I was driving down the interstate to meet with a client. The request had come days earlier – help coach the management team on how to address the performance of the employees they manage and coach, while building the strength of the managerial team. While I had spent time preparing for the meeting, the drive to the client is where I my thoughts move from ideas to action and the need of my clients becomes much clearer.
As the meeting unfolded, I was happy with how my client facilitated the discussion and came to resolutions on the early agenda items. After asking open questions, he was illustrating the issues well, highlighting the ramifications, as well as engaging other team members. They quickly agreed on point one, checked it off and moved on.
After 45 minutes, I started to feel a bit more unsettled. My client was still doing very well in managing the issues and communicating clearly with his team. I wondered what was behind my unsettled feeling. After a few minutes, it hit me right between the eyes. My client was well prepared and adeptly managing the behavioral issues, but he had lost sight of the broader purpose of the situation.
We are far too consumed with the action items on our task list
instead of asking how our work furthers the strategy.
Like many of you, I am thrilled to check items off my to-do list. It gives me a sense of accomplishment along with a sense of pride. The list also focuses my conversation when connecting with clients and consulting associates on the projects we are working together. Unfortunately, I find it far too easy to enjoy the reinforcement of accomplishing the task; and much more challenging to remind myself why these tasks are so important in the first place.
Our organizations help reinforce this tendency because results are important, and accountability is the latest craze within today’s organizations. Results are critical, and accountability managed well is absolutely essential.
If we continue business as usual, we miss the point.
Have you even prepared yourself for a project meeting, feeling great at the conclusion after getting so many tasks moved off your list, but in the end, felt a bit perplexed because you didn’t feel like you really accomplished what you had set out to? I’d be willing to bet that you were seduced by the task and lost sight of your broader goal.
Bottom line: We’ve spent far too much time and energy and aren’t much further than when we set off. We focus too much on task, losing sight of our original intent. Our purpose is derailed given the seduction of checking off tasks.
Becoming Measurably Better:
The important point is to keep an eye on our broader purpose as well as the tasks that make up our critical path to success. It can be as easy as having a copy of your strategy nearby, often referring to it. It can be improved by having lower level plans aligned back to the purpose of the work we are charged with.
In addition, we are often helped when asking for input and feedback along the way. Each of us has a blind spot that is fairly clear and predictable. I’ve long since learned that mine is about people. So instead of checking for feedback on the entire process, I’ll often ask a team member if they are comfortable with the instructions or decision. That saves time, resources and money I would otherwise spend just because it feels like the right thing to do.
If you identify yourself with the role of a leader, these are easy ideas to keep in mind and to continually use. You may have others. Feel free to share them by sending me an e-mail or contacting the editor of the publication.