Is it time to focus and finish your projects for this quarter?
Before you answer, click here to read my article from two weeks ago– “Why Aren’t You Finishing Projects (Part 1).”
Here are my thoughts on “Why Aren’t You Finishing Projects – Part 2”:
The main answer is that you are juggling TOO MANY projects.
Below is my graphic explaining another concept from Todd Herman.
This example shows what happens if you juggle 5 projects, versus tackling one at a time:
This shows you the impact of “context switching”– when your brain and effort is spread across multiple things.
As Todd explains it, if it takes 4 hours to finish one project, and you do one hour a week on 5 project at a time, it takes you 16 weeks to finish Project A.
If you work on only Project A, you are finished in 4 weeks.
Now I realize that some projects take more time and require waiting on other people, but I think the concept is pretty clear.
One finished and implemented project is worth 50 started and abandoned ones.
If you need a bit of inspiration/ motivation to keep plugging on Project A, re-read the article PART 1.
So pick one half-finished project and make a commitment to power through and “get ‘r’ done” by the end of the 13-week quarter.
Image from Todd Herman
You, small business manager, want to improve things.
I will bet dollars to Freddy’s Famous Buffalo donuts that you have a “wish list” of projects you want to implement, and you have started some of them.
Yet your office (and mine) is littered with books unread, binders from great workshops, possibly brochures or saved emails with a system or process that sounds great. One you want to investigate that just might make your business operate more smoothly or more profitably.
Hey, we are idea people and we are starters (maybe not finishers).
When you do start something new with anticipation, this most likely happens (image from Todd Herman):
One of the most persistent complaints I hear from employees of small business is that “we don’t finish what we start” and that the owners/ managers are always adopting the latest book advice or stuck in chasing shiny objects syndrome.
Making changes, finishing a project or new process, and getting everyone on board and sticking with it is HARD.
You have to be patient and persistent to make progress, and to stay positive with all the set backs and challenges you encounter.
Four things you can do to start and finish your projects:
- Do ONLY ONE at time (more about this next week)
- Enlist the help of your team– don’t do it all yourself
- Create an action plan with weekly action items and assign tasks to specific people with a deadline
- Meet weekly (same time) to review what is complete, what needs to be discussed/ decided, and what is next
As a bonus– get an “Accountability Buddy” outside of your team/ company (a colleague or a consultant) who will hold you accountable to make progress, keep you motivated, and help you work through the inevitable bumps on the road.
Maybe even decide the reward you will give the team to celebrate– such as a “pizza party” or outing or something nice for the office (plants? Fooze ball table?). This can keep you motivated as you slog through the tough parts and keep you sprinting toward the finish line.
Image from Todd Herman
The most important step in bringing accountability to your team — be Consistent!
If you don’t “inspect what you expect” … then some things will get done, but many will be forgotten.
One of the most persistent complaints I hear from employees of small business is that “we don’t finish what we start” and that the owners/managers are always adopting the latest book advice or stuck in chasing shiny objects syndrome.
Your team needs your consistent follow-up to help them (and you!) build the habits of professional management.
This means committing to and having your weekly (or monthly) one-on-one meetings, your monthly business reviews and your quarterly business planning sessions.
Lots has been written on the psychology of “change” and building habits– it takes 40 days, 10,000 hours of practice to be an expert, etc.
But it’s not rocket science- make a schedule, stick to it, learn from your progress, refine what works for your team and your business and KEEP WITH.
How often do you ask someone to do something and don’t follow up?
Kings and Queens don’t usually abdicate their throne but managers often do when they delegate a task…
This “delegation” process might sound familiar:
- You casually and quickly mention to someone “I need you to do this ‘thing’ for me.”
- You “hope” the person understands what to do, has the knowledge to do it, will squeeze this new non-urgent task into their busy week, and will make a decision equal to the one you would make.
- And you get busy.. (that’s why you delegated in the first place, to take something OFF your plate, and have one less thing for you to remember.)
- Maybe you remember once to ask “how is that going” only to be met with either panic or remorse or a promise “I will get to that this week.”
