I did pretty well at school but performed abysmally in my History exam (and if I am being honest got the lowest grade possible). I remember getting my results and thinking “I wrote 8 pages; how could I deserve that grade?” But truth be told, I wrote 8 pages of rubbish that had little to do with the question! I made that rookie mistake of reading the question at the start of the exam and then focused the rest of my time writing my answer (on 8 pages!) yet never once rechecking the exam question to be sure I was writing 8 pages that drove towards answering the question. I suspect most kids are coached to not make this mistake (I wish I was) yet we continually make this mistake in business!
So the question you need to ask yourself every day at work: ‘Is what am I (and my team) doing driving towards delivering our vision and strategy?’ (‘the exam question’).
It’s so easy at work to get bogged down in the detail or sidetracked on a ‘nice to do’ project, and it’s easy to get too focused on the URGENT (which doesn’t drive you forward and creates stress) rather than the IMPORTANT (which does drive you forward). I have been having this conversation a lot recently in my 1-2-1 coaching sessions so thought it was worth writing about.
This is a CONTEXT (the why) / CONTENT (the what) question. Get clear on the context and the content becomes clear or in other words, get clear on your strategy and the tasks you need to focus on to deliver the strategy become very clear, other tasks need to be ditched, delegated or deferred because they are a distraction.
Part of focusing on delivering the strategy is being a good delegator and therefore ensuring everyone is working at the top of their game (since they are delegating down as much as possible). When we delegate effectively we can focus on the strategic aspects of our role. I always ask my clients “Are you working on stuff that only you can do and delegating the other tasks?” Often the answer is no because ‘It’s quicker to do it myself’ or ‘they won’t do it as well as me’. This is not useful thinking and will definitely distract you from delivering the bigger picture and answering the exam question!
So ask yourself how often you stop at work and reread the exam question before diving headlong into your day’s To-do list? The answer may well be ‘not enough’ in which case, avoid getting the lowest grade and reread the question more frequently!