The Answers are on the Office Wall
by Paul B. Thornton

W. Clement Stone began as a shoeshine boy and became a multimillionaire. He credits his success to three words: Do It Now. He required everyone who worked for him to write those words on index cards and post them in their work area.

The sayings and quotes business leaders post on their desk or office wall often represent a guiding principle they have followed to achieve success. Here are some of my favorites.

  1. "Take Care of the Customer or Someone Else Will" - Sign in the office of the general manager of a small ice cream store.

    Change from being "boss focused" to "customer focused." Bosses are important, but customers are key. Job security is not something the company president gives you-it's something that customers provide. When customers see how motivated you are to understand their needs and provide great products and service, they continue to place orders, and that's what gives you job security.

  2. "Be Realistic, Demand the Impossible" - Sign in the office of T. J. Rodgers, founder and CEO of Cypress Semiconductor.

    Remember the old advice that goals should be challenging but attainable. No one ever said, "set impossible goals." When impossible targets are set you must think of totally new and different ways of getting the job done. If you had to increase your productivity by 30% what would you do? "Pressing the pedal harder" - doing more of the same - won't get you there. An impossible demand forces you to rethink everything. Question old assumptions and methods. Quantum leaps in performance require creativity and innovation.

  3. "Best is the Enemy of Better" - Sign on the office wall of a middle manager at Milliken Company.

    Change from thinking "best" to thinking "better." When you think you have the best training program, the best technology, the best anything - what happens? You get complacent. You stop questioning and trying to improve your product or service. By definition, continuous improvement is not a one-time event. To make this point, an operations director begins his weekly staffing meeting with this question: "OK, folks, what records did you set last week? If you didn't break records, you didn't improve." That challenge sends a clear message and keeps people energized and focused on improving results.

  4. "Insanity is Hoping for Different Results, While Continuing to do the Same Thing." - Sign seen in several cubicles and manager's offices.

    Just "hoping" isn't enough. Change is needed. The ability to change the way you operate to match the changing needs of customers is a prerequisite for survival in the marketplace. Keep a focus on the business reasons why the change is needed. Establish a deadline to begin the new behavior. Announce publicly the change(s) you are making and why. Reward yourself after you have achieved initial success.

  5. "There was an Important Job to be Done and Everybody was Asked to do it. Everyone was Sure Somebody Would do it. Anybody Could Have Done it. But Nobody Did." - Sign on the office wall of a middle manager at the former Hamilton Standard Division of United Technologies Corporation.

    Communication breakdowns cost time, effort, and money. Words like "everybody," "somebody," and "anybody" are vague and usually produce confusion. Be specific. For best results, define and get agreement on who is responsible for what actions. Sometimes it's wise to define responsibilities in writing as well as discuss them verbally.

  6. "Benchmark the Best!" - Sign on the desk of a senior manager at a large aerospace company.

    Sam Walton said that he spent more time in his competitors' stores than they did. He readily admits that many of his best ideas came from benchmarking. However, just imitating the best won't put you at the head of the pack. Benchmarking starts by having the right attitude. Organizational psychologist Carla O'Dell states that you must be humble enough to admit that someone else is better at something and wise enough to learn from them.

  7. "Successful People are the Few Who Focus in and Follow Through" - Sign in the office of Stew Leonard, Jr., President, Stew Leonard's Dairy.

    Focus and follow through are important ingredients of success. Lacking focus, some people don't see the target or get distracted easily. Follow through on your commitments. Remember how you felt when the repairman said he would be at your house at 9a.m., but didn't show up until 3 p.m.! Nothing impresses a customer more than someone who keeps promises.

  8. "'There is Very Little Difference in People, But that Little Difference Makes a Big Difference. The Little Difference is Attitude. The Big Difference is Whether it is Positive or Negative' - W. Clement Stone" - Sign in the office of the former President of Security Services Company'

    Yes, attitude is still big. Positive people see opportunity in every situation. Negative people see doom and gloom. Positive people create energy when they describe what's possible and take action to pursue their goals.

  9. "Practice, then Preach" - Sign in the office of a former Executive Vice President at The Travelers.

    Set the example. Walk the talk. When you do that you earn credibility and the opportunity to influence others.

  10. "Childlike Qualities We Should All Keep - Curiosity, Playfulness, and Fun" - Sign in my office.

    The next time you're at the playground, observe the children. They are curious and approach each situation with a sense of wonder and freshness. They have no baggage or preconceived ideas. Lighten up. Have fun. Most of us aren't doing brain surgery.

Summary

What are your guiding principles? Do you have them posted on your office wall? When you visit business associates, customers, suppliers, and competitors, check out what's posted in their work areas. These nuggets of gold may give you additional ideas about how to achieve your business and career goals.


Paul B. Thornton is the author of numerous articles and six management/leadership books. The second edition of his latest book, The Triangles of Management and Leadership is available at llumina.com, amazon.com, and bn.com. His company, Be The Leader Associates, designs and delivers management and leadership programs. His e-mail address is PThornton@stcc.mass.edu .

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Copyright 2003 by Paul B. Thornton. All rights reserved.

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