Have you ever noticed how big thinkers and strategists say things like, “the devil is in the details” or “let’s not get too far into the weeds”? I recently heard a favorite client, who is both a big thinker and lover of details tell me:
“the weeds are where the tigers live and they will eat you. No one is looking for tigers.”
Big strategies require big thinkers. Executing requires a 360 view of the situation, taking all routes to success into account. Consider major initiatives like divesting or selling a division, mergers, acquisitions, or focus shift in a new industry. When you hear of failures, perhaps the AOL/Time Warner merger comes to mind. In a great Fortune Magazine article, reflections of why this failed strongly point to missing key details or sweeping seemingly miniscule details under the rug, such as culture fit, communication cadence, and leaders blinded by self-perception of knowing all the answers.
How to deal with details?
Especially if you are a blue sky leader, details are not your strong point. Likely, though, you are leading such major initiatives as referenced above. What can you do to ensure you are checking behind every tree and spreading weeds to find the tigers.
Before any execution or further planning happens, take the idea and play a what if game. With your team, free form brainstorm all the good what-if’s and bad what-if’s of doing the project. When you come to a fork in the road (do we do it this way or that way), take the time to look at what if’s.
Bring details people into the fold…EARLY
Perhaps one of the most important roles needed, once an executive decision has been made to execute a major initiative, is to dedicate a Project Management Professional (PMP). If you do not have one on staff, hire one. They are extremely useful and they live for details. Who else will be instrumental in spotting the tigers? When it comes to culture, do you have an organizational effectiveness lead? Consider hiring a human capital consultant as well.
Checklists and dashboards are your best friend
Likely your PMP will use tools like these. If not, have your own. Trello is great for capturing details and status. Know what your goals are of this major initiative and have IT create a simple dashboard. In your most effective way, keep tasks visible and organized (or have someone do it for you).
Accountability…what are the rules of the game
To do any strategic effort right, there has to be accountability to ensure everything is moving. Who stays out of the weeds and what are they doing? Who are the tiger hunters? Who are the weeds cutters? What is critical and who is doing what when? What are their goals?
As my client puts it:
We were advised to only focus on moving forward which is a good plan if you are walking thru the jungle and there are tigers in the weeds and tigers will eat you. So, you just march happily along, ignoring the tigers in the weeds until you get to the end of the path and you look behind you and all the tigers are standing there, ready to eat you. Instead, pick up a big stick and get into the weeds and beat those tigers out. Force them away and address those tigers head on. Don’t be afraid of the weeds or the tigers.
How are you exposing the tigers that kill your initiatives?