In building 1-800-GOT-JUNK?, I am always on the lookout for ideas that will help solve my current challenges. When the company surpassed 10 employees, I was certain that internal communication would always be my biggest problem—after all, isn’t it one of the fundamental costs of growth? But as my business continued to grow, I was determined to find a tool to minimize my communication challenges. Finally, I discovered the power of the 7-Minute Daily Huddle.
I first learned of the Huddle while taking the Birthing of Giants program at MIT in Cambridge, Mass. Verne Harnish, founder of the program, tells every entrepreneur who takes the program that they’re crazy not to implement the Huddle as soon as they get home. It’s one of the simplest yet most effective business tools that I’ve ever adopted.
The Huddle reminds me of sports. What do team sports and business have in common? They both comprise groups of people working together to achieve a common goal. What do teams that regularly win have in common? Skill, of course, and top-notch communication practices. Consider football, for instance: although it’s an intensively physical game, communication is a priority. So, the team huddles between plays to discuss where they are, where they need to be and the obstacles that stand in their way. In business, it works the same.
We’ve never missed a Huddle at 1-800-GOT-JUNK? in the three years since we first implemented it. It’s too important. The Huddle is our daily gathering that brings together the entire company of 200 people to do exactly what a football team does: regroup, refocus and determine where we stand versus the goal.
Our format is simple, and while it has evolved and is very customized to our culture, it hasn’t changed in more than two years. Any company could use it.
Let me set the stage. There have been anywhere from eight to 200 people gathered in a semicircle around the Huddle Master, who is a different person each day. The Huddle Master is anyone who is interested and has been trained to run the Huddle, from sales-centre agents up to the CEO. Behind the Huddle Master are dry-erase boards displaying our key goals and metrics for the month.
We start the Huddle with good news. It doesn’t matter what is going on in the company, what problems we are facing—we always start with good news. It sets the tone for the rest of the Huddle and allows us to face any obstacles knowing that there are always things to celebrate. At the cue of the Huddle Master, people raise hands and contribute. Sometimes it’s personal good news, but most of the time it’s business.
Next, we look at our numbers. How are we doing in a very measurable way? Each day, we look at the same three critical numbers that give us the pulse on the previous day’s business, such as incoming call volume and calls converted into jobs. Each of these figures is reported by a member of the associated department. If we are behind, that person gives a very brief synopsis of why.
A segment called “What does it all mean?” marks the halfway point of the seven-minute meeting. How did our three key metrics impact our race towards our monthly revenue goal? It’s fascinating to see the power of having every single person, every single day, know exactly where we stand versus our goal.
Then, we move to “In The News.” This is a 60-second, rapid-fire update from a different department every day. It’s a chance for people to be looped in with key happenings of a specific department like finance, IT or marketing.
One of the most impactful components of the Huddle is “Missing Systems or Opportunities.” It’s when anyone in the crowd can volunteer the not-so-great news. What’s broken? Where are we stuck? Or, what opportunities are we missing? This one took a while to implement correctly, because getting people to highlight areas for improvement without assigning blame is a challenge. But everyone agrees that it is key to the Huddle. Highlighting where we are stuck quickly focuses people on the obstacles we need to overcome.
Now it’s time to bring the Huddle to an energetic close. Every day we finish with a cheer: everyone puts their fists in the middle and, on the count of three, shouts something of significance from the Huddle, such as “Dr. Phil!” after we were featured on the TV talk show. It sounds Wal-Mart-ish, I know, and while it wasn’t my idea, I’ve seen first-hand how it helps everyone walk away feeling pumped and empowered.
Not everyone will find value in the Huddle, or even like it—perhaps because it pulls them out of their comfort zone. When we first started the Huddle, countless employees thought it was hokey or a waste of time. But we stuck with it, and it developed a life of its own. Although no one is forced to be at the Huddle, no one misses it and it’s recognized by the majority as the best and most useful part of the day.
I’ve encountered many external skeptics of the Huddle, too. I tell them why we do it, and they say that it’s “too rah-rah” for their company. Or that it’s all fluff. I tell them to come see it for for themselves. They do, and then come back to say what an impact it has had on their business.
Take the 1-800-GOT-JUNK? Huddle challenge. Come see it the next time you are in Vancouver. (Just e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org to let me know you’re coming.) I think you’ll be surprised.