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Stay Tuned In

November 26, 2009

The recent successful trip of the space shuttle Discovery attracted considerable attention. The launch and landing were covered live by the major television networks and broadcast to homes, schools, and offices all around the country.

The nation once again “tuned in” to the space program with renewed interest and respect. Perhaps more attention was focused on this flight than at any time since the space shuttle program was inaugurated with the flight of Columbia on Nov 14, 1981.

Why all the attention? Fear. Fear of failure. It can and it did go wrong. The tragic accident that occurred to the space shuttle Challenger in early 1986 is still vivid in all our memories. The public didn’t “tune in” in the hopes of seeing another crash. They “tuned in” because they realized that the success of the mission could no longer be taken for granted.

Fifteen shuttle missions had been scheduled for 1986, nine missions had been flown in 1985. While in reality it was far from the truth, space shuttle missions had become routine to the general public. Lack of interest prompted the suspension of live television coverage.

In the short interval from 1981 to 1986, people became accustomed to successful space shuttle flights. Their success was taken for granted. All that complacency came to a sudden end on January 28, 1986.

The success of any operation should not be taken for granted. The smooth and continued operation of even the most successful institutions, businesses, schools, and organizations is a fragile existence dependent upon the vigilant efforts of those who understand the fine line between success and failure. That extra effort is maintained by those who understand that success can’t be taken for granted.

Fear is a notoriously poor motivator, but you can’t allow people to take the success of an organization for granted. Your business will succeed, but only if all those contribute to that success realize that it could also fail. The fear of failure will keep everyone “tuned in” with a healthy respect and realistic understanding

Owning your own business is the equivalent to waking up unemployed everyday. The more successful you are, the greater becomes your concern for maintaining what you have built. The higher you go, the potential fall becomes all that much greater if you slip. You maintain a healthy fear of failure that keeps you “tuned in” for the next “Challenger”. To everyone else, the more you are successful, the more your success is taken for granted. Their sets get “tuned out”.

Don’t let the success of your organization be taken for granted. Play the role of the networks. Keep broadcasting. Maintain high levels of interest and an awareness of the thin line between success and failure. Keep your employees “tuned in”. Discussing the special effort required and economic realities of maintaining a successful enterprise is necessary to keep everybody “tuned in”.

When you begin to understand that many of the things that get taken for granted, Challenger missions, our businesses, our health, can fail, you develop a healthy fear of failure. This is a fear that can be a positive motivator. It breeds a certain respect and understanding for the venture involved. It’s the sort of healthy combination of fear and understanding that the business owner begins with each day and that our astronauts most certainly have as they go about their work.

You know the high cost of a new piece of equipment and how important it is to operate it properly. Make sure everybody in your organization knows how valuable it is, not just in the general sense, but specifically how much it costs and how long it will take your business to pay for it.

In industrial plants, forklift trucks are often treated recklessly. The owner of one small plant began painting on the side of each forklift how much it cost. When the employees realized that even the least expensive forklifts cost more than a sports car and the larger ones cost as much as a Mercedes, they “tuned in” and began treating the equipment with new respect.

Everybody in a business should know what happens to a sales dollar. A simple pie chart will show how a dollar of revenue is distributed amongst items such as salaries, materials, taxes, supplies, and profits. Don’t worry, I doubt that you will be giving your competitors any intelligence, but you will open the eyes of your employees to the value of a customer’s sales dollar. They’ll “tune in” and recognize that the importance of a sale and how small the margin of error is.

Because it’s your business, accept the challenge to keep everybody “tuned in”.

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