Our business recently purchased iPads for all of our consultants, and I’ve been having fun getting myself organized on it for the New Year. Between my calendar, messages, notes, reminders, and even using Evernotes, I can hardly miss planning ahead and getting everything done in 2011, right? Of course not, because being on top of things is so much more than writing a long “to do” list. Here are some strategies that I intend to use in 2012, and I invite you to use these as a guiding list for yourself. Please share with us if you have some others you are committing to or recommending.
1. We have to anticipate that resources will be tight, for us and our customers and suppliers, so we must focus on how we can use our resources most effectively. Silo thinking is out, as the demand for people to be more flexible and versatile is critical. We must look at how to divide up responsibilities creatively and give much more empowerment across the board. Too many leaders are their own worst enemies as they try to do it all including defining the vision, setting the goals, creating the plan, allocating resources and doing the work. How about recruiting others to do some of the “heavy lifting,” so that as leaders, we can deal with the growing complexity of the marketplace and define and adjust our strategies.
2. In this age of incredible technological developments, we need to discover how to make information as handy as possible. For example, let’s imagine that I’m trying to address delays in a project that are becoming critical. Using my iPad I can quickly go to Google to look up “handling project delays,” or the Apple store to see what books are available, or visit my LinkedIn or Facebook accounts to see what other professionals would advise. Once I’ve researched, gathered, and filtered the information I’m finding, I could pass along the pertinent information and notes to my team members. Taking this a step further, I might create an online community for my team using Yammer, Ning or even creating a LinkedIn group to increase the speed, quality and clarity of our communication and approach. We have to constantly think – integrate, coordinate, collaborate – among technology, tasks and people.
3. With the increased information flow will come the need to reduce indecision. Someone mentioned to me this week that a committee assigned a project had worked for nine months and still had no concrete recommendations for the organization. How can that happen? Most of us have no effective method of decision making. We usually talk a little bit, suggest an idea and then look around and see a couple of heads nodding – especially “important heads” – and then spontaneously close the decision. We rarely talk about how we want to decide, identify the criteria we need to consider, or explore more than one alternative. In 2012, we need to become much more systematic and thorough about our approach to decision making. We can’t afford months of indecision or the rework resulting from poor decision-making.
4. One of the recent results of all the belt tightening and staff reductions is that while our systems are becoming more and more complex, we are removing any slack in the system that would accommodate handling problems or a change in direction. Most catastrophes (think the Challenger and the Columbia accidents) are the result of complex systems with too tight coupling – a great number of interdependencies that rely on each other with such tight deliverables that there is no elastic in the system. There’s a point where “doing less with less” sets us up for major problems and most of us have no idea where that point is. The rubber band eventually will snap; we just don’t know when.
5. While I was playing one night with my iPad, I suddenly realized that I had completely lost track of time. It’s easy to get so connected to every technology that we set ourselves up to be constantly interrupted throughout the day (think Facebook, IMing, texting, LinkedIn, Twitter). We need to know where our time goes and be the masters of our own calendar. No fair blaming the person who wants us to play Farmville at 10 in the morning or getting lost in an online chat. Some things we just need to turn off, especially if the work requires intense concentration.
6. While I’m on the topic of time, on occasion I get what I call “a gift of time.” Somebody cancels or joins a teleconference late, and I suddenly have twenty new minutes. We need to learn how to use those “gifts of time” to our advantage, rather than get frustrated and interrupt somebody else who’s working because we are bored. I’ve started to create a short-list of “quick items” that need to get done in any given week (think car appointment, dental appointment, quick article to read, responding to a LinkedIn message, even calendar maintenance). An addition to our toolbelt of using time wisely, is the emergence of new technologies (tablets, smartphones, etc.). These are great tools, if stuck at the dentist office or having an extra 20 minutes to help us increase our knowledge, get things done, help us remember information and increase our communication.
7. Due to the nature of my profession, I learned long ago to be planning the work I’ll need two to three weeks ahead. Then I do little bits of it every week in advance, so that it’s all ready when I need it. This method of “chunking” work and planning ahead works extremely well. So let’s say I’m due to train on a topic in late January, I’ll start in mid-December to do the planning and preparatory work. I’m never in the week I’m in, if that makes sense. I’m thinking two weeks ahead. When we do as Covey’s says and “begin with the end in mind,” working backwards from that point, we increase the likelihood of keeping to the schedule.
8. As I’m getting older and preparing for the day when I eventually will retire, I’ve been using a “buddy” system to have others come along with me to learn the business. However, the idea has transformed into an open system of buddying – what we might call win/win/win partnerships (Lisa and I buddy-up to plan the calendars and manage accounts; Michael and I buddy-up to work on new technologies in training; Matt and I buddy-up to focus on the website and product development). Quite frankly, if I had to do any of this work alone, it would seem very daunting, while having a buddy makes it manageable and fun. Let me encourage you to find some “buddies” who challenge, inspire and support you.
9. I believe we are in the early stage of a major paradigm shift as a result of breakthrough technologies. The pace of everything is picking up speed and sometimes it is overwhelming to stay on top of things and keep learning. Years ago, before the internet and social technologies, it was much easier to be the “sharpest knife in the drawer.” That’s not the case any longer, so we need to keep filling our back-packs with new tools, strategies, and approaches. Remember the quote, “Nothing wilts faster than laurels rested upon.”
10. As we’re filling our back-packs, we need to figure out how best to add value to our organizations in 2012. Being good in your functional area (think engineering, accounting, manufacturing, retail) isn’t enough anymore. Are we good at asking astute questions, guiding a problem solving process, building a persuasive presentation, facilitating an dynamite meeting, calming an upset customer, mediating a conflict between two employees or thinking strategically? If we can do those things on top of our functional area tasks, then we’re value-added to our organizations and confident that our strengths exceed beyond our functional boundaries.
I’m sure you have some nuggets of your own that you’ve learned over the years and would be willing to share with others. We seem to be moving out of our economic doldrums. I’m sure you’re ready, like we are, to experience a great 2012. I encourage you to download the My Strategies for 2012 Poster. Print it out and under each category write down two or three things that you are willing to work on or commit to in 2012. Once completed, hang it up in your workspace to keep you on point. Print out another for a co-worker. Set goals and hold each other accountable. Good luck!
Warmest wishes for the holidays and the New Year,