Accelerating into 2014 with 3 Critical Questions©

It’s December – time to assess 2013 and plan for 2014. Leaders and organizations everywhere are contemplating how 2013 went and what to do in 2014. Strategy sessions are being planned, retreats are being held and review sessions are being facilitated, all with a goal to do better in the next year. Unfortunately, many of these processes prove ineffective for two primary reasons: 1. leaders and organizations are looking at the wrong things; and 2. the review and planning process is overly complicated. When things are too complex, execution suffers.

Knowing that I am “The Question Guy,” it won’t surprise you that I’m going to suggest we use questions – specifically, 3 Critical Questions – to review 2013 and determine what to do differently in 2014. These 3 questions (and the answers thereto) will have a profound impact on the review process and your effectiveness in 2014. This also applies to your effectiveness as a leader, personally and professionally.

The 3 questions are simple, but impactful:

  1. What should you stop doing?
  2. What should you start doing?
  3. What should you do more of?

The answers to these questions will give you or your organization great clarity in planning for new ways of being, doing and acting in 2014.

What should you stop doing?

This seems like a simple and straightforward question, but few people actually ask it. It’s impactful because it involves a black-and-white assessment of things that should not just change but should stop completely. Steve Jobs is famous for saying that much of Apple’s success was not in picking the right things, but in saying “no” to many of the wrong things. While many people and organizations are pretty good at knowing that they should stop things that are not working (or that are literally failing), the more important decision is to stop doing things that are “sort of” working. This approach is based upon knowing that we lose out on opportunities to pursue things that are more productive, more profitable or more effective because we are doing too many things that are “okay.” Admittedly, it’s difficult to stop doing things that are okay, because they don’t stink, but this is one of the biggest opportunities for any person or organization.

Whether it relates to a business strategy, a product line, a marketing initiative or an employee, mediocrity has its own momentum which often makes it difficult to stop. Thus, the decision to stop doing something or pursuing something that is mediocre can be one of the most difficult decisions. These are the ‘tweeners – those things, situations or activities that are neither great nor horrible. Imagine having your foot on two sides of the line and trying to straddle it. This is the land of indecision, which translates into the land of great opportunity. When we choose to stop one thing, it frees us up to pursue other things. Whether you are considering resources in terms of time and money, the distraction factor or some other criteria, decisive “no’s” or “stop’s” create opportunities in other areas.

Hopefully, you and your organization are quick to stop the things that don’t work. If not, then you need to get better at reviewing, assessing and deciding – and quickly. If you are like most organizations, your greatest opportunity is to get better at stopping the things that are okay, so-so, or mediocre. What will you stop doing in 2014?

What should you start doing?

This is the question that is often the most interesting and fun for leaders and organizations. This is the land of creativity, new ideas and innovation. This is the land of big visions and big dreams. This is also the land of great distractions, where we can easily lose our focus. Many of us are drawn to new ideas, especially big ideas (or big hairy audacious goals), which are exciting and full of adventure. While these big visions are critical for organizations and in your own life, they can easily distract you from what should be your better course of action.

For example, certain people and organizations should not start doing anything new or add anything new to their plate in 2014. If you are already doing many of the right things, but not yet doing them well, effectively or consistently, then your new initiative should be focused on improving the ways you execute what you are already doing. New and big ideas can be like the distracting shiny ball to leaders, which can just as easily take you off course as get you moving in the right direction.

This question also invites us to exercise our discernment in not choosing too many things and in choosing things based upon a purposeful, values-driven process. Too often, people and organizations make decisions about what they will start doing based primarily on what resources are available. This approach is a missed opportunity. The assessment of resources available to support new things should come after you have determined which things you want to start doing.

One of the impediments to effective brainstorming is that we filter ideas too early in the process. The development of new ideas, whether completely new ones or variations on things we are already doing, should be an unfiltered and unfettered process designed to accumulate many diverse ideas. One terrific question to ask ourselves about the ideas, before we check in around resources, is to see to what degree the ideas overlap or are potentially leveraged.

Great leaders know that leveraging our efforts can be a great way to create acceleration within an organization and to overcome potential resource limitations. For example, if you have two ideas that are fairly unrelated, they will each require their own resources, whatever those resources are. However, if two ideas or new ways of doing things overlap, then they will be sharing resources that are allocated to these ideas, thereby creating leverage.

Nido Qubein, a well-known entrepreneur, university president and speaker, is able to navigate commitments and a schedule that would tire most of us. He is engaged in so many different things that it’s difficult to imagine how he manages them. This summer I heard Nido speak, and he explained that he never does anything that doesn’t touch at least two or three aspects of his life. He only does things that involve opportunities to leverage his time by promoting or supporting various things that he is involved with. This allows him to effectively create time, and thereby resources, because his investment of resources supports multiple objectives. This is a critical filtering process that every leader and organization should implement when reviewing what to start doing.

Another critical filter is alignment – assuring that the things you do align with your core objectives and focus areas. The question for this filter is as follows: Does this course of action align with my other initiatives, values or strategies? For example, I’ve personally committed to focus on my professional speaking business in 2014. As a result, I have committed to various activities that are all aligned with the speaking business. This includes a new speaker-focused website, a new demo video, involvement in speaking organizations and writing a book. It was also the basis for my decision to agree to join the board of the Ohio Chapter of the National Speakers Association. Frankly, my time is very limited and would not support me getting involved at a board level for another organization. However, since that board involvement is fully aligned with a key focus in my business, I decided that it was a good choice of something to start doing. You should apply the exact same analysis to everything new you consider starting in 2014, both personally and professionally.

What should you do more of?

There is no right, wrong or perfect balance, but most of us focus our attention on what we do not do well. We invest significant resources in improving the things that we are not good at, often without assessing whether that is a good investment of our resources. In many cases, we should instead be looking at ways to outsource, delegate or hand-off the things that we do not do well, and instead invest in and sharpen the saw for the things that we already do well. This is the mindset that goes with the question of what should we do more of. Since it’s easier to see the things that are not working or not working well, we often miss the opportunity to enhance and further accelerate the things that we are already doing well.

Yes, we see and know that we are doing things well, but we may only know that our outcomes are positive. Only when we know what we are actually doing, mostly through actions that support our positive results, can we assess and commit to doing more.

Obviously, in order to accurately evaluate and answer this question, we need to do a good job of measuring and tracking the actions that we perform in support of outcomes. For example, if your revenues or profits increased in 2013, it’s not terribly helpful to say, “Let’s do more of that in 2014.” That’s more of a hope than a strategy. In order to have an actionable strategy, we need to know what things we did well to create those positive outcomes, and from this we can commit to doing more of those things. If you don’t know what you did to be successful, you can’t do more of it.

Believe it or not, the other challenge is that many people and organizations never think about doing more of the things that are already creating positive outcomes. We see the good results and don’t give them any attention because they are already working.

These 3 questions will change how you see your organization, your teams and your life. More important, the answers to these 3 questions will give you the roadmap to enhanced execution, better outcomes and greater impact. Are you prepared to do things differently, think differently, filter differently and decide differently? Well, are you?

Speak Your Mind