We are at our most effective when we simply prioritise what is most valuable and then do it. When we are at our least effective we are event-driven and get side-tracked.
Frank was part of a substantial global company and was seen as a highly effective Operations Director in IT Infrastructure. He had strong international experience and was seen as “up and coming”. He was definitely one to watch.
As part of a global company, Frank’s company went through the occasional corporate tremor. A corporate tremor is when there is a shocking performance in one business unit and rather than contain it the shock waves spread throughout the whole business. The result is that people have to leave the business and a number of new people get their big opportunity. It’s a bit like corporate musical chairs.
When a corporate tremor hit Frank’s company the good news was that Frank was to be given his first Managing Director’s role. His Business Unit was merged with the Business Unit that caused the tremor – not an uncommon strategy.
After 12 months Frank was struggling. Every stone he turned over seemed to have a scorpion under it. His team, which was a mishmash from the two Business Units, was of average quality at best and pulling in different directions at worst. Frank had Managing Director printed on his business card, but was still acting as if he was the Operations Director. The bright star was fading a bit.
I asked Frank to look at his diary over the last year just to see what he had been doing and where he had spent his time. Next time we met the weight seemed to have lifted from Frank’s shoulders and the glint was back in his eye. He explained that he had carefully gone through his calendar for the previous 12 months and he segmented his activities and produced a spread sheet. What he saw shocked him.
He had spent well over 80% of his time carrying on doing his previous job. On top of that one of his major contracts had, metaphorically, caught fire and he had become Chief Fire Fighter. Additionally he had the corporate responsibilities of being MD that he was trying to fulfil. He was spending virtually no time thinking about the future or speaking to clients. If things carried on the same way he recognised that there could be another corporate tremor and he would be in the centre of it.
Frank was a man of action. Once he realised the right thing to do, he did it. He immediately had a discussion with his PA and asked her to block out 20% of his time – a day a week – to spend with customers, existing and new. Nobody was to touch that time.
Not only did Frank re-order his priorities and his time, he wanted his team to go through the same process. He had made some key, new appointments and got his team together. In one of the sessions, we divided the team into two and gave them a simple competitive task.
Each team was given a bucket and some materials – a pile of sand, a pile of pebbles, 3 bricks and a quantity of water. It was explained that all the materials could fit into the bucket perfectly. The winner was the team that finished first, but if the materials went above the rim of the bucket the team would be disqualified.
Each team gathered together, looked at their competition and I shouted the order “Start!”
One team was clearly highly energised and competitive, ready to knock spots off the opposition and launched into action, wasting no time. Within a relatively short time they were retreating, pulling things out of the bucket rather than putting them in! They had realised that the way that they had put things in was not working and would go above the rim and they would be disqualified. It was looking very messy as they had to scoop out very wet, pebbly sand.
The other team were looking over at their competition rather smugly, as they finally poured the last drops of water into the bucket. They had not acted in haste, as one of the quietest members, who was an engineer, explained that there was only one way to do this. Put the bricks into the bucket first, and then put in the pebbles. The soft sand would then fill all spaces in between and the water would soak into the sand. Simple – if you do it the right way.
Put the big stuff in first!
This article is an excerpt from my upcoming book – “Leaders’ Map”. It would be great to get your feedback, so please do share your comments here or on Twitter or LinkedIn.
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