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the workshops, retreats, and consulting work we do at The CLEMMER
Group, the most common problem we encounter is priority overload. The
vast majority of individuals and management teams we work with are
overwhelmed. Everything is urgent. Their personal and organizational
"to-do lists" of projects, team activities, daily tasks, crisis,
strategic goals, and the like are jumbled together in a crushing weight
of frenetic busyness. At the organizational level this results in
reduced productivity, quality, customer service, innovation, and
profitability/results. At the personal level, this hectic pace results
in stress, health issues, reduced satisfaction, and lower personal and
This issue of the Leader Letter addresses
some of the organizational and personal causes of priority overload and
how to deal with this growing problem as the pace keeps accelerating.
|Common Causes of Priority Overload
Too Much Time In the Business and Not Enough Time On the Business
– many organizations are so busy dealing with daily issues and
operations that there is no time for the "luxury" of progress
assessment and planning. This leads to even more busyness and crisis
management which means even less time for progress assessment and
planning which leads to even more busyness which means less time for...
Weak Goal Deployment Process
– most organizations have an annual strategic planning and/or budgeting
process. Some put a huge amount of time and energy into the front end
of the process. Very few organizations continue that same discipline
into cascading those plans and goals throughout the organization. And
only a handful of organizations have any disciplined follow-through and
Focusing on What's New Rather Than What Works
– most management teams are so busy asking each other "what's new" or
"what's up" that we spend little to no time reflecting on what's
working. The energy of many meetings and planning processes is in
launching new initiatives and plans, not in following up to learn what
we should keep doing, stop doing, and start doing.
Bolt-On Programs Versus Built-In Process
– strategic planning, The Balanced Scorecard, performance management,
KPI (key performance indicators), and the like are programs used in
many organizations. Most times they are programs run by staff support
groups like HR and not part of how the management team actually manages
Unbalanced Measurements –
what gets measured gets managed. Most organizations use lagging
indicators like production numbers or financial results as their
primary measures. Higher performing organizations balance those with
leading indicators like customer service, quality, employee
satisfaction, or market trends.
A Culture That Rewards Activities More Than Results
– where programs are bolted-on and measures are unbalanced, "face time"
(when a manager is at his or her desk), availability, and
responsiveness become the key ways to judge a manager's contributions
and effectiveness. This leads to the unhealthy and unproductive 24/7
world of e-mails and voice-mails that are overloading and stressing out
so many people.
Disorganized Managers Trying to Build Organized Teams
– many overloaded organizations or teams are led by managers with poor
personal time management practices. This ripples out into poorly run
meetings, highly reactive and constantly shifting priorities, poor
operational processes, sloppy customer service and quality, and even
MBW (management by whim).
|Steps to a Goal Deployment System
organizations like Toyota have developed and evolved a very disciplined
methodology that they call "Hoshin kanri." It starts with high level or
strategic imperatives and then cascades these through every part of the
organization. Follow through and follow up is the key to moving this
process from just another bolt-on planning program to a built-in
management process. From my experience facilitating the senior
management team through parts of this process in their Cambridge,
Ontario plant, I know this is a core management process for Toyota.
They aren't just "doing their planning thing" and going through the
The generic diagram below
shows the flow of a process like this. It starts at the centre with the
management establishing, reaffirming, or revitalizing their Vision,
Values, and Purpose (what I call Focus and Context).
on three to five strategic (high leverage/impact) imperatives
(do-or-die) for the planning cycle (usually annual). This generally
involves using some form of Affinity Diagramming or clustering similar
goals together to form a higher level strategic objective.
- Establish management ownership/accountability (and steering/improvement teams) for each imperative.
- Develop key measurements for each imperative.
every department/division at all levels develop their three to five
imperatives and measures that flow directly from one or more of the
regular (e.g. weekly/monthly/quarterly) review and follow-up meetings
at all levels, and communicate the results broadly (the more visible
- Start the next cycle by agreeing upon the three to five strategic imperatives for the next planning cycle.
organizations do steps #1 and #2 each year. With tools like the
Balanced Scorecard, some organizations are trying to develop a balanced
set of leading and lagging indicators. Few organizations get to step #4
with any vigor or consistency. And only a handful of the best-run
organizations ever follow through on step #5 with any discipline.
|Tips for Setting Team or Organizational Goals and Priorities
- Ensure you're following the three keys to effective goals and priorities: 1) Follow-up; 2) Follow-up; and 3) Follow-up.
- Continuously communicate how your strategic imperatives connect to your vision, values, and purpose.
