When it comes to achieving your organization’s goals, it falls on you as a leader to make a conscious decision to make deliberate sacrifices in certain areas to excel at others. Your ability to accurately assess your organization’s capacity becomes a key element in achieving your vision.
Jay Swindle: Thank you for joining us for this webinar. Our topic today will be on Prioritizing Your Initiatives. We have a large audience with us today, so before we get started, I’d like to review a few housekeeping items.
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To get things started, I’d like to start by doing a quick introduction of our speakers. Our facilitator for this webinar is Stagen partner Wes Blair. In addition to holding senior leadership roles in several mid-sized companies, Wes is the primary author of our execution content and the subject matter expert on the topic. He is also the facilitator in Stagen’s Advanced Execution program.
My name is Jay Swindle, and I will be your host for this webinar. I’m a partner and the general manager of Stagen. My day job is running Stagen from a day-to-day perspective where we apply all of the concepts you will hear today in running our own business. I am also a facilitator and a coach in our Advanced Execution program. Wes, I’ll turn it over to you now.
Wes Blair: Thanks, Jay. Good morning everyone. So today, we’re going to just give you some highlights from our execution content. We’ll start by grounding in our execution model, four dimensions of execution. We’ll discuss some of the challenges of making deliberate tradeoffs, saying no. We’ll actually share one of the things that we teach, our 2×2 prioritization matrix practice and explore the life of an initiative inside that tool.
We will also think about an overall framework that we use for everything we teach, not just execution, but that’s making the shift as a leader from a reactive orientation to more conscious approaches. And then at the end, we’ll share a little bit more about our leadership academy for those who may be interested in engaging this type of content more deeply.
So the primer for execution is contained in our execution module, which you have a snapshot of here. And as I explain what a module is and how it appears, we’re actually going to offer our first polling question. And we just like to get a sense for everyone on the webinar is what type of current leadership role do you have in your organization?
So a little bit about our modules. Modules are kind of a long, article-length material that we compile that gives busy leaders like yourselves access to a lot of insights for leadership and something that’s easy for you to consume rather than trying to read 100 different business books or things like that.
Our execution content shows up two places. Jay mentioned the Advanced Execution program, which is an entire year focused on execution. And then the primary way that people get involved in our community is through our Marquee Integral Leadership Program or the ILP, and execution is the primary content in the second quarter of that program.
So to move into the content now, what you see on the screen is our execution model, which we’ve broken into four dimensions. And this framework actually starts in the center of what you see. So it begins with deliberate tradeoffs. And one way to think about that is we can kind of do anything, but we can’t do everything.
We believe that lots of resources could be created over time, but in the near term for most organizations, there are some resources that are limited. And so we have to make choices. And in particular, we have to make choices to say no to some things that we’d like to do in order to make space to get a few important things actually done.
Once we’ve made those deliberate tradeoffs, we’ve chosen our priorities. We then have to associate each of those priorities, which you might think of as initiatives usually when we’re working on our organizations. We would have to break each of those down through some sort of discipline process so that we can work it with multiple people on our team, we can work it in phases through time, make sure things are followed up, and whatever the priority detectors are actually achieved through time.
Then there’s personal productivity. What are we individually doing to help drive that process forward? Depending on what your leadership role is in your organization, you could be engaged in the specific problem-solving or some of the tasks with an initiative.
If you’re a little more a senior role, you may find that your personal contributions tend to be more on the leadership side, providing error cover, making decisions, perhaps interacting with key customers or things like that.
And then you’ll notice that everything in the middle is kind of wrapped in what you see there as committed action, which one way to think about that is kind of a dynamic form of a accountability. I like to consider committed action as what happens to the plans you make in the middle when the real world happens, and you actually have to adjust to those plans.
For the webinar today, we’re just going to dig into the heart of making deliberate tradeoffs. Now, the tough part with deliberate tradeoffs is as human beings, generally, we prefer not to say no, and then that tends to be amplified in a corporate American culture because we have the things …
You’ve heard all these expressions before, like giving 110%, going above an beyond, and so we’re oriented to really say yes to everything, particularly if it comes from a customer or a colleague or comes from our boss. And so there’s a tendency to want to over-commit, which then leads to the really important things not actually getting done when we intend them to get done.
So as you consider your own relationship to saying no, we have another polling question for you. And so how often do you say no in your work life to a request, particularly if that request is from a customer or a colleague, someone that you would consider an important relationship?
So Jay, how’s that looking? What sort of information are we getting back?
Jay Swindle: Yeah, we’re seeing that a little over north to 60% say that they never or rarely say no to a customer or a colleague, which is consistent with what we typically see when we teach this material.
Wes Blair: Relatively, a few people often, so just as an indicator that this is a psychologically challenging thing to do.
So let’s now dig in a little bit and think about how can we get to some priorities in a more deliberate way to help us actually get done what we intend to get done?
