Category Archives: Execution

Patience

I think we need to get one thing straight up front: I am a patient person. I just have an internal clock that seems to run at a faster rate than other people’s clocks. Okay, maybe it runs faster than most people’s clocks. Everybody’s clock? Whatever, I don’t have the time to try and explain it.

I think it is also pretty well known that I am not the world’s greatest proponent of meetings and reviews. Staff reviews, team reviews, whatever, I can lose some interest in them rather quickly if there is not something in them specifically for me. I tend to drive toward very short and succinct reviews, when I have them. I prefer to have people doing things as opposed to reporting on the things they have been doing. It’s funny how you seem to get much more done that way.

Why then, you may ask would someone lacking such an apparent abundance of patience, who does not ascribe to a significant amount of value in reviews say that sometimes they are in fact called for? It all depends on what needs to get done, who is needed to get to do it and when it needs to be complete.

Violet Fane is attributed as having said “All things come to those who wait” as a phrase extolling the virtues of patience. I think it has been modified many times and has entered the language lexicon in many forms since then. I guess in Violet’s world I would not be the most virtuous person available.

Abraham Lincoln is one of those that have been attributed as having slightly modified this phrase and said “Things may come to those who wait, but only the things left by those who hustle.” (Somehow I have a little bit of a problem believing the man who had such a command of the English language and penned something as memorable as the Gettysburg Address used the word “hustle”, but it seems to have been corroborated on multiple web sites. I guess I will have to go with it for now.)

What I am getting to here is the seemingly diametrically opposed forces associated with wanting to make something happen within our own predetermined time frames and waiting for something to happen in its own appropriate time frame. Sometimes you can push to get things done, and sometimes you can’t. But which is which as these differences can be crucial to both success and sanity.

We have all seen and have been steeped in the idea that leaders “make things happen”. They are movers and shakers. They act. They don’t react. They shoot, move, communicate and repeat as necessary. They never sit in economy coach when flying. We have all come to believe that the way to be a leader and the way to move ahead is to be first on the scene, the first to recognize and respond to a problem, the first with the answer.

In many instances this is indeed the appropriate course of action. In most cases a leader is the one called upon to recognize an issue, either before or after it has happened and to chart an appropriate course of action to either respond to or avoid the problem. They are required to act, solve and move on to the next problem.

When a leader has the ability to directly address a problem or issue, then they have the ability to be the active participant in the solution that we all aspire to be. However there are many instances where the solution or the implementation of the solution may be outside of the leader’s direct sphere of control or influence. In effect many times a leader must rely on someone else to implement the desired solution or take the desired action.

This is a point where mismatch in expectations regarding the desired solution can occur. If the person who has responsibility for the resolution does not have the same priority for resolving the issue as the person who needs the resolution then there will be incremental stress added to the situation. It is always good to remember that just because you have a problem does not mean that other people see the same problem, have the same problem, or even have a problem at all, for that matter.

So not only does a leader need to be able ascertain if a solution needs to be “driven” versus allowed to occur, they must also know how to modulate the priorities of those that must be relied on to implement the solution.

In many instances this may not be a difficult thing to do. If those that are responsible for the solution are on the leader’s direct reporting team then it is just a simple matter to reassign priorities (understanding what is elevated and what is reduced) and moving on.

However if the person responsible for the solution is not on the leader’s team, then the leader must find a way to make sure that the two group’s priorities are aligned. In many instances this can be done by appealing to or aligning with a higher order organizational priority. Priorities such as revenue increases, cost reductions, margin improvements are universally recognized across an organization. Aligning desired activities and solutions with these priorities are an excellent way to make sure that people align with the desired goals.

No one wants their inaction to be pointed out as the reason a margin improvement, or an incremental sale was not recognized. This is probably one of the best ways to get an action from an external entity or individual.

But what happens when a leader needs something done and there is not a higher order priority that can be aligned with in order to get another party to act on the issue? This is the situation where no matter how immediate the leader’s perceived need is, there is no leverage that can be applied to motivate the party that may be responsible for the activity.

A good example of this type of situation is the hiring process. No matter how much the candidate may want the decision maker to make their hiring decision, there really is not much that they can do to expedite the process. The candidate may be in a position where they would like the selection decision made as soon as possible, but the hiring entity may actually be incited to slow down the process in the hopes of attracting more and better candidates for the role to choose from.

So how does a leader get an activity prioritized outside of their own group? The simple answer is patience. A simple clear and concise explanation of what needs to be done and more importantly “why” it needs to be done will be required. An explanation of the time frames and their relevance will also be helpful. The final key will be the agreement not so much on when things will be done, but when the milestone reviews will be held.

No one likes to go time after time to a review that they agree to hold or attend without their deliverable being complete. Knowing that a review is coming and that there is an agreed agenda item that they must provide an update on is normally enough to get people to move on their commitments, even when there is no apparent downside to their non-delivery.

