I’ve written before that what defines an organization is that it says “no” more than “yes.” That’s because creativity is a double-edged sword. While new ideas get the juices flowing and get people excited, they also come with a real cost.
For example, when an executive team considers new ideas, they might put them through the wringer to understand which ones have the highest economic and business impact. Each idea must earn its way to the top of the mountain on its merit.
What happens next, and what’s far more complex, is finding the capacity inside the organization to chase down that new idea. When an organization decides to pursue a new idea, it’s forced to make a difficult decision. How should they go about tackling the unique opportunity?
The answer is “Kill 2 and Add 1.”
The Need for Focus
One option is adding it to the list for your people to tackle. Few, if any, organizations have extra staff sitting on the bench, waiting idly for the next new opportunity to come along. To properly chase down that new opportunity, the organization must divert people and resources from somewhere else. And that’s when the trouble starts.
To make the new idea come to fruition, management might ask the team to work extra hours or find ways to become more efficient to get the work done.
That seems to be the default choice, so many organizations have been forced to make in the wake of the pandemic. But the result has been massive burnout among their people, which has fed the Great Resignation, where so many people have quit their jobs.
Another real danger here is that the more ideas you have your team chasing, not only will they risk burnout, and you will also lose focus. While it might seem like a lot of activity is happening, nothing is getting done. As Larry Bossidy, the former CEO of Allied Signal, used to say, every organization needs three areas of focus. Otherwise, management has committed the cardinal sin of diluting its resources.
So, what can you do if an organization shouldn’t chase every new idea and opportunity?
Many organizations turn to one common strategy to substitute one initiative for another. If the priority is to chase the new idea, for example, management specifies another area that should be killed off: add 1; kill 1.
While this approach might make sense, it doesn’t do enough to move the needle. Often it involves adding a significant new initiative and then killing off something small and inconsequential. You’ve still left your team under-resourced and over-burdened. They still have too many priorities to focus on.
Doing More with Less
It’s been my experience that the most focused and effective organizations rely on what we might call the “Kill 2; Add 1” approach. In other words, if you want the team to chase down a new opportunity, then they also need to stop doing two other initiatives.
While that might seem draconian, it’s the overlooked secret to helping teams keep focused and effective in ways where they can execute–fast.
Rather than looking busy trying to run down 5 or 6 projects at once, the team will get more done by choosing just a handful of projects to focus on at any one time. Then, after completing those projects, they can move on to the lower priority items over time.
Simply put–you’ll get more projects done faster by chasing fewer projects at any one time.
The discipline of removing two ideas for each one you add will provide an increasing focus for your team. Focus means the projects really matter and they will tend to get done faster, and the company gets the benefit earlier.
So, the next time someone on your team comes to you with a new idea to chase, smile. And then ask the question: “OK, but what two things are we going to kill first before we start this?”
The answers you get in response will go a long way to helping your team become a lean and focused execution machine.