. Here are a couple of the Optimization questions:

  1. What’s going well? – how people answer this will tell you something about how closely their job aligns with what they’re best at. The closer their answer touches the work they specifically are doing, the more aligned their job is with their talent.
  2. What are you best at? – there’s nothing like the direct approach. The quicker someone answers this the more likely their current work is what they do best. It comes to mind quickly because they’re doing it every day.
  3. What do you wish you could do? – If their answer is about another type of job, more than likely what they’re currently doing isn’t as close to what they’re best at as they would like. If their answer is “fly” or “be invisible” or “breathe under water” (actual answers I’ve received) or anything else non work related, they may be loving their work and not fantasizing about another job.

Develop the habit of knowing your people. When you can align their work with their best talents and skills, everybody wins!

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