A growing problem we see with many management teams in less than outstanding organizations, is they don’t feel they can afford to take time out from hectic daily operations to step back, look at their effectiveness, and refocus their work. In other words, they have no time to learn.

About one month after finishing a very successful and energizing offsite planning retreat with one of our Clients, I got an e-mail suggesting they postpone the follow-up session a few months so they could “resolve more immediate problems.”
Here’s my reply:

“I would strongly advise you to re-read the notes from our May retreat and continue with your July follow-through meeting. Many of the change/improvements you identified in May and especially your four Strategic Imperatives (top goals/objectives) are highly dependent upon staying in touch with each other. Management Team Development (your second Strategic Imperative) and many of the trust, communication, and morale issues that surfaced in the pre-May surveys – and at the retreat itself – call out for much more face-to-face meeting time. The gap between head office/senior management and the branches needs to be closed very quickly and branch managers need to collectively feel like they are key members of the management team (they all pushed hard for being included in more of your meetings and having more sessions like the one in May). Otherwise, your two critical initiatives – branding and process management – will fall into the classic and often fatal trap of great concepts/ideas that aren’t well executed at the local level. It’s stating the obvious – but I think so critical to where you’re at right now – that great strategies, powerful branding, and technologies/processes that aren’t well executed (and highly trusted or believed in) at the local level, will ultimately do you more harm than good.

“I’d urge you not to let the urgent crowd out the important. The reason many companies get on a perpetual and ever faster spinning trend mill of operational issues, is they don’t step back often enough to check in with each other. They don’t balance working in the business with working on the business. Don’t wait until you think you’ve got the issues under control to get together. Develop regular meetings (I’d recommend once per month with your management team) and good meeting processes to build stronger strategic and implementation discipline in your key head office and field managers.

“XYZ is in a tough place right now. You’re trying to get the business back on track while taking your culture, leadership, processes, and strategic skills to the higher level you need to truly live your brand. Raising customer and employee expectations around your new marketing campaign will really hurt you if you don’t deliver on those expectations. You have a great base of loyal employees – a real asset. But they are very clearly reaching the limits of their patience and understanding. If you don’t keep them tightly in the communications and decision making loop while strengthening your follow-through discipline (and head office accountability to the branches), you could easily raise the ‘snicker factor’ and cause a lethal giving up reaction. “

This organization did proceed with their follow-through meeting and the implementation process. It’s still too early to say whether they will make the big jump from good to great, because they have let the vicious circle of ‘busyness’ drag the business down to dangerous levels. Don’t let this happen to you and your team! Don’t get too busy to learn!