Coaching Session 6

Today’s audio is 18:48 minutes.

strategy

answers the question, HOW?

By now we’ve likely established some specific goals. And we’ve probably at least broached the topic of STRATEGY.

Goals and objectives answer the question of WHAT. Now, we’ve got to get busy with strategy because it answers the question of HOW.

How am I going to accomplish my goals?”

There has to be a plan. So let’s talk about planning. Let”s dive into strategy.

It Doesn’t Have To Be Perfect

Most of us have grown up hearing all the usual drivel…and unfortunately, many of us believe it’s true.

Dot your i’s and cross your t’s.

Get your ducks in a row.

Sweat the details.

In certain context they’re all decent advice. The problem is our inclination to swallow things hook, line and sinker (speaking of cliches). It all compels us to think we’ve got to pre-think every conceivable possibility and outcome. The pressure mounts as we attempt to figure out what we should do, and how we should go about it. If it doesn’t paralyze us, it slows us down because we continue to work on our plan fearful that we’re overlooking something.

Some years ago Dr. Paul Dobransky, M.D. told a story in his newsletter that illustrates a powerful point about strategy, time and incompleteness. He operates a website for men at MensPsychology.com. It’s clearly a male perspective, but the point applies to all of us.

I was talking with a friend who had been in the Marines.

We were talking about how it can be so difficult to get a guy to make the right decision in his life. I know so many guys who agonize and agonize over the major ones when its time to get exclusive with a woman or even marry her, when its time to cut your losses and move on with a career thats just plain bad for you and doesnt treat you right, or what to do with money in building your life.

He said, Um, that doesn’t happen to a Marine, because we have the 70% Solution.

Needless to say, my curiosity was peaked.

He went on to tell me that when there is a military operation going down, if the guys on the ground are faced with a difficult decision and wait around for a 100% CERTAINTY of a decision being the right one, they might be waiting FOREVER.

And that is DEADLY when lives are at stake.

He said that the general rule is that if a soldier is 70% or more certain of the situation, he needs to go ahead and MAKE THE DECISION based on that percent amount, and commit to the action he sees as best at the time.

This saves lives and works out the best. When mistakes are made some of the time (and most often they are not, or are minimal), the bad results can be reviewed and improved on next time.

This is one reason that I’ve learned through the years to be a speed freak. Okay, I’m naturally a speed freak, but early leadership roles taught me the value of going with my natural inclination. Don’t misunderstand me. I’m not talking about flying by the seat of your pants or being a master of the knee jerk reaction. I’m talking about forward progress with minimal hesitation.

He Who Hesitates

You know the saying. “He who hesitates is lost.” Dictionary.com defines it this way. “A person who spends too much time deliberating about what to do loses the chance to act altogether.”

Timing is important because time changes things. Opportunities come and go…in a flash. Challenges grow. Minds change. Perceptions erode. But there’s a problem. And it drives us crazy.

“Let’s sleep on it. Things will look different in the morning.”

We’ve all thought it, said it and followed that advice. And it’s often very wise. So how do we resolve this whole speed thing with delaying action so we can gather our thoughts (and sometimes, our emotions)?

Remember, we’re talking about STRATEGY. Yes, it involves decisions, but let’s stay on point with our context. We have our list of 2 or 3 things we’d like to accomplish. That decision has been made, even if it’s not written in stone. You’ve got these things in your mind that you really want to “get done.” Now, it’s about how to best go about getting them done!

So many of these wisdom quotes apply to situations where we don’t know what to do. We’re stuck. Or we’re in a highly emotional state.

A woman suddenly loses her husband to a car wreck. Her life is turned upside down in an instant. Should she be a speed freak in making decisions about her life? Of course not. Besides, what’s the hurry? There are no opportunities that are going to slip by if she takes some time. There are no challenges that are going to be magnified by delaying a decision. And…she’s suffering the most emotional ride of her life. She relies on family and friends to help her with the vital decisions (funeral arrangements, etc.). Well meaning friends may encourage her to do something with the house, or with a move…but mental health experts will likely encourage her to avoid making any life changing decisions for a good long while. She needs time to sort out what she wants.

Situations dictate strategy and how we go about constructing strategy. 

What’s the time element for you? That’s important. Think about it and carefully consider it. This won’t likely take long. I’m betting you already know the time element.

Do you have an hour, a day, a week, a month, a quarter, a year? How long do you have before you need to act? How long do you have before you have to have the work completed?

Your list of 2 or 3 goals may consist of 2 or 3 different timelines. That’s okay. Just consider the situation and the timeline associated with each one.

Hesitation often stems from not knowing what to do, or how to do it. Sometimes it’s self-imposed because we avoid thinking about it. We delay and procrastinate because maybe it’s an unpleasant thing and we just don’t want to think about it. Whatever the reason, hesitation equals delay. That’s not the same as giving something sober consideration.

The widow who delays a decision about whether to sell the house and move isn’t hesitating. She’s taking the necessary time to consider her options. She’s sorting things out. She’s taking action by carefully thinking through what she wants to do and what she needs to do. And if she’s wise, she’s collecting information from trusted advisors who are helping her consider things she may be uninformed about (tax and financial concerns, for instance).

Maybe you need to take that kind of time to come up with a good plan. That’s fine. Just make sure you’re not putting things off due to hesitation (procrastination).

What’s The Worst Thing That Can Happen?

Usually the worst thing that can happen doesn’t. But it could.

The courage isn’t in asking the question. Everybody asks it…mostly rhetorically.

True courage is in answering it. So, go ahead. Answer the question. Then press on like a 4 year old and keep asking, “and then?”

