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I’ve paraphrased thereby reducing classiness – but hopefully not impact.

Harvard Business School Professor Theodore Levitt used to tell his students that buyers of a 3/4″ drillbit didn’t need a drillbit. They needed a 3/4″ hole.

The drillbit is the product. And buying the product is the easy part. The hole is the result – the desired outcome, the visceral change. And that’s a harder one to define.

As work continues to move at a million miles per minute – as burnout remains high, mental health in legitimate crisis, and employee engagement at alarming levels of low…leaders need to pause and consider the hole.

You may see a problem, an opportunity. You want to engage your team in an important conversation. Or you need to build a capability. Or reprioritize initiatives. You need to enhance employee wellness or mitigate burnout. You need people to feel invested in, committed to; to believe they are collaborative designers of the change – not victims of it.

You need a drillbit. But before you scan the market, get so clear on what hole you need.

  1. Ask questions. Often. Good ones. And really listen to your teams. What are they saying? What are they notably not saying? Note word choice and tone as well as substance.
  2. Pulse often. Don’t wait for the annual survey with its presumptuous statistical validity and predictive analytic engine. Seriously – throw out a few questions to test the waters of experience. How are people doing – really? Where are they OK and where aren’t they?
  3. Link-and-label. Where are there already solutions alive and well in your organization that employees just can’t see or feel? Is there an EAP that isn’t well marketed? Do you have a company membership to LinkedIn Learning? Where do you have a hungry mentor and a needy mentee? Can you make that match waiting to happen?
  4. Respond visibly. The second worst thing you can do is not ask. The first worst? Asking and doing nothing with the insights. Don’t care how small or contained – do SOMETHING with the gift of candor your employees give you.