David Sturt: How you can make the call that makes a difference
This article originally appeared on Forbes.com.
With the catcher crouched and readied behind the plate, the pitcher threw the ball. The batter didn’t swing, and for just an instant, Bill Klem, baseball’s most legendary umpire, said nothing.
Confused by the silence, the batter turned and asked, “So what was it, a ball or strike?”
Klem responded, “Sonny, it ain’t nothin’ ’til I call it.”
Klem was the first home plate umpire to use arm signals or physical gestures to instantly indicate to fans and players how a pitch was delivered. Umping for 37 years and in 18 World Series, Klem become known as “The Old Arbitrator.” He was the ultimate decision-maker — the judge. And, although plenty of coaches, fans and players often didn’t like the calls Klem made from behind the plate, they understood that it was his call that mattered. And without his call, nobody knew the status of the game.
How does this apply to great work? If great work is making a difference people love—who is your Bill Klem? In baseball, a pitch is either a ball or a strike. At work, although the lines aren’t always so clear, someone else must make a call of whether or not your efforts are making a difference — and what that impact is.
Although it might feel intimidating to actively gather feedback, it’s actually part of the process of refining and improving whatever you’re working on. As simple as it may seem, here a few things to keep in mind that most of us overlook:
1. Be clear about whom your work is impacting. So often we get lost in the tasks of the day that we forget to think about the impact our work is having. Make a list of the people your work is affecting. You might be surprised by who is on that list — customers, co-workers, your leader, sales people, customer service, suppliers, partners, accounting, etc. Put names to them. Ask yourself: What difference could I make that they would love?
2. Follow your work. The recipient of your work may not be giving you feedback. Go to where your work is being received. Take a look at how they use your work. You might be surprised to find that your assumptions about what they do with your work are out of date. Find out what is working well, and what can be improved.
3. Tweak it. Pitchers spend countless hours perfecting each pitch. You, too, can learn that even the slightest change in your work can create a significant difference. Look for two things you could add to your work output that people would love. Then look for two things to remove from your work that could make it better.
4. Keep score. Baseball players and coaches track everything. This allows them to measure progress, spot trends, and see the effects and impact of the changes they have been making. Measurements help us keep our eye on the results of our work.
No matter how many times you try, how much effort or thought you put into creating something great, or how you feel about your work, there’s a simple truth that we all should remember: Our work “ain’t nothin’” until the recipient calls it.
David Sturt is an executive vice president at O.C. Tanner and author of the New York Times best-seller "Great Work: How to Make a Difference People Love" (McGraw-Hill). You can follow him on Twitter @david_sturt or visit www.greatwork.com.