There's a reason why business coaches exist. It's because the business world is so complex that people get stuck in difficult situations. It's our job as coaches to help them dig out and get the right things done.
In many cases it's just a matter of simplifying things for our clients. When that's the problem, I tell them to shoot for PAR. No, I don't tell them to skip work and play a round of golf, but rather to focus on three core concepts that help put them on a path to success. The three ideas I tell them to focus on form an easy-to-remember acronym: PAR.
Prioritize-Focus on what matters most
Adapt-See change as an opportunity
Be Responsible-Take ownership of the opportunity
I was reminded of the importance of PAR when I saw the hilarious Mel Brooks movie History of the World Part I. In a scene in which Mel Brooks plays Moses, he comes down from the mountain carrying three stone tablets under his arm. He addresses the crowd saying, "I have just met with God and he gave me these 15..." Just then, one of the stone tablets slips from his arm and shatters into a million pieces. He assesses the situation, then readdresses the crowd, saying "Like I said, God has given me these Ten Commandments."
When I stopped laughing I realized that Moses/Brooks had used the PAR model perfectly. His priority was to lead his people out of the desert, and nothing was going to stop him. When he dropped the tablet, he adapted. And finally, he knew he alone was responsible for leading his people, so he took ownership of the situation.
The good news is that PAR works just as well in business, and you don't have to rely on divine intervention to make it work.
Prioritize-Focus on What Matters Most
It almost goes without saying that getting the most important things done is critical to the success of any organization. The truth is it's a lot harder to keep that focus amid all of the distractions. The business world is so competitive that the difference between winning and losing often comes down to whether leadership has the ability to focus the entire organization's attention on the things that are most important.
So job number one for every leader is making sure they stay headed in the right direction. That starts with stating the goal to the team and repeating it on every occasion. This first step is both the easiest and most important. After all, if a business doesn't know where it is going, it isn't likely to get there.
Adapt-See Change as an Opportunity
The business world is changing so fast it's mind-boggling. Only one generation ago, college graduates entered into a business world that had no personal computers, no Internet, no cell phones, no fax machines, no DVDs, and-most startling-no Starbucks. How anyone did business is still a mystery, but the point is that everything is continuing to change at a blistering pace. There's unrelenting pressure to do things faster, better, cheaper.
To compete and win in business, companies need to make sure they keep looking a few years down the road. They must find new ways to serve customers, eliminate wasted effort, possibly merge with a competitor, and move into new markets.
The best firms foster an environment that encourages innovation, regardless of how small the change. Once this spirit of innovation is engrained in the culture, people move faster, build loyalty among employees, and discover new ways to stay ahead of the competition.
Be Responsible-Take Ownership of the Outcome
Here's a little tip: in the short sprint for power and money, you don't have to smile, hold the door open for grandmothers, or even have a shred of decency. But a business career isn't a short sprint; it's a marathon. Customers actually do remember the people who do whatever it takes to give great service. And they stay with them.
Responsibility starts at the top of a company and flows down to the frontline workers. Companies that take responsibility for caring about their customers, their employees, and their communities will do better in the long run.
Businesses need to earn a profit, but the days are gone when they can ignore their impact on the environment, the safety of their products, and the well-being of their employees. In today's world these are non-negotiable issues, and any organization that refuses to accept them will have to deal with the painful consequences.
Here's an example of how PAR works in an organization. In 2007, I worked with a multi-billion-dollar global manufacturing facility in an area so remote that AM radio only picked up five stations. When I met with the president, he said, "Krissi, I've got a list of about 50 things management thinks are important. They can't all be priorities. Plus we need to be in synch with what our European headquarters wants us to do. I feel like an octopus with all these legs drifting unconnected."
Despite protests from the team that they were too busy for strategy meetings, we immediately got management together to define the vision, culture, top priorities, what they needed to do differently, and who was responsible for getting the work done.
Taking these steps helped break down silos in the organization and when the economy took a nosedive in 2008, they were better able to come together as a team to adapt plans from growth mode to survival mode. The moral of the story is that this facility was the first in North America and in its industry to resume full operations when the economy turned and is now the most efficient and profitable plant in their organization and one of the best performers in their market! Not one person lost their job and the latest employee survey results show that, despite the economic downturn, trust in leadership and employee engagement actually improved! There's an enormous economic upside and competitive advantage when you practice PAR.
OK, the PAR ideas are nice, but how do you take them and turn them into meaningful action? I use three tools: my new book, Plugged - Dig Out and Get the Right Things Done, the PAR Assessment (a free online way you can see how well you get the right things done), and the PAR Scorecard (another free online tool you can use to plan and implement what you need to get done) to turn the ideas from concepts into real progress toward business objectives. Go to Pluggedthebook.com and you can use them too.
My advice? Keep things simple, use PAR to help your clients, and watch Mel Brooks' History of the World Part I. It isn't going to help you work with your customers but it'll put a smile on your face. And sometimes, even a serious business coach's top priority should be a good laugh.