- Set goals and priorities from the outside (customers) in and help everyone see the big picture and where they fit in it.
- Keep the "line of sight" from customers, external partners, and internal partners clear and strong for everyone.
allow your team meetings to be tyrannized by operational crises/issues
at the expense of effective and regular goal deployment follow-up.
training, measurements, technology, human resources, restructuring,
project teams, process changes, and the like are strongly connected to,
and flow from your strategic imperatives.
- Regularly review your meeting and decision making processes. Are you using your time well? Are the right people involved?
|Leading by Example: Setting Personal Goals and Priorities
many managers seem to operate on a variation of an old Groucho Marx
routine; "I've got top priorities. I am going to stick to those
priorities. And if you don't like those priorities...I have others."
It's very hard to bring the discipline of a goal deployment system or
other planning process to a team or organization if your own time
management and personal organization is a joke.
are you so busy doing? Are you working on high leverage activities that
will catapult you, your team, and your organization toward your vision?
Are people "delegating up" to you and your team? Has busyness and long
hours become a dangerous status symbol of importance? Are you and your
team members measuring your importance by how many e-mails you get,
vacations missed, or crazy hours you work?
thy time. Figuring out how effective your busyness is, starts with a
time log. This takes some real discipline, but the learning and
personal effectiveness you'll gain is immeasurable. For a few weeks,
(ideally a month), keep a log of how you spend each fifteen minute
block of your day from the time you get up until the time you go to
bed. Before you start, develop categories such as reading, learning,
meetings, dealing with e-mails, family time, relaxation, travel,
telephone calls, visiting, preparing, planning, etc. Estimate how much
time you spend in each activity before you start your log. Once your
log is complete compare your estimates to the way you actually use your
your time. Use a time organizer system, software program, or Personal
Digital Assistant. Take it with you everywhere you go. Develop weekly
or monthly activity lists that link to your vision, values, and purpose
so you're always doing the most important things. Over the weekend or
first thing Monday morning, sketch out your week. Each morning
reprioritize your day's activities and plans.
how to lead effective meetings. Poorly run meetings cost you and
everyone else an enormous amount of precious time. There are few
excuses for not starting and finishing on time, not having clear
meeting outcomes and agendas, not keeping discussions on track, not
minimizing disruptions, or not handling conflict effectively. It's a
skill issue. Improve yours and you'll free up time for everybody.
- Schedule regular reflection time (daily/weekly/monthly) to review progress on your goals and reset your priorities.
like to get your reflections and experience on how you set personal or
professional goals and priorities. Please e-mail me at Jim.Clemmer@Clemmer.net.
Permission to Reprint: You may reprint any items from the Leader Letter in your own print publication or e-newsletter as long as you include this paragraph:
"Reprinted with permission from the Leader Letter,
Jim Clemmer's free e-newsletter. For over 25 years Jim Clemmer's
practical leadership approaches have been inspiring action and
achieving results. His 2,000+ presentations and workshops/retreats,
five bestselling books, columns, and newsletters are helping hundreds
of thousands of managers worldwide because they are inspiring,
instructive, and refreshingly fun. And best of all, they work! His web
site is www.clemmer.net."
|Thoughts That Make You Go Hmmmm...
on Goals and Priorities
(Attention Deficit Trait) is now epidemic in organizations. The core
symptoms are distractibility, inner frenzy, and impatience. People with
ADT have difficulty staying organized, setting priorities, and managing
time... ADT springs entirely from the environment. Like the traffic
jam, ADT is an artifact of modern life. It is brought on by the demands
on our time and attention that have exploded over the past two decades.
As our minds fill with noise -- feckless synaptic events signifying
nothing -- the brain gradually loses its capacity to attend fully and
thoroughly to anything...ADT can be controlled only by creatively
engineering one's environment and one's emotional and physical health."
- Edward M. Hallowell, "Overloaded Circuits: Why Smart People Underperform," Harvard Business Review, January 2005
few managers use their time as effectively as they could. They think
they're attending to pressing matters, but they're really just spinning
their wheels...our findings on managerial behavior should frighten you:
Fully 90% of managers squander their time in all sorts of ineffective
activities. In other words, a mere 10% of managers spend their time in
a committed, purposeful, and reflective manner...focused managers
aren't in reactive mode; they choose not to respond immediately to
every issue that comes their way or get sidetracked from their goals by
distractions like e-mail, meetings, setbacks, and unforeseen demands.