So let’s first take a look at something that we see a lot. And this is rendered here on note paper. It might be in a leather-bound notebook. It might be on someone’s whiteboard, but we often see people kind of managing their priorities or their to-dos in a list like this.
Now, Jay, what typically happens to number 20 on that list?
Jay Swindle: Yeah, in our experience, when you have the 20th item on the list, it never actually gets done because you’re always filling up the top of the list and never actually making it down to number 20.
Wes Blair: We tend to do it in order. Now, the issue arises when, well, what if number 20, which in this case is identifying lead sources for target segments, maybe getting some new customers for our organization? That might actually be the most valuable thing on the list, and so if we never get to it, maybe we don’t realize the full potential of what we’d like to do with our organization.
So what we’re going to offer is an alternative way to think about this that helps you and your team work through what the priorities ought to be and why. We call this the 2×2 prioritization matrix practice, so there’s a technical tool here, the prioritization matrix, but we really consider this a practice, something that you should do dynamically with your team, with your organization.
So let’s start just by taking a look at the tool itself. So it starts with just a normal 2×2, which [you’ve had in 00:09:10] various contexts before. And on the vertical axis, you see value there going in the direction you might expect, from low to high.
On the horizontal axis, you see effort or cost, or you might put risk here. You might put bandwidth, anything that could be limited during an execution cycle, which might be your planning year, it might be a quarter, but then notice, whatever’s limited along the horizontal axis goes the opposite direction of value. So it goes from high to low.
And then I’m just going to remind you … At this point, I’m going to continue to go through … We’re going to spend a fair amount of our time here unpacking this tool. Just want to remind the group that you’re absolutely welcome to send questions in via the question tool on your dashboard at any time, and we’re happy to address those questions in the middle. You don’t have to wait for the Q and A at the end.
So we’ve got our 2×2, our four quadrants, our two axes. Let’s start to take a look at what’s in the quadrant. So in the upper-right there, we label that Drive Daily. Notice, that’s something that’s relatively lower effort or cost per bandwidth, but relatively higher value. So this would be something you would consider your high bang for your buck.
And notice Drive Daily makes it a little more dynamic. So these are the things that might be really important, that are recurring, that take up a lot of bandwidth.
So an example there might be getting new customers or closing sales. It could be operating effectively or serving your customers. It could also be leadership things like living your values or living your culture.
So moving around now counter-clockwise to the upper-left quadrant, which we label Selectively Invest. And so this one is high-value, like drive daily. But these things are relatively difficult to do. And this is really the challenging box here because this is where you have to make a deliberate tradeoff. This is where you have to say no.
Any organization can only handle so many difficult things at one time, and that’s why we use the word selectively in there. You have to select those things, and you have to do some of them but not others. And again, this tends to be really challenging because most of the things in that quadrant are good ideas. They’re things that you or your leadership team thinks might be really valuable for the organization, might improve the organization. You really want to do them all.
Now, as we move around to the lower-right quadrant, which we labeled Work In, that’s something now that’s relatively lower in value, but it’s also easier to do.
And so one way to think about that … You’ve probably heard the metaphor before, putting small rocks inside large rocks, in order to pack in and get more things done. That’s the way we think about work in. So once you’ve established your major priorities in the top-two boxes, where can we take some of the little pieces of bandwidth around that and get some other things done? We’ll also explore another subtle way to use work in here next in the life of an initiative.
So now moving around, to the lower-left, this box we actually bisect. We actually cut it in two here, and the first piece of that is Delay. So when we’re considering our Selectively Invest initiatives, we have to say no to some of them. They’re good ideas, but we can’t do everything now. So the Delay box is where those initiatives that we’ve decided not to pursue in the near term, that’s where they go.
And another way to think about the Delay box is on deck. So these are things that we might decide to invest in, in the future, but we’re not going to do it now. And then finally, the Ignore box in the lower-left.
So the difference there with Delay, Delay items are things that we think are generally good ideas, likely to create value. We’re just going to defer them. We’re going to delay them.
But the Ignore box, these are things that we’ve decided are unlikely to create value. But we may see people in the organization spending time on them. And so we want to signal, “Hey, we’ve decided to ignore that. Please don’t spend time there.”
So at this point, before I offer some other subtleties on this, I just want to pause, Jay, and see do we have any questions from the attendees?
Jay Swindle: Yeah, Wes. We’ve got a couple of questions here. Can you articulate a little bit more about the distinct difference between Delay and Ignore and around … Is it really just a technical tool, or are there any other dimensions that you might want to consider when using Delay or Ignore?
Wes Blair: Yes, so just to clarify a little more, again, you might … Let me offer an illustration, so I’ve said before that ignore, you might notice the organization doing something that you’ve decided you shouldn’t do. And here’s a common example that we see.
Say you’ve decided a particular customer segment just doesn’t work for your organization. You can’t handle it profitably, and you’ve decided you got to focus on other customer segments. Well, your sales team, very naturally, wants to win more business. They want to gain revenue, and so if those sort of customers come in, your sales team might be tempted to spend time with them because they see it as another sales opportunity. And so you might use this as a way to say, “Hey, we’ve decided to ignore that customer segment. Let’s not spend time there,” and, again, just a reminder of the distinction.