- Then time goes by, you forget to follow up, you get frustrated when you remember it.. another ball is dropped, another great idea is withering away.
You say to yourself “but I delegated it– why didn’t it get done? Why can’t Joe get things done?”
The short answer is you did not DELEGATE, you ABDICATED responsibility.
Continuing my 6-part series on coaching for accountability (you can Read Step 1, Step 2, Step 3 and Step 4 here) or see all 6 steps on my 1 minute video slideshare.
Step 5 to Coach for Accountability and High Performance: Create a True Delegation Process- 6 Steps
- Clarity: Give crystal clear instructions, including expected actions, responsibility, outcomes, and expected completion date
- Action plan: Verify that the delegatee adds this task or project to their weekly action plan/ status report [break down a larger project into the next 2-3 action items]
- Deadlines: Give the entire project a deadline– then back up major “milestones” [outcomes, phases] with expected completion time to arrive at key dates
- Targets: Identify a key metric related to successful progress of this project (such as percent completion or meeting milestones scheduled dates or actual versus estimated targets)
- Dashboard: For projects over 3 months or with multiple milestones, setup a visual dashboard to track progress and update priorities
- Check ins: Weekly individual meetings [and weekly status reports] are the ideal way to keep any delegated items/ projects top of mind and on track, as well as find out what rockblocks are preventing progress, so you can provide additional clarity/ information/ knowledge/ resources are needed to keep moving
If you have used all 6 of these steps when you delegate and you are still not seeing progress, then I suspect you have an issue with the Job Fit of the person.
If you haven’t used all 6 steps, then the lack of progress is partly your responsibility.
Remember as a manager, accountability works both ways!
You need to setup your team members for success, and give them the training, coaching and resources they need to make progress and good decisions.
Next article I will share details on Step 6 “Consistency – Every Week.” [see all 6]
How do you know when to fill up the gas tank on your car?
Or when you are speeding above the speed limit? Or your engine is overheating? Or your tire pressure is too low?
Because … every car has a dashboard — a handy visual guide to the key things that matter to operate your vehicle properly. (Geeky history: They have been around since the early days of autos – the speedometer was invented in 1902 and installed in cars since about 1910. My great aunt Louise proudly told tales of driving her dad’s roadster over 100 miles per hour on country roads in the 1920’s.)
So if your $35,000 auto has a dashboard, do you have one for your multi-million dollar business?
Today I continue my 6-part series on coaching for accountability (you can Read Step 1, Step 2, Step 3 here) or see all 6 steps on my 1 minute video slideshare.
Step 4 to Coach for Accountability and High Performance: Develop a Dashboard with your key metrics:
What should you include on your dashboard?
I highly recommend using categories similar to the “Balanced Scorecard” approach.
This means that your dashboard shows key numbers to track and evaluate:
- continue with financial measures (sales, profit, cash)
- add operational metrics (leads, proposals win rate, on-time-delivery, quality)
- include “voice of the customer” (net promoter score or customer feedback)
- employee experience (retention, engagement scores)
You can see the advantages of this concept– if you are focused solely on current sales or cash in the bank, there are other other areas of your business that need tending for future success. If you don’t have leads or are losing work to your competitors, or your service delivery level or employee engagement is dropping, these are warning signs that predict lower revenue and profits.
8 Benefits of Dashboards
1. Visibility: The new field of “Business Intelligence” or BI shows that the more you measure in your business the more you can improve. What is measured becomes higher priority and gives you the tangible target to improve.
2. Maintain quality during growth: If your business is growing, you need to make sure that you are maintaining the quality and customer experience standards and your team is not burning out.
3. Alerts before systems break: When you track leading indicators, you can see issues coming before they happen. For example, if you track pending orders you might see that your current production schedule can’t handle the order volume and will be backlogged by two weeks. Dashboards can alert you to this before chaos ensues.
4. Less stress: When you have a dashboard, you can get timely and accurate data on your business health, compared to your targeted goals and to historical trends. This will allow owners and general managers to feel more comfortable letting go of responsibilities, while knowing they are “watching the store” and things are running smoothly.
