By Jackie Yun
Courtesy www.pixelperfectdigital.com via Darren Hester
“I’ve been mandated to shut down the office by next June, after we deliver on our key project this upcoming April”.
All eyes quickly turned my way. It was as quick as a door slamming shut and I hoped that wasn’t what it would portend. I knew conventional wisdom would not have approved of what I had just said. Our HR Generalist’s shocked reaction re-confirmed that. Instead, I had taken my direction from my gut. Would my team walk out and make an already terrible project situation disastrous?
Was the Gut Wrong?
I had just inherited the Austin Technology Center (ATC) and this was my first all-hands-all-staff meeting with the ATC. Hundreds of thousands of dollars in cost overruns and repeated schedule delays had plagued the ATC’s project. Our customers were terribly unhappy. High dollar penalties (possibly in the millions!) would be incurred if quality and schedule were not met. Even our support groups grumbled about the ATC and said that we were “rogue”.
My gut had a felt-sense that the staff at the ATC wanted and would appreciate the truth. They were extremely savvy and smart, very knowledgeable about the latest technologies, and quite entrepreneurial. This project could be turned around and perhaps (although I had no guarantees), our CIO and our President’s minds could be changed about the shutdown ~ but only if the ATC wanted that.
Incredibly, the Gut was right. They did!!
So due to a gut feeling, we were now together on an entirely different journey. And the first step called for some self-assessment.
Gutting It Out by Stopping, Keeping, and Starting
Until we asked, I don’t think the ATC knew to what extent their outright battle against using the Corporate Problem Tracking System had on the ATC being able to work with Corporate. Once the ATC stopped the battle (tabling it with plans to suggest improvements at a later date), conversations moved forward, opportunities opened up.
Stopping this one action helped the ATC to chip away at their reputation for being “rogue”. Stopping the ATC’s opinionated technical banter and eliminating their un-corporate dress code of shorts and flip-flops would help, too. But, this was part of their dot.com DNA and spoke to who they are. Could we keep our DNA intact yet start getting people to see the “good” in our “rogue”?
With the ATC’s unique knowledge set, we focused on becoming a Center of Excellence. We also touted the ATC’s satellite office culture as a place within our company to re-charge, re-energize. We gave authenticity to our “we do whatever it takes” attitude and took on projects that no other division wanted. We looked for opportunities to help. When our sister division, which supports our company’s core systems, needed people resources; we volunteered to provide “in-sourcing”, even subjecting ourselves to being interviewed. We started to reach out and not be so insular. Many other actions were taken, including those to specifically address the project situation.
Unknowingly, what we had been doing was a variation of the Stop-Keep-Start Feedback Method (Read more here: http://blogs.hbr.org/hbsfaculty/2011/08/three-questions-for-effective-feedback.html). Asking ourselves, our peers, our customers and our executives: “What should we STOP doing? What should we KEEP doing? What should we START doing?”, gave us practical insights that we used. It got us to a better place.
That April, the project was finally completed; not the prettiest of implementations but it got done. The June shutdown was averted and we were on our way to becoming an integral part of the company and would be so for another six years.
A Few Final Gut-felt Words:
S. Chris Edmonds (@scedmonds on Twitter) tweeted a keen observation about leaders that resonates with me:
“Too often a leader’s HEAD doesn’t always act upon what is in that leader’s HEART”. To this, I would add — “and Gut”.
I encourage you to let your gut and heart speak; even in, or maybe especially in a corporate environment. Magic can and will happen!
To Will and all of you who read and engage on Will’s blog, a heartfelt and gut-felt thank you for giving me of your time. I’d love to hear how you feel about the gut and heart in the corporate world. Do tell me if there’s been a time when you let them lead instead of your head. If you’re curious about how to encourage your gut and heart to speak and for you to hear them, spend a few moments at the end of day and ask yourself: “Would the decisions I made today be any different if the gut and heart were involved?”. Put your response down on paper and review at the end of two weeks. You may be surprised at what you hear.