Blog Post

Getting Stuff Done

Apr 29, 2024

Does this sound like your business?  Does this sound like your problem?

  • We have a long-term strategy
  • We have a plan for the year
  • We have a good organisation
  • We have great values
  • We have great people
  • We have all the OKR’s we need to get us there
  • All we need to do is execute…….

Why is it so hard to Get Stuff Done?

Why do you never finish anything?

There’s a great quote from Sir Francis Drake who knew a thing or two about success and failure, that rings very true for organisational life today.  “There must be a beginning of any great matter, but the continuing unto the end until it be thoroughly finished yields the true glory.”

Stand still for a moment and think about the words “thoroughly finished”.  How many projects are you involved in?  How many things are there on your to do list?  How many meetings on “innovation”, on “future strategy” on “employee satisfaction” and on an endless list of “stuff”.  Is any of it ever “thoroughly finished” before you have to move on to the next thing?

One of my ways of looking at the maturity of a management team is its ability to finish projects and also to give things up.  Mature organisations do not keep starting projects they can never finish.  They are also good at stopping things.

Now, the problem with stopping things is that it goes against what we see as successful behaviour.  Starting new projects is exciting: whenever new CEOs are asked what they are going to achieve in their first 100 days they feel pressured to reel off a list of projects – after all, that is what heroic CEOs do. The investors and the Board feel comforted, the workforce is generally either horrified or just passively accept yet another list of stuff they know cannot be done effectively and will only lead to more projects.

If you are ever going to “thoroughly finish” things, then you have to take a very mature view of the resources of the organisation and how you prioritise.  Failure to do that will just lead to yet another set of failed projects that never finish.

A lot of businesses I talk to today have exactly that problem.  They have done everything by the book but somehow feel as though they are wading through marshmallow.

Customers don’t care:

  • About your strategy, your plan, your values, or your OKRs
  • What they care about is that what thy buy from you is delivered on time, to cost and to quality
  • What they care about is EXECUTION
  • What they pay for is EXECUTION
  • What pays your salary is EXECUTION
  • Why is it so hard to Get Stuff Done? 

 Many years ago I worked at BT. It was, and still is in my view, a great company with some stunning technology. At the time it employed about a quarter of a million people, many of them BT “lifers”, and it was notoriously difficult to get things done, especially if you were trying to get leading edge technologies to market.

One of the best pieces of advice I was given by one of the senior leaders was “There are 300 people in this company who understand how to get things done.  Find them and join them”.

That was probably an extreme example but it’s not that extreme.  As companies grow they develop more and more systems and processes, initially designed for  efficiency, but over the years becoming obsolete but never being reviewed, removed or rewritten.  It becomes a “marshmallow layer” through which people have to fight and it slows everything down. 

Peoples’ jobs are invested in keeping it there and very few have the time or the courage to dismantle it. Often they will not be thanked for doing so. As a result it stays there creating slowness and frustration and getting thicker all the time. 

Does this ring true with you?  If so how do you cut through the marshmallow in your business?