Driving business flow? Traffic lessons may apply.


Last week while driving my local streets, I witnessed a scene that made me ponder a correlation between traffic flow and business flow.   A driver moving at sluggish speeds managed to ruin the harmony of two major intersections, a cross-walk and a large parking lot.   It was the first time I had thought deeply about slow drivers.  It turns out esurance has a web page for the topic: http://www.esurance.com/safety/driving-too-slowly   Their page defines the four types of slow drivers: distracted drivers, new drivers, tourist drivers and elderly drivers.  Conveniently leaving out the largest segment of slow drivers; crappy drivers.

The ripple effect caused by this tortoise-slow driver is a good analogy for the impact that can occur with the flow of your business.   Business flow is most likely a component of operations, and while there is never a shortage of content covering transformation, entrepreneurship, and innovation, there are fewer perspectives about the less thrilling practice of operations.  Here are some professional traits to look for and foster, when trying to accelerate the flow of your business.

Managing business flow is like traffic – RyanCampbell Blog

1.  Jack of all trades –  From my childhood, I vividly remember seeing stranded cars in the middle of intersections. Certainly a less common event in today’s advanced world, but the impression was left on me, seeing groups of good citizens willing to jump-in and help push a car to safety. Knowledgeable people knew the car would easily roll in the path of least resistance without much brawn. These people were willing to take the risk of jumping into a somewhat dangerous and unpredictable situation.  The same is true of business; maximizing “jack of all trade” employees is critical to business flow.   Enthusiastic, knowledgeable people who are willing to go outside of their narrowly defined roles and help others is one of the greatest ways to push business flow.


2.  Intuition –Road planners have made some smart and safe decisions laying out our road systems. Even the smartest plans require flexibility.  Knowing when and where to bend these rules impacts traffic flow.  The traffic scenes I’ve witnessed in Bangkok were perhaps the most glaring examples of this.  People making lanes out of sidewalks, gutters, and crowded marketplaces, all working in some sort of synchronized chaos.  It’s amazing the intuition these city drivers have developed during their lives.  In business, having the intuition to work within and around systems without a great deal of hand holding accelerates your business flow.   Help these people to continue doing the right things, versus containing people to just doing things right.

3.  Decisive and convincing when needed – Think about the many split second decisions you make during one short drive in your car. Your split second decisions make the difference between a smooth flow of traffic and potential chaos for hundreds of other drivers.  While corporate business might not move at the pace of a freeway, the more you can find people to make the right decisions, the quicker that ripple effect can impact potentially hundreds of other employees and eventually customers.   As a leader, help foster smart decisive team members.   Don’t be threatened by these employees, empower them to keep making decisions that move the cogs of your organization.

4.  Self Starting – Are you already a self-starter when it comes to driving a car?  How well do you know your local roads, which traffic lanes slow down every day at the same time, in the same place for obvious reasons.  Being in tune with the flow of traffic helps you make adjustments to your driving style and patterns before trouble. Self-starter employees are always inquisitive to learn more about their job role, their industry, and even adjacent industries that are applicable.  This makes them acutely aware of how to adjust programs to help business flow.   Take these self-starters and give them the initiatives that will have the greatest ripple effect on the overall business.

Smooth business flow is a derivative of many variables, just like driving your car.  Start with finding people that are in tune with business flow.  Place them in the projects, departments and teams to have the biggest impact.

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