After being in management consulting for so long, it shouldn’t surprise anyone that I’m wired to identify problems. If you think about principles of performance management and project management that are large parts of what consultants do, it makes sense that you get the most bang for your buck by spending your time addressing things that aren’t going well and need attention/change more so than the things that are going just as you planned.
The downside of this exception-based management is that people who are performing well don’t always get the recognition they rightfully deserve to encourage them to keep it up.
This brings me to Tom Brady, a guy who by most accounts is winning at life. He’s rich, a pro athlete, has a supermodel wife (also rich), and may have just solidified his status as the greatest quarterback in the history of the National Football League based on the outcome of the Super Bowl (his 5th championship).
And what did I do? I sent you an email about the train wreck that was the Atlanta Falcons. While the lessons to learn from the Falcons’ collective shortcomings were legit, we can also learn what it takes to beat the odds by looking at what the Patriots did during that same game.
Break big goals down into a series of small steps
When it comes to tackling big goals, no matter how unrealistic they seem, you can break them down into interim milestones and manage toward those to make sure everything you want to get done fits within the allotted amount of time. In the case of this football game, overcoming a deficit that had never been done before might have been overwhelming, but setting a goal of not punting on any possessions or making sure they got a first down would feel manageable.
That’s why we do project plans. Hitting a milestone of gathering business requirements and documenting detailed processes is more tangible than just saying 18 months from now you want to put in a new system to support your transformed organization and you expect everything to run smoothly.
Focus on doing the next thing right
If you’re in the business of large-scale transformations, you know the future-state vision can be daunting. People who get caught up thinking about how massive the change is can’t focus enough to take the small step needed to keep pace on the longer journey.
Do not worry anything other than what you’re working because if you don’t execute that you’ll never have the chance to address the activities that need to be done later.
Make adjustments on the fly
You can’t be afraid to change course when things aren’t working. Bill Belichick, the coach of the Patriots, has long been regarded as one of the masters of making halftime adjustments that pivot a game’s momentum.
I was on a project where we thought we could facilitate the needed discussions via workshop but realized the organization was much more decentralized than we thought and needed to change our approach. Had we forced the issue on workshops, there was no way we could have met the project deadlines.
Providing real-time feedback to teams you manage to improve over the course of a project would be another good example of where you’d want to apply this concept. Too many times we see people surprised by performance evaluations because feedback hadn’t been given until it was time to formally document performance. Not cool and not helpful for anyone involved to operate this way.
Ignore the odds (and the naysayers)
If Tom Brady and the gang had been spending every intermission looking at the odds and listening to what people all over were saying about them, they probably wouldn’t have even come back onto to the field for the 4th quarter.
You have to believe you’re the best and the odds don’t apply to you. Unlikely or improbable don’t mean impossible. So, if you want something, go get it. Getting caught up in what’s never been done before only stifles innovation and creativity, ultimately sabotaging your effort before it starts.
I think Vince Vaughn summarized all of this best with his character in Wedding Crashers when he said “Rule number 76. No excuses. Play like a champion.” In this case, that champion is the New England Patriots.