When he was 10, my son Johnny took guitar lessons. One week he taught himself to play the song Sweet Home Alabama, practicing it for hours. When Johnny showed off his new song, his music teacher said, “That’s great! Here’s how you can play it even better,” and showed him how to do a riff. To our surprise, Johnny was resistant to learning it. Later, when I pressed him about it, he said, “None of my friends play the guitar, so they won’t know if I’m doing a bad job. They think it’s cool no matter what I play, so I don’t need to work so hard to change it.”
Naturally, I gave him the “mom talk” about how personal improvement is also done for the sake of it, not just for other people; that you take pride in knowing you did your best; that you should always strive to get better; and besides, when you’re an adult, you’ll run up against people who will know if you’re doing a bad job. I’m not sure how much sank in, but the thought occurred to me that many parents didn’t give their children this advice when they were kids, and now those children have grown up and are in the workplace.
Just in case: Always try to do your work better and more efficiently, even if no one else knows, even if what you’re doing is “good enough.” You’ll save time by continually trimming your workflow process to the bare minimum, and you’ll have pride in your work. The more you keep chipping away at it, the more efficient you’ll become, and the greater results you’ll achieve. So always ask yourself how to improve, and also ask your team and leadership for feedback as well.
Take Advantage of Feedback Loops
We’ve all experienced feedback loops in our lives. That whine as your microphone picks up stray sounds, amplifying them unexpectedly: that’s a feedback loop. When you overfeed your cat, making him fatter, so he’s hungrier and eats more, so he keeps getting fatter…that’s a feedback loop, too. A feedback loop initially sustains itself without additional input. Over time, it can grow via positive feedback or shrink via negative feedback.
Establish feedback loops in your quest for continuous improvement with your leadership and your team. After you make a change to a process or task, assess the results, and if positive, repeat the process. Consistently closing the loop in your workflow processes requires constant, unremitting efforts at improvement. So strive to exceed your own standards of performance for yourself and your team—whether those standards are obvious to anyone else or not.