Thursday, March 04, 2010

Getting Somewhere

A friend of mine recently got promoted to a CTO job for decent-sized technology company. As is sometimes the case with big undertakings, we sat down for a beer to bounce some ideas around. Part of why he's as good as he is at his job is because he asks for advice from those with experience.

Through the course of the evening I found myself coming back to some earlier post-mortem writing I'd done about some large corporation restructurings. We also compared the results of some big reorganizations of which we'd been on the side-lines, to their present day situations and what we could find of the road they traveled. Eerily enough, the steps the successes made weren't that different from my Creation in Chaos checklists. The paraphrased version goes something like this:

Head Down
When it comes to earning trust, the quickest way is with results. Your walk talks and your talk talks, but your walk talks louder than your talk talks. So start walking. Don't publicize your plans, don't invite dialog outside of those conversations in which you absolutely need to engage. Save your energy, kill idle speculation, and don't give room for rumors. You were chosen for the job for a reason, so start proving people right. If you don't have a vision, make crystallizing it your first priority but keep that process to yourself. Be direct and transparent with your organization, be direct and opaque with everyone else.

Assemble the Team
What you need most are the resources marshaled around you to get things done. So find out who you can count on, who has skin in the game, and who needs to go. Pick some champions, equip them well and unleash them. To do this you need to have a clearly defined inner circle. Set clear priorities, make sure they know and respect the ground rules of the new game. Give them regular and consistent chances to provide input and a forum to keep your thumb on their pulse. This will mean reducing the layers within the organization and if necessary trimming the organization. The evidence in history shows that you will have to do these reductions anyway, one way or another. So it's best to be upfront about what it takes to be in the inner circle, and eliminate those who aren't. Give them packages, help them along as best you can, but do it quickly and transparently. Your long-term success relies on this.

Find a Focus
This step needs to be done in parallel with the previous one. Success is always predicated on focus. Pick the 3 or 4 things that are already driving your (and the organizations success) and reinforce their priority. Make sure your team is in the loop to identify this list, and align the troops and the funding around these items. At the same time, pick the 4 or 5 things that are impeding your goals and find out how to bury them. Whether it is sucking time, money, or attention, the worst of this lot need to get bullets in the brain, fast. Again, get the team in on the process to identify these, but don't let them run the show. Don't get side-tracked by history, sacred cows, or personal agendas. Keep laser-focused on hard facts, raw data, and make note of anyone who isn't slicing the fat alongside you. Chances are they should be the next neck under the axe.

Lower the Bar
When it comes to planning and setting goals, keep them simple and attainable. Nothing will impede your forward progress like unrealistic goals, or worse, goals you fail to hit. Until you have your feet under you and track record behind you, under-promise and over-deliver. Give your people soft pitches that they can knock out of the park. Let everyone claim some successes so the mood can recover. Give people time to refine the basics, learn the new game and become efficient at delivery on the focus items.

Rinse and Repeat
When you have some successes, and the situation begins to improve, it is time to publicize the results. Go back to the beginning, examining the team, the focus items, and the success criteria. Raise the bar a little, add some new items to focus on, grow the team, and give your people new challenges. Remember that it is a process and each step needs solid footing so you don't fall.

While these may seem to apply only for organizations, they are the same steps we follow when constructing a life plan or any self-improvement process. I welcome your comments and success stories.

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