Keep Your Team Focused for Success

Summer in the City. In Chicago that means a great season of outdoor activities, concerts, festivals, air shows, the lakefront, etc. But like most cities in the snow belt it also means huge road and utility projects, creating traffic nightmares, dirt, dust, constant noise…you get the picture.

Yep—I chose to live here. And yes again—I get that the only real time of year to do these projects is our ridiculously small window of late spring into early fall. And yes, a 3rd time—at least improvements are happening! But just in my neighborhood alone we have 3 major east/west streets (Augusta, Chicago, Lake) and one major north/south street (Damen) almost completely torn up.

And less than 2 miles from me is the massive work being done to upgrade one of the countries busiest highway interchanges—where the Dan Ryan, the Kennedy, the Eisenhower, and the Stevenson all converge in Downtown Chicago! (For those not from Chicago that’s I-94, I-90, I-290 & I-55—but if you use the interstate number system folks will immediately know “you’re not from here!”)

I’ll spare you the worn-out public works jokes—but my confidence that all these projects will be completed (and done well!) before the snow flies is pretty low. As the time pressure mounts supervisors will authorize extra overtime (extra cost!), corners might get cut in order to save time (reduced quality!), and some safety concerns might take a back seat because “the alderman is coming by tomorrow to check on progress and we need this section complete!” You get the picture…and you’ve seen the same things happen in your business.

Often with the best of intentions and in an effort to make lots of improvements quickly, we allow our teams to take on too many projects at once. You can’t afford to let your annual planning and strategy deployment process get too aspirational—too far out into “wish list” territory. Identifying your 3-year breakthrough objectives can, and should, have some stretch and aspirational qualities. But once you get to the annual objectives that support your 3-year breakthrough objectives, you and your team must sharply focus on what truly will deliver the needed results.

And with this sharper focus your team can realistically and confidently outline the critical improvement priorities to pursue to insure the delivery of your annual objectives. Better to really nail a smaller number of the most important initiatives than get let your team get too spread out and do a mediocre job on a bunch of varied projects.

This approach was reinforced by two recent meeting I had with two different Private Equity firms. As they each outlined their approach, it was clear they both expected their portfolio companies (and the respective management and operations/sales teams) to deliver very rapid improvement results in revenue and earnings growth. Pretty typical as these are hallmarks of PE. But most people assume that once a PE firm buys a new portfolio company they’ll demand immediate improvements in every single area of the business—and that they will pressure management to take on a “gazillion” new initiatives in the hopes that something will stick.

But what struck me was that both firms really emphasized the importance of identifying just a few critical improvement areas, doing the appropriate planning regarding those initiatives, and then really staying “in those lanes” and rapidly executing exceptionally well. These very bright firms knew the importance of really nailing the critical few.

Invest in your people and make the time with your team to clearly communicate your long and short-term objectives.  Help the team through the planning and execution phases of your improvement initiatives to stay focused on the critical few projects that will deliver the desired results. You get happier, more relaxed, safe, and engaged employees, who drive your business forward every day.  Don’t just say it—lead by doing it.

This article was originally published August 26th, 2018 on LinkedIn.

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