Organizational Excellence

People and Process Improvement

The X and I

with 3 comments

The “x” and I are old friends. We met around 1996, and I have come back to my friend many times for counseling when I get to a low spot in my drive at work and I need to understand why. The answer is usually somewhere in my “x” analysis. And now, I will use the “x” to introduce myself to very important people, prior to my proposing a very important but non-traditional, therefore radical course of action.

If you really want this to sink in, play along here…I will describe the physical drawing of the “x”. Tap into your kinesthetic learner mode and draw it along with me. Then maybe scan your result and post a reply-could be interesting!

Managing Personal Growth facilitators draw the “x” as part of the introduction to that incredible BlessingWhite workshop—my long-standing personal favorite of all the various things I have facilitated. I learned the “x” by sketching it the first time on a cocktail napkin, and have since drawn the “x” over dinner on anything I could write on. Unless you’re relaxing at the pub right now, I’d recommend you use a real piece of paper!

The Mechanics: Constructing the “X”

This is the basic shape we’ll start with, just for reference. But if you follow the bouncing balls (in parentheses) and draw it one piece at a time it will take on a life of its own. Go with it and see what happens.

“My Company” (Write in the bottom right corner) wants to be successful. For my company, success is defined by (write in the upper LEFT corner) our mission, vision, values, goals, business plan…all the important things we must do to be successful. The company is on a journey to a tomorrow that is driven by those things. (Draw two parallel diagonal lines bottom right to upper left corners, with My Company at the bottom and the success factors at the top, in the middle of the two lines. Add an arrow pointing upward toward the success factors)

Then there is me (write “Me Inc” in the bottom left corner). I certainly want Me, Inc to be a “success” by whatever definition of personal success suits me. If I am a well-run business, I have a vision, mission, values, goals, business plan …the important things I must do to be successful. (write these again, in the upper right corner)

And I’m on a journey to a successful tomorrow (as before with the company, draw two parallel diagonal lines bottom left to upper right corners, with Me, Inc and my success factors in the middle of the lines. Add an arrow pointing upward toward the success factors)

The company and I cross paths. The diamond in the middle is the intersection of these two paths to success. What does that intersection represent? (write “My Job” inside the diamond)

The company expects me to produce on the job. Call this “Contribution” (write “Contrib.” on the upper left leg of the diamond).  And I expect something from the job, let’s call it “Satisfaction”. (write “Satisf” on the upper right leg of the diamond)

How much contribution does the company expect from me? And while we’re at it, how much job satisfaction is my ideal? A lot of words work for both, let’s just go with “MAX” or “120%” (write your choice above both Contrib and Satis)

You have now constructed your first basic “x”. But our work isn’t done yet!

“X” Dynamics

Now that we have the mechanics done we’re ready for the hard part…the finer points of “x” dynamics, determining where we are and, especially for leaders, where the people around us are. A lot is at stake.

The destination of both journeys is “Success”. A well-run company has gone to great effort to clearly define its success factors, then keep score. And since Me, Inc is a well-run business it’s safe to assume that its vision, mission, values and goals have also been clearly defined, right?

Unfortunately, most of us have not clearly defined success to the extent that our employer has. The company’s success factors are clear (draw a box around them) while mine are not (draw a cloud around Me, Inc’s success factors). As it is human nature to be drawn to a clear purpose, I am easily sucked away from my cloudy success factors, into the clarity of the company’s. (draw an arrow from mine to the company’s success factors).

This has a direct impact on my location in the job diamond that is determined by my satisfaction level as well as my contribution. The ideal place to be is at the very top apex (shadow this area in). If I am there, it means that I am a maximum contributor and I am as happy as I can be. I am energized by the job and I will probably have a long, healthy career. And life.

We need to add another detail to the job diamond. We’ve already determined that “MAX” or 120% is the target. There are people who, for whatever reason, are at a very low level of contribution and / or are just not happy at all. What is the other end of the “MAX” spectrum? (write “LOW” or “MIN” on the bottom left and bottom right lines of the diamond)

What You Don’t Know CAN Still Hurt You!

