Mistaking activity for productivity
- Friday, July 13th, 2012
- POSTED BY Justin Albertson
Most leaders openly discuss the challenges they encounter juggling the many demands, responsibilities and priorities they face. The ability to set and successfully manage multiple priorities simultaneously is one of the competencies that tends to make a major difference for many leaders. Time and again our research highlights that the ability to focus on a “critical few” set of priorities and basically ignore everything else sets top performers apart from the rest of the pack. In almost every type of role or function, staying relentlessly focused on just a few high impact areas is the key to being wildly successful.
Jim Fannin, a performance coach that works with many athletes, uses the phrase “Be the Cheetah” to represent this type of focus. If you watch a cheetah hunt, it visually locks onto its target and regardless of obstacles in its path never breaks visual contact until it has its prey securely in its jaws. Losing line of sight could allow the prey to get away and result in a starving cheetah. Thankfully we live in the business world!
We all know it, being “busy” doesn’t equate to being productive. Working 80 hours a week won’t guarantee success – only that you’ll be tired – you must fill your calendar with tasks, actions and meetings that are mission critical. Use the old 80/20 rule to focus your energy and work ethic on the “right stuff.” How can you do it?
The study of leaders who excel in this area yields the following list of best practices:
Simplify the Game. Successful leaders demonstrate a unique competency in the way that they simplify their complex work assignments down into 5-7 key priorities. They work with their peers, mentors, and staff to identify the key strategic levers for which they are responsible. This allows them to determine what they must do to have the greatest impact on the business, as well as what they must do to drive personal performance. By clearly establishing goals and priorities, these executives create a tangible roadmap to guide them toward goal attainment. By keeping the number of key priorities in the 5-7 range, they make it easier to stay focused in their efforts. These executives avoid entering a new year or new assignment with undefined goals and a wide assortment of disparate priorities.
Reinforce Key Priorities and Milestones. Once priorities are established, these leaders find ways to keep them visible for themselves and for their teams. On a routine basis, they review priorities and progress to goals. They work with their teams to establish clear milestones. Periodically, a review of how time and effort are being allocated by the team is conducted. This type of review helps in identifying disconnects between how time is spent and key team priorities.
Avoid Distracters. To do this, top leaders first ensure that they are clear on their mission and their priorities. Next, they establish a method for assessing new activities with which they may become involved. All new tasks and projects are weighed against their impact on the execution of the most critical priorities. If a new project is well aligned and supportive of priority execution, it may be attempted. If it is not, then it is not attempted. To help themselves to stay focused on the right priorities, many of these executives utilize trusted colleagues and mentors to provide candid feedback to them regarding which priorities are the greatest drivers of business success.
Recently a leader shared his philosophy with me: “That which gets talked about, gets done.” By regularly, consistently and actively following-up on the critical priorities with his team, this leader maintains laser focus on the four key strategic success levers that drive business success. Specifically, every year he works with his key managers to set the priorities for the year (3-5, no more) that clearly align with the business strategy and long-range objectives. Then he meets with his operations manager every morning at 7:35 to review the key metrics and measurements that indicate the success of the business. Issues outside that scope are quickly dismissed or delegated elsewhere. That’s one focused cheetah indeed!