A Good Plan


A good plan violently executed now is better than a perfect plan executed next week.

George S. Patton


Stop Wasting Time on Email

Email is not work, and it certainly isn’t collaboration. It’s good for confirming facts and capturing decisions already made. It’s horrible for making decisions. Here’s why: The Bad News About Using Email to Collaborate



When I was a wet-behind-the-years newly-minted lieutenant in the Canadian Signals, I had the privilege of being mentored by an experienced Sergeant. One of the things she showed me was her two backpacks. She had two complete sets of personal equipment. One was for winter deployments, and one for summer weather. If you’ve ever been to Saskatchewan in February (at -40ºC and arctic winds) or July (at +35ºC and mosquitoes) you’ll understand that packing for these two different seasons are two very different tasks.

A laminated card was zip-tied to each pack. It listed what each pack contained. When she returned from an exercise she would re-pack it using the checklist and stow it in her closet ready to go for next time. Her gear was now packed and ready to go if there was an emergency and she was called-out on short notice.

If anything was missing or needed to be packed at the last minute (like energy bars or fresh batteries for her flash-light) she wrote them on the card using a grease-pencil. Developed over several years of experience, they contained everything she needed and nothing more. I wasn’t as connected with the Quartermaster as she was, so I never had two packs, but I did steal the idea of  self-updating checklists from her.

I’m a big fan of checklists. Pilots use them, as do surgeons and home inspectors. We all hope nobody forgets to do something they’re supposed to in these jobs. Especially if we’re the passenger, patient, or home-buyer.

I have many checklists for my different recurring tasks in my life. I have checklists for a weekend in the trailer, going to the rifle range, packing for Scout camp, starting my motorcycle,  or going kayaking. Over the years I’ve kept them in notebooks, in spreadsheets, and now I keep them on  a web-enabled cross-platform application (Evernote). When I forget something I add it to the checklist for next time. When I find I didn’t use or need something I drop it to the bottom in the “optional” section of the list or off the list. These lists are living, evolving tools that change over time.

At work or in the office I have checklists for running a meeting, going on a business trip, writing a monthly report, and making a presentation. That way I can focus on the content of the meeting, report, or presentation instead of what I might have forgotten. Like did I book the meeting room or not? I can make changes and incorporate lessons learned into each afterward, so I don’t forget the same thing twice. For example, on the presentation and report lists my last item is always spell-checking and proof-reading.

Over time I’ve learned what things I absolutely have to do, what I could do (the “optional” part of the list), and just as importantly what I can do without. Who wants to carry stuff around on a back-packing trip that you never use? There are exceptions like the first aid kit. I hope I don’t have to use it, but I take it along anyway. It has its own checklist.

I suspect everybody has some recurring tasks in their life. If you don’t already you may want to consider starting a set of checklists for yourself.

New Measurement Every Time

The only man I know who behaves sensibly is my tailor; he takes my measurements anew each time he sees me. The rest go on with their old measurements and expect me to fit them.”

– George Bernard Shaw

A sensible man
A sensible man

Can You See It? – Setting Goals That Get Done #2

Child pulling down grandfather's hat
If you can see it, you can do it

Part Two of  Series that begins with Setting Your Intent (and Deciding What You’re Not Going To Do)

Visualize Your Goal

The part of your brain that makes decisions and drives all human behaviour has no capacity for language. So, if you want to motivate somebody, including yourself, you could literally draw a picture. Tell a story. Use concrete language. Have a tangible outcome.

Use all your senses. Imagine success. See, hear, feel, taste, and touch it, as if it is real to us already. When we know what success looks like, our brains starts filling in what we need to do to get there. Athletes have used mental rehearsal for years, and the performance improvement they get from visualization is almost as great as actually physically practicing.

This is where setting SMART goals get it right, mostly. The “S” in SMART stands for specific. But you can set very specific but intangible goals. Like (and I wish I was making this up, but I hear this all the time when coaching executive teams) “Increase EBITDA by 10%”.

Would everybody in a company be able to get excited about this? Would they even understood what it means? It’s certainly specific enough, but it doesn’t say anything about the why or the how, which are also important.

Here’s a personal example. When I was trying to quit smoking for the 99th time, what finally got me over the motivation barrier was imagining going for a hike in the Rockie Mountains with my grand-children. I don’t have any grandchildren yet, but I a) wanted to be around if and when they do show up, and 2) wanted to be able to carry them, not an oxygen tank. I can see the picture in my head. I can even show you on the map which trails I’d like to take them on first.

So if your have to set a financial goal, perhaps describe what the money you hope to earn will allow you to do, instead of just imagining the money. Maybe don’t get trapped by being specific about the amount of profit (or growth, or weight you’re going to lose). Instead fixate on what the specific outcome will allow you to do.

If you can draw a picture or describe the outcome to somebody else in a concrete way, then you’re there.

Next: Imagine the Milestones

It’s the Daily Grind

Any idiot can face a crisis
Any idiot can face a crisis

“Any idiot can face a crisis – its day to day living that wears you out.”

From Inspiration to Action

This article, Turning Inspiration Into Action, summarizes really well the steps needed to change our our own behaviour. It also works really well when trying to drive change team in a team, department, division, etc.

Commit publicly, book the time and use it, ask people to hold you accountable, break big tasks into small ones, design regular reminders, examine why you avoid it when it happens.

