Stop Failing at the Basics

I had an interesting conversation yesterday with an executive whose company was recently acquired. Not surprisingly, he shared his post-acquisition frustrations. Most deals create a loss of control, greater uncertainty for the team, changing directions, new goals, and so on. He talked through the standard list, but then came the shocker. His biggest frustration was something much more fundamental — people failing at the basics. Meetings in the new company were a joke. He said, “they go on and on and yet nothing is ever accomplished.” He described meetings without agendas, without firm time limits, no one tracking what decisions were reached or who was responsible to make it happen, little follow-up, lots of opinions being shared like they were facts, and the nauseating sense that the next meeting would be just like the last. I’ve seen this story played out at many companies. They’ve got great industry knowledge and deep skills in areas like marketing, supply chain management, finance, and sales going for them, yet many lack basic business skills. Skills like making effective decisions, setting actionable goals, keeping their commitments, building alignment, ….

It’s time to focus on the basics. Take two minutes and grade yourself on the following decision-making skills and make specific plans to improve. You’ll be glad you did.

  • I always rely on more than my gut. I make my assumptions explicit. I use data and rigorous analysis to clarify my perspective.
  • I speak with openness and honesty about our most important issues. Nothing is sacred. I actively listen for understanding to what others are saying.
  • I develop many compelling strategic alternatives, so we can choose the very best path.
  • I focus my attention on those things that make all the difference. I say “no” to everything that doesn’t support our vision and strategy.
  • I review why things don’t go as planned to learn from our mistakes.