I have been doing a ton of client calls in the last couple of months. It has been refreshing to get back out in the field and feel like a relevant part of helping a company evolve by leveraging client’s direct feedback. In many of my meetings we discuss initiatives around change or growth. I learn so much in these calls and have been stealing quotes and saying from clients all over the place. It is fun. If you haven’t talked with Chris Laping (CIO of Red Robin) I HIGHLY recommend it. Half my slides for POPin are things I stole from our talks. But I am already getting off track.
Not all people are proactive and speak in sound bites like Chris. Sometimes the conversations go down a path that I have a visceral reaction to. Most of the time I will not say anything when this happens because I do not want to come across as offensive. This is especially true if I do not know the person I am talking to very well. I have this belief that if someone does not know that you care about them, they are highly unlikely to take your advice. So if it is a first meeting and someone goes down this path, I bite my tongue. BUT, if I know you and you understand that in my core I want everyone to succeed and lift to a higher level, I speak my mind.
The path that causes this visceral reaction is when the person I am speaking with says the following: “Wow, I really need to do that. I think it would be a game changer but I am so buried right now.” Or maybe you get, “There are some fires that just sprung up and I will have to deal with those before I can get to that.” Or one of my favorites, “I wish I had the time to be proactive…but right now I am just too busy.” These statements really make me crazy. They especially bother me when we are talking about strategic initiatives, the subject of leadership, or change for the sake of momentum/growth.
Let me give you an example I just experienced. This is an example of how someone can navigate the treacherous “too busy to be proactive” waters and avoid the statements above.
I have a leader in my business that took over a struggling business unit with the goal of turning it around. He came to me 3-4 months after taking the job and told me that while the business was on track for a full and expedient recovery, he did not think the current offering could get the company to the desired end state we needed. We would need to add products with even higher value soon or 2015 goals could be at risk. I was impressed and asked what his ideas where to help get us to where we needed to go. He had some new product ideas that were very strong and we agreed it would be incredible if we could develop them. So far, so great (yes, better than good). I loved the initiative and forethought.
A week or so goes by and we have a 1:1 meeting via the phone. He gives me an overview on the business and says he is happy with his leadership team and how everyone was stepping up. He said we couldn’t use the word “turnaround” any more because the group was now beginning to hit stride. I asked how much capacity he had recovered by leveraging his team and he said maybe 3-4 hours a week. He went on to explain that one of the other divisions that he had inherited needed some of his help and he thought he could double their growth if he spent more time with them.
I stopped him.
I asked what his plans were to spend time on the new offerings we had discussed weeks before; the offering that would help us achieve our long term goals. He told me he already had been working on them. He gave me 2 examples of much smaller easier products he could rollout soon. They were very good; but he had brought up ideas in our previous conversation that could end up saving our clients tens of millions of dollars. They would be hard to put together, but so valuable if done correctly. He said he had not spent time on those yet; but he planned to at some point…
Then we had the conversation that is the point of this story. This leader has a choice to make on direction. He could spend those freed up hours every week helping to develop leaders in an existing business that is doing okay or he could work on developing these high value products which could be very time consuming and possibly not even work. He is already extremely “busy” so how does he make a decision on which path to take? To anyone that has started a business, (or a business within a business) you probably have had to make similar choices. All of us actually make these decisions every single day.
I like asking these questions to find an answer:
- Is there a path that is mandatory and must be traveled or the vision and strategy will fail?
- If I do not step forward on this path will we fail to hit our long term goals?
- Could others help with the lower priority (but still important) items to free up more of my time?
Usually the answer on what to do is clear after the first question. So simple right? So why don’t we do it? It is because the strategic path is usually much harder and has a terrifically high chance of failure. It is also because we convince ourselves we can get to it later and the current fires are more pressing.
There is another super important point to make. As you lead, you cannot possibly do everything. You have to straight up make difficult decisions to drop things. Drop them to someone else or in many cases just drop them completely. This is hard because you don’t want to let people down or make them think there initiatives don’t matter.
But what is worse:
- Letting something limp along for 5-6 months (when you know you could fix it)
- Completely missing your team/company’s goals because you are putting out every fire.
This leader in my story had the option of helping a group go from 15% growth to 30% growth OR starting to build and test an offering that could allow the entire company to go public. If he makes the obvious choice, there could be significant backlash that he is an absentee leader who is not mentoring his team.
He decided to clear out a day per week to work on the new products and wants to have MVPs in front of clients by the last week of June (4.5 weeks). He is also going to take a much less active role in helping the other team grow. He will try and lean on other leaders who have some capacity to help that group if possible. His hope is within 3 months to have a semi baked offering to beta and by the new year to have something that provides incredible value to all our clients (employees, partners, clients).
Great decision right? Yes, but he is not done yet.
In order to really lead he needs to sit down with the teams he will have less time for and explain “why.” It is an opportunity to reinforce the vision and end state goals. It is a chance to answer questions and show them all that their long term future is what is at stake and he is going to lead from the front to secure it. The hopes from this talk is they will understand the “why” and it will inspire all to step up even more. All need to understand that the mission is attainable if we MAKE time to attain it. This talk will not just be saying it. He is doing it.
We all have the same amount of time. We are all busy. We all have fires to put out. So how do some move forward year after year so effectively while others get stuck…You have my opinion on it. Hope it is useful.