So you like winning right? Well I have news for you… so does everyone else. The good news is that winning is not a zero sum game. In other words, others don’t have to lose for you to win. In fact the opposite is true. Surrounding yourself with people who are winning or who are dedicated to winning will help you win. There is an old saying which states:
“All ships rise with the tide”
This is exceedingly true when it comes to winning. When you win, the people around you win, and conversely, when you are around people who are winning you generally find yourself rising with the tide and winning yourself.
On this blog we are focused on helping you win in your business through organizational design and project management. So what does it mean to win in business? At the macro level of course it means to grow the company and earn more money. At the micro level though this is accomplished by winning at project planning and execution. So let’s take a look at the anatomy of winning and figure out what it takes to get the ball rolling to start rising the tide in your organization.
First key – Set a single clear goal
The reality is that most people don’t win, because they don’t define what winning looks like. Football would not exist without touchdowns and a scoreboard. The only reason it’s fun to watch any sport in fact is because we are watching the struggle of people trying to achieve a goal. Without the goal, the struggle is meaningless. Let me say that again:
“Without the goal, the struggle is meaningless.”
The same holds true at work, if you don’t have a single clear goal, or you lose sight of your goal, your daily struggle becomes meaningless. This means that your job exists for the soul purpose of winning, and winning is achieved when you hit your single clear goal.
In fact, you were hired because someone in the company thought that you were their best hope for achieving that goal. Sometimes the goal is clearly defined when you come on, but more often than not, you are expected to define that objective by translating organizational directives into a single clear goal. Let that sink in for a second. This means your continued employment depends completely on your ability to win, which is defined as your ability to set a clear goal and then meet that goal, again and again.
The best way to do this is by getting rid of the clutter and focusing on one goal at a time. Most people would say that that’s impossible in today’s fast paced business world where there are always a dozen issues vying for your attention. It is paramount that you understand that these issues are the struggle, not the goal; and without the goal, the struggle is meaningless. I can’t say that enough. Without the goal, the struggle is meaningless.
It is your responsibility to take a step back and set a clear goal before diving into the issues. Then set consistent checkpoints to make sure your daily struggles are moving your in the direction of your goal. As an individual contributor your goal may be to get a project finished. As a manager you goal may be to hit revenue projections, or to achieve a quota of output across your teams. As a senior manager your goal should align with higher level business objectives around organizational growth or profitability. Bottom line is that you need to define your single clear goal and then drive towards that with a vengeance.
I suggest you write out your single clear goal, print it out, hang it by your desk, put it as your desktop background. Heck, frame it and hang it on the wall if you must. Do whatever you have to do to keep it in front of you at all times. Then as you work through the daily or weekly struggle, constantly check to make sure you are moving closer to achieving the goal.
One last side note on this point. The more things you try to accomplish at the same time, the longer they all take according to the theory of switching costs. The better you get at identifying a single clear goal, the faster you will be able to start winning.
Second Key – Find a working plan, Don’t create your own
Once you have your goal, you need a plan. Most of us waste time reinventing the wheel over and over rather than benefiting from those that have won before us. Even when presented with a plan we tend to think we know better and we do it our own way. Sometimes this works out, more often though we have to relive the mistakes that others have already made.
In the martial art aikido, a principal is taught using the Japaniese term Shuhari. This describes the three phases of mastery.
- Shu – Imitate
- Ha – Innovate
- Ri – Diverge
This concept holds invaluable truth about winning. In order to win you must master the plan for accomplishing your single clear goal. To do this in the shortest time possible you should leverage the people who have done it before by first Imitating (Shu) them until you have a deep understanding of their plan and why it was successful. The next step once you have achieved understanding is to innovate (Ha) on their plan to test your hypothesis on how to improve it for your situation. Once you are successfully innovating you can then diverge (Ri) completely and create your own plan in a way that still leverages the hidden reasons the original plan worked.
Most of us love jumping into the Ri stage and immediately trying to Diverge from others way of doing it. This is the lazy way and will lead you down a path of repeating others’ mistakes. It is likewise dangerous to jump directly into innovating on another’s plan without first imitating it. When you imitate you are able to learn the hidden reasons a plan was successful, and by skipping this step you will lose the major benefit of those that have done it before.
Ok, here is a quick example from the world of organizational design. I was in a training the other day with a group of executives for the Scaled Agile Framework. It is an intensive 16 hour training that dives deep into the framework and the nuances that make it work. When we finished the executives were excited, they saw a dozen ways that this would help realign the business around strategic growth. Then hubris kicked in and it was decided that the company was unique and the executives knew enough to tear the framework apart and implement an a-la-carte version of their favorite takeaways. The interesting thing is that this had happened before with an implementation of the Scrum framework. This company implemented their favorite parts of Scrum and left the other parts alone. Then they wondered why they didn’t see the results other companies claimed to see when they implemented the framework. In fact, the lack of results from Scrum was the root cause for why the company was looking at the Scaled Agile Framework in the first place. You see, by jumping directly into the Ri or Ha stages (Innovate, or Diverge) they were missing out on the key principles that made the framework effective. Without first imitating and understanding the hidden reasons for success, they will only ever be marginally successful because they will instead spend their time reinventing the wheel that thousands of thought leaders before them had already crafted.
In order to win, you must master your plan. To become a master, you must stand on the shoulders of the giants before you, letting their mistakes guide your journey.
Third Key – Ruthlessly execute that plan, but be willing to pivot
A plan is not worth the paper it is written on unless it is executed. If you want to win, there is nothing more crucial than having the determination and grit to execute the plan. There will always be a million reasons not to follow through, but you must. The thing that sets inventors apart from dreamers is execution. The thing that sets millionaires apart from financial planners is execution. The thing that sets great teams and companies apart from mediocre ones is execution. In the same way, the thing that sets winners apart from the losers is execution. There is no alternative to execution, apart from luck, which is itself a fickle friend that will turn and leave as quickly as it came.
If you want to win, you must ruthlessly execute the plan. Not that you should be ruthless to others while executing it, but that you must be ruthless in saying no to other priorities if you are going to accomplish the single clear goal your plan is driving you towards. Don’t apologize and don’t surrender. Execute the plan.
During the course of every plan there will be times at which you are presented with new information that forces you to pivot. This is the nature of life. In fact Dwight D. Eisenhower has a famous quote about plans.
“In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.”
As you ruthlessly execute your plan be prepared to pivot and adjust based on updated information. This pivot should not be a derailment of the plan, but simply an adjustment that keeps your focused on the same single clear goal. Dodge, side step, jump, duck, do whatever you must to avoid roadblocks and then ruthlessly drive forward, toward your goal. Pivot when you must, but persevere. Don’t stop until you have reached your goal. This is the secret to winning.
My father used to say, “Create a plan son, then work the plan.” This was his way of telling me to get my head out of the stars and start figuring out how to make stuff happen. A lot of people claim to fall into one of two camps. They either label themselves as the big picture thinkers or dreamers, or they align with the more technical engineer type who can create a plan and get it done. This dichotomy of roles often hinders people from achieving their greatest potential. It is not enough for a dreamer to dream, he or she must also learn to create a plan to accomplish the dreams. In the same way it is not enough for an implementer to build, he or she must learn to dream so that they first knows what to build. When we learn to dream by setting a single clear goal, learn to create a plan, then learn to ruthlessly execute that plan, we will possess the keys to winning.
Shout out to freepik for the awesome header vector art!
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