Leadership Simplified: Doug Van Dyke


Leaders, 90% is NOT an “A”

Volume: October 2018

Kevin leads a team that has a lot going on. They have projects, initiatives, new thoughts and ideas. All happening all the time. Plus, they have normal operations and customers to serve on a day-to-day basis. Kevin and his team are running hot all the time and they are getting a ton of things done. Or are they? Exasperated, Kevin steps back and takes stock of what his team has accomplished over the past quarter. He smiles as he tallies the amount of work they have done and the tasks they have accomplished on their litany of projects and initiatives. As his list grows to eight, then 12, then 16 items something strikes Kevin. “Everything is 90% done.” Scratching his head, he suddenly realizes why his stress level keeps mounting. Then the realization hits him: “Other than meeting our customers’ needs, we really did not finish anything this quarter.” This is a sad realization for Kevin. Perhaps many of you can relate to Kevin’s plight. There is a silver-lining in Kevin’s epiphany. The good news is Kevin has realized he and his team are caught in a trap. The 90% trap. Now, he must figure out what to do about this very stressful and surprisingly unproductive situation.
Many of you may believe I am writing about you. Relax, I am. Wait, no, this is a fictional tale. However, it is based on way too many real-world situations I encounter in my travels. So, like Kevin, you are probably wondering what to do about your challenge: many important initiatives, all moving forward, yet none realizing completion. If this is your pickle, here are seven strategies for you and your team to consider.

  1. Prioritize with Passion. Too few leaders truly prioritize well. There is an art to creating and effectively communicating priorities. The tool I recommend is our Priority Communication Tool. The details of this construct appear in Leadership Simplified and will be covered in one of our 2019 newsletters. Something for leaders to consider though is the number of priorities they create. Once a team is faced with more than six major initiatives, completion and execution greatly diminish. The reason is twofold. First, people and teams only have so much bandwidth. Successful delivery of important initiatives drains bandwidth, leaving less for other imperatives. Secondly, people have limited focus. The more balls that are in the air, the less focus on each ball. The result is an increase in errors and a reduction in completion percentage. In the process, frustration escalates, and morale suffers. All of these factors crush productivity. If you hope to experience decent completion rates that deliver quality results, a trimming down process needs to take place. If this is you, please continue reading.
  2. Force Rank. Trimming down the myriad of priorities that exist within a team can be challenging. One technique to consider is to list all of your team’s priorities and then seek agreement on which item is the number one priority, which is number two, and so forth. This process can create consternation and heated debate. Good. Once you have identified your top six, the hard work begins. While the remaining priorities are worthy endeavors, any focus on them will detract from the possibility of delivering on your team’s top six. Think about that. Long and hard.
  3. Negotiate & Be Decisive. Take a stand on just what can pragmatically be achieved by you and your team. This may call for tremendous negotiation skills. If you and your group choose to move certain priorities to a lesser status, you may encounter pushback from a variety of constituents (your boss, your peers, your allies, etc). In order to successfully navigate this potential minefield, you will have to be at the top of your negotiation and communication game. In the end, it is essential that you narrow your priorities. After all, what is better: Being involved in everything and delivering nothing, or selecting high-impact priorities and delivering results? I’ll take the latter all day long.
  4. Action Plan. Nothing brings priorities to life like a detailed action plan. And a solid action plan addresses specific actions, who owns them, when they are due, and how each action will be measured. Remember what management guru Peter Drucker said: “You can only manage what you measure.” Create an action plan for each of your top priorities. Each plan will serve as a roadmap that will help others visualize the importance and impact of the priority it supports.
  5. Revisit Action Plans. Action planning is not a stagnant event. Rather, it is a dynamic process that calls for regular updates and enhancements. If you want your priorities to be properly supported, review and update actions plans on a monthly or quarterly basis. Just the increased accountability associated with the action planning process is worth the time and effort involved.
  6. Focus on Daily Execution. Narrowed priorities and focused action plans allow professionals to focus on execution. Daniel Goleman put it this way: “The leader’s singular job is to deliver results.” A bunch of initiatives that are 90% complete is not results. Help your people execute and team results will soar. 
  7. Celebrate Wins. There is nothing wrong with celebration. Odds are good that you and your team are putting forth Herculean effort. Make certain that effort is delivering completed initiatives and results. Then, celebrate the heck out of individual and team accomplishments.  
Bottom Line: Leadership is about delivering results. Make certain your team is focused on the right results and priorities. And, ensure that salient action plans are built to support your mission-critical priorities. Then, support your people and lead toward execution. The results that are achieved should celebrated. Your skill in orchestrating results should be celebrated too!       
Until next time, be well.

Doug Van Dyke is a Tampa Bay based leadership development expert, executive coach, and strategic planner. He is fanatical about execution and results! To learn more about leadership development programs, coaching, strategic planning, or to have Doug speak at your next event, visit www.leadershipsimplified.com or email .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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