Spread too thin


Too much to do.

Too many projects.

Too many priorities.

Too few people.

Spread too thin.

Endless to-do list.

Missing every deadline.

Not enough hours.

Inching forward on fifteen fronts, jumping forward on none.

The busiest people get the most done. Not by being busier – they know to prioritise, organise, delegate, ask for help, focus, convene, deliver.

The busywork people know the same tricks, just don’t use them.

All priorities aren’t equal. Work out how to work together at the top of the list.

Skippy Strategy: If there was only one priority – most important, biggest impact, greatest leverage – what would it be? Invest your time asymmetrically.

Neatly filed under Keeping Promises on May 28, 2015

So what’s the problem? #2 – Fear of over-promising

Tiny chunks

From the outside, everything looks good. A compelling vision, enough funding, great minds, appropriate timescales.

“So what’s the problem?”

On the inside, it feels unobtainable. Too many players prioritise other work. The project is undermined by lack of commitment and widespread hedging.

#2 – Fear of over-promising

The fear: What if we fail? What if we fail after we’ve done our absolute best? What if we fail after we’ve done our absolute best and it isn’t enough? That would look bad. That would make ME look bad.

The safety mechanism: Maybe I can protect myself by never really committing. I could be ‘forced’ to work on other priorities.

What they say: “I’m just so busy. If I had less other work I’d help so much more. It could be amazing.”

What to do about it

No one wants to be on the losing side. So show them how to be winners.

Baby steps.

Get their attention with something – a mini crisis, an external deadline – that can be solved quickly, with a little effort, and simple next steps. Something everyone believes is important and knows is do-able. “Sure we’re heading towards that big mountain, but today, all I need is a packing list. Any suggestions? What’s the best route out of town? Who do you think should come with us?”

Limit the scope, deliver the result.

Break big problems into tiny chunks. Quick wins. Build momentum. Give credit. Shine the sun on success. Use the positive glow to get more help.

Skippy Strategy: Forget the five year plan. What should we do in the next five days?

Neatly filed under Making Promises on May 27, 2015

Stepping into discomfort

Two parts

The first episode of a leadership life is played out in two acts.

Act 1 – Saying, “Yes” to the job title.

Some people never put themselves in a position of leadership – never take the forward step that makes decision makers consider them for the role, never jumping into their initiative. It’s not for everyone. High profile roles come with higher risk and nobody knows if the job’s for them until their knees are snugged under the table.

If it’s for you, the first act of leadership was accepting the role. Even if you’d been working up to it for years, it still took a deep breath, a brave face and first-hand knowledge of Imposter’s Syndrome.

Act 2 – Stepping into discomfort

Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but soon there will come a moment when your leadership is tested. Until then, it’s vanilla. Management. Adding value to the meeting.

A tough call will show what kind of a leader you are.

Someone – maybe you – made a bad decision, took credit for another’s work, shouted when they should have listened, needs to collaborate not work alone.

Someone – maybe you – has to choose to be a leader in deeds, not just in title.

In slo-mo, everyone – including you – sees the decision.

Skippy Strategy: At the moment of truth, forget pride and ego, what’s the path to the top of the hill?

Neatly filed under Leading on May 26, 2015

Call on customers

Love Bike

Whether it’s to build something new or do something specific, whether it’s a project team with an end game or if it serves a never-ending need, every team exists for a reason. Internally focused for the benefit of colleagues or aimed externally for partners, suppliers or end users – the reason it exists is to make other people’s lives better.

These people are customers. What the team does, its product.

It’s tempting for teams to believe they know enough about their customers to understand them and know what they want. And that customers want what the team’s doing for them right now.

Do they?

Does your customer want to work the way your product makes them? Do they have to jump through hoops? Could things be better? What if you changed this? Or that?

The only way to know you know, rather than think you know, is to call on customers and ask.

Skippy Strategy: If your customers are internal, get coffee-time with five colleagues. What do they want and think? If external, call them up or buy them lunch. How is your team, your company and your industry viewed? What would make life better?

Neatly filed under Keeping Promises on May 25, 2015

Positive Deviance


In his 2007 book, Better – A Surgeons Notes on Performance, Atul Gawande tells the story of asking simple questions and listening to the answer.

It starts with Jerry and Monique Sternin trying a novel approach against malnourishment for Save the Children in Vietnam. Giving up on unsuccessful attempts to bring outside solutions to villagers, they tracked down families that managed to flourish despite the circumstances. They tapped the techniques of mothers who beat the norms – highlighting their positive deviance – and promoted them widely. It worked – malnutrition dropped 65 to 85 percent in every village where the Sternin’s worked.

Gawande describes how this idea was picked up by a hospital in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, which was struggling with hospital acquired infections. Surgeon Jon Lloyd persuaded the Sternins to join him in a positive deviance programme in the hospital. They held a series of thirty minute discussions with hospital workers at every level – including nurses, doctors, food service workers, janitors, and even patients. Instead of directives and a top down approach, they said,

We’re here because of the hospital infection problem and we want to know what you know about how to solve it.

Unsurprisingly, ideas flooded out of people who’d never before been asked. Most of the ideas were simple and easy to implement.

The result? As Gawande says,

One year into the experiment – and after years without widespread progress – the entire hospital saw its MRSA wound infection rates drop to zero.

Leaders don’t have all the good ideas, but they do hold the key to unlocking them from everyone else. Simple and direct questions, with humility.

Skippy Strategy: What problem are you struggling to solve on your own? Who could be your thinking buddies? Go ask them.

Neatly filed under Managing on May 24, 2015