Note: I've re-printed this post every March since 2010. It's still as relevant as ever.
Listen to Les McKeown read this blog post:
As an Irishman (a real one – I was born and lived there for 40 years), I know that March is supposed to be a lucky time – you know, Paddy’s Day, 4-leaf clovers, all that stuff.
The reality is that March is typically the most dangerous month of the year for most organizations, divisions, departments and teams.
Fact is, what happens in the next 30 days will almost certainly determine your success for the rest of the year.
To see why, take a few moments to jot down say, the top 5 or ten projects you have going on right now.
Finished? Take a look at your list. You’ll see that those projects each fit into one of three categories:
- Those that have taken off and are succeeding (green line);
- Those that are ‘just ok’ (orange line), and
- Those that are going nowhere (red line).
Whether they’re revenue targets, hiring goals, fund-raising activities, customer service initiatives, leadership development programs or installing a knowledge management system, you should know by now which projects have got traction, which haven’t, and those which you’re not sure about.
(If you don’t know which of your initiatives have traction, and which haven’t, you have a broader issue – you need to closely examine the quality of your information flow.)
The end of the first quarter is a key point of leverage for your limited resources.
In most organizations, mediocre or dying projects continue to leech resources away from the successful projects, dragging them down and sapping everyone’s time, energy and enthusiasm.
It doesn’t need to be that way for you.
By using March as a critical review month you can place your limited resources where they’re most needed to ensure higher quality results, and prevent failing initiatives from draining innovation, creativity and entrepreneurship from the rest of the organization.
Here’s how to do it:
1. Review all significant current projects:
Start by ruthlessly analyzing your key current projects and identifying each category. Ask yourself:
- What are our top 5 initiatives for this year?
- Which are Green (clearly successful)?
- Which are Red (clearly unsuccessful)?
- Which are Orange (stalled or unsure)?
Another way to view your key project list is through the spectrum of the limited resources available to you. Ask:
- What should we do more of in Q2?
- What should we do less of in Q2?
- What should we do differently in Q2?
- What should we continue to do the same in Q2?
2. Cut Those Activities With No Traction.
In most organizations Q2 is spent in semi-denial: executives slice and re-slice the data of failing projects and initiatives, cajole everyone to try harder, and hope things will come better in the second half of the year.
Use the month of March to do what high-performing leadership teams do – get out of denial and put a stop to those activities that are yielding no return.
You have limited resources (you do have limited resources, don’t you?), and you need to focus them on where you will get a return.
Yes, I know there are very good reasons for continuing to try to ‘push through’ with these near-dead initiatives (particularly if they were your idea in the first place, or are ‘favored sons or daughters’), and you’re probably rehearsing those reasons in your head right now.
But believe me, the relief of bringing them to a halt will be palpable throughout the organization.
3. Set Clear Short-Term Goals for ‘Blah’ Activities.
These are often the hardest initiatives to know what to do with – those which haven’t really taken off yet, but which are showing some return, albeit miserly.
With these activities you’re probably getting what I call ‘the velvet deferral’ by now – a depressingly regular assurance from the key player(s) that they will break through shortly – whether it’s a salesperson with not enough sales but a big list of ‘nearly there’s’, or a project team hopelessly behind schedule but constantly ‘on the verge of a breakthrough’.
With these ‘orange’ activities, you need to set very clear, non-negotiable short-term goals.
The key is to draw a line in the sand in the near future at which point the project will be shut down and resources will be redirected unless those non-negotiable targets are achieved.
It’s fine to reframe the sales targets, or the project schedule (or whatever the original objective is) – but do it for at most another 3 months, and make it clear that if the new goals are not attained, you’ll pull the plug and redirect the project resources elsewhere.
Your primary goal must be to move into Quarter 2 with a clear focus on success, rather than being distracted and drained by failure and mediocrity.
As we(e) leprechauns say, Good luck!