5. Basis for accountability: How do you know your managers are doing their job? Easy, just check their department dashboards. Where do they need more coaching? — you will see a lack of improvement or a drop in their key numbers to let you know there is an area to discuss and determine the root cause. This ongoing process improvement conversation increases the business knowledge and the decision making competencies of your managers.
6. Data to make / evaluate decisions: Did that marketing campaign or new training program yield positive business results? If you see improvement in your dashboard numbers, you can see if a project was successful.
7. Creates ownership thinking and alignment: This is especially true when business dashboard metrics “cascade” down to departments and to individuals. Employees and managers start to understand what they can do to increase revenue and customer service and efficiency or reduce costs.
8. Improves revenue, productivity, margins, profits and teamwork. As you can see from the list above, focus and clarity around what is important to drive business value and improve your value to customers will only improve your financial results and operational capacity.
As you can see from this list, implementing dashboards and management review and planning around the data can be the foundation of high functioning, profitable and growing organization.
Next article I will share details on Step 5 “Delegate, Don’t Abdicate” [see all 6]
This continues my 6 part series on coaching for accountability (you can read Step 1 and Step 2 here).
Step 3 is to start using Action Plans:
6 Steps to Coach For Accountability & High Performance [see all 6 steps on my 1 minute video slideshare].
Most employees (and also most managers) are naturally focused on getting their “day job” done. Their cognitive “time span” and time management skills are typically focused on the next day or next week.
This is a major reason that all your good ideas and wish list of projects for improvement never get very far, much less implemented.
The concept of an Individual Action Plan has personally been an incredible organizing and planning tool for my entire life, and changed the direction of our family business.
When I was in high school, our family business started using a business consultant, who taught every one of our 25 employees how to create and use a personal action plan.
My mother had 3 retail stores, two production facilities and a business services division with hundreds of accounts.
When every person had an action plan and they had “quarterly action plan meetings” they were able to focus on the daily work AND make progress on those pesky projects. It also made it easy to see how everyone was contributing and working together on business building activities.
It made the difference between chaos and progress, and transitioned us from overwhelm to a professionally managed profitable business.
There are two inter-related purposes for action plans-– the first is to monitor and prioritize activities that support major projects or programs. The second is to use action plans as a training and development tool. I say inter-related because when people contribute to projects this contributes to their skill and competency development.
Your employees want and need ongoing reminders and assistance with taking action on bigger projects, so that they make progress and focus on small steps every week.
When they have a written action plan, and they review in your weekly coaching conversations, this helps them stay on track. If you don’t review and hold them accountable to make progress, anything beyond daily urgent work gets forgotten.
Quarterly Action Plans Overview:
Ideally you need to do a bit of design and discovery to begin the action plan process.
- First you need to compile a full list of all active company-wide projects and create an action plan for each, with sections or tasks assigned to the responsible person. [More than 4 projects— prune the list down.]
- Second, you should meet with everyone individually to discuss their desired training and development direction [part of your annual performance conversation.]
- Both of these topics become action steps on an individual quarterly action plan.
What goes on an action plan?
- Specific training for the quarter- aligned with personal interest and business need
- Stretch assignments– areas where this person can enrich or enlarge their job duties beyond the current role
- Delegation items to take over responsibility from peer or manager
- Action items or steps from company-wide or department projects assigned to this person
- Cross-training to “back up” or shadow someone
- Research opportunities– what problem can they investigate possible solutions?
- Outside/ formal training programs or workshops, such as industry certification or a job-related degree
Action plans also need to list specific action items, aligned with a broader goal, who is responsible, and a target date for completion.
They are an integral part of aligning every team member’s work with the business goals, and to leverage the rhythm of weekly coaching with progress on business-improvement projects.
As an added bonus, you will be building trust and the engagement of your team by focusing on the key drivers of retention. With the right topics and agenda, the quarterly action plan meetings become “stay interviews”– a technique that employers are finding valuable to hold onto their high performers.
Watch my 21-minute video training on Action Plans for Training & Development
Next step I will share details on Step 4 “Delegate, Don’t Abdicate” [see all 6], and expect to have a new Guide to Coaching for Accountability by the end of this month.