Constant, Gentle Pressure

racing against your ghost

Companies are not about ideas, they’re about execution. I’ve seen dozens of companies with the same business plan, and usually only one survives. It’s the one who is most competent, disciplined, efficient, and prioritizes correctly. These lead to horizontal frameworks like constant, gentle pressure.

The storied founder of HP, David Packard, said he and his co-founder, Bill Hewlett, learned valuable lessons running cattle ranches outside the bay area. When corralling cattle, if you slack off, the cattle walk away. If you push too hard, the cattle run off scared. The solution is to apply constant, gentle pressure from the rear. This leads the cattle to your desired destination.

In restaurateur Danny Meyer’s book, Setting the Table, he says the key to operational excellence involves feedback on every detail from how to speak with and treat guests to setting the table. If a manager sees a set table with a fork slightly tilted, they ask the waiter who set the table to correct it and thank them when they do. If the manager isn’t on top of things, then the fork will get more tilted each time the table is set, until the fork disappears. Constant, gentle pressure assures a high level of competence.

All teams need constant, gentle pressure. Ask the sales person to input their call notes into the CRM. Ping the engineer to write proper documentation for their code. Remind the manager to provide positive reinforcement to team members. Request the ops person to mark the task complete in the task management software. There are hundreds of simple things that when not done well, lead to chaotic incompetence.

David Packard learned personal communication is necessary to back up written instructions. Their factory workers had everything written out, but they weren’t following the written instructions. Some in management assumed the factory workers were trying to slack off, but all they needed was extra personal communication. The factory workers, like everyone at a competent org, is there because they want to do a good job. They need constant, gentle pressure.

Constant, gentle pressure is a nice reminder to do things that may slip our mind. We can try it on ourselves internally. Your bed is messy. Go and make your bed. If you forgot to message your friend happy birthday, send a belated bday message and set a recurring reminder in your calendar for next year. When you mess up, gently push yourself to fix the problem. This pushing creates eustress.

As with most things, it’s best to start with the man in the mirror. Where do you need constant, gentle pressure? Apply it to yourself before pushing it on others.