The Delay side is things that you think might create value. You simply deferred it in the short-term in order to make room for the number of Selectively Invest initiatives you think you can handle.
Now, the second part of the question there was about is this just technical, or are there interpersonal dynamics? And so I’m going to suggest that in leadership, there’s always interpersonal dynamics. And to apply that specifically here, let’s think about … Many of us have probably had this experience where there’s a high-potential member of our team, and they’re very excited about what they can do to improve the business.
And without an approach to this, they might come and say, “Hey, let’s go build this cool new product I’ve thought of,” and in the near term, we might have to tell them because of limited resources, “Hey, we’re not going to pursue that now.” And that can land on that high-potential person as, well, maybe they’re … They don’t have a career opportunity, or they’re not going to be listened to, or something like that, which can demotivating.
But if you actually imagine doing this approach, and, remember, we call this a practice. So imagine you drew what you see on the screen here up on a whiteboard. And then you as the leader are facilitating a discussion rather than prescribing the priorities.
And so now, this high-potential person says, “Hey, I’ve got a Selectively Invest thing I’d like to do,” you write it up there, and then you have a group discussion about how much can we really handle. And you end up as a group. And you might end up having to make the final call as the leader. You end up moving it into the Delay box, but there’s an opportunity there for that person on your team to feel heard, feel like their idea was explored, and to be part of the decision to defer it rather than just getting told, “Hey, we’re not going to do that.”
That’s an example of how to apply this in a facilitation mode and address alignment as much as the technical choice.
Jay Swindle: Great, and building on that, we’ve got another great question, which revolves around how do you get a consensus on what box an initiative belongs in?
This particular question addresses the idea that it seems like you can spend a lot of time debating the value or the effort cost, and many times, we get a lot of people asking us questions about how do I … Can I actually use a number like EBITDA to plot value or the number or hours that it takes to complete a project for effort?
So how would you unpack that from both a technical side and an interpersonal side from an alignment perspective?
Wes Blair: Yeah, this is a great question, so first of all, just going to address the is this meant to be a plotting tool? Should you use EBITDA on the value axis or hours on the effort axis or something like that? And the short answer to that is no. We definitely recommend that this be used as a judgment and experience tool for a few reasons.
One, in addition to this practice, we teach many practices that you can think of as one-page maps, okay? And so you can see things on a one-page map. And you can’t see in a detailed articulation of something.
So many of you are probably familiar with subway maps, certainly, the most famous one being the London Underground map, which is not actually a precise representation of the subway. But you can see patterns in that map that you can see with the details. So this is meant to be top-down judgment and experience.
Another reason for that is, imagine, you know, a product improvement experiment or imagine something like you are building your culture, your guiding principles, something like that. You know, how can you associate those things with EBITDA. You don’t know how long they might take and so you might never engage an important long-term initiative like that if everything had to be reduced to numbers on this.
Now the other part of the question there is … boy, it seems like we could really have a lot of debate on, you know, what is the value of these different initiatives, or what is these different initiatives or what is the effort, and we’re going to suggest that engaging in that debate is actually very productive and so in terms of how long it takes … you know, Jay and I have done this a lot over, you know, decades, and a leadership team really in a day … you know, think about just using a half day to a day of your leadership team retreat, your strategic planning retreat, something like that, actually engaging in that debate and what you do is, you know, each leader can put their proposals up. You’ll notice that some of them are not consistent, and then you engage together in that debate to try to figure out where they go.
You know, you as the more senior leader might have to break some ties, but going through that, the group tends to get a better idea of what different initiatives really take, so they take each other’s perspective, and then the process of doing that psychologically creates alignment, and that’s really really important. You may have experience in your organization where, you know, you create a plan, your strategy, your plan for the year, whatever it is, and then your leadership team is not really aligned, and then they go out and then maybe you’re working across purposes or maybe their teams realize that the top team is not aligned, and it really slows down execution. And so we are going to suggest it’s worth the effort to go through that debate and what we might call productive conflict to really go through the process and get the top team aligned on priorities, and it tends to save a lot of time later as you execute quarter by quarter through the year.
So one last subtlety on this and then we’re going to show an example of some initiatives filled in. So again, these one-page maps, they’re going to look deceptively simple, and as you practice with them you’ll see more nuance. A couple to point out here … you could put the words incremental in front of Value or Effort/Cost risk there, and the idea there is if an initiative is already most of the way done, the amount of effort to complete it and start to realize the value might be lower than an initiative that hasn’t begun. All right, so think about incremental. This is meant to be dynamic so, you know, you can come back again and adjust this.