Because they have a clear understanding of what they want to
accomplish, they carefully weigh their options before selecting a
course of action. Moreover, because they commit to only one or two key
projects, they can devote their full attention to the projects they
believe in...many insecure managers try to impress others with how much
work they have. But the pressure to perform can be amplified by
organizations themselves. Indeed, many companies encourage, and even
reward, frantic activity."
- Heike Bruch and Sumantra Ghoshal, "Beware the Busy Manager," Harvard Business Review, February 2002
you have a "to do" list? Do you also have a "stop doing" list? Most of
us lead busy but undisciplined lives. We have ever-expanding "to do"
lists, trying to build momentum by doing, doing, doing-and doing more.
And it rarely works. Those who built the good-to-great companies,
however, made as much use of "stop doing" lists as "to do" lists. They
displayed a remarkable discipline to unplug all sorts of extraneous
junk...much of this book is about creating a culture of discipline. It
all starts with disciplined people."
- Jim Collins, Good to Great
"Be like a postage stamp. Stick to one thing until you get there."
- Josh Billings, (Henry Wheeler Shaw) American humorist and essayist
|Visualizing and Navigating
After the January 2004 newsletter on visualization and the March 2004 issue on being a Navigator rather than just a Survivor or Victim,
I began exchanging e-mails with Phil Kerslake in Wellington, New
Zealand. With his permission, I am sharing some of our correspondence
always enjoy your monthly thoughts and ideas, but at present your
messages have taken on added significance for me. While being a general
manager with a strong interest in the kind of leadership philosophies
you espouse, I'm also half way through a 6 month scheduled chemotherapy
regime for a Hodgkin's Disease recurrence and was due to receive my
first post-treatment CT scan results yesterday afternoon. Reading your
article 'Keeping problems in perspective' when your newsletter arrived
in timely fashion that morning reminded me of the power I had to choose
my response and point of view no matter what the results."
am a big believer in visualizing and creating your own future also but
again, the reminder you've provided is useful because I'd slipped out
of the habit lately of regularly adhering to my visualization regime.
My cancer experience started when I was just a teenager and doctors
suggested I had 10 years to live maximum then, so I'm pleased to have
proved them wrong at age 44 but I'm also certain that adopting the
Navigator's perspective is how I've gotten through to this point and
how I'll carry on for as long as I choose to. The great thing about
your article was that it arrived at a time where I was at risk of
slipping down emotionally to the survivor line with the risk, God
forbid, of becoming victim-oriented. Not the 'me' that any of my
family, friends and colleagues knows but again, something that can
seemingly occur through repeated (fortnightly) chemo sessions and the
soul-suppressing after effects.
A year later, Phil sent me this inspiring update:
for your latest newsletter. Just thought I'd update you briefly on
where I'm at. I e-mailed you last year in the middle of a cancer
recurrence, commending your 'navigator' approach and telling you how I
took it as further motivation to fight when I was at a low ebb.
very pleased to report that I'm now in full remission, against the
expectations of the doctors and most everyone else. Looking at me and
my replenished vibrancy, you wouldn't know that 2004 was for me a year
full of chemotherapy, spleen removal, biopsy operations and a stem cell
transplant. I've re-gained the 20kg I had lost along with my energies
and zest for life.
most importantly I've also taken the necessary steps to re-focus my
life onto things that align directly with my values. I left my
corporate job as a general manager and set up my own life and business
coaching company. I've also secured a publisher and a sponsor for a
book I long wanted to write entitled "Life, happiness and a cancer
diagnosis." My book should be released at year end or early 2006, and
will aim to help and inspire cancer patients and others looking for
motivation to live their passions.
hope your readers and clients fully appreciate the value and power of
navigating - taking a never quit approach and constantly looking for
solutions when brick walls are presented! It helped me get to this
point and will continue to enable me to achieve what others thought
Wellington, New Zealand
|Tone of Voice: It's All in How We're Saying It
is my first supervisory role and I feel that I am failing badly. I'm
one of those who feel that if you don't want to hear the answer, don't
ask the question. I'm also not one to sit by and wait to be told what
to do, but take action when I feel that I can make a difference. All of
this is getting me in trouble. A friend in HR passed along your web
site info, so here I am a new subscriber.
am sorry to hear that you feel that you're failing badly. Perhaps
you're being too hard on yourself. You certainly need to cut yourself
some slack during the learning process.
comment about "if you don't want to hear the answer, don't ask the
question" could show that it's not what you're saying, but how you are
saying it. Most people want and appreciate a boss or work colleague who
is direct and to the point. But it's about the way that's conveyed.
