Fable Friday:  Bricklayers, Alan Mulally and vision

On July 1, Alan Mulally will retire from his position as CEO of Ford Motor Company. As he is generally credited as the man who turned the automaker around, today I’ll share a story about him that he related in a New York Times interview in September, 2009.

A news reporter stops by a construction site and interviews three bricklayers.  He asks the first one, “What are you doing?” and the bricklayer replies “Well, I’m making a living laying these bricks,” and the reporter says, “Oh that’s great, a very noble occupation.”

He asks the next bricklayer, “What are you doing?” and the guy says, “Well, I’m practicing the profession of bricklaying.  I’m going to be the best bricklayer ever.”

Then the reporter asks the third bricklayer, “What are you doing?” and this one answers, “I’m building a cathedral.”

Gregory at Medtronic 10-2010 CroppedSo the point is that we have technical expertise and professionalism in all industries, but deep down inside we all want to contribute to building a cathedral. And the more we feel that and know what our part in it is, the better we can take a team to a higher level of excellence.

This week I had a meeting with a client on how to drive sales performance within a large business unit.  The people in the meeting came from various positions within the group, and not surprisingly they each had a different vision about what needed to be done. Needless to say, there was an animated conversation with lots of ideas being generated, but no firm resolution about what is best to do.

In retrospect, I probably didn’t fulfill my role as a professional consultant because I never asked about the cathedral, that is, “What are we really trying to achieve here?”

Whether you are an outside consultant like me, or an executive leader within the organization, this should be your first question in finding solutions.  In a model I wrote about three years ago, this first question is called “Optimals,” and it seeks to define optimal conditions or behaviors.

So before you begin discussing tactics, start with a series of questions that gets at optimal performance.  Here are a few examples:

“If this division were operating at a perfect level of performance, what would that look like?”

“If you could wave a wand over the entire company so that it ran perfectly, what would change?”

“On a scale of one to ten, what does ten look like?”

In a future post I’ll recap the entire discovery model for you from the 2011 post, and tie it back to this first step.

You will notice that my tagline of “Think Like Your Customer” is a useful beginning.  When someone tells me “We need to do this or that” or “Our group needs training” (or product knowledge, or coaching), it’s always helpful to bring them back to the more important subject of thinking like the customer.  A good question would be, “What do you want the customer’s experience to look like?” or “What have customers told you they want?”

I’ll meet with the client again and we’ll get the matter resolved I’m sure.  We just need to focus on the customer and then we’ll know what the cathedral looks like.

Think Like Your Customer!

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About Gregory LaMothe
I teach people how to sell things. I own the company ActionSystems. Visit my website at www.actionsystemstraining.com.

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