Making it up and making it happen

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<ul><li><p>Fall 2003 51</p><p>E X E C U T I V E F O R U M</p><p>Leaders make things up, and they make them happen.Theyre defining the gamebut theyre also making sure the game is on. And those two behaviors sit at verydistinctly opposite ends of the continuum of how things get done.We must framea vision, defining what done means.And we must then make that vision operational, de-ciding what doing actually looks like. It is rare, though, to find a person who can operatecomfortably in both roles and who knows how to navigate between them appropriately.</p><p>For many years the make it up part of the equation seems to have held the mostfocus and interest for executive and leadership development.We are told to run it bythe purpose, craft the vision, and capture and communicate the spirit of the or-ganization.The other half of the equationactually getting things done in the worldseemed to be left to the managers, supervisors, and front-line workers. Making thingsactually show up in the world was not directly the job of leadership. Perhaps thatsbecause in a world of seemingly infinite potential for capital resources (as in the 90s),your competitive edge was more defined by the clarity and attractiveness of yourvisionto investors and to the human talent you needed.</p><p>But the pendulum has swung.The lean side of the business cycle has pushed a new levelof awareness of the need to be productive into the executive suite, getting equal billingwith the need to foresee and create the future.You must, indeed, know where you aregoingotherwise, any road at any speed will do. But just knowing where you want tobe is not enough these days to lead effectivelyyou must ensure that you are gettingthere as efficiently as possible with the maximum utilization of limited resources. Inother words, the how? and the action focus have become as critical for a leader to ownas the why? and the what?</p><p>Effective leaders intuitively work both angles. They know the importance of un-hooking from the demands of day-to-day operations to rise above the noise and gain</p><p>For bulk reprints of this article, please call 201-748-8771.</p><p>B Y D A V I D A L L E N</p><p>Making It Up and Making It </p><p>Happen</p></li><li><p>Leader to Leader52</p><p>clarity, direction, and motivation. And they also knowthere are times when they must drop the focus down tostructures, projects, plans, and physical action to groundthe vision to the earth.</p><p>The Implementation Sequence</p><p>This ability to get things done can be ex-panded by understanding the specificphases of how we naturally take things froman intention into physical reality, and howthese can be used as a set of tools to directfocus. Whether its taking a vacation orbuilding the infrastructure of a newly cre-ated nation-state, each of the five discretelevels of implementation has its own kind ofconversation and its own best practices.Worked together, they create a whole modelof how we get things done most effectively,with the least amount of effort. If any oneof the five steps is done insufficiently, how-ever, effectiveness can be severely limited.</p><p>These horizons can be delineated as follows:</p><p>1. There is purposean intention tohave something different in someway. (Were taking a vacation to relaxand have fun with new experiences.)At this same level are the values thatprovide the parameters of behavior.(We want to share it together, consid-ering each player equally, and it needsto be affordable.)</p><p>2. A vision is created to reflect what thepurpose expressed or fulfilled wouldlook like in the world. (Were going to Italy nextsummer for two weeks, touring the major citiesand sites, combining gardens, art, shopping, foodand wine, and off-the-beaten-path exploring.)</p><p>3. We brainstorm all sorts of ideas and details to con-sider in order to have the trip happen. (When?Which cities? Car or trains? Tickets for galleries?Day trips? Weather and dress? And so on.)</p><p>4. We organize all of our thinking intocomponents and subcomponents,often with sequences and priorities.(Reservations and ticketing, arrang-ing personal and work logistics so wecan unhook, organizing clothes andaccessories, packing, and the like.)</p><p>5. We decide next actions and who hasthem, to create forward motion onall movable fronts of the project.(Surf the Web for gardens to tour,call Jessica re: her suggestions forUmbria, browse the travel store for maps and gear while waiting forthe Frommers guide we ordered. . . .)</p><p>Engaging in this series of events is howwe all get things done, naturally andinstinctively, all the time. An intention ini-tiates our creative energy; an outcome vi-sion directs our thinking about all kinds ofdetails and considerations; we organize thepieces into a coherent structure; we takephysical action steps to put the parts intomotion. As simple and obvious as this pro-cess may seem when dealing with some-thing as straightforward as a vacation, inmore complex enterprises these sequentialphases often need some care and feeding toensure effective implementation.