Thursday, November 11, 2010

The "Stop Doing" List

Hello Friends!

Greetings once again from Afghanistan. As most of you know, I am deployed with the US Army, working with the US Army Corps of Engineers. Our mission is primarily construction projects in support of the Afghan Security Forces and overall Counter Insurgency Operations here in country. As for me…my mission is leadership. Or, shall we say…Leader Business!

As I begin this discussion, would you join me in giving a hearty “shout out” to our Veterans on this Veteran’s Day? It is because of brave, selfless warriors like them that we can enjoy the freedoms and blessings of our lives. Let’s not forget them, let’s never leave any behind, and let’s remember to thank them – and their families – for their sacrifices, wherever and whenever they may have served! Hooah!

In the last post, I described the importance of identifying decision points – where we decide to decide – well ahead of the actual decision. This provides leaders the flexibility to influence the outcome and the ability to adjust the team, align resources, and keep the mission on track.

While we may not know it, we face decision points every day. Unfortunately, we watch most of them go by without action. Disciplined teams with disciplined leaders are talking about decisions regularly, keeping everyone on high alert for the triggers that suggest a decision is pending. This highlights the importance of regular, mission-focused communication. Keeping everyone’s head in the game is enabled by this major leadership responsibility. When people know what to look for (triggers or road signs of the pending decision), when they are kept in the loop about what is happening around them (we call this situational awareness), and when we include their input in our discussions about future decisions, options, and how we might shift our plan depending on what happens, we are rarely surprised by the inevitable forks in the road.

In any case, one of the important decisions we have been making lately surrounds what we should STOP DOING. Most of it surrounds our core competencies, our primary revenue generators, and our main mission. Everything else needs to be examined within this framework to determine whether we should stop doing it.

Like many of you, we have more MISSION than we have people. In the resource constrained environments in which we operate (to include here in Afghanistan), we often find that we eventually run out of resources, but never lack for things to do. Some of those things…are really not important. Many of them can be done by someone else. Others don’t make us any money. Most of them are distracters, consumers of resources (especially time) that we need to put into our main mission area.

So, we have hit some important decision points recently and decided – to STOP DOING some of those things. We were putting energy into a couple of projects that started to become more trouble than they were worth. We need those people focused on our priorities. We stopped doing them. I talked to my leaders about how we would accept new projects…and what we would leave for others. It simply comes down to the fact that saying YES to everything eventually maxes out resources and reduces productivity and output. Sometimes we have to say, NO.

None of this comes easy. Most organizations, and especially the one I get to lead, have a hard time with this. We like to be solution providers. We enjoy new challenges. Our tendency is to take on more and more. But there comes a point where we begin to water down our primary purpose, lose focus on our core competencies, and threaten our ability to accomplish the mission. That’s when we have to examine our team and build a STOP DOING list.

So, what about you? What can you STOP DOING? What might you outsource to someone for whom that task might actually be a core competency? What non-revenue generating, non-priority mission, non-HEDGEHOG (my Jim Collins analogy of the day) task or event should you stop, defer, or eliminate? Could you do as we have done, gather your key leaders, and ask this question: What can we STOP DOING to improve our output? What about in your personal life? What things are you putting time into that add no value, take away time from what is really important, and should similarly be examined for inclusion on this list?

You are at an important decision point right now. What you do with this, what you STOP DOING, might give you the energy you need to improve your team. Just having this discussion might help people understand how focused you are on your mission. They will get a clear picture of how critical you view your priorities and how disciplined you will be to eliminate anything that gets in the way. And so, my friends, it is time to decide to decide. In this case, to decide…to STOP. That’s…Leader Business!

1 comment:

TOR said...

I just made this same comment at yesterday's Regulatory Chief's meeting. I think my quote was "I'm full. I can't do any more. What are we gonna stop doing?" Stay tuned as I try to figure that out. Happy Veteran's Day. I appreciate you and everyone there doing what you do. Therese O'Rourke Bradford