Again, when my success factors are cloudy but the company’s success factors are crystal clear it’s human nature…I am pulled over to the left side of the diamond. If I consistently deliver fantastic results but don’t really know what my personal success factors are, I cannot reach the apex of the diamond. Worse, if my job does not meet my success criteria whether they are known to me or not known, I will have a “low” level of satisfaction.

If I know which of my success criteria (aka values or drivers) are not being met, I may be able to reconcile the situation. If I don’t know my success criteria, all I know is that I am not happy. And my performance will show it.

Whether or not I know my personal success factors, if my job or the company does not meet them sufficiently the company and I are both cheated.

If I somehow manage to continue producing great results but I am dissatisfied with my job, what will eventually happen to me long-term? (I’ll help with this one… write stress, burnout, anything else you care to, at the left point of the diamond). This is “ugly” territory, something needs to happen quickly!

What if I am incredibly happy with my job, I love it to pieces but the issue is…I’m just not producing, not delivering results? Where am I on the “x”? Why would I be there? Most importantly do I want to get better and if so, how do I do that?

There are a couple of pretty good reasons to lean toward the right point on the diamond. I could be new on the job, or maybe I’m on my way to retiring and I’m coasting downhill. I’ve been in that first situation more than once, haven’t gotten to that “retiring” thing yet. Too much left to accomplish!

Think abut this…whether or not you know it, the “X” factor has impacted you your entire life. It is impacting you now. If you can crack your personal code, as I have been lucky enough to, you have a better shot at being highly satisfied, leading a longer, healthier life. And you will therefore be more productive.

Important Organizational Questions

Where are we now? Where on the “X” are the collective engagement levels of our people?

Reference the bell curve: levels of engagement represent a normal distribution with the Steady Many in the middle, the relatively smaller number of highly engaged at the right “tail” of the curve, and the smaller number of disengaged at the far left extreme.

What is our x-bar / midpoint? How can we shift the entire distribution to the right? We can’t train people to be more engaged. All we can do is provide the right environment for people to feel like fully engaging. So, how are we doing? What environmental factors are either aiding or impeding our peoples’ natural desires to be fully engaged?

What if we focused our efforts primarily dragging along the lagging tail of the dog…the disengaged? After all, aren’t they holding us back? That is standard organizational practice-develop weaknesses. But what happens to the highly engaged at the other end? They will notice all the attention being given to low performers, and they will wonder why they don’t get any sugar. They will disengage!

Outcome: a flat-line (dead) organization. See Danger: Competency-based Development.

Pretty important stuff to figure out.



Where am I on the “X”? If I am not at the apex for whatever the reason, there is my opportunity gap! If it is satisfaction that is holding me back, what can I change? Can it be changed, or is it time to move on? If it is my level of performance, where do I need to improve?

Leaders: where are your people? What environment have you provided to allow people to be maximum contributors and be highly satisfied?

For Me, Inc and the company alike, “I don’t really know” is not an answer. It could be “I don’t know what the success factors are”. Or “I don’t know how we’re doing”. Either way, clarity is the essential first step.

So, how are you doing?


Written by Craig

October 16, 2012 at 10:24 am

3 Responses

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  1. […] through the “x”. I need credibility, and telling my story here is a good warm-up for me. The X and I.  I’d love to hear your story too. Like this:LikeBe the first to like […]

  2. Instead of x’s and o’s it is x’s and diamonds. I think we can all be a little bit more like the Spice Girls (no we don’t have to wear slinky outfits) we just need to focus on: “So tell me what you want, what you really really want. I’ll tell you what I want what I really really want.” So many of us don’t know the results. A McKinsey study this year showed that even in healthy companies 25% of employees don’t know the company strategy and in unhealthy companies it can be as high as 60%. Yikes.

    David Zinger

    October 16, 2012 at 11:19 am

  3. Scary indeed, David. How do we get from here to there if we don’t know where “there” is?? Maybe worse is not knowing what our personal vision of success really is. Once again, how can we get from here to there?


    October 18, 2012 at 6:00 pm

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