</p><p>The model can supply some critical guidelines for lead-ers to use to handle the operational side of their roles,preventing initiatives from getting stuck and ensuringeffective allocation of knowledge-worker resources.</p><p>David Allen, founderand president of theDavid Allen Com-pany, has spent the</p><p>last 20 years research-ing and implementing</p><p>high-performancemethods for personaland organizational</p><p>productivity, providingprograms and execu-tive coaching for suchdiverse organizationsas DeutscheBank,</p><p>HUD, Clorox, Stan-ford University, NewYork Life, and theU.S. Navy. He isauthor of Getting</p><p>Things Done:The Artof Stress-Free Produc-tivity and Ready forAnything: 52 Produc-tivity Principles forWork and Life.</p></li><li><p>Fall 2003 53</p><p>Organizing without sufficient brainstorming can un-dermine a plan. Action off purpose can be chaotic. Avision without accountability for relevant projects canbe vacuous.Thinking at these various levels of creativedevelopment and decision making does not often hap-pen by itself, either, and a conscious, intentional energyis required to direct the focus at the right horizon atthe right time. Lets take a closer look at each level.</p><p>1. The Purpose and the RulesDefining the Game</p><p>Do we know what were really aboutwhy were doingwhat were doing? Is it clear to uswhen something is off-purpose?What do we really do? We pro-vide. . . .We deliver. . . .We con-tribute. . . . We assist in. . . . Weproduce. . . . (Fill in the blanks.)</p><p>For effective leaders, the valueof this kind of focus should be agiven. Purpose defines the di-rection and meaning of the en-terprise. Organizations dontoften change their basic pur-pose, but at times it needs to bereunderstood at new levels. Adrill-bit company wont getinto lasers, but a hole-production company could.</p><p>Of equal importance as a criterion for decision makingis the set of rules we agree to play byour standards.Whereas purpose gives us direction, values and princi-ples lay out not how we get there but how we playalong the way. We define what behavior works andwhat doesnt. How do we act when we are at our best?What is critical to us in everything that we do?</p><p>When our people really know the purpose of theenterprise and have committed to the critical rules of</p><p>engagement, we can trust them to make important de-cisions intelligently, as needed, without unproductivebureaucratic procedures. If were not sure that our peo-ple know what were doing or we have doubts abouttheir behaviors in the process, we cannot let go, and wewill be pulled down into a level of detail likely to mis-appropriate our attention.</p><p>Where could a discussion of Why we are doing whatwere doing here? be used right now in your world togood effect? With whom would it be wise to have moreclarity and agreement about critical behaviors to assure</p><p>success? Strong leaders are will-ing to initiate these slightly un-comfortable conversations onthe front end, to prevent poten-tially disastrous ones from hap-pening later on.</p><p>2. The VisionGetting theWhat Defined</p><p>What would the purpose be-ing fulfilled in the world actu-ally look like? How big, howsoon? What, if it came to pass,would cause you to exclaimthat the endeavor was wildly</p><p>successful? This kind of outcome goal-setting couldrange from a 3 percent increase in market share inthe northeast region within 18 months to a workenvironment that is dynamic and positively engagingfor all the players.</p><p>It is not necessary to have numbers, dates, and times as-sociated with the vision, though they might be includedto give everyone a sense of scope and scale in the focus.What matters is that the image of success is clear andspecific enough to let you calibrate whether yourethere or not, and if not, how far you are from it.</p><p>Focus on the </p><p>right horizon at </p><p>the right time.</p></li><li><p>Leader to Leader54</p><p>We are all envisioning all the time, about everythingwere involved in.The question is, are the images wereholding the ones we want to be achieving? Or are theyless-than-conscious pictures that might be negative orlimited? Are we holding a steady focus toward an in-spiring picture of the success we really want, despite thefact that we dont yet see how to get there? Or are weallowing limiting self-talk like weve never done that,so we cant take hold?</p><p>Visions sometimes just happen, but they can also be cre-ated, expressed, clarified, fostered, enhanced, improved,and expandedconsciously anddeliberatelyand many timesneed to be. Often the source ofconflict and misalignment inimplementation is that peopleare working off different mentalpictures about where things aregoing.One persons idea of suc-cess may be global, willing toconcede some quality; and an-others may be qualitative only,willing to limit the size if needbe. The inevitable operationalconflict can only be solved by aconversation and an agreementat the level of vision.</p><p>Where would a discussion (perhaps revisited) of desiredoutcome scenarios be constructive right now? Withwhom would it be fruitful to ensure that everyone is singing off the same song sheet?