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Posted: March 25, 2013

Best of CoBiz: Get the elephants off the conference room table!

...and other rules for success in life and work

Laurence B. Valant

Editor's Note: This is an excerpt from business performance improvement expert Larry Valant's book, Stop Breaking These Rules! 100 Hard-Hitting Truths for Business Integrity and Performance.

Unrelenting follow up really is.

For most, follow up takes place when they realize that something wasn't delivered, a call wasn't returned, a due date passed, or the next quarter appeared. However, those who know how to and do execute effectively know that follow-up is unrelenting.

Unrelenting. The failure to perform is not an option, being late, handing in incomplete work or missing a deadline is unacceptable. The key to this level of on time and on budget delivery is 1) realistic planning and goal setting, 2) the development of individual commitments to deliverables and schedules, and most importantly 3) follow-up.

Unrelenting follow-up only occurs within a structured approach of effective execution. Unrelenting follow-up takes place through regularly scheduled meetings. And unrelenting follow-up does not tolerate micro-management, which is nothing more than admitting there is no schedule, no agreed to expectations and deliverables, and no set timetable and budget.

And very importantly, unrelenting follow-up gives freedom to both the manager and the direct report. When expectations are understood, there is freedom to operate independently within those parameters.

 Strategies must be examined four times a year.

Some companies take the time to develop real strategic plans that clarify the company's vision and quantify the strategic goals and objectives and major paths to getting there. Most companies with any degree of sophistication engage in this type of planning; however, far too few go to the trouble of updating the strategic plan on a quarterly basis.

Certainly, having a strategic plan is an important part of effective management, however it is not enough. The ink is no sooner dry on the strategic plan than some of the assumptions on which it is based have already been proven wrong. By performing a quarterly update of the strategic plan (and, by the way, the business plan as well) management is constantly recognizing the changing environments in terms of the marketplace, competition, the economy, and the internal changes as well.

This quarterly update should be conducted on a formal basis so all key participants provide their inputs before final revisions are made and commitments solidified. By keeping the strategic plan always updated on a quarterly basis, annual planning is no longer necessary since the existing plan reflects current realities. And, by establishing quarterly updating, management understands that planning goes on every day, not just once a year.

Constantly reacting is very expensive.

Constantly reacting companies are poorly managed companies. Continuous course changes, changes in speed, and changes in assignments, all of which are inefficient and very, very costly.

Well-managed companies, on the other hand, are characterized by effective planning and the ability to execute those plans. Because of their effective planning and execution, they have no need to react and they make plan every month, quarter, and year.

Because well-managed companies have a clear understanding of their strategic direction, they act rather than react. Because their leader has stated the company's vision clearly, specifying the next one, two, three, and four years in quantitative fashion, the company can act rather than react.

Those companies which proactively execute in a planned, controlled, and professional manner stand in stark contrast to those companies that are constantly reacting because of poor planning and even poorer execution.

Get the elephants off the conference room table.

As we stated in our first book, "5 Steps to Predictable Business Success," and its sequel, "MAKE PLAN!", elephants on the conference room table is my metaphor for the obstacles (usually people and organizational) plaguing corporate America today and preventing growth in enterprise value. Almost always, these elephants are allowed to interfere with business success, while people avert their eyes, pretending they do not exist.

These elephants include disrespectful and rude behavior, focus-diverting people; absence of clear direction; lack of accountability; failure to follow up; and, the ever popular elephant, inability to execute. Easily seen, they are the elephants sitting on the conference room table. They live long organizational lives, seemingly immune to accountability and true performance measures, and therefore erode the CEO's credibility, to the CEO's detriment and that of the company.

It has been my experience that the most frequently ignored elephants are clearly apparent yet unresolved people, management and organizational issues. It follows then that these people centered issues, which management refuses to identify and address, inevitably lead to other weaknesses, and are the root cause of failure to perform throughout the organization.

The effective organization identifies these elephants, accepts the reality that they prevent the organization from achieving their goals, and removes them (or reassigns them) so they can no longer hurt the organization or its people.

Laurence B. Valant is President and CEO of Valant & Co., a Denver-based business performance improvement consultancy that has worked with almost 300 firms to increase their value by billions of dollars. He is co-author of the hot-selling new book, “Make Plan! With Effective Execution” and now, “Lead and Manage!” Valant can be reached at lvalant@valantco.com or at 303-589-3840. If you want more information or would like to order a copy of “Stop Breaking These Rules! 100 Hard-Hitting Truths for Business Integrity and Performance,” please visit www.valantco.com.

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