From an old fable…
A long, long time ago, in the forests far to the north, all of the logging camps came together once a year for the annual lumberjack championship. Two lumberjacks, Lars and Sven, were the undisputed champions in their respective camps. In the end, it was always a match between the two of them to determine the best lumberjack of all.
Lars was a strapping lad, and strong as an ox. His plaid shirt bulged with muscle.
Sven, the past champion year after year, was getting on in years now. His beard was graying and his once-broad shoulders no longer filled out his shirt.
Lars just knew this was the year he would win. He thought to himself, “The champion is past his prime. He is old and feeble, and I am strong, and can chop for hours without tiring.”
Lars and Sven each moved to their corner of the large clearing in the dense woods. The horn blew, and the contest began.
Lars chopped with an intensity that shook the forest. The other lumberjacks were in awe of his powerful strokes. Every once in awhile, Lars looked over at Sven. Sven was chopping hard too, but frequently, Lars saw Sven sitting on a stump with his axe across his lap. His breathing was labored, and beads of sweat dripped from his forehead.
“Got him!!,” Lars thought, “He is tired and weak, and takes too many breaks.” Lars’ axe flew even faster.
Finally, the time elapsed and the horn blew. Lars set his axe aside, stood tall, and walked to the center of the clearing to accept the trophy.
The judge proclaimed, “And the winner is …SVEN, still the best lumberjack of all.”
Lars was shocked! He began to protest, but the judge pointed to the pile of wood that Sven chopped. Sure enough, Sven had chopped twice as much wood as he had. The fresh-cut wood pile towered over the both of them.
“But how…?” Lars demanded, “Whenever I glanced over, you were resting on that stump over there!”
Sven smiled. “I wasn’t resting. I was sharpening my axe.”
This is admittedly an old, and perhaps overused, fable. However, the point wasn’t lost on Norton and Kaplan when they developed their now famous Balanced Scorecard. Two of the four “perspectives” they identify as key indicators of business performance involve internal improvement:
- Internal Business Processes – “Are we efficient and effective at delivering value?”
- Learning and Growth – “Are we growing the value that we provide?”
The key point in the fable is that you must set aside time for improving your game. In the “do more with less” business world today, there will never be a break in the action for you to hone your operational capabilities. You must schedule time on a recurring basis and set the expectation with your team that improving business performance, and maintaining your competitiveness, are necessary not only for growth, but for survival.
Are you sharpening your axe, or letting it get dull?