</p><p>3. BrainstormingLaying the Groundwork for How</p><p>The impulse to make the vision operational surfacesquestions and sparks thinking at multiple levels. Whatabout. . . ? What if. . . ? Oh, yeah, we might need to. . . .</p><p>We cant forget about. . . . What else should we thinkabout. . . ?</p><p>This thinking seldom shows up in any particular order,priority, or sequence relative to the implementationit just shows up.The effective approach is to capture allof it, whenever and wherever, and even to catalyze thiskind of idea generation as much as possible, from asmany sources as possible, so no potentially critical per-spective or detail will get missed. Many a whoops!on projects could have been prevented with sufficientbrainstorming at this stage.</p><p>But two things must be in placefor brainstorming to be effective:a basic alignment with the visionthat youre trying to create, and aconsensus about the details of cur-rent reality. If participants disagreeabout where youre going, noamount of brainstorming abouthow to get there will createalignment, and you will under-mine the supportive atmospherecritical for good creative think-ing.And, if there is no consensusor awareness about whats trueright now, the delta between</p><p>where you are and where you want to be will be un-clear, and thinking and decision making will be off themark. If, for instance, there is disagreement about whothe current customers are, or someone is not disclosingcritical information about executive politics that will beaffecting the project, then its very difficult to have a fullyaligned discussion.</p><p>Where is there plenty of blue sky thinking, but notyet enough rolling up of the sleeves to grapple withthings that are on the way and in the way? What needsmore bad ideas generated, in order to have more good</p><p>What needs more </p><p>bad ideas generated,</p><p>in order to have </p><p>more good ones?</p></li><li><p>55</p><p>ones? In other words,which projects or situations oughtto have more creative input, to ensure that all anglesand possibilities have been considered? Which individ-uals ought to be brought together, about what, to sparkand capture creative thinking? (And what data aboutcurrent reality needs to be gathered and communicatedto whom, to ensure appropriate perspectives?)</p><p>4. OrganizationCreating Structures and Plans</p><p>When a sufficient number of ideas have been generatedand captured on the walls, a structure will naturallyemerge.As the inclination to dosomething about the vision con-tinues, a basic need will show upto organize the random and adhoc thinking into components,subcomponents, priorities, andsequences of events.</p><p>On the implementation scale,this phase is where the more tra-ditionally defined businesslikeapproach will take hold.How dowe get our arms around all thisstuff? Whats the working blue-print we need to appropriatelyallocate our resources? What arethe deliverables that must be completed to achieve theobjective? What are the mission-critical pieces versusthe nice-to-haves? This is the arena for defining key proj-ects and subprojects, PERT or Gantt charts, organiza-tional structures, or simply bullet points on the back ofan envelope.</p><p>What needs more organizing in your world right now?Where do creative ideas and details fill the air, but yousense that more rigor should be applied to make deci-sions about the allocation of resources and definitionof real pieces and projects to complete?</p><p>5. Next ActionsGetting Things Going</p><p>Even the best preliminary thinking is in vain withoutdeciding and taking the physical actions required makethis particular vision happen instead of something else.What should take place, exactly, to get this thing going?Is this a phone call to make, an e-mail message to send,a document to draft, a task to give to your assistant inyour next meeting, or something to buy when youre atthe hardware store?</p><p>Deciding the next action, or at least allocating theresponsibility for action to aspecific person, is the final lynch-pin to getting things done. Wemust, indeed, know what donemeans (outcomes), but that isstill only half the equationwemust determine what doing ac-tually looks like.</p><p>Assuming an initiative has beenenvisioned, brainstormed, andorganized sufficiently, then nextactions on any moving part(a component that is not de-pendent on another unfinishedpiece) of the project need to be</p><p>determined and appropriately allocated to yourself orothers. If a project or situation has not been thoughtthrough enough to clarify all the next steps, the nextaction is a process actionsomething needs to happento mature the project or initiative, relative to one of theearlier phases. E-mail Janet re: scheduling senior staffmeeting to revisit long-term goal,Call Carlos re: cur-rent financials, Draft ideas re: ideal marketing VP.There could be dozens of next steps active concur-rently. But there must be at least one, or the project willbe bottlenecked by whoever owns it.</p><p>An ideal team has </p><p>an appropriate mix of</p><p>visionaries and doers.</p><p>Summer 2003</p></li><li><p>Leader to Leader56</p><p>What has most of your attention right now? Whats thenext action, and who has it? What pro...</p></li></ul>