If you are a leader you must have an idea for a better way to do something. it only becomes a disruptive innovation if there are enough people who decide to opt in to your idea. You might be able to prove that your idea generates real results but that's an insufficient condition for buy-in. You still have to overcome the natural resistance people have to change their ways.
You might think that if you led a thirsty horse to water he’d gladly drink. Sometimes he does, sometimes he doesn’t, but as the expression goes, you can’t make it so. This is the classic leadership problem: you can’t really make anyone do anything.
One leader who has made great progress on this classic problem in Doug McNabb. I have worked with Doug for well over twenty years. When I started coaching him, he was well on his way to taking his Fabutan indoor tanning franchise to 200 operating units. He’s since sold the system after figuring out how to inspire large numbers of people to adopt his business model and services.
Operating levers are proven best practices that tend to generate results.
As Michael Gerber pointed out in his classic book the E-Myth, one of the most successful business structures is the franchise. Prototyping and testing various iterations of a business model and operating system derisks it before scaling it. Then, all a franchisee (or “zee” in Doug’s parlance) has to do is buy into the franchise and follow the system. The franchisor (“zor”) has figured out all the operating levers. The zee and the zee team just have to pull the levers and they generate results.
There are many tried and true operating levers in the world: mechanisms, tactics and proven best practices that work. If you want to lose weight, avoid triggering an anxiety attack, lower your risk of Alzheimer’s and diabetes, then don’t eat sugar. Simple. One small input leads to a large output. Replacing carbs with cardio, meditating and journalling, regular hand washing, adequate sleep, some yoga–and yes hydration–are a personal operating system of best practices. Pull the levers and get the benefits, almost guaranteed. But most people don’t pull the levers available to them. Evidently workable operating levers are not enough.
Every operating lever needs a companion cultural key.
Doug noticed that a significant number of his zees were not following his proven operating system, not generating results and thus weakening his brand. They were either freestyling and doing something else or just not doing anything at all. We designed a profiling tool to screen out zee prospects less likely to follow the system.
The first cultural key we discovered was the idea of a creativity orientation. There are two kinds of people on this continuum: operators and inventors. Operators are biased to execution and have no strong desire to reinvent the wheel as a form of artistic self expression. They made better zees than the inventive types who preferred to create their own system or portions thereof.
The second cultural key was a core value screen for enthusiasm. If you meet Doug, it’s impossible to miss his level of enthusiasm and infectious deep guttural laugh. There are two kinds of people in the world: people who are pretty much always enthusiastic and people who aren’t. He stopped hiring anyone who was not super enthusiastic. His enthusiastic zor team, attracted enthusiastic zees, who in turn hired enthusiastic zee staff that attracted enthusiastic zee customers who bought services more often, for longer periods and for higher prices.
Proven systems only work when people follow them.
The lure of possible gain–the opportunity to slake a thirst–is not as strong as the desire to avoid loss. Loss aversion is a strong force working against anything new and is in my mind the reason why people do not pull the levers and follow a proven operating system of best practices.
Enthusiasm stimulates a flow of inspiration, courage, gratitude and appreciation that overcomes the static friction of loss aversion. An enthusiastic horse will gladly drink. Just lead him there. Enthusiasm is not a result of an operating lever. It's a cultural key that induces a team of operators to pull the levers of a proven system.
Culture and systems work together to generate results.
Post script: “enthusiasm” is my favourite etymology. It comes from Greek roots, meaning “possessed by the gods.”