The idea here is that no one likes to be reminded or re-asked to provide a deliverable regardless of whether or not it may be germane to their own functional requirements. This goes for leaders (and the rest of us impatient types) as well. However the patient leader usually needs to only ask once for a deliverable, if they accompany that request with an agreeable schedule of reviews where progress against that deliverable can be reviewed.

Once the desired deliverable has been supplied, there will no longer be a need for the review and it be cancelled, and then everyone can get back to the real work at hand. Most people dislike reviews, so the added incentive of not having the review once the deliverable is supplied can work wonders.

Reviews rarely serve a useful purpose within an organization. If there is good leadership in the organization, there will normally be good communication, thereby rendering a review somewhat redundant. However across organizational boundaries they can be useful as a methodology for inspiring those outside an organization to provide deliverables that are required within the organization. The inspiration being that the responsible party has the dual drive of first avoiding having to report any potential lack of progress on their deliverable, and second knowing that there will be no additional reviews once they have provided their deliverable.

Just as we have heard management say “The beatings will continue until morale improves”, we can now say “The reviews will stop once the deliverable is provided”. Patience and perseverance will usually prevail.

The Optimal Meeting Length

I think that the new business reality is that it is the rare event when something actually gets done without first having a meeting. We need to know who will be Responsible for the action to be taken, and who will be Accountable for taking it, and who will need to be Consulted before it is taken and who will be Informed of its being taken. We will spend hours in meetings in this type of analysis before we actually do anything. We seem to have evolved the business approach that having a meeting about something is the same thing as taking action.

With all this time being spent in meetings trying to decide how to split the accountability and responsibility for doing anything, it got me to thinking: What would be the optimal length for a meeting, not just one of these deciding how to take action meetings, but any meeting?

I looked. There is any number of books available on line purporting to help people run efficient and effective meetings. I was in a meeting when I Googled that so I really didn’t have the time to read any of them. Who knows some of them might actually hold the key. But since we are in the here and now I will take my kick at the can (and utilize some of my own web sleuthing) to come up with what I think is the optimal length for any meeting.

There will be a few meeting ground rules.

• For it to officially be considered a meeting it must be visual in nature. That means that you either have to be there in person, or attend via video. Audio attendance at a meeting only is a phone call / conversation regardless of how you want to describe it, and it enables everyone associated with the call to multi-task doing email, play solitaire, or any other distraction they may so choose.

• If it is a real meeting it will have an agenda. If you don’t have set topics, speakers and time frames it is not a meeting. It is an unstructured discussion, or lunch. Without an agenda you should not expect to get anything done.

• The only computer that is to be open during the meeting is that of the person presenting. Open computers enable everyone to multi-task (see the first bullet above) instead of paying attention to the topic of the meeting. It’s also discourteous to the presenter.

• There should be no refreshments of any kind at the meeting. No bagels or muffins for a morning meeting. No coffee or soft drinks. The object of the meeting participants should be to get something done, not get fed and watered. If you really have to bribe people with food to get them to come to your meeting, maybe you don’t really need to have a meeting.

• Finally, there will be no leaving the meeting and coming back for any reason. No taking phone calls. No smoking breaks. And lastly, no bathroom breaks. Get that done before or after the meeting. Don’t disrupt it by having to go.

I understand that these rules will take a lot of the fun out of meetings. People will actually have to show up and pay attention. I know this is a lot to ask, but I do think it is critical that we get back to the old outdated ways of actually getting things done. Show up. Do your work. Then go do something else.

Now when we are talking about meetings, we are talking about the internal gathering of company employees. They can be called reviews, or updates, or deep dives or just about any other euphemism that you can come up with for having people get together for a business purpose. I will refer generically to all these events as “meetings”.

I am also going to specifically exclude meetings with customers from this discussion for the time being, since those types of meetings are held only with the consent of the customer and at their discretion. Many of the ground rules I have laid out would and should apply, but some (such as food and refreshments) may not.

With the ground rules in place and the meeting defined as not including customers we can get started on how long a meeting should take, or should last, depending on how you want to look at it.

Research (Google) shows that the average person goes to the bathroom about six times a day. That same research also shows that the average person stays awake about seventeen hours a day. Using simple math that means that the average person goes to the bathroom on average once every three hours or so (actually a little less than that). I think this is a good upper bound for a meeting’s length.

Now if we use a little probability theory, because not everyone goes to the bathroom at the same time, we will find that on average for any meeting of two or more people someone will have to go within half the average time frame. That means that our maximum meeting length is now slightly less than an hour and a half.

Even better.

Now on to other research (Google) topics. Estimates for the length of human attention span are highly variable and depend on the precise definition of attention being used.

• Transient attention is a short-term response to a stimulus that temporarily attracts/distracts attention. Researchers disagree on the exact amount of human transient attention span; some say it may be as short as 8 seconds.

I think it is safe to assume that senior management is more Transient Attention oriented.