The other thing which is something we find, which I think was an unexpected development in the last 10 or 20 years … we find that even though we still have cost on the horizontal axis, capital or money tends not to actually be a constraint by 2018. If you’ve got a good idea, there are lots of people out there who want to invest in that, and so the nuance here is that what tends to be the limiting factor for most organizations is the bandwidth or the attention of the people in that organization and especially the leaders, so that’s what you are going to find is the thing that, you know, you really have to make tradeoffs on when you use this tool.
So let’s take a look now at filling in some initiatives here, and you’ll notice, you know, initiatives stated in a way that are specific and tangible, and you’ll also notice that there are people’s names associated with them. One of the things that we do recommend is to have one member of your leadership team who has ownership for each of the initiatives, and ownership by the way … a subtlety there … ownership doesn’t mean that they have to do all the work or do all the tasks associated with it. They are simply accountable for making sure that it gets done, so that’s an important subtlety to point out.
Let’s kind of fill in some of the other boxes now. So you notice about eight initiatives up top there. Fill in some Work In, and then Ignore. So just take a moment and kind of absorb just the high-level pattern there. You know, how many things are on that page? One of the things we find is that when people practice with this, usually for about 18 months, they tend to discover that they have typically been trying to do more than the organization can absorb, and again it’s that bandwidth or attention limitation, and so, you know, a lot of people push back and say, “Man, there’s only eight things in Selectively Invest or Drive Daily,” and sometimes when Jay and I teach this, you know, we’ll see people trying to stuff 20 or 30 things up there, which is just unreasonable.
Another thing that’s a common question that we get is, you know, is there a formula where certain types of initiatives go? So if you notice there in the lower right, there is an Equipment Maintenance initiative. So you might ask yourself, “Well it’s maintenance, that doesn’t sound like it’s, you know, super valuable. Is that always a Work In?” And the answer is that it’s really the nature of the initiative, so if you’ve already got an equipment maintenance program that’s in good shape, you just need to make some incremental improvements, or maybe you need to train your folks on it and just increase adoption, something like that, that’s more of a Work In initiative. If you’re in the place where, “Man, we really need to rebuild our equipment maintenance program,” start over, or maybe there’s a new regulatory requirement that’s come out, something substantial, and you have to build something new, then the Equipment Maintenance initiative might actually be a Selectively Invest. It might be a much bigger undertaking. So just some notes there on what it looks like when you actually fill this out.
Jay, just checking in. Any other questions there from the group?
Jay Swindle: Yeah, we’ve got a question here about looking at this tool, what’s the right type of time frame for putting something like this together?
West Blair: That’s a great question. So generally that’s going to be related to kind of the level of seniority in the organization, and so we generally recommend that you start this with the leadership team, with the top team in the organization, and you set the priorities for the entire organization. Usually, it’s part of the annual planning cycle, and so that one is primarily going to have about a year time frame. Some people might break that into quarters, and we definitely recommend that you check in at least quarterly to make sure that you’re making progress on your priorities. For individual teams, so like the head of finance might then have a finance 2X2 that supports, say, the corporate 2X2, and again that is going to tend to be somewhere between quarters and a year. You may find that you can certainly nest the 2X2 and push it all the way down to, you know, smaller teams or even personal 2X2s, and at those lower more tactical levels, it can get a little bit shorter in time frame, but at the leadership level, at the team level, and certainly for the entire organization, if you notice your 2X2 getting more frequent than about quarterly, you’re probably at what we would call too low a level of abstraction. You’re too much to the detail and you need to pull it up, you know, to 50,000 or 100,000 feet to make sure you’re really driving the key priorities.
Jay Swindle: We’ve got one other question I think that is important, which is … and you touched on this a little bit earlier, but I think this is a common question that gets asked about the 2X2 is, you know, what’s the right number of things I should have in Selectively Invest and Drive Daily? What’s the right quantity?
Wes Blair: Yeah, and again I’ll go back to the touchstone that this really is meant to be a judgment and experiment exercise and I’ll bring you back to the word at the top, Practice. This takes repetitions and what will happen over time with this one-page map is you’ll start to develop a sense for what can your organization really handle, and so there’s no formulaic number. However, if you notice … again, take a look at what’s on the screen here. No magic number to whether there’s four or five, but, you know, imagine you tried to stuff, you know, 12 or 15 things in Selectively Invest. It would get very crowded and it is simply unlikely that an organization can pursue a dozen very difficult things simultaneously. It’s just too much for the people and the organization to absorb, and so with repetition on this, with practice, you’ll develop a judgmental assessment of what your organization can handle. Now also with practice, you’ll get better at execution, so you probably can handle a few more things as you get better at execution, but, you know, you’re not ever really going to be able to do, you know, dozens of things. It’s always going to be difficult items.
Any other questions at this point, Jay?
Jay Swindle: No, I think we can maybe move on.
Wes Blair: All right. So actually, before we explore the life of an initiative, now that you’ve seen what we might consider a structured practice, a structured approach to prioritization, we have another polling question for you, which is we’d just like to get a sense of how are you guys doing it on the webinar in your leadership role? So are you using some form of structured approach? It doesn’t have to be this one, the 2X2. Any kind of structured approach or is it more, “Hey, I’m writing this on the whiteboard,” you know, it’s in the notes or maybe it’s Post-It notes on the computer monitor. We’d just like to get a sense of how you guys are doing it today.
