It’s all about momentum

Written by Matt Bolton-Alarcon on 18 December 2014

A big challenge I see facing leaders is the parasitic beast of ‘slowness’ or lack of pace. I have had many conversations with clients recently whose biggest issue is the fact that opportunities for creativity and innovation aren’t being addressed quickly enough. This is not down to these particular organisations being lazy, lethargically ambling through their day-to-day work. In fact, it’s the complete opposite. The reason for delays is that they are too busy, physically and mentally, to keep any semblance of momentum going. 

Why is this? Well I think it’s a product of businesses becoming more global and more complex. As this happens, there is a tendency to commence too many initiatives and involve too many people at one time. I was recently coaching a client that had to work on an innovation project across three continents, involving four brands and a mixture of internal and external agency people. The board director sponsoring the project did two things that they thought would be really useful to the project. Firstly, they insisted on being there at every single project update session. As their time was limited, it meant that the project kept being stalled. Secondly, they kept throwing new people into the project team as they thought they would add value, justifying it by saying things like: “Oh, we definitely need a digital and regulatory expert in there”.  This meant even more diary management and communication to juggle.

The ‘watch-out’ is that you can become too collaborative and overly consensual. Being that way may give you a sense of real togetherness in the early days, but ultimately it can lead to huge frustration at your lack of real momentum. 

Momentum is a positive thing, not just for efficiency, but it’s also great for people’s engagement. The project or initiative that’s moving at a decent pace is attractive - people will want to go over-and-above on a piece of work that feels like it is getting somewhere. 

So I’m offering you here some tips to keep the spirit of momentum going in your teams:

1. FOCUS

If you have even got to this point of the article in one go, without responding to an email or text message then well done! Even on the most menial of tasks, there are so many possible digital distractions these days, it is harder than ever to focus on one thing at a time. But consider this in the case of huge complex projects, that really require undivided attention, and it is almost impossible to get people’s focus because they are often working on far too many things. Those people might believe that multi-tasking is the answer but too much multi-tasking can be incredibly damaging to your intellect. In fact, it can drop your IQ by up to 10 points. So do one thing at a time people!

2. WHO’S YOUR CORE TEAM vs WIDER TEAM

A piece of advice I am constantly reminding people of is to be crystal clear about who your core team vs your wider team is. Your core team should be the people who drive the project, make key decisions on direction and absolutely need to be there at each stage. Your wider team are inputters and advisors, chosen at specific points for their particular expertise. As Bezos from Amazon put it, you need 2-pizza teams. If you can’t feed your core team with two pizzas, it’s too big, communication breaks down and things get unwieldy. Even if they are all on a diet, that means a maximum of four or five people. Be ruthless. 

3. FLEXING IT

I specialise in training people in creative leadership and a key question we think all good creative leaders ask is “What’s needed here?” You need to be aware of things like decision-making process and protocol, but equally you need to be tuned in to when those are getting in your way.  

My favourite story around a business that really flexed it for the sake of ‘momentum’ is the John Lewis Partnership when johnlewis.com was launched. When the recession hit in 2008, they realised they couldn’t grow just through new store openings, as taking on new property would be highly risky (not to mention time-consuming). So they decided that they needed to accelerate their online launch. Normally, as a partnership, making huge decisions, such as a website launch, would take years but they needed to act fast to hit their profits so they set up Project Turbo Charge. That was a team tasked with designing and launching their huge retail website within a matter of weeks. The team would be under the leadership of only one John Lewis board member, who would get clearances and agreement for them, so they could focus solely on getting the site up and running and not on bureaucratic process.

Within one year johnlewis.com became their second biggest store after their flagship Oxford Street store and it accelerated their business from traditional follower to modern leader in the retail world. Now, they may be back to their normal decision-making processes but flexibility led to John Lewis still being highly successful through potentially tough times. 

4. HOTHOUSE

If you really need to get some momentum going you may to have to force people to get away from any distraction whatsoever. Do what the best writers and artists do and hothouse your ideas. When we need to develop any new workshops or content at Upping Your Elvis, we escape to the country. We ban mobile phones for the whole day and only focus on the content of the project. What we always find is that within hours we have taken the project far further than we would have if we’d had a series of one hour meetings over a number of weeks.   

Hothousing sessions, however, should be used wisely. A few of my clients seem to have a caught the ‘offsite epidemic’, scheduling them in throughout the year every few months, rather than calling them when it’s crucial to generate focus around what’s important. Don’t overdo them.

5DIARY PROVOCATION

The final tip is perhaps something you could do every single week. If you are struggling with momentum on any project, big or small, it may be largely down to you and your diary. Grab a buddy and have a look at your weekly calendar together. Get them to provoke you about what you really need to do. Are there some things in there that you have ‘allowed’ in just because you are a good team player? Take them out. If you do this, it will make you more sensitised about how you drive momentum, before you start trying to get others to.

In conclusion implement some of the above and beware the parasite that is ‘slowness’. It can come and get you when you least expect it.

Matt Bolton-Alarcón is a partner at Upping Your Elvis. He can be contacted at matt@uppingyourelvis.com

 

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