It goes something like this.

The boss could get mad. “And then?”

He could write me up. “And then?”

He could fire me. “And then?”

I’d lose my income. “And then?”

I wouldn’t be able to pay my bills. “And then?”

I’d lose my car. “And then?”

I’d have to borrow my mom’s car. “And then?”

Very quickly most people realize that not only are the latter answers unlikely, but the first ones are, too. Most of the time when I sit down and ask clients to do this, they readily admit that the very first item isn’t likely to happen. Well, if the first fear isn’t likely to happen, then what are you waiting for? Are you waiting for some miraculous measure of fearlessness?

I do have an answer that is very likely. If you don’t decide on a strategy then you’ll do nothing and that will be worse than doing something!

Form A Plan. Work The Plan. Re-Work The Plan.

This is where I discovered the truthfulness of that Marine 70% formula, and how important speed can be in forward progress. I’ll share a secret I learned, but I’ll admit my need for speed served me well. Call it serendipity if you’d like.

I was about 24 years old. I had just been hired in my first general manager job. I was already an experienced manager, but I had never done anything at this scale before. And to top it off, it was a turnaround project. It was a pilot operation for a large company. It was a high-end consumer electronics retail operation serving as a test for expansion. The operation was a little over a year old and it was failing miserably. The first GM had just been fired. The store manager had been fired. The day they were fired was my first day. I didn’t have time to sit around and ponder for too long.

I quickly discovered that part of the problem was merchandising. As you might imagine, merchandising and inventory are the life blood of successful retail. Well, I had stepped into a situation where the inventory was in dreadful shape. Wrong price points. Obsolete merchandise. Too many gaps. Too many out of stock situations. You name it. I had every imaginable inventory problem.

And I had no store manager. I had a sales staff that seemed lethargic and incapable.

But what I really had was an opportunity. I was thinking, “Well, it won’t take much to outshine the last guy.”

I took action. I got a store manager I could trust, somebody I had worked with. We quickly formed a plan to get the staff in shape. We supported them, but ramped up accountability. We immediately got the entire place cleaner than it had ever been. In every turnaround I’ve ever done – it doesn’t matter what business it is – I’ve jumped on housekeeping. It’s amazing how cleaning things up symbolizes improvement. It’s a universal thing. When you clean things up people immediately have a stronger sense of pride and accomplishment.

I took more action. I went through the inventory while walking the warehouse and marked down every single item that didn’t belong (most of it). Cash is king in every business and I was relentless.

On and on it went, lots of fast action. I didn’t get it all 100% accurate, but during this time I soon realized that I could make much better decisions and formulate much better strategies by acting quickly. I’d visit with peers from other companies at conventions like the Consumer Electronics Show and it was apparent that I was making about 3 decisions for every 1 decision they made. But it wasn’t merely a “more is better” proposition. By the time they made their first decision I was on my third. And my third decision was based on things I had learned during the first two decisions. That put me way ahead of my peers in other companies.

It made sense to me that decisions and strategies were vastly improved by speed. These weren’t modest improvements. They were quantum leap improvements.

I also learned something else that seemed to get past some of my industry peers at the time. I was willing to re-work the plan more quickly than most. I would devise a strategy, work the strategy with intensity, but I was always willing to embrace changing it if the results weren’t what I expected or wanted. I refused to fall in love with a strategy no matter what the outcome. I focused on getting the result and if the strategy was failing, I’ll quickly formed a new strategy based on what I had learned.

I saw other people in the industry using the “push harder” approach to their strategies. If the strategy wasn’t working, they quickly figured it was because they weren’t working the strategy hard enough. Well, I had already eliminated that from the equation because I had systems in place (along with capable leadership) to insure the execution was at least “good enough.” Push harder just delays the need to change the strategy.

Not All Time Is Equal

When you’ve got millions of dollars tied up in inventory that’s growing more obsolete by the day…you’ve got to act quickly because time is money. The more you delay marking down the inventory, the more money you’ll lose. Take a $100 item and mark it down to $70 today so you can sell it…or wait a week and you’ll have to mark it down to $60. That’s how it works in retailing.

When you’ve got the opportunity to purchase a deal that may garner an extra 20% profit, but the vendor says, “We’ve got to have your order right now” – that’s a different time element.

Both demand you act now. In the former, you must act or it most certainly will cost you. It’s not so cut and dried in the latter scenario.

Will you really make an extra 20%? Is this deal going to everybody and their dog or it is exclusively yours? Can you get a deeper deal? Is this merchandise congruent with your overall plan? Do you have the cash to invest? Do you want to invest the cash you’ve got in this deal?

Whenever a person tells me they need an answer RIGHT NOW. I have a standard answer. Every single time.

NO.

That philosophy has never failed me. Sometimes it’s gotten me a much better deal.

The point is that not all time constraints are identical. The pressure of time is often real (as in the markdown example). Other times, it’s contrived (as in the vendor offering me a “right now” deal).

Make sure you have a good idea of the time element for your strategies. Don’t fool yourself into thinking you have more or less time. Be realistic.

Let’s Get A Workable Strategy

I use the term “workable” for a few reasons.

  • Workable means what works for you. A good strategy for you may be different than a good strategy for somebody else.
  • Workable means a strategy that has the best chance for a favorable outcome.
  • Workable means a strategy that you can execute. You don’t need other people to do something in order to pull it off.
  • Workable means a strategy that won’t risk the farm. Betting the farm is rarely a good strategy.
  • Workable means a strategy that can be course corrected if you find it doesn’t work as expected.

Make your notes. Think through the challenges and risks. Consider the upside.

It’s time to ramp up our work.

Randy