So Jay, how are the results coming in?
Jay Swindle: Yeah, it looks like we’ve got kind of about half … a little under half the group has a structured system and then we’ve got a nice mix of people that are kind of keeping their own note system, whiteboard, or Post-It notes.
Wes Blair: Okay, that’s good. So we’ve got … this is a … that would be a higher percentage, I think than we are used to seeing, that are already in a structured system, so that’s great for those that are out doing that.
So here’s one other angle on this tool, and this arises from kind of the practical reality that there can be pressures to pursue certain things. It could be from customers, could be from your employees, could be from another important … a stakeholder and you’re like, “Man, I’m delaying something, but I need to make progress through time, and how do I, you know, work it to where it can be a Selectively Invest?” And so we’ve got a typical path that we see here that we call the Life of an Initiative. So recall this idea that, hey, you’re up facilitating at the whiteboard, your leadership team is aligning around what you can handle, and you decide that there is some good idea that you don’t have time for now, so it starts its life in the Delay box.
Now there is an interesting option here that we haven’t talked about yet, and think of this in terms of phasing or potentially doing a pilot. So there’s a way to say, you know, I don’t have to take a good idea for some sort of major improvement and go straight into Selectively Invest, which would be a major commitment of resources. One of the things that we could do is we can learn about the potential for this initiative with low risk and time commitment. So you could maybe assign that high potential that we talked about before and go do some planning work on this. Go do some research and see what it might take to pursue that initiative. That has the benefit of clarifying what the value might be and potentially aligning people around the value. It also has the benefit of learning about what would it really take to get that initiative done. So there’s a research option.
The other option there is a pilot option, so you could go do, say, a small experiment that’s limited in time, limited with resources, where you would also benefit from learning, and then with that learning it becomes much easier to say, okay, now we know what it would take to do a major initiative if it’s well planned out, and so the ones where the research or the pilot turns out to be positive and has positive initial indicators, now maybe it becomes a major initiative. And in the Selectively Invest phase, think about that as typically building something new, okay? So there’s a way of thinking about different things you can work on in your business that we call working in the business versus working on the business. So working in the business is pushing something forward that you already know how to do. An example there might be, “Hey, I’m going to make more outbound sales calls. I already know how to do that. I’m just going to push a little harder.” Now if you say, “Hey, I want to install a customer relationship management system, a CRM system. I’m going to change the way I manage sales.” That might be a Selectively Invest initiative. It’s harder to do and it’s harder for the organization to absorb.
So typically in the major initiative phase in Selectively Invest, you’re building something new like putting a CRM system in. Then, once it’s built, you have to roll it out into the organization, and because it’s a change of how the organization works, you’ve got to maintain focus on it until it becomes an organizational habit. And so it’s … staying in the CRM system analogy … hey, you’ve configured the system, you’ve built it, it works technically, maybe you run some initial training on it for your sales teams, but now it’s out there in the field, it’s new, they’re not used to it, so you really have to stay after it until it becomes the way they manage sales cycles.
Jay Swindle: So Wes, one of the questions that we’ve got here is: Do all initiatives follow this exact pattern?
Wes Blair: No, this is … and we definitely get this type of question a lot. Notice there are lots of questions here about can I use this as a formula? Can I plot it? You know, is there a formula for how many initiatives I can do? And so just going back to the theme of, you know, this is a judgment and experience-based practice. So no, not every initiative will follow this. You know, here’s an example we see sometimes, particularly if you’re in a heavily regulated industry, the regulator comes out with a new requirement and you have to jump right into Selectively Invest because you have no choice, right? You have to kind of get on top of that. Alternatively, and we’ll see this too, you know, a new major customer … in fact, Jay and I saw this the other day at one of our advanced execution participants. They had a very large national retailer who gave them an opportunity to significantly increase their business with them, and that led to kind of an immediate Drive Daily initiative. It was something they knew how to do. It was just a big opportunity and so they decided to pursue it.
Now here’s the subtlety, and here’s the thing that many organizations miss, which leads to not hitting your commitments. What this organization did when they recognized, “Hey, we’ve got this big new thing with a national retailer,” well they had to take something else off of the 2X2 in order to make room for that. So that’s part of using this one-page map dynamically, is to realize that when something new comes on, you’re already full. I mean, we’ve never seen an organization who says, “You know, let’s just work 30 hours a week and not fill our 2X2 up.” It’s always the opposite. We try to put too many things in there, so when you add something else in, something else has to come out or you’re not being realistic. And that helps the team realign on, you know, how are we going to make room for this new valuable item.
Jay Swindle: Wes, we’ve got another question which is how do you know when to actually … when does something come off the 2X2? How do you actually know that it’s ready to be removed?
