“What is the Managers job? It is to direct the resources and efforts of the business towards opportunities for economically significant results. This sounds trite – and it is. But every analysis of actual allocation of resources and efforts in business that I have ever seen or heard showed clearly that the bulk of time, work, attention and money goes to ‘problems’ rather than to opportunities, and secondly, to areas where even extraordinary performance will have minimal impact on results.” (Peter Drucker May 1963)
Written in 1963. I suspect it is more appropriate now than it was then. ( The digital era deluge of problem centric data has been significantly expanded and accelerated. Problems are now not only more widely distributed, think email CC overload, but also in their demand to be instantaneously sated).
A reality check. EVERY good business can still function despite having its share of problems. There is of course, a caveat to that…
If the opportunities being created are greater than the sum of the impact of the current problems.
People in construction are extremely intelligent and efficient problem solvers; design, engineering, commercial, project management fixers.
For what indeed are construction projects – often the solution to a problem; a tunnel at Stonehenge, a tidal barrage at Swansea Bay, a leisure centre in a deprived area.
Except… when we are leading a business we are not doing the engineering or the designing, we are seekers and developers of opportunity.
Interestingly, the unspoken reality for the corporate employee is that they can oft ‘get away’ with divesting much of their energy and attention on problems – of which, there is an unlimited continuous supply…
Although we may hold problem solving as manly, and tough and edgy – mostly that is b*llocks.
Our comfort zone is awash in problems that we know we can solve.
Opportunity development is out on the skinny branches, the great unknown, the risk of failure ever present.
The same cannot be said for opportunities – they are precious finite commodities to be nurtured and realised.
Consider the entrepreneur. I can’t afford to have problems (although I do). I need to have processes handled by a competent team that has me be a ‘problem free zone’. If I am not focussing my attention on and generating opportunities for economic results’ – at some point I won’t get paid and the children must live on beans and rice.
I wonder what would happen if the corporate executive had to go home and tell their spouse “Sorry darling, I did not get paid this month as I spent most of my time resolving that irritable but minor IT issue, dancing round my colleague’s ego, sorting out the office furniture positioning, producing the 34th draft of the company structure and clearing my inbox of pesky digital brain fluff”.
Occasionally, I ask clients (or myself) to go back over their diaries and categorise whether the activities they have been engaged in over the last week were problems or opportunities. Coyly, its not uncommon to report back 80% problems and 20% opportunities energy divested.
Just check out your schedule last week and see what you conclude in the problems / opportunity ratio. Then, decide whether you think that is the best way to expend your talent and energy and improve the future of your people?
So what is it going to take to be an opportunity focussed based leader or manager?
- Get the cost and value of your attention. What is the cost of me being engaged in a £5 an hour problem? (i.e. doing the work of someone else who is more appropriately salaried to deal with that level of work). It’s the opportunity cost of not creating with the same time £1000 an hour value. And here is the knockout punch:
In its truest sense, you cannot solve problems and create value at the same time.
Solving problems only takes performance levels back to where they were. It’s a bit like twisting your knee skiing and then fixing the problem with physio; once you have recovered you will only be back to the level you were pre-twist. (To get what I mean about being a problem free zone -you would be better investing in the ‘ski school process opportunity’ to eliminate potential problems by becoming a more competent skier).
- End the love affair with problems! Alas, this is also one of those times when we have to tell the truth to ourselves. WE LOVE PROBLEM SOLVING!! The men especially get off on fixing stuff – it’s a cultural thing, it’s a social condition and an expectation. Its familiar ground, it’s in our comfort zone. It’s the technician thing.
- Let go Perfection in favour of Progress. What is evident is that we could fill our schedules 24/7 with problem solving work and that the strive for perfection of elimination all problems will never be over. To be opportunities focussed we must let irritating, but not business threatening problems go – even though it’s not ideal, perfect or gratifying to do so.
Have at least one forum where we refuse to discuss problems. Most meetings are full on problem centric.
We need spaces where we can park up problems (not ignore) and use our brains to have opportunity conversations.
Sure you have things to fix. Just check out the attention that you invest in problems is not bigger than the opportunities you are creating. (And imagine that if you were a sole trader whether you would be a well fed opportunist or a starving to death ace problem solver?)