One of my first jobs was working with my father at a company that supplied stone, concrete and asphalt for construction sites. I worked in the labs breaking everything down to make sure the ingredients were correct. Imagine taking a cake and breaking it down to see if the right amounts of sugar, flour and butter were put in. It was kind of like that.
Back then, one of the things I enjoyed doing was walking around and looking at the enormous excavations and also the size of the sand piles. As a kid, nothing would have been more fun than to run up those sand piles. So I decided to give it a try one day and almost killed myself. Not that I was out of shape, I was only 20, but the amount of sand that came down as I tried to climb made it impossible to gain traction.
I was speaking with a client the other day, coaching him through a new transition at work and it reminded me of trying to climb sand piles. He kept listing everything on his “To do list.” As he spoke, his voice got quicker and quicker and rose slightly till I had to ask him to stop. He was wearing me out just listening.
We have all felt at one time or another that we cannot gain any traction on what we need to do. Every time we turn around there is a delay, a new project, an unhappy client, or changes in the team and work-flow. Everything is happening at once and everyone is looking to you for the steady hand. Going faster only pulls down more sand. You’re stuck, and in fact, getting nowhere, fast.
As we talked through his anxiety over his “to do” list, we talked about this sand pile analogy. Look around and see what resources you have. Your staff, processes in place, etc., and think of them as pieces of wood. We can lay them on the sand pile and tether them together. Then we begin our ascent. As we move up, and as we gain some ground, we can use more string to tie more pieces of wood so that it can support more weight.
Looking at the top of the pile will only cause us to lose our footing. We need to focus on what is right in front of us. In other words, by focusing on what we have to do to get through today or the week, it allows us to move up the pile slowly, while building confidence that our ladder will support us.
There is only so much one can do each day. The best thing to do is keep your goals small.
I like to work backwards over a 30 – day period:
• Who do we have currently in place on the team
• Are they doing jobs that best suit their skills
• What needs to happen first
• How can we execute it with the resources we currently have
• What can we do to strengthen it as we go
• Get feedback from those involved
Getting advice and feedback from those involved allows everyone to not only accomplish small steps themselves, but also to build a process for others to follow.
Step by step, you climb up. That is not to say you don’t slip back at times or feel trepidation along the way. But as you build on past successes, you begin to rely on others and trust that each step gets you closer to the top while leaving a path that you can travel again.
Improved Performance Solutions is a management consulting firm that specializes in helping organizations improve their profits through streamlining processes and increasing production from their employees.