Sequential Success

Ever heard this joke?  Q:  “How do you eat an elephant?”  A:  “One bite at a time!”  Running a business of any size is like that joke – you have to do things one bite at a time.  Every business is about achieving success.  Success is about achieving a series of goals which are steps toward the ultimate goal – eating that elephant!

How many of us spend our days “fire-fighting”?  One emergency, catastrophe, or change of plan after another.  We’ve all been told that more of our time should be spent moving the organization toward its profit goals and other performance metrics.  But how do we do that when the fires just keeping popping up?

A different perspective on fire-fighting is being advocated in the book Managing for the Short Term by Chuck Martin.  In his book, he talks about the necessity of getting through the short term in order to reach long term objectives.  It is about looking at the big picture frame by frame.

The truth of the matter is this – if fires aren’t addressed on a daily basis, there won’t be a business long term.  The trick is that the fires must be addressed within the context of the  ultimate goal  and where the business wants to be in the long term.

If the business elephant is divided up into smaller, sequential processes and projects, then actions and corrective actions can take place earlier in the process to keep focused on the desired outcomes.  More importantly, the smaller, incremental projects aligned toward the long term objective and deliverables sets everyone up to succeed.  The earlier and more frequent your successes, the faster momentum gathers toward achieving performance metrics.

Sequential success Is about taking incremental, positive actions which keep the organization aligned.  It is about the ability to utilize limited resources — people, equipment, and capital –  in the most effective way.  Get success early and often and the positive  momentum will motivate the organization to even greater success.

Performance metrics for individuals and the organization should  include rewards for fire-fighting when those fires move the organization forward toward long-term goals.  Fire-fighting that comes from not tending to business or from lack of planning should not be   rewarded.  Know the importance of tending fires and spark your organization to greater success.

Performance metrics should also include those for fire prevention.  Fires result when you don’t foresee the consequences of actions taken or not taken.  They are also a factor of not monitoring the external environment for risks and changes in patterns of behavior – customer, vendor, competitor, regulators.

Success is a three-pronged process.  The first is sound business processes which enable the business to be proactive in monitoring opportunities and risks (fire prevention). The second is the ability to take action when something changes unexpectedly or isn’t foreseeable (fire fighting).  Finally, it is structuring your operations and business to create opportunities and change its environment (planting a forest).

Equip your business for success by creating an environment of success.  Large projects can be broken into smaller deliverables which move the larger project toward completion, but enable “small successes” to occur.  These small successes then become motivation for the business team and sequentially build a culture accustomed to success.

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