ICS Magazine

Action vs. Progress

August 20, 2009

Think about the last time you attended an industry trade show, a training workshop or an association meeting: you got back to your shop all fired up to change things for the better.

You rolled out a new program that seemed like a good idea, but then you were stuck dealing with push back and frustration from the staff, your customers or both. It probably got so bad you threw up your hands and abandoned the change altogether.

Congratulations! Now you know the difference between action and progress.

Action without planning is really just commotion. It gets a lot of people running around being busy doing stuff that they think is absolutely essential or what they need to do to make the boss get off their back.

They go off in a way that they each think is best. Nothing is discussed and no clear goals and parameters were discussed so, more often than not, the effort was wasted on all the wrong actions.

Progress, on the hand, is taking the right action that can only come from a well-thought-out written plan. That plan then needs to be broken into smaller, do-able action steps that have small intermediate goals and benchmarks.

Finally, it requires you invest the time and energy from the creation through the rollout phase to build buy-in so it will stick.

How Do You Create a Plan For Progress?

Start by taking a 48-hour breather from doing the work. For most of you, that means taking an undisturbed weekend, because you’ll need that time to create an easy-to-share vision on where your company needs to go. It’s what I call “Seeing your company a mile down the road.”

You’ll also need the time to create a written plan. This plan will then need to be broken down into do-able steps designed to reach your goal. These right action steps are what we need. I call this process, “Heading a mile down the road by walking a block at a time in the right direction.”

Two Separate Skills

“Seeing a mile down the road” and “Walking a block at a time in the right direction” requires that the owner possess two very different skills. There is the one skill to be a visionary, and the other skill do things step by step in the right sequence.

Things get bogged down when an owner has one skill but not the other. And if you’re the sole owner you must be honest with yourself and determine whether you possess both skills.

If not, you’ll need to surround yourself with someone who possesses the skill you’re weak at or lacking in altogether. This may require the help of someone from outside your company.

It actually gets worse when partners are at odds because one is a visionary and the other is only focused on getting today’s work done. Both skills are needed.

The visionary partner can clearly see where the company needs to go but doesn’t have the ability to break it down and follow up on the steps it’ll take to get there, because it requires discipline to make small consistent steps toward a goal.

The other partner, who is great at cranking out the day to day things the business requires, never looks up to see where the company needs to go, so they’re off course more than they’re on track.

The trick is for the two partners to see each other’s gift and maximize each other’s strength by communicating with one another on how to get true progress. Many times this requires an outsider to help both parties learn how to turn action into progress.

How to Eat an Elephant

The age-old question when dealing with something big is, “How do you eat an elephant?” And the same old answer applies: “A bite at a time.”

Progress demands an implementation program that has us “eating” the project a bite at a time. It must be clear when you’re implementing a new program how the new program will be phased in, what the timeframe is, the bite-sized steps that will be taken and what “WIIFMs” (What’s In It For Me) there’ll be for implementation.

This last step is overlooked or ignored too often; knowing WIIFM is what takes a well-thought out plan off the drawing board and turns action into real progress for all.