I’d only add one more thing: celebrate successes along the way.

From inspiration to action

There, now go change the world.

We Have To Do Everything NOW, So We Can Fail Faster

Seventh and last in a series about communication and change management.

I’ve got a lot of renovation projects started around my house. We installed hardware floors eight years ago, and still haven’t put the baseboards in. I know it was eight years because the night we put the last nail in is the night my god-daughter was born. In fact, we baby-sat her older sister while Mom & Dad (who’d been helping us) went to the hospital to deliver their latest.

When everything is a priority, important things get missed
When everything is a priority, important things get missed

The outside of the house is half painted, the garage needs new gutters, and I have the bricks but not the sand to re-lay the back patio so that it slope away from the house instead of towards it. I started that job when I took the old wooden patio out. I don’t remember how many years ago that was.

There’s lots of things we could be doing, and yet nothing seems to get done. We’ve gone from doing a little here (let’s get an estimate on finishing the tiling on the back landing) to doing a little there (oops, the playhouse needs repair! Let’s turn it into a garden shed while we’re at it – the kids are all grown up and don’t need it anymore.)

It’s demoralizing really. Lots of activity, no sense of progress. Companies and teams can suffer from the same organizational schizophrenia. When everything is important, then nothing is important, and nobody is clear about what to do next.

Fix #7 Focus

There’s a saying about how the cobbler’s children go barefoot because he’s too busy making shoes for everybody else. So I took my own advice. I stepped back to figure out what I was trying to accomplish over all. Then I picked one thing to do to get me closer to that.

Sooner or later we’re going to need to sell the house we’re in. The kids will all be moved out soon. The house is too big for just the two of us. Maybe we’ll find a little place out in the country. Or the mountains. Or maybe next to a slow-moving river in a little valley out on the prairie.

Regardless, we’re going to need to get our investment plus maybe a little extra out of it. We were never going to get there if we kept doing the same thing we are now, which is trying to come up with the perfect plan and budget.

Pick One Thing

We picked one project and we’re focused on that. We’re installing the baseboards,  re-painting the wall, and moving around some furniture and pictures. Then we can get our offices set up, and get some extra closet space to make the kitchen more livable. But the baseboards are going in. We’ve spent the last two weekends working, and the progress is tangible. At the end of today the pronouncement was “Let’s keep going!

It is so easy to plan everything out to the Nth degree, and let slip the time we could actually be doing things. Time is the one thing we cannot run down to the hardware store and get more of.

Decisions are Expensive

Making decisions is expensive. Holding two competing ideas, alternatives, or options in your brain at the same time, and choosing between them, costs the brain a lot of energy. Our ability to make quality decisions degrades with each subsequent decision during the day. Save your decision making energy for when you really need it. Once you’ve made a decision, act on it!

“Do Not Do” List

Leader’s make decisions. Those decision include what not to do. And that has to be communicated as explicitly as what you are going to do.  What if you made a “Not” list? List all the things that you’re not going to do? If need be, you can even make a “Later” list, as in “This might be next, but I’m not going to spend time and energy thinking about it now.”

Start With the End in Mind

Have a vision for where your company / team / organization is going. Then pick something, usually the most urgent “do now” stuff, and get it done. Something that if you focused on it for a set time would give you the best chance of getting closer to your goal. Give yourself a deadline. Remove all other distractions. Then do it until it’s done. Wash, rinse, repeat.

Focus precedes success, which generates momentum, energy, enthusiasm, and that elusive “employee engagement”.

What’s on your “do not do” list?

Being Understood When the Dragons are Dancing

or How I Learned to Love to Communicate

My wife and I were at a Chinese New Year’s dinner at the beginning of February. It was a wonderful dinner with dragon dancers, drummers, musicians, photo ops with politicians, and a fantastic menu.

At one point, over the noise of the crowd and music, I tried to ask her if she wanted another drink. I pulled out the drink tickets and pointed towards her empty rum and coke. I mimed “yes” and “no” by nodding shaking my head.

She nodded yes, but there was something about her facial expression that made me pause. So I bent closer to hear what she was saying. “Yes, but later please.”

“So no then.”, I stated in my best patronizing, task-oriented voice.

This was a very simple, almost intimate, communication with a woman I’ve known for over thirty years, and we mis-communicated. Then I thought about the managers and executives whom I work with every week. Executives who are trying to make significant  long-term changes to their businesses and organizations with less forethought and planning. Changes like introducing corporate performance measures and evaluations, talent reviews, strategic priorities.

Then they wonder why making those initiatives are such a struggle or just plain fail. Which costs them and the company time, money, emotional aggravation, and goodwill among their customers, employees, and shareholders. 

The lesson for me, I think, has been that I need to do a better job of helping my clients plan and execute their communications. Some of them get it and don’t need my help. Some of them need more than a little help.

In the coming days and weeks I’ll be enumerating some of the most common mistakes I see. I’ve come up with eight so far, and I’m sure you’ll let me know of others. In the meantime, I invite you to think about how you communicate. I bet you aren’t as clear and concise as you think you might be…

On the Importance of Trust and Relationships

Trust and relationhipsHere’s an article I wrote for RESULTS.com on discovering the importance of trust and relationships in business (and life). Enjoy!