Action or traction?

So many mistake the ‘taking of action’ with the ‘gaining of traction’ in moving towards their objectives.  It isn’t an uncommon for businesses to find themselves in this position.  The irony is that the whole organisation feels like it is working ‘like a dog’ but at the same time they don’t feel that they are getting the results the exertions deserve.  I am sure many reading this article have had that feeling at some point in their working lives.
So why does this happen then?  Why is the age old dilemma still blighting us today, with all the advances in technology, the advances in science, business understanding, human intelligence etc etc…..
Well quite simply put this issue boils down to our collective inability to do the following.
  1. Set limits
  2. Say no
  3. Stop things
  4. Predict problems
Let’s take these in order.  Firstly, in my experience, it is very rare indeed for an organisation to set limits on how much ‘stuff’ it can do.  Critical to success is knowing how many things you can do.  If your workforce is capable of dealing with 10 key projects, in any given year then make sure the 10 you choose will deliver you objectives.  I recently advised a business who was looking to grow £60m in 5 years.  This meant that they needed to grow £12m per year.  They could handle 8 projects per year, therefore, simplistically they needed each project to deliver £1.5m in the year.  The average project that they were working on….totalled £0.8m – well that is a self-fulfilling prophecy if I have ever seen one!
The second issue is the ability to say no.  There is a real irony here because, in general, the people committing resources to a particular piece of activity are so far removed from what it means to the workload that they make decisions based on what sounds easy.  Again as an illustration is a commitment to do a particular piece of activity by one senior manager which meant that one person had to speak with 57 different country counterparts across 16 times zones in 3 working days. Think, consult and say no if necessary.
Thirdly there is a tendency to add ‘more stuff’ in to the mix and rarely do I witness the removing of activity.  This is generally, caused by a lack of discipline or understanding.  After all the decision to do 10 things was made 6 months ago so isn’t impacting the business now is it?  The discipline that needs ‘adding’ is quite simply a one-in-one-out set-up.  Yes you can do this piece of activity but what do we stop?  That focuses the mind!
Finally despite the best planning things happen.  In an ideal world everything we did would always just ‘fall in to place’ on time.  Unfortunately not, but again a simple solution for this is to take heed of what runners (especially sprinters) are told… run through the tape, not to it!
In summary, keeping it simple, focussed and organised will ensure your effects are moving you rather than consuming you.