You may be reading this book to improve what is already a great company or through a longing to develop a better workplace for yourself. There are numerous ideas in this book that you can pinch. Think about your organisation's environment and work out the best way to use an idea. Remember: each great company has its own signature - its own version of greatness. So take the idea and customise it to your organisation.
Do not expect to get it right first time. Get your team on board and work on it together. When an idea fails, take a deep breath, identify what went wrong, and try again. The act of exploration will be just as effective in building trust as the perfect outcome. In fact, it could even be better.
It will always be tempting to put these ideas on the back burner - after all, you are extremely busy, e-mails overwhelm you, the phone never stops ringing, and there are endless meetings to attend - never mind appraisals to do and reports to write. When the pressure is on, it is so easy to slip back and focus only on the immediate task. Contributing to great company culture will take time, but it is actually part of your work as a manager or leader. Ignore it and it will cost you even more time. Accept it, it will pay back huge dividends.
Equally, do not expect other people to join in without a struggle. Everyone is busy, and a plea for change is not always easily received. There will be times when you feel as if you have run directly into a brick wall - so be prepared for it.
Mr Honda understood this: ‘I failed in 99 per cent of my attempts in order to succeed in the remaining 1 per cent.' It takes focus, determination and total commitment to keep going in the face of adversity, plus good friends who understand why it matters, who will accept the periodic rant and who will help you refocus and begin again.
Change is never easy, so find support at the outset.
Take a good look at the book and find ideas that excite you.
Identify the people most likely to support you. If this is your leader/manager, include them as soon as you can. If not, be prepared to seek out other great managers wherever you can find them.
Meet up and share your thinking. Have a discussion about the possibilities, building on each other's ideas. Do this in great company manner from the outset - listen well, challenge, celebrate finding each other, have fun.
Share networks: see who has access to sympathetic senior leaders; find other advocates to join you.
Set up formal or informal meetings to stay in touch and share learning.
Keep records of the process - achievements and failures plus the learning that went with both. Be prepared to share these with anyone who is interested.
Read through the successes when you are feeling down to remind yourself of how far you have come.
In time you will make an impact beyond your immediate sphere of influence. The word will get round and other people will want what you have. The rumour mill is a great thing at times like these. Building a centre of excellence in your team will encourage others to find out what you do and follow suit.
It can be a slow business, but the moment you actively choose to be a great manager, your workplace will change for the better.
Another way to understand this process is outlined by John Crabtree, Senior Partner at Wragge & Co.
‘Cast your bread upon the water and it will come back a ham sandwich'
I asked John what his leadership philosophy was, and this is what he told me. It took me a moment to understand - my mind filled up with images of soggy bread sinking in a murky river - but then I recognised the sentiment. It is a philosophy put forward by all the significant spiritual disciplines: give freely, and you will receive in return.
The way John explained it is ‘Go about your business in a helpful and supportive way, pushing yourself out, giving bits of yourself everywhere - putting the bread on the water. It'll all come back. You won't just get the bread back - it will come back with butter on it, and ifyou're very good, it'll come back as a ham sandwich. It just makes you smile, that you do something just because you think you should or it would be nice to do it, and in some totally unconnected way, a year later, a major universal, intergalactic, corporate holdings plc calls and says, 'We gather you did something a year ago at such-and-such, and we want to give you some work.' If you have that approach to your work, it always comes back in some experience.'
John had grown up with the saying ‘Cast your bread upon the water and it comes back buttered.' It was the day he visited an art gallery in Dartmouth that extended his reach to sandwiches. Walking in the door the first thing he saw was a fantastic painting of a ham sandwich bouncing off the water! While looking at the painting, John got into conversation with the artist. Now the artist was fond of the picture, having painted it in memory of his grandfather, and it was not for sale. ‘I told him about my saying, and he said, 'Here you are - you can have it for 50 quid.' So I bought it from him.'
‘So many bits about Wragge & Co. are ham sandwiches - I don't say it any more, because they get fed up with my jargon. Partners are doing things because they think it's what they should do. Sometimes they recognise things come back because of their actions. Once you have that cause-and-effect it is very powerful.'
Driving home, pondering on our conversation, I realised that this is what great companies do all the time. They are generous in offering support to colleagues and suppliers, knowing that giving will have wider implications. When colleagues see interest and concern from their employer, they want to do the best they can - you'll be familiar with this by the time you reach the end of this book. Like the Asda colleague who was offered an unexpected promotion in a brand new area. It was a major challenge, and one he would have been tempted to refuse if his boss had not been so positive and sure he could do it. With plenty of encouragement and the support to match, he made a stunning job of it. He produced a ham sandwich!
The truly great companies have strong values and work to those every day - ‘because it's the right thing to do'. And as Goethe said, ‘Once you truly commit, providence moves.' All manner of unexpected things happen in response, once those principles are acted out for real and not just hung on the wall of the office.
How often do you ‘cast your bread upon the water' just for the sake of it - give generously of yourself because it is the right thing to do?
Can you think of times when the ham sandwich has returned to you- when people have responded to your generosity with an equal and opposite force?
Think about the day ahead of you - choose one action that is important and matters, but is not urgent, and put it at the top of the list. Do this each day and notice where the ham sandwich comes from.