Consistency First, Then Fine Tune

"Get consistency first, then fine tune."  That’s great advice for a business leader in the Trial and Error Economy.  The advice comes from Floyd Wickman, who runs an organization that trains real estate sales people to be more effective.  Floyd has about 15 trainers working for him, and he made this statement about how he brings new trainers into his organization.

I see two reasons for Floyd’s advice:  First, an experiment needs controls; if you change 13 variables, you won’t be able to tell which one made a difference.  Second, your people are not really qualified to suggest changes until they’ve mastered the status quo.

As I write that, it seems so … old fashioned.  After all, doesn’t everyone have some valuable advice for improving the organization?  Well, probably not.  Giving too much flexibility to new employees to find their own way pretty much ensures that most of them will never find a successful way.

So here’s the plan, based on Floyd’s snippet of advice: bring your new worker into a structured, consistent way of operating.  That’s good practice whether your staff are, like Floyd’s, trainers, or if they are accounting clerks, dancers, or plumbers.  Once the new employee has mastered the current approach, encourage him or her to suggest improvements.  Try one thing at a time (unless a new idea requires two or three related changes).  Spend enough time at the trial to work out the start-up bugs.  Monitor results.  If it works consistently, you have your new way of doing things.  If it fails consistently, log the lesson so that you don’t waste your time with the same idea next year.  If the new approach  sometimes worked and sometimes didn’t drill down: are there commonalities to the successes or the failures?

The Trial and Error Economy is about testing new products, new production techniques, new service approaches.  But you have to get consistent performance first, before you can do the test.