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The Downstream Effects of our Work

I heard this story some years ago that has stuck in my mind.  It was about a village that depended on a mountain stream for their water.  For years, at the top of that stream, there was an old man who made it his work to keep the stream clear of debris, twigs and logs that could cause it to become polluted or stagnant.  No one really paid any attention to this man, until one day he stopped doing this job.  In short order, that pristine spring fed stream became muddy and gross.  No one had valued his work, until then. It turns out the keeper of the stream was a very important role for the town.

How is this story relevant to your work today?  Let’s think about those people who are “downstream” of your leadership  and how essential it is to serve them well.

Every single person reading this today is doing work that impacts other people “downstream.” Perhaps you create programs in Information Technology for the finance team. Perhaps you develop advertising that draws customers to your company’s products. Perhaps you forecast sales and profits.  Perhaps you lead a project team solving an important problem in the organization. Perhaps you take calls from disgruntled customers.  Perhaps you coordinate shipments from the warehouse to the client.  Whatever you do at work today, there are people downstream who are counting on you to do your job right and well.

Frankly, most of us forget about the downstream effect of our work – and other people and the company suffer for our lack of concern.  It is self-serving to only think about your work in a vacuum.  Let’s look in the mirror and ask ourselves where we have opportunity to improve the impact of our work on other people.

How can you provide a more timely and excellent “stream” of work to those who count on you? Here are a few examples:

  • If you commit to delivering a project by a certain date, hit the date.
  • If you commit to delivering a solution to a problem, make sure it actually solves the problem for others.
  • If you commit to shipping product on time from the distribution center, improve on-time deliveries.
  • If you commit to growing the capability of your team, invest time in developing your team this week.
  • If you commit to creating marketing materials to sell more product, make sure they work.

In business, whether large or small, we must be able to count on each other to achieve success.  You alone cannot drive success.  You are part of a team that depends on everyone doing their best job.  Only when the team operates seamlessly and collaboratively across every function of the company – can we be excellent and deliver superior results.

This week I ask you to go check-in with the people who are “downstream” of your work.  Ask them how you are serving them.  Ask them where you can improve in a way that helps them be more effective.  Then make a new commitment to stepping up to that challenge – to provide them timely, excellent work that positively impacts the performance of your company.

Serve well.


First Published On February 5, 2019

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