When the role is new, everything is a challenge. People want to do everything. It is seen as a hedge against failure. But is it really possible tofocus on everything?
Identify the activities that you have to doconstantly such as the regular review ofmetrics and the hiring of the right people
Identify the tasks that are critical to your success and the vital few who will make the difference in executing them
Ever since I added on an additional role of managing a business to my day job, a frequent question I am asked is, “What is your biggest challenge?”
When the whole role is new, everything is a challenge. I normally dance around the answer because I really cannot zero in on one big challenge. There were mountains of challenges – mostly within me that I had to figure out before I started zeroing in! Strangely this problem of plenty and lack of zeroing in on one, is the biggest challenge.
I realise people want to do everything. It is seen as a hedge against failure. But is it really possible to focus on everything? Look at it this way: However you slice it, all of us have 24 hours, we cannot be in two places at the same time and we need to sleep every now and then. Add to this that budgets are not limitless. There are only so many sales rupees, investment rupees, call it whatever, available to go around. It is as simple as that: Limited time, limited budgets and even limited attention spans from the management/market and customer. It seems almost intuitive that the best way to succeed is to pick and focus.
Sigh! I am sure you are smiling and thinking, it is not that simple! Because if it was, all of us would be doing that, wouldn’t we? Experimenting with this over the last year here are some ideas that I see bearing fruit.
Keep the lights on
There are some activities you have to do to keep the lights on or keep the vehicle rolling. Identify them. They could be the regular review of metrics and the hiring of the right people. The activities depend on the role and what literally keeps the lights on. HR operations is a great example of keeping the lights on for us HR professionals
With some playing around, what would initially take around 80 per cent of your time and resources will eventually consume not more than 40 per cent of your time and resources. And if you are really high up in the totem pole, you have hopefully been smart enough to hire people who will keep the lights on so you don’t have to worry and you end up spending only 20 per cent of your time on this.
Now that the lights are on what do I do?
Strangely enough once you have identified the smartest way to keep the lights on, and you are successful, you will find time but not know what to do with it. Keeping the lights on is known territory, there is instant gratification here. But once you get out of that cycle, the temptation to get busy with keeping the lights on will be very strong. That is an almost primal call that pulls at every fiber of your muscles. Do not falter. Graduate to the next step before you get pulled into the abyss of comfort.
Get to the basics & ask the obvious:
Now that you have resisted the primal call, take some time to understand some basics of why your business or function exists and what will happen if it ceased to exist. Ask your customers and team members this question – they will help you decide the areas you want to focus on.
Picking the vital few
This is by far the most critical activity and also the most challenging. Understand what your objectives are. For instance, is it revenue, profitability or both? And in the case of HR is it about talent acquisition and retention or manpower cost or both?
Sometimes it is good to go to experts, customers and employees. They will give you direction. But remember the decision is ultimately yours. Again a set of questions that you decide and answer will help you here. This will vary depending on what you do or what stage your business is in.
Let me share with you what we are attempting currently in my organisation based on the above thought process. The question we asked is “what are we going to different in HR?” However we rephrased the question in the context of current market conditions which is
1. Increasing cost pressures
2. Good talent is difficult to come by
3. Employee expectations and mindsets have changed
The answers sharpened and we started getting interesting observations. Then the big question for each area: Why haven’t we done this before? And if we have why didn't we succeed? It is, as you can see, an iterative process, frustrating at times but it challenges the status quo and gets the team thinking.
A product of such a process is the Force Multiplier Group. Our question was if budgets are constrained, and talent is difficult to come by what can we do to solve our customer’s biggest problems? The team’s premise is founded on the Pareto principle that 80 per cent of the effects are because of 20 per cent of the causes. If the Pareto principle is indeed right, then one could make the case that there is a small group of people who disproportionately influence business outcomes.
Can we identify this group and provide disproportionate support and attention with the explicit purpose of making them successful so they function as a Force Multiplier Group? Please note, this doesn't mean we stop focusing on the others. Yes, you guessed it right! The others keep the lights on and Force Multiplier groups are what you do when the lights are on!
We believe that a few ideas like this will help us overcome limited time, limited resources and yet help the business produce extraordinary outcomes. The emphasis is on extraordinary outcomes as the market does not reward on par results.
Given the limited words of this column and given that it is not a book, I am not focusing on execution. However, please don’t ignore this. Take some time to read John Kotter on Change Management and use his eight step change model.
Good luck and let me know how your experiments go!
(Elango R. is Executive VP - Emerging Geographies SBU and Global CHRO at MphasiS)