Lists are the most underused and undervalued weapon in building companies and bringing control to them.
I use them (with a particular structure) for executing strategy, for managing improvements to a company, for monitoring its health, and to manage operational pulse – the four process layers in our Build on Purpose framework for bringing control and intentionality to scaling companies.
However, they also come with a danger.
For some people, ticking off what’s on the list becomes more important than achieving what it represents.
I’ve sat with leadership teams implementing the process on more than one occasion to see items being checked off that weren’t done.
In some instances, it was genuine deception: a member of the leadership team not wanting to admit that something hasn’t been completed in front of their peers (our process is great at creating transparency, which can be uncomfortable for those not getting sh!t done).
On other occasions, it was sloppiness: someone “kind of” finishing the job, and not really that bothered about its quality. An eagerness to move on to something else.
And in yet other occasions, it was a lack of thinking of what it truly means to have the job “done”. A desire for pace over effectiveness.
Where I’ve seen this happen, I found that more often than not, it’s the CEOs and MDs who tend to fall foul of the last one, driven by eagerness or impatience to get things done, while variously other members of the leadership teams fell foul of the first two.
In all instances, the message is the same.
The list is not the thing.
The list is not a substitute for the thing.
The list is a means to the thing.
Be clear about what the thing actually is. What done actually is.
And don’t be shy of asking if it’s actually done. To see it, or sign off on it. Or the next week to see if it’s been implemented in the cold light of day in the company.
Otherwise we’re creating busyness for its own sake. Which not only doesn’t get us anywhere, but doesn’t provide for fulfilling work.
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