We've all found ourselves resisting someone else not because of what
they are saying, but how they are saying it. They may strike us as
arrogant, unfeeling, rude, or overly critical. It's been said that 90
percent of the friction in our relationships comes from the wrong tone
The number one rule in working
with others is to focus on the issue, problem, or behavior and not the
person. We often don't recognize when we're making statements of
exasperation, broad brush ("you're always so ______"), or judgment
("you're too _____"). Make sure you focus on facts, what you've
observed, or what you're feeling. Don't put labels or generalizations
on other people or their behavior. A good team leadership or
supervisory training program would be a great investment for you.
definitely want to continue to take action when you feel you can make a
difference. That's being a navigator or leader, not a just-getting-by
survivor or victim. But it's all about how you take that action as a
supervisor. Bosses or managers get people to do things because they
have to. Leaders get people to do the same things because they want to.
It's the same goal, but with a world of difference in execution and
Congratulations on your
new role. Keep searching, self-examining, getting feedback, and
learning. That's the exciting leadership route to great effectiveness
and personal fulfillment.
|Improvement Points Balance Organizational and Personal Leadership
enjoy your improvement points but think that you are far too hard on
managers and leaders. Your articles show a distinct bias for employees
rather than leaders, supervisors, and managers. While you often
indicate that you need a balance, I have trouble sending some of your
stuff out to staff as it will just encourage them to be critical of
their supervisors. You need to provide a better balance. I've been a
leader, a manager, a supervisor, etc. for 26 years and you clearly have
not worked in a union environment or had staff that really and truly
don't like anyone in authority.
for your feedback. I always appreciate when readers or audience members
voice concerns or issues that I need to look at more closely in my
work. Your message has pushed me to think further about the bias issue
As you can see on our web page describing the Improvement Points service (www.clemmer.net/improvement.shtml),
I have focused this service on organizational effectiveness and
personal/leadership effectiveness. The most appropriate Improvement
Points to pass on to staff would be those on personal/leadership
effectiveness. The organizational effectiveness points are aimed at
helping managers continuously improve the way they lead their
organizations or teams. Many of these would not be appropriate to pass
on to staff. I know many readers pass them on to other
supervisors/managers and sometimes use the Improvement Point or its
linked article for further management team discussion.
my books and workshops or presentations, these management messages are
designed to stretch the recipient further. They often are critical of
managers because I am pointing out mediocre or bad management practices
and providing suggestions for improving those. Of course, as with any
advice in our lives, we have to weigh what's being said against our
growth or development goals and personal approach. If the comment
irritates or causes us to flinch, that may be the grain of sand around
which we can spin our own pearl of improvement. If it doesn't fit, we
need to ignore the advice or hit the delete key.
have worked extensively in union environments with my Clients for over
25 years. Many of my sessions have included active and quite vocal
union leaders or been designed exclusively for them. I've certainly
encountered my share of frontline people who don't like anyone in
authority. The big challenge in this environment is for the manager to
not fall into the classic We/They Gap and become a victim pointing
fingers at "they." You can scan through a large collection of articles
on taking responsibility for our choices at www.clemmer.net/excerpts/responsibility.shtml.
again for your input. This has been a valuable reflection exercise for
me to re-examine the focus and intent of Improvement Points.
|Top Improvement Points from May
Of the short quotes with links to full articles that were e-mailed out as complimentary Improvement Points last month, the most popular with subscribers were:
deals with the world of emotions and feelings. It is more of an art
than a science. Like artists, leaders have the ability to share their
vision of the world. Leaders influence our perceptions and help us look
at situations in new ways."
- from Soft Skills, Hard Results
try to motivate. Leaders inspire. Managers try to understand how to
motivate people. Leaders try to understand why people aren't feeling
motivated. Managers try to add more drivers to increase mobilization
and energy. Leaders try to identify, prioritize, and remove the biggest
- from Motivation is an Inside Job
are numerous modern technologies, instruments, and techniques to help
managers see where they are today. But many of them still attempt to
navigate their own personal development or organization-change
processes with tools similar to old-fashioned sextants or star charts.
Some may have lookouts posted in the crow's nest, but ignore or
discount any warnings that don't coincide with their own perception."
- from Pinpointing My Leadership Position
Subscribe or view the archives by topic area here:
|Feedback and Follow-Up
I am always delighted to hear from readers of the Leader Letter with feedback, reflections, suggestions, or differing points of view. Nobody is ever identified in the Leader Letter without their permission.
am also happy to explore customized, in-house adaptations of any of my
material for your team or organization, drop me an e-mail at Jim.Clemmer@Clemmer.net.
I hope to connect with you again next month!
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Copyright 2005, Jim Clemmer, The CLEMMER Group