Taking the quick wins

Quick wins - sHere’s the thing about “quick wins”: they’re rarely quick and they’re never as big as you think they’re going to be. Plus, they’re precisely as uninspiring as they are undemanding.

They’re tempting to do because the team knows how to do them; you’ll have something to show for it and they’ll feel they’ve made progress. But the problem is, there will always be more quick wins where they came from and you’ll never move on to the big stuff.

This is an important realisation for business leaders, without which they can often spend their entire lives chasing their tails. But it’s absolutely critical for charities and mission-driven organisations to appreciate, otherwise they’ll never make a meaningful dent in their long-term objectives.

One of the huge advantages that charities have over listed companies, is that they’re not under pressure from shareholders to hit quarterly forecasts, to get numbers on the board year-on-year. They have the ability to play the long game if they’re smart enough, and yet those short-term temptations often creep in none-the-less; whether it’s to close a deficit in the accounts, to build internal momentum for an idea, or simply to calm down internal tensions over performance.

There is an antidote to all those tensions, tendencies and temptations, and it’s a short, collective exercise of comparing priorities that has four simple steps. The first step is to take all those projects and programmes, ideas and initiatives, and put each one on a post-it note. Then, put a flip-chart sheet on the wall, split into four quadrants using the two axes in the picture above: low or high impact, and easy or hard to deliver.

The third step, in discussion with the team or the Board, is to place each post-it in the appropriate place on the chart – easiest ones on the far right, highest impact at the top, right down to the hardest, lowest impact ones in the bottom left. The fourth and final step is to take all the post-its that are in the bottom half of the chart and put them in the bin. Seriously. Just bin them.

It sounds easy because it is. The hard bit is delivering the high-impact ideas that are still on the chart, and the one thing that will make that even harder, is getting distracted by the small, easy wins in the bottom right, which is essentially an endless stream of convenient distraction from the big things that would inspire your people and really turn the dial on your mission.

Good things often start small but starting things that will only ever be small is a huge waste of time and talent.

In 1962 JFK inspired a generation with these words: “We choose to go to the moon and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills”.

What he didn’t do was then go on to list another dozen “quick-wins” for his team to crack on with first, to build momentum and get a few runs on the board before year-end. There’s a good reason for that.

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