By Maurie Cashman
â€œThe secret of getting ahead is getting started. The secret of getting started is breaking your complex overwhelming tasks into small manageable tasks, and then starting on the first one.â€
I have a mentor who talks a lot about â€œchunkingâ€ or â€œfocusing on your big rocks and breaking them into smaller rocksâ€. I have found this to be increasingly helpful in working through both complex projects and in keeping the balls in the air on multiple projects. By listing out each project in writing and breaking down the project into process steps, I can stay focused on what the status of each project is, the next step to be taken and changes that need to occur with changing requirements.
List Your Critical Projects
Listing your most critical projects is the first step toward breaking down your work flow. It is important to do this in writing and to refer to this repeatedly, several times per day. This is fairly well established. So by listing each project you can visually see the projects you have in front of you. The importance of this is two-fold. First, it is a jump-starter toward what needs to be accomplished and in what time-frame. Second, it is a method to get you moving every day toward concrete actions that will build value in your business, rather than wasting time on emails, small issues and just generally getting organized and motivated to move ahead.
Break Each Project into Process Steps
I find it helpful to list out the status of each project step to stay on top of where we are and where we are going. This is particularly helpful in working with business owners and executives wherein there are steps to be taken for which each party has responsibility. This is critical in working with entrepreneurs (self-included) that have a lot of issues that they feel requires their attention daily.
Often this process can point out a couple of basic concerns. First, can the entrepreneur focus long enough around a business issue for which they are responsible to make a meaningful impact? If not, it is going to be difficult to take that business to where it can go.
The second issue it may point out is that the business is too dependent on the owner to make everyday decisions, keeping the owner from focusing on the larger strategic issues that can drive value in the business. This may mean that the owner lacks depth in the organization, which will be important to a successive owner. It may also mean that the owner may have difficulty in delegating problems, and allowing subordinates to make decisions and the accompanying mistakes that would free that owner to stay focused on key strategic issues. Identifying these issues is key in working effectively with your advisory team (including you as the owner) to determine how or if you can hold each to an ownership transition planning responsibility.
No planning process moves ahead in a straight line. My training in accounting and finance leads me to think linearly. My experience however, has taught me that everything is a shade of grey and that we will discover things in the ownership transition planning process that will require us to re-evaluate the process and the priority of the steps within that process. This happens on every project that I work through and I have to constantly adjust my thought processes.
This is a little like what they teach major league hitters, keep your weight back and particularly keep your hands back so that you can hit the fastball but adjust to the breaking ball. If you watch the best hitters, they can make solid contact even when they are fooled by a pitch by adjusting in a split second to the pitch.
This is not a natural reaction and requires experience, practice and coaching. Without experience dealing with a changing environment, you will inevitably believe that every ball will be a fastball, like in little league. This leads to linear thinking and you will be unprepared for the unexpected changes that will occur during your planning process. The more successful you are the more likely you are to fall into this trap.
If you do not actively practice, you will develop an organization that is over-dependent on the owner to make every decision and will fail to have the ability to see the adjustments that you need to make to meet the changes in your business environment. Hence, the need to build and delegate to a team so that you have time to practice and adjust to the big issues that are happening around you.
Finally, even the best hitters go into slumps from time to time. When they do, the best seek coaching from someone they know and trust that can look at what they are doing objectively and give them ideas on adjustments to make. These adjustments will not be easy and the coach must reaffirm why the changes will work, provide support to get that owner to stick to the uncomfortable changes and hold the owner responsible for implementation in order to break out of the slump.
Try listing your critical process, breaking them down to process steps and watching for adjustments that can be made. Iâ€™ll bet you will increase the opportunities that will come to you and have a profound influence on your ownership transition planning process.