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Are You Rusting?

By David Pennino |
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I spend more than 70% of my work life on the road visiting with clients and colleagues spread around the globe.  Despite the obvious setbacks of being away from my family, there are interesting benefits to meeting with executives from varying industries and companies at diverse stages of growth.  Particularly, the array of perspectives I glean – perspectives spanning a plethora of topics – through conversations and shared thoughts and experiences with those I meet.

No, these perspectives and ideas are not always interesting or beneficial, as one often encounters common threads that can and do become repetitive and dull.  However, when something new emerges, especially when it features in multiple dialogues at the same time, it will typically pique my interest and cause me to think twice.

“I’m rusting,” or some semblance of this theme, is what I heard from four unique conversations this month from senior executives in the Retail, Pharmaceutical, Financial Services and Food & Beverage industries. In each case, “rusting” was used to lament a lack of innovation, or usefulness, and/or growth. “Rust,” is immediately intriguing to a guy who has restored and drives 50-year old cars instead of a new vehicle.  In my experience, things that have a bit of rust on them are often of a better build, quality and design than their modern counterparts; they just need a little bit of love and creative modernization.

The “Rust” everyone referenced seemed to stem from three key emotional situations:

  1. “I’ve done everything I can, yet the business demands more. I don’t know where to get more!”
  2. “I stopped learning years ago, I’m on autopilot.”
  3. “I feel like I have tunnel vision and can no longer judge if there’s a better way to do things.” I have become tunnel visioned / institutionalized and therefore can no longer judge if there is a better way to do things!

In my opinion, the second in particular is one of the top reasons people leave their jobs, with the other two contributing to malaise, lack of satisfaction and lower productivity.

As the leader of a sourcing and procurement firm, I found it interesting that all of these conversations were with business leaders in large enterprises discussing their organization’s sourcing and procurement function. The context was, “I need help. I have done everything I know how to do. I am rusting! How do I not only think outside the box, but how do I crush the box and send it off to recycling!”

So how do you shake off the rust?

There is the quick and obvious answer – find another job.  But that may not be the right thing for you or your family.  And you may be very satisfied with your company, their culture, the business that you are in and the people that you work with.

As is the case in personal relationships, you may just need to find the magic once again!  In my experience, most people do two things to re-ignite personal relationships.  1) They go back to the beginning, and 2) they ask those they trust for fresh ideas.  They visit places, people, and experiences that remind them of the reasons they came together in first place.  They ask friends and family for new ideas and experiences to enjoy together.  The combination of learning from where you have been and challenging yourself to go places yet to be explored provides the fuel required to rekindle the energy.

I am here to advocate that you can do the exact same thing to shake off the rust professionally.

In the last 6 years our company has helped our clients do exactly this.  We have invested together in partnerships to simultaneously go back to the beginning and revisit all of the decisions you and your organization have made while bringing countless new experiences and ideas we have seen from our long list of client experiences.

The result has been almost identical in every case.  We learn new things.  Energy and passion (“oxygen” as one clients calls it) flows back into the experience.  “Rust” is replaced with “Oil” and the gears start moving immediately.  New ideas and initiatives, whether they are automation, geographic sourcing, new relationships with different partners, all generate innovative ways to increase “horse power” without increasing operating expenses.

Are you rusting?  Do you still care enough to get to work on the “restoration project” or is imminent change inevitable?

In either case, we should talk.

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