Wes Blair: Another good question. So if we go back to the metaphor here of … the primarily limited resource here is attention, and so if we stay with that, think about this as a way of guiding, as leaders, guiding the attention of the organization. So if we think about, okay, we’re maintaining focus on something until it becomes an organizational habit. If it is an organizational habit … “Hey, the sales team is using the CRM system. It’s working great.” We can actually pull that off the 2X2, or any other initiative that’s really complete in creating value on a repeated basis, it can come off. What often is the case once something is built, maybe people aren’t paying as much attention to it, sometimes it might have to come back on. So let’s say that the sales team starts drifting away, they’re not filling out their metrics on the CRM, things like that, you might actually have to pull it back on to Drive Daily to redirect the organization’s attention there, or you might … say you need a tweak to it, right? You just need an incremental upgrade. Maybe it comes back on in Work In and you say, “Hey, we’re just going to do kind of a minor improvement there.” So think of it dynamically as you are guiding the attention of the organization.
All right. Thank you, Jay. So as we kind of wrap up the tool and practice here, we’re just going to offer another little bit broader framework. So everything we teach at Stagen involves a shift from a reactive way of being to a more conscious way of being. So if you want to get better at execution, if you want to get better at communication, anything you want to improve as a leader, we find that the common thread there is moving from reactive to conscious. And so to put this on the ground a little bit, let’s explore this for execution, and you’ll see here in the middle of this that prioritization is one piece of this. Jay and I would like to point out that this is kind of what advanced execution is all about is, okay, we’ve chosen the priorities, deliberate tradeoffs, but we have to have all of the reactive to conscious …
Well, we have to have all of the reactive to conscious puzzle pieces, all of the aspects of execution arising at the same time order to be effective in getting those priorities done. So, the first one is moving from a scrambling mindset or approach to a scaling mindset or approach. And a lot of the leaders that we speak with, especially the entrepreneurs in growth businesses, they’re very interested in scaling, and to some extent, is that about size? Sure, it’s about size, and more importantly, it’s about a mindset, right? How do we make things repeatable? How do we make things easier for larger groups of people to engage the move from scrambling to scaling?
We move in a reactive sense from not having time to plan. So, earlier in an organization’s life, particularly in the founding stage, in the early days, you’re reacting appropriately to a customer request to things like that. But then, as you get a little larger, and you’re able to shift to being more proactive, more conscious, you get to the point where planning frees up time. So, imagine in what we just learned, you plan with the 2×2. You say, “Yes,” to some things and selectively invest, and then you actually say, “No,” to some things that you delay. That actually frees up time, frees up bandwidth to focus more effectively on the handful of selectively invest items and actually get them done. You move from ambiguous, uncommitted, static priorities to explicit, aligned, dynamic priorities, and that, of course, is the 2×2 prioritization practice that we just learned.
Another important thing. So, if we’ve chosen our priorities, what are the forums to move those priorities forward? Early in an organization’s life, reactive, we tend to have ad hoc meetings. The important customer calls, and we grab everybody in the hallway, or we jump in a conference room. Moving to structural or rhythm meetings, which you can think about that as creating the space to make steady progress on the priorities you’ve chosen on your 2×2. Moving from passive aggressive or avoiding conflict, so the question we got earlier from one of you, this idea of that debating the value, debating the effort, right? We’re going to suggest that engaging in those debates is productive conflict. It actually results in the alignment we want, and if we don’t engage in those debates, it’s a way of avoiding conflict. And then, what tends to happen is if there’s not alignment, particularly among the leaders, as you try to execute your initiatives, you might get some passive aggressive. You might get some undermining of the initiatives.
Having a relationship to game filming. Looking at, think about your dashboard, your metrics, KPIs, praising or blaming what has happened, so, “Hey. We had a great quarter.” And then, you don’t think about learning from it and changing something, or we had a quarter that we didn’t want, and then we’re looking for what to blame. All of that focus remember is on history, which you can’t change. Well, we’re going to suggest a more conscious approach there is to game film and adjust, so shift your orientation from the past to the future, which you can change and think about, “What can I adjust? What can I put on the ground to unlock something better?” To relate this to the 2×2, an adjustment could be, “Hey. We’ve got too many things in Selectively Invest. Should we delay one of those items in order to make room for a more important one?”
Moving from a master-apprentice model, so just kind of learning by doing or following around a more experienced person to an operating or service model. The way to think about that is just writing down what works and sharing. That might be a 2×2 initiative in and of itself. Create a service model.
The primary shift here, and this can be a real challenge culturally because most organizations begin with acts of individual heroism. And so, that tends to be built into the DNA of organizations, and Jay and I’ll find that a lot of these organizations will actually have hero awards of one kind or another. It might not be called a hero award but some equivalent. As you get bigger, as you scale the organization, here’s a tough fact of life. Heroes don’t scale. There just aren’t enough heroes out there, and so you shift to great things accomplished by teams leveraging a powerful model. The shift from reactive to conscious.