• Selective sustained attention, also known as focused attention, is the level of attention that produces the consistent results on a task over time. Some state that the average human attention span is approximately 5 minutes; others state that most healthy teenagers and adults are unable to sustain attention on one thing for more than about 20 minutes at a time, although they can choose repeatedly to re-focus on the same thing. This ability to renew attention permits people to “pay attention” to things that last for more than a few minutes, such as long movies.

Attention span, as measured by sustained attention, or the time spent continuously on task, varies with age. Older children are capable of longer periods of attention than younger children.

It doesn’t say anything about executives or managers. Insert your own experience based limit here, however my experience has taught me that they tend to align with younger children.

I have been writing this for an hour or two and I think I need to take a break. I’ll be right back….

Okay, if we accept that people can pay attention to a single topic for up to twenty minutes, but that they can continue to “refocus” on interesting topics in order to stay engaged for longer periods of time, the question now becomes; how many times can they refocus? This is where true science comes into play.

In baseball its three strikes and you’re out.

Asking people to maintain their attention, and refocus multiple times while limiting the number of bathroom breaks is a lot to ask. Asking people to refocus their attention three times for a total of sixty minutes seems to be about the limit of reasonable expectation.

There you have it. A scientific explanation. No meeting should be more than one hour long. If you can’t get it done in an hour then you probably need to re-look at what it is that you are trying to accomplish in the meeting.

I think we all knew this is where I was going with this topic. We seem to have broken our lives down into hour intervals starting with our classes in school. If you can teach Einstein’s Theory of Relativity to twenty five disinterested teenagers within a one hour class, you should be able to have far less than twenty five adult business people come to conclusion on just about any topic within the same interval.

By the way, time does indeed slow down, the closer you get to the speed of light.

This interval sits comfortably within the average need for a bathroom break, and it is short enough that it doesn’t require too many refocusing events. It is the optimal length for a meeting where the objective is to actually get something done. It enables the meeting attendees to get in, get out and move on to the next topic. By limiting the time one would expect (hope) to drive the attendees to come to a conclusion within that time.

If there are more topics to be covered they need to be broken down into other multiple one hour meetings.

Of course, none of this one hour meeting logic applies to how long a luncheon meeting should last.

Familiarity…….

I have been Blogging for a couple of years now. It may have taken me a little while to become comfortable with the creation, format and process associated with creating a posting, but I thought I had it down. I was familiar with how to do it…I thought.


 


The old saying is “Familiarity breeds contempt”. I don’t think that is the case. For me familiarity seemed to breed a confidence in my capabilities that resulted in a lack of attention to detail.


 


I wrote my last article (“It’s Not “What””) and did all of the appropriate and required steps in the process to make sure it was posted. I then went out to all of the various and assorted sites where I announce a new article and updated them. I thought I had done everything. Why wouldn’t I? It’s what I have been doing for the last 2 years.


 


The only difference was that I normally go out to my site to make sure the article is posted and that it is accessible. For some reason, I didn’t do that last time. I must have gotten distracted, or something else came up. In any event, I didn’t go look. I didn’t double check the end result / finished product.


 


If I had, I would have seen that I had not in fact posted my article. I had left it in the “Pending” file. I did a great job of notifying everyone that there was a new article posted for them to read, but didn’t close the loop of actually putting a new article out there for them to read.


 


In the process of becoming so comfortable, so familiar with the Blogging process I created both my own problem and a topic for my next article.


 


It is hard not to put things on “autopilot” when we are doing something that we have done many times in the past. When we are doing something we are familiar with, we have a tendency to not give it our entire attention. The end result is that eventually a mistake gets made in an area where it should not normally occur.


 


I would not have thought to talk about a continued focus on the basics and standard processes, but then I would have thought that I would not have made such a basic mistake as not making sure that I had in fact posted my last article.


 


I will check to make sure that this one does in fact get appropriately posted.

John McKay Was Right


John McKay was a very successful college football coach at the University Of Southern California (USC) in the 1960’s and early 1970’s. I am not aware of many unsuccessful football coaches there, but I guess there may have been one or two. Coach McKay was also the first head coach for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers professional football team when they came into the league in 1976.

 

As an expansion team the Buccaneers did not win a single game in their first season. Despite all the planning, preparation and strategies, they were not able to win. There was a question of the talent that was present on the team, but coach McKay never said that was the issue.

 

What coach McKay did say is best summed up in a comment he made in response to a question he was asked after one Tampa Bay’s many losses. When he was asked what he thought of his team’s execution that day, he thought for a second and then said…

 

“I am in favor of it.”

 

What he brought out, with a sense of humor, is that planning and strategy and talent and everything else is good, but it is the execution, the doing of the things that you are supposed to do, that is the key to winning, or losing.

 

Making sure you have a workable plan and that you have the best talent are keys to a successful business. Making sure that everyone is executing their responsibilities and achieving their objectives is the key to successful leadership. Your team’s“execution” will be the difference between winning and losing in the market place.