Bud was one of the great bosses I studied. He also became a friend, so I tried to spend a day with him whenever I was in his town. Bud was one of those people that other people asked for advice. He tried to make it easy for them.
Unless something important took him away, he always ate lunch at the same time and at the same table in the cafeteria. Most days, his lunches became peer support sessions as Bud encouraged everyone to add to the discussion.
After work, he usually stopped for one beer at the same bar near work. He always sat in the same booth. And, almost always, someone would come by for some advice. Tonight it was a young supervisor who’d just received a “below standard” on his first performance review as a boss. Bud asked him what he had done in the period covered by the review.
The young man outlined a number of operational improvements. When he was done, he looked at Bud for comment.
Bud cocked his head to the side before he spoke. I knew something was coming.
“So what?” Bud said.
I thought the young supervisor was going to explode. But he reined himself in.
“I don’t get it. What are you asking me?”
“I want to know what difference you made for your boss, for the people on the team, maybe for the customers.”
Bud leaned forward and started ticking off points on his fingers, starting with the thumb.
“You succeed when you do things that help your team and your team members and your boss and the company and our customers succeed. Your efficiency improvements may have done that or they may not. You measure success by the difference you made for one or all of those people.
Getting more efficient is a ‘what.’ The result is the ‘So what?’ That’s what you have to concentrate on.”
The man across the table thought for a minute or two. Then he looked up.
“OK, I think I get it. How do I start? How do I figure out what matters?”
Bud smiled. “Just ask. Ask your boss what he wants from you. Ask your team members. They’ll give you plenty of ideas to get you started.
And every time you’re thinking about make a change, look for the ‘So what?’ What difference will it make? What result should it have? How will it make things better? Call me if I can help.”
Boss’s Bottom Line
Measure success by the difference you make, not the actions you take.