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You’ve Got New Ideas, New Programs, But What Are You Stopping?

by David Brock on January 23rd, 2011

I’ve spent much of my time over the past few weeks participating in a number of sales kick-off meetings.  January is always a great month (at least for those on an calendar fiscal year).  It’s when we get to start all over.  Whatever happened last year is behind us.  We start anew, we have new quotas, perhaps some shifts in strategies and priorities, and many new sales programs and initiatives.  Hmmm…. many new programs and initiatives….

This is where I start becoming a little concerned.  In too many of the meetings, executives, product managers, marketing people, sales executives talk with great enthusiasm about all the new sales iniitatives we are starting.  But they don’t talk about the things they are stopping.  Yes, that’s it, all these great new programs are net new–incremental–being piled upon the programs we had in the past.  And this doesn’t just happen at the beginning of the year, it continues throughout the year with new products, new initiatives, special emphasis programs.  We have a great propensity for piling on, always more.

In large organizations, this is even worse.  Each product line manager is motivated to do well.  They try to capture the hearts and minds of the sales people, providing ever new things to get sales people to focus on their product line.  Even with a half dozen product managers trying to get the mind-share of sales people, it becomes a real challenge, but think of those very large organization where there may be dozens of product lines, each with a product manager trying to do his or her job, creating the greatest sales programs and initiatives.  From the sales person’s point of view, this becomes overwhelming!

And, finally, when things aren’t going well, we search for answers, adding more, grasping at whatever initiative we can think of to get things back on course.

In the end, the poor sales person is being crushed under the weight of new programs and initiatives.  More get piled on, in our already busy days, we have more stuff we have to do—and more of the inevitable reporting that accompanies each new initiative.  Soon, sales people become numb to all the new initiatives.  They become confused, where do they spend their time?  They may hunker down, ignoring all the new stuff, just doing what they think they should be doing.  This starts the death spiral, new initiatives are pile on.

To be effective in introducing new initiatives and producing results, we have to focus on a couple of things:

First, no organization or individual can focus on more than a few key priorities.  We need to keep people focused, this means doing less.  Generally I think there should be no more than 2-3 key initiatives in place at any one time.  Some people stretch this to five, I think that’s too many.  We need everyone in the organization to be clear on the top 3 priorities they have at any one time.  We need to keep them focused on those top priorities.  Once one has been completed, then we can replace it with a new priority or initiative.

Second, for every new initiative we start, we must identify explicitly what we are stopping (currently I have a rule that for every new initiative, we must stop 2 old initiatives).  Some years ago, one of the people that worked for me taught me the importance of this lesson.  I was always coming up with new ideas or initiatives to drive sales and performance.  I’d no sooner announce one, then begin thinking of another.  One great, but overburdened manager finally pushed back.  He said, “Dave, I’m delighted to start this.  What do you want me to stop doing?”  In my rampant enthusiasm, I replied, “No, we aren’t stopping anything, we have to just add this to our priorities!  It will be great!”  Fortunately, he held firm, he replied, “Dave, we are already at capacity, we can’t add anything new, unless we stop something.  What do you want me to stop?”  We went back and forth, finally I understood what I was doing. All my great  new ideas, not only added additional workload, but the were confusing my teams.  They didn’t know how to prioritize-everything was a top priority.  In the end, nothing was getting done.

New initiatives and programs are great.  But they come with a cost.  If you really want to accelerate the results produced by these programs, avoid the tendency to pile on.  For every new initiative or program you start, make sure you are stopping–explicitly– at least one, consider stopping two.Your team will respond much better, you’ll produce far superior results!

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4 Comments
  1. Hey Dave,

    Great point. It is easy to keep packing on more and more, but hard to know when you have gone to far. Keeping it simple is usually a good rule, the harder you make the job for your sales people and your customers, the harder it is to sell and generate income.

  2. It’s, of course, called opportunity cost.

    I agree that these initiatives tend to pile on because our basic “work” nature is to talk about the things we will do and not about the things we won’t or can’t do. Leadership flows downhill and as leaders we should encourage our organizations to recognize that focus and execution are worth far more than more new initiatives.

    • Thanks Mendy, great ideas–leaders should really encourage push back on the part of the people. Too often, we may be well intended, but don’t know the real impact in the field. Too often, the field people are afraid to push back and get some sanity going. Thanks for your contribution.

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