Sharpen Your Tools

Last week I was reminiscing about my youth and my Dad’s woodworking shop. With your forbearance, I’d like to take you down one more nostalgic trail.

In our shop we had a lot of tools and, as you can imagine, most of them had to have sharp edges. None were sharper than our chisels. While all the saw blades and planers, and router bits and drill bits had to be sharp, none required the sharpness of the chisel and the hand plane. The reason was simple: these were hand tools and, generally, the last tool to touch the wood. So they had to be sharp enough to do the job without a lot of force and they couldn’t leave any extraneous marks.

To this day, when I do any woodworking, there is nothing more satisfying, I’d even say spiritual, than using a sharp chisel or plane across a beautiful piece of wood. As the tool cuts there is a clean shaving and a sweet sound as that shaving comes off the wood. This can only happen with an extremely sharp and perfectly honed tool. And we learned how to do that in Dad’s shop. The interesting thing about our shop, though, was we broke a cardinal rule of most woodworkers: we kept all the chisels in a drawer – with no edge protection. Those of you who relate to this personally just went “ouch!”

But before you discount everything else, hear me out.

We learned how to properly sharpen tools through a series of finer and finer grit stones and then through a stropping process that created super sharp edges. This however was not a one time procedure. Every time we pulled a chisel out to use, we examined the blade and stropped it and made sure it was ready for use. We never assumed that it was ready “right out of the drawer.” So, while we were careless in one sense for keeping them all in a drawer, we were always testing the blades before they were used.

What’s the point? Well I’m glad you asked – that is, if you haven’t already come to it on your own.

You can’t do a job worthy of true craftsmanship, if you don’t, first of all, use the right tool. And second of all: make sure it’s sharp enough to use.

So today’s question is: When was the last time you read a business book? When was the last time you studied up on or sought advice on a problem that was troubling you at work? Not to become the expert, but to become knowledgeable enough to identify and analyze a challenge to determine the best way to tackle it. Do your people follow your example of always studying and learning more about their craft?

If you’re not sharpening your chisels to the sharpest edge, you’re not doing a true artisan’s job. You’re not doing the best you can do. Take the time to do that. Set, and be, the example so you’ll have a company full of sharp chisels ready to do their best.

Blessings,

Dave

Setting Goals: Visualizing Your Own Future

Talking with a close friend recently about growing one of his businesses and he made an interesting observation:

“My experience when setting goals in some organizations is that they simply become nothing more than setting some arbitrary revenue number that seems to be appropriate for the moment.”

He then asked me an important and revealing question:

“How do we set realistic, meaningful and achievable goals that are based on something other than that arbitrary number?”

Have you ever been there? How do you set your goals for the new year? Are you just setting them based on a percentage growth over last year? Or maybe you are basing the number on a couple of new customers and the growth that they’ve brought you. What’s your answer to my friend’s question?

Let’s pull this apart.

We will start with a relatively famous quote from Napoleon Hill:

“Whatever the mind can conceive and believe, the mind can achieve.”

Don’t you wish it was that simple? Well, maybe it is. We’ve just never fully understood how to “believe it”.

What?

Believing something takes more effort than simply telling yourself over and over that something is possible, doable, or true. Or to this point: setting a revenue number and telling everyone that’s the goal and we just have to make it happen. Not only do you have to believe it but you also have to get everyone else to believe it. Now we’ve just stepped into the world of make believe. Come on. You’ve been there. Admit it.

Believing something takes effort. It’s not just a feeling. It’s internalizing something. It’s not just eating one portion – it’s got to be a complete diet. And a complete life style. In our case here, we’re talking about something tangible and practical, not something spiritual (which is a separate discussion). How do we take a tangible, practical goal (such as a revenue goal) and make ourselves and our team “believe” it?

Here are the steps:

  1. Make it specific.
  2. Write it down.
  3. Paint a picture of it.
    • What does it look like?
    • Or what does having it or achieving it look like?
  4. Preach it.
    • Tell everyone who can affect it how they can help make it happen.
    • Help them paint their own part in the picture.
  5. Review it.
    • Often. Every day. Several times a day.
    • If you really believe something, you’re always focused on it.
    • Force this.
  6. Track it.
    • Hold yourself accountable to the journey, always making sure you’re on track. If you were driving to an unknown location, you’d be constantly checking your progress and your GPS to make sure you’re on the right route and you’re making the right time. Well, do the same with this process.

I don’t know about you, but the hardest part of this for me is making it specific and painting a picture of it. If you’re going to paint a mental picture, you’ve got to include as many of your senses as possible. Here’s a trick I’ve learned along the way. Put yourself out there. Think of yourself three to five years from now already having achieved your goal. What does that look and feel like? I’m not talking about visualizing yourself lying on the beach with a mai-tai in your hand. How about this? You’re sitting at the front table at the Chamber of Commerce annual meeting being honored for business of the year. Who from your team is there? What did they do to help you get there? How about those customers who helped you get there (and sponsored a table for the event). And your vendors – several of them have sponsored tables. They’re all anxious to slap you on the back, shake your hand and let everyone know that “you know them.” Wow! Can you begin to get that picture? That’s what I’m talking about.

You’ve really got to flesh this picture out:

  • What do you see?
  • What do you hear?
  • What are your customers saying?
  • What are your vendors saying?
  • What is your banker saying?
  • The media is there. What are they writing and reporting?
  • What are your employees saying?
  • How are you feeling about all of this attention?

Another perspective:

  • What have you gotten better at over these three years that you’re now receiving compliments on?
  • Who have you trained up to enjoy this with you? Who did you delegate to and trust with some of the most challenging roles?
  • How does it feel to be doing what you love doing – and no longer doing the things that you have to do?
  • What is everyone saying – employees, vendors, customers, partners, etc. about your core values and culture?

Ok, I think you get the point. Goal setting is way more than setting a revenue number. It’s about believing in something that’s achievable and these items are what you have to focus on if you want to believe in them.

One final important point. You can’t do this sitting at your desk during regular hours. You’re going to have to commit some dedicated time away from the office and all the everyday distractions – computer, cell phone, To-do lists, calendar appointments, interruptions, etc. Get out! Go away! Get it done through dedicated, uninterrupted focus.

You can do this!  Call me and let me know the time and location of that business of the year luncheon.

Blessings,

Dave