During the Falklands War in 1982, British paratroopers were fighting to capture an Argentine position near the settlement of Goose Green. At one point, a small Argentine force that was dug in held up an entire British battalion’s advance. The British commander, Lieutenant Colonel Herbert ‘H’ Jones, decided he had to do something quickly to break the impasse. He rallied a group of soldiers and NCOs around him, and led a charge directly on the Argentine position. This so surprised the Argentine defenders that they quickly surrendered. Jones was killed during the action and was awarded the Victoria Cross for his valour. Leading a platoon attack is not normally in a battalion commander’s job description, but his timely decision to personally lead an assault against the Argentines was the right thing to do, at the right time, with the right effects. Jones’s action accelerated results and allowed the British paratroopers to win the day.
There is an unwritten principle in military strategy that says an imperfect action now is often better than a perfect action carried out too late. Battlefield conditions can change quickly. The enemy detects the opportunity he’s given you and closes the breach, or your momentary advantages have dissipated. This is exactly the situation that Lieutenant Colonel Jones faced at Goose Green. He took a quick decision, led an improvised, and therefore very imperfect attack, but exploited an opportunity in the process.
I’ve written a lot over the years about the necessity of judicious planning and consideration of options before acting. However, this does not obviate the requirement to act promptly and with vigour when an opportunity presents itself, or when the time is right. When you’re bogged down in process and details, and the results you’re hoping for are not coming quickly enough and in enough volume, you need to act to shake things up.
Here are some areas to consider and techniques to implement to accelerate results, to shake things up and act with vigour quickly and opportunely even though conditions are not perfect.
•Stop doing what is not essential or vacuous and focus on essentials.
•What is the main effort? Where should you and your team be putting energy and resources?
•What obstacles or resistance are holding up your results or your improvement?
•Just like that paratroop commander, what actions can you take that will surprise resistors or competitors and put them on the defensive, while simultaneously giving you the initiative?
•Strategically, what is the main effort to achieve your overarching business objectives?
•Operationally, what processes and systems that, if changed, will have a major positive impact on how your company functions and that can provide a major tactical boost to your people?
•Tactically, what are the major tasks or areas you have to focus on in the next 24-48 hours to break the logjam so you can win that big contract, reach that major prospect, complete that project that’s been draining you and your team of its energy and vigour?
•Are you a satisficer or a maximizer? A satisficer is someone who is willing and able to act with resolve when they’re 60 to 80 per cent ready. A maximizer is someone who feels compelled to wait for perfect plans and conditions before acting. Obviously, to break a logjam and accelerate results in the manner I’m describing requires acting like a satisficer. If you’re a maximizer, you need to change your mindset, at least temporarily, and take action quickly.
•Focus on results, not process. What is working and what isn’t? What should you stop and what should you continue?
•Take resources away from underperforming areas and reassign them temporarily or permanently to higher performing areas, where there will be a better bang for the buck.
•Assign your best managers and executives to the areas of biggest payoff. This is counterintuitive to most people, because they feel compelled to put the best people on the biggest problems. You have to take your stars and give them responsibility for the initiatives and business units with the highest ROI and potential. You can assign your problem areas to your middling performers, because they often have good analytical and deliberative abilities, and this is what you need to work on problems. Big payoffs, however, require leadership, decisiveness, and risk-taking, and that is where your best performers should be working.
The aim here isn’t to get rid of judicious consideration of options, detailed planning, and rational analysis, but rather to look at ways of accelerating results when you get bogged down. There are many reasons why you can get bogged down: consistently poor results leading to low morale; internal or external resistance to your plans; lack of resolve and leadership to see things through difficulties and obstacles; outright opposition from competitors and opponents; or simply because the initiative got off to the wrong start.
The idea is to give a jolt and a boost to yourself and your organization by focusing on results, not process, by getting back to basics and acting quickly with the resources you have rather than waiting for perfection. If you’re a satisficer and can live with ambiguity and imperfection, you’re already half way there. If you’re a maximizer, you have to temporarily get out of your comfort zone and take action now even though you don’t think you’re fully ready. In the final analysis, accelerating results is about acting and adjusting to get results, not planning and dithering to achieve perfection.
© 2012 Richard Martin. Reproduction and quotes permitted with full and proper attribution.