It is not hyperbole to define a successful organization as one that finds the balance between a) making the right changes at the right time and b) having the discipline to “keep on keeping on” and just doing more of what is working.
Note well that b) is particularly hard to maintain when the tasks and activities that ARE working become repetitive and lack in excitement and drama.
So how does an organization find this balance - between thinking laterally and creatively and just keeping their heads down and plowing forward?
Well, luckily in the past few years a large and impressive business literature has sprung up that codifies best practices of how to balance this need to incorporate change in an organization with that to maintain doing “more of the good same.”
This thinking can best be summarized by the phrase “Immersion plus Spaced Repetition” and goes like this:
1. Everything, of course, begins with ideas, and the best, business ones normally arise from a series of individually and organizationally introspective strategic planning and goal-setting sessions that clarify objectives and the obstacles standing in the way of their accomplishment.
This immersive process - done at least annually but at organizations with ambition quarterly - both defines what needs to be done and inspires all of the participants to take on the hard and often painful work of getting it done.
The latter point here cannot be underestimated – Thomas Edison famously said that “genius was 99% perspiration and 1% inspiration” but that 1% “spark” is uber-critical in propelling an organization through the first threshold of change.
2. But, as anyone that attended an exciting or invigorating conference or strategic planning session can attest (and as I am sure Mr. Edison reflected on often during long nights at the lab), inspiration fades over time.
Even worse, when the inspiration is not followed through on, cynicism can set in and actually leave an organization worse off than if the planning sessions were never done in the first place!
So how to avoid this distressing fate?
3. Well, by keeping the ideas, goals, and objectives of the planning session alive through their regular review and adjustment.
Think of it this way - if a well-run strategic planning session is the essence of good leadership, then well run, spaced and repetitive goals and objectives reviews are the essence of good management.
Great managers check in with their teams as often as daily – if only for 5 or 10 minutes – to review the day’s objectives and to keep the shorter term work flow aligned with the longer term planning and mission objectives.
The old adage that the only way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time is never more true than when it comes to these spaced and repetitive management check-ins. When done right, they measure, acknowledge, and reward incremental progress and prevent the desire for the perfect from getting in the way of the doable and the done.
Now, at least annually and preferably quarterly, the entire organization needs to reconvene to review actual progress versus stated goals, to assess what worked and what got off track, and then to refine and define updated goals and objectives.
And after this next round of strategic planning sessions, what is to be done?
Well, the spaced and repetitive management check-ins begin anew. Wood is chopped, water is carried.
Following this simple but disciplined formula, over time great ideas become great realities, businesses are built, and legacies and fortunes are made.
And for investors, far more than technology it is these “above the line” leadership and management disciplines that separate the well-run companies to back from the haphazardly ones to avoid.