Defining success, documenting plans, and asking questions are keys.
So, you and your leadership team hold what you feel is a productive meeting, during which you lay out and agree on plans for a new business initiative. You plan to reconnect with key customers with whom, for whatever reason, you have not done as much work with in recent years. This initiative has multiple steps, and several members of your leadership team have responsibilities for execution. You agree to meet again in two weeks to update progress.
Fast forward to the next meeting, two weeks hence. You all sit down and go around the room. Immediately you start to feel frustrated and anxious. The updates you hear are vague, uncertain, non-committal and unclear. The “let’s get going” energy from the first meeting is not there, enthusiasm is muted, and you don’t feel as if this initiative is getting the attention required for success.
Leadership teams discuss lots of good ideas and plans, yet more often than not they end up dissatisfied with what happens from that point on. Many initiatives die a slow (or quick) death within the organization because leadership teams can’t make the transition from planning to doing.
This is a common challenge for management and leadership teams in any business. We get back to the “dayto- day,” and forward-looking initiatives get lost in the daily noise of our business. We can’t seem to get traction. If you have experienced this challenge and want to get different results, I have a few suggestions:
Understand your limitations: Too many times we try to do too much work at once, too quickly. Understand that you are far better off doing a few things all the way to completion than you are starting several things and finishing none. In particular, your organization will watch your ability to transition from planning to doing. If you can’t make the successful transition, you will incur cynicism toward your ability, making future initiatives all the more difficult. Take on a reasonable number of initiatives and see them all the way through.
Always define success: I have talked about this concept before; it is crucial in this context to define success at all intervals. If your team agrees to meet again in two weeks, as discussed in the earlier example, be sure to define what success will look like for that meeting. In other words, what needs to happen around the initiative in the next two weeks, in order for those weeks to be declared a success at the next meeting.
You must define not only shortterm success but success in the overall initiative. Let’s use the customer example again. Remember, the more specific your definition of success, the more progress you’ll make.
• Interim Success: Perhaps certain members of your leadership team must meet (not leave voicemails for) targeted individuals at the customer company, and must gather specific information.
• Long-term Success: Might include revenue, projects (specific projects if you know about them), number of relationships inside the customer, etc. This allows you to articulate interim definitions of success (between updates) that build toward the overall definition of success.
Memorialize everything, and produce notes quickly: A fascinating dynamic that I see often is a hesitancy to keep written notes of meetings, planning sessions, etc. Or, if notes are kept, they tend to be vague and unclear, and are not produced until seven days after the meeting, during which time the team forgets about what it committed to do.
More often than not you, as the business leader, must keep the record of the meeting. This might seem counterintuitive; why should I, as the leader, keep notes? Actually, it is a very positive dynamic. If you keep detailed notes and produce the record of the meeting, it adds a heightened element of seriousness to the initiative. If you spend meaningful time on it, everyone will take it more seriously.
Producing an accurate, detailed memorialization of meetings and planning sessions requires time and effort. Look at it as an investment. Your meeting notes should provide no room for misinterpretation. My litmus in determining whether my notes were clear and detailed enough is to avoid statements like “I did not know I was responsible for that” or “I thought I fulfilled my responsibility” during the follow-up meeting.
Actively discuss and measure: Just because you have a follow-up meeting in two weeks does not mean you should not be out amongst your leadership team each day during the initiative. How are we doing? What is the latest? What are you working on? All fair questions. Make sure your team members know this initiative is important by incorporating it into regular conversations.
Over time, I have learned that making plans is the easy part; actually getting traction and executing is the hard part. Defining success up front, maintaining detailed notes, and making the initiative part of the regular conversation will keep your leadership team focused. This makes it more difficult for the day-today elements of your business to derail your plans for the future. This approach requires an investment on your part to define success in a very detailed way, both short and long term, and will require you to set an example of follow up and fulfilling commitments. If you are successful, your team will be more effective in making the transition from planning to doing.
Paul Grunau is the chief operating officer of APi Group Inc., a billion dollar holding company for more than 32 independent construction and construction-related businesses with 9,000 employees in over 150 locations. Paul is a graduate of Brown University, where he received a bachelor’s in economics. He completed his master’s of management degree from the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University.