Regardless of what your responsibilities are, be it your “regular job”, a project or a special assignment, you always want to strive for “continuous improvement”.

Kaizen, the Japanese term for continuous improvement.

It’s not just a phrase, but a philosophy. A belief.

A passion.

You always wanna do better than you’ve ever done before.

Always better than anyone who’s ever handled that position before.

Always better than anyone has done anything before.

Without a doubt, pretty lofty goals.
And while the last one is most difficult one, by far, to achieve, the first two should be (easily?) within your reach.

In time.

There’s usually a learning curve when you first assume leadership responsibility for something new (to you). And your team is the deciding factor in how well your area performs & how “successful” your leadership proves to be.

And doing it better than anyone before involves taking a long, hard look at what they did & how they went about it.

Talk with people familiar with the “previous regime”. Find out what they perceived the organization’s strengths & weaknesses…as well as potential opportunities & threats going forward.

Become intimately familiar with what performance levels (quality, timeliness, productivity, efficiency, error prevention, customer satisfaction, employee satisfaction, etc.) were previously achieved.

Talk with your “new people” for their input on what they believe can, and should, be done to improve performance.

What did they do well? Poorly? What should have they done, but wasn’t? What opportunities for improvement did they overlook or not put into action?

Often times, you’ll find that a more concentrated, focused effort…consistently & passionately employed…will result in dramatically-different results.

Effort. Being passionate about what you do. Making that same passion infectious to those around you.

A lot of times, there’s no “magic solution”.

No “hidden answers”.

No “hocus pocus”.

Never allow yourself to be outworked. Nor to be outdedicated to the task at hand. And never, ever be outpassioned.

Those are all things within your sphere of influence (starting with YOU) & controllable by you.

And most times, they’re the most important ingredients for success.

When I was at Citi, we’d hold an annual Food Drive in November to benefit the San Antonio Food Bank.

It was a great cause for us to support & the Food Bank did – – AND CONTINUES TO DO TODAY!!! – – some great work around the city for needy families & individuals.

And every year, Citi in San Antonio would do its “usual thing”…make announcements, send out communications, hold team contests (with pizza parties for the winning groups), put up posters, etc..

And, every year, we’d collect our normal 10,000-12,000 pounds of food.

You’d often see employee carrying bags of canned goods & the like into the site.

Then, one year, I was asked to co-chair the effort. Immediately, I decided to dive in headfirst & make this the most successful drive we’ve ever had at the USCC.

But that meant 2 things…we had to put in a greater effort, outwork whatever was done previously & literally outpassion the world to ensure that our drive & intensity filtered down to every area at the site…

…and we had to come up with some new ideas.

Novel ways to increase donations. Different methods to do a better job.

I made sure that the people who volunteered to work alongside me were just as serious about this as I was.

Nothing less was acceptable.

And we hadda use our heads to come up with new & better approaches.

Well, we came up with a few…

Most importantly, we wanted to make it “more convenient” for our employees to contribute to the drive.

We fully realized what busy lives everyone led & how free time was always at such a premium.

That’s when we introduced the idea of “donating money” to the Food Drive.

While the SA Food Bank only accepted canned goods & other packaged items during these particular drives & we just couldn’t turn over a bunch of cash to them (although Citi also made a nice annual contribution to the organization), we decided to do the shopping ourselves on behalf of those employees who donated money.

Worked out incredibly well! We followed the same concept that elevator companies & car manufacturers utilize…

Sure, you can climb the stairs or walk to work, but it’s easier to take the elevator or drive.

We’d send people around the workspace with contribution buckets. We would have someone camp out at the Employee Branch we had to solicit people who had just come from the ATM or visited a teller.

We made sure our presence was especially evident on paydays…and we reminded employees of that fact.

I made so many trips to Sam’s Club that I believe I was easily on a first name basis with many of the cashiers!

And we were relentless.

Putting out lots of communications. Visiting all the different departments to rally the troops. Decorating the different areas & hanging different posters…drawn by employees’ children.

When the drive officially ends, the Food Bank sends out one of its big trucks to load all the donated food as well as a giant scale to weigh all the donations.

The drive was so successful that the truck had to RETURN 2 MORE TIMES TO OUR SITE as they couldn’t fit all the donations on just 1 or 2 trips!

When it was over, we had collected well over 34,500 pounds of food…almost tripling the USCC’s best performance ever!

And we donated more food than any other company in San Antonio had ever did!

And during the upcoming holiday season, when food inventories are at their lowest during any time of the year, we knew damned well that all our hard work, and the incredible generosity of our people, truly paid off as many a needy family would benefit from our effort.

It’s always doable when you put your heart & minds to it!

(BTW, the next year, I chaired our United Way campaign.

We broke all previous donation levels for the USCC by a mile!)

I was asked by the San Antonio Chapter of the United Way (the most efficient Chapter in the entire U.S. as 99+% of all donations went directly to worthy organizations throughout Bexar County, TX) to come & work for them for a year as a volunteer executive.

I made probably one the worst decisions of my entire life & turned down the opportunity…something I regret many years later.)

Well, that’s about it for this story.

Thank you so very much for listening!

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