CLP Beacon - Business Issues and Solutions

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Do More By Doing Less

Courtesy Huffington Post
Susan Howington, founder and CEO of Power Connections, hosts a meeting of top level business executives from around Orange County. At these round tables she raises a topic of interest and executives discuss and share their points of view. It’s very interesting and engaging and all of us learn from each other.

Recently, Susan brought together a dozen executives with backgrounds in general management, operations, sales, marketing and human resources. Susan started off by reading a recent Wall Street Journal article from January 2018 entitled: How to Succeed in Business: Do Less. That article basically said that it’s best to do fewer tasks and obsess over getting them right. Another study of 5000 executives referenced in the round table, provided insight into how top producers work. In this study, the key to success revolved around mastering selectivity on what was to get done and saying NO to bosses.

It was unanimous within the group that FOCUS is critical to executive success and to a company. It was no longer the norm to work harder. The goal is to work smarter and by working on fewer “priorities” success would follow. This doesn’t mean you forget about everything that is on your list of 50+ activities that need to be accomplished. Rather, this list is maintained. Select the top three activities and then as one is complete you add another to the top three list. Focus is critical. I remember an employee at one of my companies that came to me with a list of more than 100 items and was overwhelmed. I sat down with her and tried to prioritize those 100 into some sequence to get her to focus on the most important. I cannot say it was a perfect success, but we did agree by eventually using pairwise comparison, which activities were on top of the list. And then I told her I would only evaluate her on the top three activities and when those were complete we would modify her objectives and add the next priority. She was not happy but she acquiesced.

During the round table discussion, some attendant questions were addressed:
  1. How do you prioritize personal needs with business needs?
  2. How do you find what is the most important in the corporate world?
  3. How do you say no to bosses?
How do you prioritize personal needs with business needs?
  • Executives must balance both personal and corporate needs. We hear about work / life balance and millennials especially want to ensure this balance is maintained.
  • Ensure you know what you want to do. Start with a personal vision/mission statement. For example, mine is to build businesses and build the next generation of business leaders. Make sure there is time set aside each week to do one or two things that help support your self-vision.
  • On the corporate side, ensure you understand the business strategy and the metrics the business will use to determine success. Then make sure you develop a maximum of one to three things and make sure your results support those corporate metrics.
How do you find out what is most important in a corporate world?
  • On the corporate side, ensure you understand the business strategy and the metrics the business will use to determine success. Then make sure you develop a maximum of one to three things and make sure your results support those corporate metrics.
  • Market research can be used to determine what is important to focus on. Notwithstanding the corporate strategy and business plan, market research can obtain information on what is important to the customer and how well the company performs on that attribute. The results can be plotted on a Quad map. (See my prior blogs for a detailed description.) Priorities should be given to those attributes that are important to a customer and which are performed well (leverage and maintain those activities) as well as those that are important yet not performed well. Those have to be corrected and might form strategic initiatives for the company.
  • Once you determine what is important to do, you have to determine how that task or activity fits on the importance/urgency scale. Certainly if something is urgent and important, it has to get done. However, the key to success is to determine what is important and NOT urgent and prioritize those activities so you have time to do them right.

·     What happens when you have a boss that says, “We will work from morning til night until everything is done,” and then keeps adding more activities and chores to the list? I know I have had those types of bosses. Sometimes you have to say no and it is how you say no that may be critical. Of course you can try to quote Warren Buffet who said: ”The difference between successful people and really successful people is that really successful people say no to almost everything.” In my opinion, you can do this only if you have succeeded in prior projects and earned that type of respect. But what happens when the boss is adamant?

How do you say no to bosses?
  • Develop your list of activities and work with your boss to determine the top three things that need to get accomplished.
  • Use the concept of SMART (specific, measurable, accountable, responsible, time limited) goals or management by objectives to set up the goal, metric for success, and time when the objective will be accomplished.
  • Ask for more time or help to accomplish projects or activities that are important to the boss.
  • Note: the participants at the round table suggested that if the boss will not agree on prioritization and other negative cultural habits crop up, that environment could be toxic and it might be time to find another job. Most bosses will listen to reason – at least we hope.
Once these three questions are addressed, you have to execute. Here are some prescriptions to help execute your priorities:
  • Use your calendar to block specific time slots, making a meeting with yourself, to accomplish your priorities.
  • Answer emails only at selected times during the day, e.g. first thing in the morning, before lunch, and before you leave for the day. Many of us hear the little email tone signaling “you’ve got mail” and we respond immediately.
  • Select a personal advisory board to help you keep focused on the important tasks both personally and for business.
  • Develop a corporate battle rhythm to focus on those important activities and plan them out on a calendar with the right people in attendance. As a correlate, don’t have meetings without a clear agenda and expected outcomes and don’t invite people if they are really not needed at the meeting.
  • Develop executive alignment on strategic initiatives through the strategic planning process. Use a facilitator to help define the priorities. Market research that provides input from customers on importance and performance can be used as the basis for that alignment and the executive team can multi-vote on the most important strategic initiatives.

This blog is only meant to touch the surface of what we discussed and the answers in many companies are probably more complex. Yet the round table discussion was a great start to get us to think about how focus and prioritization will make us more productive. And saying NO to bosses, while scary at times, is the right way to help you, them, and the company to be more successful in the long run.

If you have any questions or want to continue the dialog, contact me at or Susan Howington at

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