So, before we kind of shift into kind of a little bit about our academy and the open Q&A, just a recap of the key highlights that we shared today. So, first of all, one-page maps. We talked about that a bit. Think of the London Underground map. One-page maps help you see patterns that are less obvious with more detailed tools, and this makes it easier to game film and adjust.
Don’t try to plot the 2×2. This is a practice meant to be using your judgment and experience as a leader, and you’ll learn about how your organization executes with repetition.
Consider and leverage the interpersonal dynamics of the 2×2. This is not just a technical tool. Think about you as the leader facilitating a conversation rather than prescribing, and it’s a conversation where everyone is heard. You engage in some productive conflict. It’s a process, and you really get alignment on the priorities and especially what has been delayed. That’s usually the most difficult part. It’s difficult to make deliberate tradeoffs.
The notion of game filming and adjusting, right? Looking at the past to learn from it but really focusing our attention on the future adjustment. Part one of this, check in with the 2×2 regularly to make sure that you and your team’s attention is aligned with your priorities, and we recommend at least quarterly on this. And if you notice your attention isn’t aligned with your priorities, make a concrete adjustment. So, change your meetings, create time blocks, or actually change your priorities which might include delaying an initiative to make space for others.
Another way to think about game filming and adjusting, treat your 2×2 dynamically and adjust priorities realistically as you plan your next execution cycle or as circumstances materially change. Remember the illustration, “Hey. We got a great new customer opportunity, but in order to serve that we might have to choose to delay or take something else off the 2×2.”
And finally, it’s tough to make deliberate tradeoffs. Psychologically we don’t like to do it, but it’s better to have that tough conversation upfront about how much the organization can work on rather than to have the tougher conversation later about why initiatives were not accomplished. So, said another way, don’t try to do too much.
Jay Swindle: Thank you, Wes. So, that concludes our presentations. Now, we’re going to move into the live Q&A session. As a reminder, if you haven’t already done so, please send your questions to the organizer in the question module of the webinar console.
So, the first question I’d love for you to tackle and again, this is a very common question that we get is when you’re looking at the 2×2, you notice that the value scale goes from high to low. And then, when you look at the effort scale, it goes from high to low, left to right. So, the question here is, “Does that different view actually provide some value in utilizing the tool, and why is it designed that way?”
Wes Blair: Yeah. It’s designed that way to … And first of all, there’s a little bit of a psychological aspect as most of us are going to be English speakers or romance language speakers, so what’s in the upper left tends to be the most important. We just look at that psychologically, so we could have flipped the axes, obviously, but typically, we’re going to look at the upper left as to being the most important. And so, the Selectively Invest quadrant is meant to be the most important and the most valuable options. But the key reason to flip it is just to get the bang for your buck effect, right? So, we want to make sure that we put together what’s high value and relatively less effort to make sure that we understand that, and we go after those high bang for your buck. Or, said another way, more financially high ROI type initiatives.
Jay Swindle: Great. Thank you, Wes. This is going to be a bit of a, I think, a two-part question, and this builds on the conversation about some of the interpersonal dynamics that occur when you’re using the 2×2. So, the first one is, “How are you actually dealing with the misalignment when you go through this? So, if you’ve got two people that feel very passionately about something on very opposite ends of the spectrum, how do you actually use this tool to address that? And on the other side of that, once you’ve actually gotten an alignment at the organizational level, how much do you share with the broader team about the priorities that you’ve laid out and the process that unfolds it?”
Wes Blair: Yeah. Those are good, great questions. So, the alignment aspect. You got two different leaders, both strong leaders on your team, and they feel passionate but very differently about an issue as to what the organizational priorities ought to be. So, and I’ll share a few other things we teach in our Integral Leadership Program, the ILP here. So, what we would suggest is to really as the leader yourself be conscious in your own communication and be in the facilitator mode.
So, one thing to do is if these people are feeling passionate, and they’re not resolving their conflict, they’re likely engaging in advocacy with each other. In other words, they’re advocating a position that they’re holding strong onto. What you can do as a leader is you can inquire. You can inquire, get underneath that, which is a form of conscious communication and find out what’s driving them. And then, you can encourage each of those leaders, another thing we teach in conscious communication, to try to take each other’s perspective, right?
And through saying and that’ll take some time. That’s not something you can always do in five minutes, but you might find engaging and that inquiring and perspective taking that the leaders can understand more about where the other’s coming from, and you can gradually get them together and align them. And you might still have to kind of, if you will, break the tie yourself as their boss. But in repetitive engaging of this process, if you will, sales may develop a greater appreciation for what it takes to get things done operationally. Operations may develop more perspective on how difficult it is to actually go get a new customer to try your product, and they come together over time.
And the second part of the question again, Jay?
Jay Swindle: After you’ve kind of gone through that process, that can sometimes be a messy process, and you have to process everything at the organizational level. How much of that do you take out to the rest of the team and the rest of the organization and let them maybe potentially see behind the curtain a little bit then?
