The Ladder helps you do two things successful teams need
Success comes from flawless execution and constant innovation (if you don’t believe me, read the books at the end of this post). I believe the challenge leaders face is to ensure that the routine work of the team takes up as little brain power as possible–so that we can apply our collective smarts to the unexpected problems. And without constant innovation, our methods become stale, and our team members approach their work with the enthusiasm of TPS reports. My simple work organization tool called The Ladder helps you balance flawless execution and constant innovation–and make sure you see progress every week.
First outcome: “the best teams do routine things routinely”
Many aspects of your team’s performance happen on a regular schedule, but with variable results and effort. Depending on your industry, the specific examples will change (processing invoices, responding to customer inquiries, etc.) but the common transactional work your team does each month represents your biggest risk for both errors that cost your business money and frustration/boredom that tempts your best talent to look for a new job. The Ladder is a means of engaging your team to get the bugs out of your regular transactional tasks, so that you all save brain power (and money) to tackle new and unexpected challenges.
Second outcome: keep innovating
To keep your best talent engaged and stay ahead of your competition, you will need to bring new ideas to market, in addition to finding new ways to do routine work. The Ladder gives you a simple framework to collect, prioritize, and develop these ideas in a way that brings blue-sky thinking into the real world.
Four steps to using the Ladder
- Hang the Ladder in a private, yet visible space: with a plotter or marker on a flip chart, use the image above as a template. Keep the Ladder visible to your team, but consider whether the information is appropriate for your customers or other “non-core” personnel to see.
- Two minute drill to fill up the radar with your team’s current knowledge. Organize a 15 minute initial meeting, and start with a concise explanation to your team of the Ladder’s purpose and how you’ll use it. Then set a timer for 2 minutes and release a flood of sticky notes onto the radar. Each sticky note needs a description and the initials of the person who posts it (to provide descriptive details in the future).
- Weekly reviews to recap progress and provide focus. Each week, each person on the team picks a single item to advance to the next rung of the latter. Report back on how you did last week, whether you are keeping the same focus or picking a new horse. Use a different color sticky note for active items. Don’t forget your role to coach and motivate throughout.
- Reward, recognize, and celebrate. This is your chance as a leader to show some creativity for rewarding your team. Steak dinner for the whole team every time an item reaches the “routine rung” on the Ladder? Every new item on the “idea rung” gets an entry for a monthly drawing for a $50 coffee shop gift card? You decide what’s right for your team, but make sure to trigger intrinsic motivators (see below), and reward both participation and success.
Learn more about Execution, Innovation, and Motivation
- Execution: The Art of Getting Things Done (Bossidy)
- The Other Side of Innovation: Solving the Execution Challenge (Govindarajan)
- Drive: The Surprising Truth about What Motivates Us (Pink)