How Do You “Control the Controllables” To Achieve Performance Results? by Sabrina Smith

Control the Controllables” – A phrase I learned when working for a sales organization in the south. I remember the moment a lightbulb went off for me after hearing those words repeatedly used with sales agents. Although the context was intended to improve close rates, the phrase contains hidden gems for leaders to glean in addition to closing sales.

Let’s focus on your frontline supervisors for just a moment. Think about the day you individually pulled John and Mary over to your desk and shared the great news, “You have been selected for the new coach position within the office!” Do you remember how they responded? Probably excited and nervous at the same time, and ready to take on the new role. As you shared the details, you most certainly discussed specific feedback about the skills and competencies they possessed resulting in their selection. You also clearly talked about the expectations of the position, and outlined how you would support their development as the newest members of the team. You followed those conversations by announcing to your other three leaders that the open positions had finally been filled by John and Mary. They were excited, as the promotions of their prior teammates resulted in the temporary absorption of headcount due to the vacant positions.

Let’s focus on you for a moment. Your leader called you into the office and made you an offer to head up two projects in 2017. Both would position the company as a game changer in the industry. This was an opportunity of a lifetime, so you eagerly said yes to leading both initiatives.

A little time has passed, and suddenly IT happens…

IT refers Interfering Tasks that dominate your attention and time, resulting in your will to develop and build your team becoming low priority thoughts and a series of pushed back or cancelled meetings. What you’re facing now is an increase in conference calls and meetings with senior management that focus on your departments underperformance in Q1; your choice to lead two projects utilizes more time than you anticipated through added workloads, meetings and conference calls; HR has been on your calendar quite frequently over the last six weeks to investigate why absenteeism and attrition has increased in your department 7% when compared to the same time last year; in addition to employee morale on your teams on the decline. IT has certainly happened, but what can you do? You’ve never been faced with these challenges before.

One key action to employ during these situations is to “Control the Controllables.” Since you don’t have the fortune of going back in time to rethink and modify some of your decisions, here is some practical advice to consider when working to get things on track:

Control the Controllables by Re-Evaluating your Priorities

You must get a handle on things you can control so you can utilize your time more effectively and avoid things spiraling out of control even further. Consider the figurative percentages below that describe how you spend a typical workday:

Conference Calls/Meetings (50%) – Various conference calls and meetings with senior management

Special Projects (25%) – Working on the two major projects you oversee

Administrative Tasks (10%) – Conducting other administrative tasks

Team Performance/Business Acumen (8%) – Reviewing your team’s, site and industry performance results, evaluating what you perceive are the issues affecting your declining performance outcomes

Team Building/Development (7%)- Following up with your five leaders about individual, team, company and industry performance outcomes

As you have come to realize, the lack of time and attention spent developing yourself and your team is affecting your ability to drive performance gains. While the work you’re doing on the projects you oversee is making a large contribution to the future of the organization,  you are hurting the company’s ability to remain relevant today by missing your goals. Consider the below recommendations to Control the Controllables and get your performance results on track:

Conference Calls/Meetings (40%) – Reduce your participation on conference calls and meetings by 10%. Vary your participation by order of urgency and importance. There are some meetings and conference calls that have less value in your day, so varying your attendance or sending a proxy on your behalf may be a viable option for consideration.

Special Projects (15%) – Reduce your active project management time by 10%. If you’ve built productive, cross-functional team relationships with leaders on the project, demonstrate trust by strategically delegating at least 10% of the tasks you perform to other project members. Doing so will strengthen the relationships with project members, and give you back time in your day to focus on other critical priorities.

Administrative Tasks (10%) – If you can delegate some of your administrative tasks, then do so. However, if that’s not an option, the time spent in this category is not excessive. In fact, you may find that there are days when you will use more or less time in this area, so I recommend no changes.

Team Performance/Business Acumen (15%) – Increase the time spent understanding performance results and your industry by 7%. Use time gained in your day to observe real-time performance; ask questions (leaders, peers, associates, etc.) to obtain additional clarity around performance trends affecting your team, site, and industry; become a SME in your field to increase your knowledge and value to the organization.

Team Building/Development (20%) – Increase the time spent building and training your team by 13%. The time gained from reducing time in meetings and managing projects can be absorbed here as well. Use strategy when planning how much time you spend with each leader, remembering their independent and corporate needs for training, development, support and motivation. Also, consider how you can use mentorship to drive performance across the team.

In conclusion, it’s important that you walk away understanding that you can turnaround subpar performance and achieve your goals when you Control the Controllables. If after you’ve read this article you took action by assessing how you spend time each day, and made revisions that allocate more time to key performance driving behaviors, then you have successfully uncovered a hidden gem in the phrase, Control the Controllables.

The above numbers were based on a typical 9-hr (540 minutes) workday.

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