It's spring! Lighten up and renew your agenda

ON EXCELLENCE

May 16, 1994|By TOM PETERS

A Vermont winter is always long, but especially this year's snowy record-breaker. And then . . . spring bursts upon the scene. In a flash, literally, life returns. It is noisy, glorious, raucous. We and our neighbors are transformed. As I contemplate the late April sunrise, I think I can move mountains!

Such rebirth seldom occurs in corporations.

Checkout clerks face another umpteen customers today (and then tomorrow), claims adjusters another raft of problems, chambermaids another passel of fetid hotel rooms. And what holds for claims adjusters holds for execs, too (today brings, on average, 5.27 more meetings with 48.1 more transparencies per meeting).

No wonder we become cynical, or at the very least stale.

What if we managers put rebirth near the top of our agendas? As the marketplace becomes more and more demanding, the pace more and more relentless, it becomes especially important to think through the renewal process. Hence, these 10 suggestions.

* 1. Take a serious daily break. I'm worried about my new, high-speed Canon copier. What will I do now for a break? I find -- seriously -- that many of my best ideas have come while I stood by my old copier, feeding in 75 pages, one at a (slow) time. Planned coffee breaks are one (good) thing, but I'm talking about something else, a real pause to refresh or redirect our brain waves.

* 2. Do something different. One company gives its telemarketers a whole day "off" each week to work on company productivity- improvement projects. In addition to rekindling energy for the primary job, project payoffs have more than covered the costs of required extra staffing. I can imagine such an approach applied most anywhere.

* 3. Call "time out." Hey bean counter, why not take the accounting department to the movies this afternoon? Or to see one of the members' kids perform in a play?

* 4. Change the scenery. When the weather turns warm in Worthington, Ohio, designers at Fitch RS take their work outside to picnic-table settings. In general, changing location makes an enormous difference. (I routinely work in two or three places a day, even when confined to an office; and I sometimes just drive my truck somewhere and work in the front seat for a couple of hours.) If you can, locate several picnic tables near the office -- or keep a few bikes handy to help get folks to lunch at the local park. In search of a productive meeting? Hop on your bikes and head for the park!

* 5. Celebrate. Most weeks (days?) bring something worth celebrating. How about MBDA, or Managing By Donuting Around? There's no better investment in renewal than donuts, muffins and balloons. To aid the cause, set up a "crazy money" fund that gives everyone access to $25 for a bagel or pizza party.

* 6. Put on a show. You'd be amazed by your colleagues' off-the-job talents. So why not give them bragging space, and learn more about them in the process? To wit, a performing arts week, capped by a formal evening program for employees and their families.

* 7. Curl up with a good book. One company shuts down the line for two hours a week, and employee-boss teams work through a chapter of a book on quality, customer service, re-engineering. In other firms, informal reading groups of execs, engineers, whomever tackle a novel or a play a month. Nice.

* 8. Plan that summer vacation. Nothing wrong with taking the 13-year-old on a tour of Civil War battlefields this August. But why not turn it into a learning experience for yourself by reading up on the subject? For me, vacations have been matchless mental rechargers; I plan them that way. (Two of my books were offspring of vacation "study" projects.)

* 9. Do some spring cleaning. Replay your Mom's (my Mom's, anyway) spring cleaning blitz. For two days, everyone dons 501s and specially printed T-shirts and cleans house -- toss out old files, clear the fridge, do whatever it takes to induce the feeling of a fresh start.

* 10. Head for spring training. Every April, Chicago Cubs fans dream anew of a World Series title. Why not our businesses? This goes beyond the clean-up/clean-out affair above, and toward something even more fundamental.

Maybe it's a two-day, all-hands effort (call it the Rites of Spring) in which you examine "wins" and "losses" and recommit, perhaps formally, to each other and the unit's vision and values.

If your heart's not in it, any tactic can backfire. Even a tiny "celebration" can be a dud. And there's nothing special about my list: I merely want to get you focused on renewal per se, on that life-giving phenomenon most farmers (and part-time farmers like myself) experience each year, but which most companies miss out on entirely. In an economy that begs for spirited responses, and usually gets the opposite from firms large and small, this is a strategic opportunity.

Tom Peters' column is distributed by the Tribune Media Services Inc., 720 N. Orange Ave., Orlando, Fla. 32801; (407) 420-6200.

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