Hindsight Series: Know What Comes First

This is a continuation of a small series I'm doing on 2020 hindsight. These are leadership lessons I've learned from the lockdown. In this session, “Know what comes first”. In a year where there was a lot going on, as you may have noticed, having clarity around priorities has been paramount. “Our life is the sum total of all the decisions we make every day, and those decisions are determined by our priorities.” According to the Bahamian Clergyman, Myles Munroe. Wise words.

If we don't know what comes first, we will be busy, but not necessarily effective. We all have a huge amount of noise in our world. The tendency will be to become reactive rather than proactive . We will randomly respond to what's happening, rather than considering our primary most effective response. If we do have a sense of what should come first, then we have more clarity. If we cut through the clutter and the noise, we tend to make better decisions.

Good is the enemy of great. We can be involved with all sorts of well-meaning, seemingly good things to do, but in that sea of goodwill, we may lose sight of the great things, the foundational things, the things that have to be done first. More often than we would like to think, companies are engaged in well-meaning, good programmes, that don't take into account the foundational pieces of work that need to be done first. If we build on bad foundations, ultimately, we will fail or fall. Foundations, as we know, are important to sustain any building . It's the same with organisations. When you look at a building that is being built, it starts with a big hole in the ground. Some considerable time later, still nothing is coming out of the ground. The larger the potential building, the deeper the hole and the longer the time. And yet the importance of foundations, if we're going to grow tall and straight, cannot be underestimated. This is particularly true in troubled times, when the wind comes, and the work that we have done is shaken. It's only under crisis and pressure that we can see whether the work that we have done is strong. I have two clients in particular that come to mind, that have literally doubled their sales during this year. One breaking 100 Million for the first time. Whilst both had some opportunistic industry advantages, they would not have been able to cope with this growth, without having laid strong foundations, by reducing capacity constraints, and building capability, they activated their potential and captured growth.

Strategically, foundations are often disregarded in the search for the shiny new thing, or the instant fix. Don't get me wrong I love shiny new things. Take a look in my garage or studio! Yet there are specific foundational pieces of work in any company that need to be initiated, enhanced or finished. Without these foundational works done well, we literally ‘labour in vain’ as the well-meaning work that should sit on top of these foundations, wobbles and falls.

Knowing what comes first is also important for team alignment. If we don't have clarity over what is important and what is foundational, people will, with all the goodwill in the world, go about their business with different priorities. Common priorities, clearly articulated, is critical for team alignment and productivity. When I was doing the turnaround at Gloria Jean’s Coffees our key metric was retail sales. Everyone needed to be focused on getting health back into a broken system. Every month we had a townhall meeting across the country and revealed progress with a single metric. We were all encouraged when sales decline was halted and we hit zero, and a spontaneous cheer erupted when we hit 5% growth. Within 18 months the average Franchise Partner was 25% better off.

The American businessman H. L. Hunt said, somewhat pragmatically, “Decide what you want, decide what you are willing to exchange for it. Establish your priorities and go to work.” Even in the midst of the craziness of 2020 and with 2020 hindsight I've learned this year importance of knowing what comes first.

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