I started and stopped horseback riding as a adult. I do hope to get back to it some day. It was one of the balls that had to drop while when I started having kids. Babies, by the way, are only rivaled by horses in the volume of accessories needed to manage them. Between three kids and a horse or two, I'd have to give up the minivan and just take out a long-term lease on a U-Haul.
Anyway. During that period when I was riding, I was admiring of all horses and noticed them everywhere. After meeting a pair of percherons working the streets of DC, I mentioned these amazingly gorgeous animals to my trainer who agreed that they are big and spectacular... and they live on air. I guess they're so efficient converting food to energy that they don't need a lot.
Her comment stuck in my mind and pops up occasionally when I see something of notable size and scale-- does it take a lot to maintain or is it living on air?
When we think about our large organizations, most of us think of them as incredibly high maintenance. After all, that's why they need us. And, we're feeling overwhelmed. So logically, they need more of us and hence... its a big animal to feed.
Once you're big, how do you live on air? Maybe making do on less isn't the goal but it does feel like the reality most days. We could make things a lot easier on ourselves during the pursuit for more resources by doing a couple of things to improve efficient conversion of effort to impact (food to energy).
- Use the tools we already have (clunky as they might be) instead of waiting on to buy ourselves of the problem with new software. We know in our hears this is a delay tactic at best. Getting the people to change behaviors is hard. Amazingly, spending $100K+ to implement new tools is somehow easier. Project management, business intelligence, and other knowledge capture systems dominate this category. With few systems excepted (maybe financial and emergency response), we can do most of our planning, tracking, organizing, and reporting with what we have.
- Take any real or perceived shackles off of staff. Coming from a big organization that attracted tremendous talent, every assessment I was asked by nearly every eager staffer-- what else can I do to advance my career and our business? I was conditioned (I rightly, I believed at the time) to suggest things within the preapproved list of roles and responsibilities for that level. Secondary research, attending industry events, and sharing ideas behind the scenes with more experienced account leaders were common development actions. My perspective has changed. Most of us learn by doing ourselves which means trying, succeeding or failing, then gaining from that experience. Going back, I would have only shared an expectation to be kept in the loop for coordination purposes. We all gain when everyone has the potential to lead.
- Pound on the vision while chunking work into bite size pieces. If we're ultra clear and constantly reminded of where we're going, it is much easier to continuously check our to do lists against that target. So, I'm a big advocate for keeping our goals simple (not easy, just clear). Then, everything that is going on gets broken into tasks that can be accomplished in month or less. We tend to get lost in the big amorphous middle between a flashing project kick-off and the final deadline. We hide there fussing with each other and little details that ultimately don't matter much. Pursuing work in smaller pieces increases clarity and accountability towards that end goal while helping build a sense of forward momentum among the staff. No slacking, no hiding, just doing. Breaking work into small enough pieces that each has couple of meetings, one big decision, a little writing/research/coding, then a sparkly finish. Great. Next chunk.
I think these are the big, do-able things that we can implement- like today- to be more efficient and amaze the world by appearing to live on air.
PS- Horse trainers only come in slight variations of same flavor: cool, confident, and wise coupled with righteous indignation for anyone doubting their methods. Charming. Really.