From Overwork to Focus
My longtime friend Colin Campbell, an experienced and successful CEO, found himself living the movie Groundhog Day. Day after day he faced a never-ending pile of work, solving problems that popped up again and again. Colin is an extremely hard worker by nature, but even so, he was dealing with some significant challenges. Meanwhile, without him realizing it, issues at his company, Hostopia, remained unaddressed and grew into even bigger monsters.
Colin sensed a coming trainwreck. “I felt like I was on the verge of failing,” he told me. If he did not achieve meaningful results soon, he would have to face the consequences. He knew my methodology, and he had seen it work–so he asked me to work with his team to bring good execution and discipline into Hostopia.
During our very first coaching session, I helped Colin make a crucial mindset shift. He is a builder, and he thrives on the excitement and challenges that come from creation and change. But he was constantly trying to accomplish too much. He really needed to identify and hone in on only one impactful way of improving the company each quarter, and then focus like crazy on that priority.
Initially, he thought that this approach would be too slow. “You can’t change too much at once, because your company will die,” I warned him. “Let me ask you this: What have you improved in the last couple of years that could actually be repeatable and scalable as you grow?”
There was a long moment of silence. Although he had increased revenue, he could not think of a single lasting process improvement he’d made to the company. Suddenly, he could see that we were taking a different approach, and maybe, just maybe, this might work.
As we implemented the new system of achieving incremental improvements, Colin finally broke free from Groundhog Day. He was no longer in survival mode, addressing problem after problem in an endless cycle. Instead, he prioritized one goal at a time and approached it with intense focus. In this way, he was able to tackle Hostopia’s most pressing issues.
“Twenty Ways To…”
One such issue was the company’s sales numbers. He was sure they would fall short by a few million–a critical gap, seeing as Hostopia was a public company listed on the Toronto Stock Exchange. It was highly important to his shareholders that he achieve the promised numbers. Achieving your commitments, numbers included is a sign of good execution.
I knew that Colin had already strategized with his sales team to solve the issue, but was not able to completely close the revenue gap. So I suggested that we take a step back and do more brainstorming. I decided to lead Colin and the Hostopia team through a brainstorming exercise I call “Twenty Ways To…”. With the whiteboard in front of us and EXPO markers in hand, I encouraged them to tap into their curiosity.
“I want us to consider any and all options, including those we’ve previously thrown out,” I told them. I knew that those whose ideas had been shot down in the past might need encouragement to share again. “Good ideas can be built on the back of bad ideas,” I continued. “I have two rules for this exercise. One: There are no bad ideas. And two: We don’t stop until we have at least 20 ideas on the board to play with!”
As ideas began to appear on the white surface, I facilitated the team away from being analytical about why certain ideas might not work.
“Why not?” Colin asked.
“Because if we start questioning the idea, or worrying about difficulties around its implementation, creativity will be clocked and the brainstorming will stop. Secondly, we’ll be limited to the ideas that are already on the table,” I said. “Yesterday’s dumb idea could be tomorrow’s great idea.”
The team continued to brainstorm, knowing that they shouldn’t stop until they had reached twenty ideas. “Keep going, even if you privately think that some of these ideas are silly or won’t work,” I instructed. “Instead, we should expect something great to come out of our exercise!”
The team picked up momentum until ideas began to flow freely and rapidly. The board was soon cluttered with 35 ideas! At that point, we opened up a discussion: What might be right for the team at this moment, and why? Then, we ranked the ideas on two axes according to their sales impact and the team’s ability to execute them. This helped us hone in on just eight ideas that Colin and his team believed would help them close the gap and achieve their sales targets.
As Colin achieved one key priority at a time, focusing his energy on big issues like hitting sales targets, Hostopia began to turn around. The team started to orient their weekly meetings around goal achievement and making the right adjustments to meet their commitments. By providing a weekly forecast of their ability to accomplish their goals, they were able to hone in on those statusing Red or Yellow. They helped each other make the necessary moves to correct wrong trajectories and reach success.
They did this for one quarter, then a second quarter, then a third, then a fourth. Then they had a great year. They continued on this rhythm of planning and execution and became successful through discipline and hard work.
Living the Dream
During our partnership, Hostopia and Colin achieved success by executing their strategy and achieving the results and commitments they had signed up for. That’s what public companies must do. Wait–that’s what all companies must do if they want to achieve their dreams! Hostopia finally sold for three times their public stock price.
What about you? How’s your dream coming along? Do you believe you have what you need to execute your strategy well and achieve your dreams?
Colin Campbell’s new book, Start. Scale. Exit. Repeat.: Serial Entrepreneurs' Secrets Revealed!, comes out October 3rd, 2023.
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