Wes Blair: And so, we would suggest probably not sharing high-level leadership conflict broadly, so I think you keep that in your leadership retreat or your boardroom. However, once you’ve come up with a good 2×2, we do recommend sharing that nice one-page map with the organization. And so, a lot of organizations will have like a planning kickoff at the beginning of the year or something like that where they share their plan for the year with the broader organization. So, you could make your 2×2 part of that.
And another thing we suggest is to actually encourage people to come to whoever their direct leader is if they notice that there’s an activity that’s not associated with those priorities. And that’s a way to really keep the organization aligned. If you then make an adjustment, so I’ll go back to that example of the national retailer, and you say, “Hey. We’re going to make a major shift in priority for a good reason here.” You would come back to whatever version of your all-hands meeting that you had, an all-company meeting, and you would show the new 2×2 and say, “Hey, guys. We’ve got this great opportunity, and what we decided to serve it is we delay this other initiative,” and communicate that so that people feel like they’re informed on the priorities rather than being in the midst of their day-to-day work, and all of a sudden, things change, and they don’t understand why.
Jay Swindle: Great. Thank you. I think this is actually, oh, a great question. So, “What are some of the common traps, or what are the common things that you see from a resistance when you’re trying to put this tool into practice?”
Wes Blair: The biggest thing is, and I’ll go back to that different leaders from different perspectives, sales, operations, finance being the most common, having different perspectives on what’s important and often feeling like you don’t have a lot of choices, right? So, sales might say, “Well, the customer wants this, so we can’t say, ‘No.'” Operations is saying, “Well, if we want to get more efficient, we must do this.” Finance saying, “If we want to become more profitable, we must do this.” So, there’s this feeling that we have less choice than we actually have, and that tends to be where those people come from. And they hold tightly to those limited perspectives, and it’s really that.
And so, what ends up happening is the leadership team doesn’t process the conflict. They don’t say, “No,” and so they say, “Well, we have to do this sales thing. We have to do this operational thing. We have to do this finance thing.” And they end up with too many initiatives in the top two boxes. And then, here’s the hard part, right? So, they go in and they feel good. “Okay. We’re just going to do it all. We’re going to work harder.” Then they get to the end of the quarter, and they didn’t get done what they set out to get done and that becomes problematic. So, the customer didn’t get what they expected.
And so, what you find is developing that capacity with practice to engage the conflict and say, “No,” upfront, you end up having greater integrity to what you committed to through time. And that actually tends to make your customer, your team, et cetera happier, and that ultimately leads to higher profit.
Jay Swindle: Great. Thanks, Wes. And for our final question. This is one that we get a lot. “In terms of managing your attention or your bandwidth, do you have a recommendation on how much time you should be spending in each quadrant at an individual level and organizational level?”
Wes Blair: Yeah. So, keeping with our theme of no formulas here, it’s less about a particular time that I’ll spend in any quadrant, although I will make the comment, generally as a leader in the organization, you should have more of your attention focused on the top two boxes, Selectively Invest and Drive Daily then Work In. However, depending on what’s going on with your organization in those top two boxes, it’s more about having your Monday through Friday attention aligned with what’s ever in Selectively Invest and Drive Daily rather than a formula for either one. It’s more about alignment.
So, for example, if you’re in a time where your industry is changing rapidly, maybe your strategy’s evolving, something like that, you might find your attention a little bit more in Selectively Invest because you’re building things, you’re engaging in experimentation. However, if your strategy and your business model are really stable, and you’re simply in a high-growth, repeat the model phase, you might be spending more of your time in Drive Daily because you’re just driving things that are well understood. So, the key takeaway is just to make sure that your Monday through Friday attention is aligned with what you have on the 2×2.
Jay Swindle: Great. Thank you, Wes. Before we close, I just want to tell you guys a little bit more about Stagen. So Stagen, we’ve been around. Founded in 1999. Here at our Leadership Academy, we work to train leaders committed to their long-term personal development and using their organizational platforms for positive impact in the world.
Our flagship program that we offer is the Integral Leadership Program. This is a 52-week, high accountability, practice-based program that you will go through with a cohort of around 20 other peers where you will engage in learning about leadership, execution, and expanding your own personal impact in the world.
So, if you want to interact with us and find out more, again, you can follow us on Facebook. It’s StagenLeadershipAcademy. Find us on Twitter @StagenAcademy. Instagram and LinkedIn. You can also if you’re interested in learning more about the ILP or any of our programs, you can reach Daffnee White, who’s our Director of Enrollment, at Daffnee.White@stagen.com, or you can call her directly at (214) 217-9215.
So, we’d like to thank everybody for attending our webinar. At the end of this webinar, you’re going to be prompted to fill out a survey. If you decide to take a couple of minutes to fill that out, we’re actually going to be sending out a podcast that Wes did around making deliberate tradeoffs to you in exchange for completing that survey. We would appreciate any and all feedback from you. Again, we thank you for attending, and this concludes our webinar.