Sometimes things are so simple, but we either try to make them more complicated than they need to be or can’t see with the clarity we’d like to. I was reminded of this at a recent lunch with a mentor of mine when I asked the obvious question; “what are your keys to success?”
My friend is a retired senior executive who had sustained success in multiple businesses across his long career at a global F100 company. He drove results while being highly respected by everyone as near as I can tell. I’d point out that results and respect are not always correlated, by my friend was able to do it without leaving a trail of bodies.
At this point in life I don’t expect a mystical answer, but I was still impressed by my friend’s clarity. His quick answer, followed by some detail.
1 – People: Get the right ones, know how to improve them and get the poor performers out.
2 – Simplify: You can’t do everything, so get a short list of priorities and keep people focused on them.
3 – Execute: Once you’ve chosen goals, you have to stay on them and drive to completion.
And you’re done! That’s it. Really. If you actually have the ability to do these things or to grow into the ability, you’ll go far.
I thought I’d share one of his practices in each bucket as an example of how to operationalize his advice.
People – Make the most of mistakes.
One example of his approach to people development is simple, but powerful. When a good employee makes a mistake in good faith, don’t scold or preach. Don’t blame or show why they failed. Turn it into a learning opportunity. My friend would have his staff write a one page summary of what went wrong, why it went wrong and a short list of alternatives for addressing and/or eliminating the possibility of that type of error in the future. Then they presented it to the team. This turns the “mistake” into a learning project and opportunity for employee and team to grow.
Simplify – People can’t “focus” on 30 things.
But we all have 30+ things to get done. The trick is to set clear priorities and brand them. They need to make sense and be aligned with driving your highest level goals. It’s often a challenge reaching the short list, but it’s critical that you do. In my friend’s case, he turned a business around by identifying 4 key strategies and making sure everyone could name and articulate them. (Note: They can’t be arbitrary. They have to be based on solid research, reasoning and real business need or it will be worse than having nothing).
Execution – Does everyone understand their role?
Can everyone in your organization describe their straight line of sight to one of the key strategies? What are they doing to improve or drive a result? How does what they’re doing matter in the broader mission? Are you measuring and holding teams accountable? If not, you’ll never get where you want to.
So if you can get good people to perform as a team, clarify what the team needs to do and how and then stay focused, the likelihood of success goes way up.
So it’s that obvious and conceptually simple and yet harder to accomplish than it seems.