Making the unrealistic manageable
The most predictable thing in business is that people, teams, and organisations are going to be stretched. It can feel like this is unique to us, but it has been happening since the Industrial Revolution (and probably for a long time before that). The narrative tends to be ‘do more with less’. Often as leaders, we are the ones charged with the responsibility of passing this message onto the workers to execute the strategy.
Recently, I saw Eddie Izzard, the British Comedian, who brilliantly discussed his 27 marathons in 27 days (amongst a billion other things). He hilariously tells of the experience, "the first one is hard, the second, third, and fourth are the hardest, and then after that “your brain thinks it’s in bed dreaming about the pain you are in". But, think about it – Izzard is in his 50’s, hasn’t an athletic bone in his body, yet he achieved something most of us would consider impossible.
Finding this inspiring is easy. Taking a lesson from it and implementing habitual action to take on the seemingly impossible ourselves is very different.
When faced with tough budgets, stretch KPI’s, or ridiculous deadlines we can allow ourselves a moment to say “tell him he’s dreaming” (a famous Aussie quote from the movie The Castle) or some kind of expletive.
Then once the angst has been let out, it is time to get a game face on and prepare to get the job done. In an age when 'failing often' is all the rage, we need to acknowledge that failing to meet objectives will not be tolerated for long, and the higher up the chain, the less wiggle room there is.
What I have found helpful includes:
Do you know all of the technical elements of your role, your team’s roles, and those that relate to your client? Close the gaps through training, research, and key on-the-job experience.
2. Tracking the right stuff?
Just because average sale, conversion rate, and run rates are what everyone has been tracking since forever, doesn’t mean you have to. Question what will ‘shift the dial’ when executing the strategy. Track what will make impact, not what someone ten years ago thought was important.
3. Seize the moments
In the movie Limitless, Bradley Cooper’s character takes a pill that opens up big chunks of his brain none of us can access. Suddenly colours are brighter, he is attuned to all kinds of details, and he feels awake in a way he has never felt before (kind of like a beautifully strong coffee in the morning 1000x). ‘Pre-pill’ is how I view most managers and executives out there. Working hard, with so much on their desk they can’t even see the 20 or 30 moments presented to them every day where productivity and effectiveness lies in their teams. The moments that create, initiate, and nudge people closer to being brilliant at their jobs and align everyone's purpose.
The first two fixes listed above are the easiest to execute, and that is why most tend towards them first, and rightly so. Without these in place, the small moments cannot be understood or capitalised upon. The third takes courage to own up to and to develop. As Dr Brene Brown says, “we can choose comfort, or we can choose courage”. Having the courage to develop the leadership interpersonal skills, and then to practice them daily in the workplace takes courage.
The payoff? This is where true transformation happens. Where business results are meaningfully impacted. Where unrealistic targets become achievable.