Sometimes the key to great gains is what you don’t do

Four KPI inventions, three roll-outs, two new initiatives, one synergy target and a pithy corporate speak decree. Yep, it’s that time of year, when anxious management teams overthink what’s possible in one year. The result? Goal posts are magically reset, budgets are refreshed and operating plans are stacked with tasks. These sorts of initiatives may be helpful, particularly if there’s a clear milestone to reach, but they’re not enough.

There is one underindexed operating secret that high-performing boards and management teams unveil every year. For average companies, it’s a no-go zone, like Voldemort — that which shall not be named. I call it the “to-don’t list.”

Most companies that don’t have a to-don’t list flail. They act with the best intentions, like well-costumed battlefield commanders developing a precise but overly ambitious war plan.  These leaders pull out all the tricks, techniques, moves and corporate jargon hoping to inspire more, more, more productivity and profit. They think this will give them an acceleration advantage. But does it?

I’ve worked with many CEOs in these kind of companies. How do they feel? Breathless. Run ragged. Like they’re always playing catchup.

Instead, high-functioning leaders of great companies embrace what most don’t talk about. They cut aging initiatives, jettison stale leading indicators, and flush “the way we have done things.” They get rid of the arterial plaque that’s choking their companies.

So, why don’t most leaders dare discuss this? It’s awkward and difficult to implement. Which project should be killed? Which initiative is only delivering middling results and should be shelved? Am I creating an opportunity for people to complain? Which group of clients should receive less attention? Answering these questions leads to difficult conversations with very real human costs. But here’s what great leaders know: Time is finite, and focus is a precious but fleeting resource, and diluting focus with time-wasting initiatives has the Denominator Effect on the overall portfolio. It kills the growth of the company, the employees and the stakeholders.

So, as you reflect on the year so far, instead of simply focusing on a new to-do list, formulate a to-don’t list. Ask yourself:

*  What initiatives show little promise of moving the business?

*  What KPIs are actually lagging indicators that don’t drive growth?

*  What meetings waste time and can be removed from the docket?

*  What priorities can be removed from current management and delegated to next-level leaders?

*  What communication channels inhibit productivity?

*  What can be automated?

*  What can be cut for the sake of new growth?

Ask these questions with your management team. Create a to-don’t list. Make the bold decision to engage in a new conversation and don’t be surprised when something fresh and clear-headed emerges.


Patrick Colletti is CEO of CoSage and Co-founder of Net Health

Patrick Colletti

CEO; Co-founder
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