The challenge of essentialism.
I can still recall attending a workshop as a starting supervisor when the facilitator stated the principle simply that '20% of the things we do deliver 80% of the results and vice versa, 80% of the things we do deliver 20% of the results.' Thus, for a manager who achieve results through others, should decide as to what action to take that would determine the fruitfulness and productivity of the activity.
I was impressed by the book titled 'Essentialism, the Disciplined Pursuit of Less' by Greg McKeown. While written substantially as a business book he suggests 'a systematic discipline for discerning what is absolutely essential, then eliminating everything that is not, so we can make the highest possible contribution towards the things that really matter.'
He talks about the underlying principles that guide the mindset of an essentialist. First is individual choice, each one of us has free will, the right to choose how to spend our energy and time and life, I would add. Two, we hear so much noise and many things that demand our attention and yet only a few things are 'exceptionally valuable'. Three, the reality that we have to trade off. Much as we want to, we cannot do and have everything.
3 steps toward essentialism
With these principles in mind, the person striving towards the essentials can now take three simple steps. First is to EXPLORE, discern and differentiate the trivial many from the vital few. This means to evaluate, explore and weigh a broad list of options before making a commitment or a decision. So let us make sure that the option we chose is the right one, and eventually leading to the highest point of contribution and opportunity. This means 'the right thing, the right way at the right time'.
The next step is to ELIMINATE. This means cutting out the trivial many. It means saying no to the non-essentials. McKeown defines this as the social discipline of saying no to social pressure. It is eliminating the non-essentials to focus on what is truly important and valuable. Then the final step is to EXECUTE. It is to remove obstacles and make execution effortless. Essentialists invest time in creating a system for easy execution.
Personal vision and mission
For me, living the essentials begins with refreshing one's vision for the future. It begins by bearing 'our end in mind.' It means making a selection from several future options, and moving forward through the process of exploring, eliminating and executing. Then, discerning and recommitting to our life mission, it means outlining the purpose of our life and the contributions we want to make.
Mckeown makes a clear distinction between the essentialist and the non-essentialist ways of doing things. In terms of mindset the essentialist considers doing 'less but better.' The non-essentialist attempts to be 'everything to everyone.' The essentialist in terms of strategy, defines the intent clearly therefore eliminating the non-essential distractions. He/she asks, 'If we could only do one thing, what would it be?' The non-essentialist pursues a mix strategy where everything is a priority.
When it comes to people selection and empowerment, the essentialist is highly selective in hiring, ensuring the right person with the right competencies is in the right job. The non-essentialist hires people indiscriminately, often rushing in decision making. The essentialist empowers people by focusing on the person's highest role and goal of contribution, and the non-essentialist keeps people in ambiguity over who is doing what and decisions are floating and whimsical.
In terms of accountability and communication the essentialist checks people's progress gently seeing how to remove obstacles or difficulties to enable small wins. He/she listens to get to what is essential. The non-essentialist is either over controlling or abdicates responsibility by not controlling at all. Often people lose focus and create an environment of lack of accountability. The essentialist leader is able to unify the team breaking through the next level of contribution and achievement. The non-essentialist leader fractures the team and slows down progress.
Essential managing people practices
Managing people practices can be summarized in the following guidelines: One, be highly selective in hiring people, creates a team of high performers and takes the time to find the right talent. Two, establish clear strategic intent, goals and priorities so that they lead to clear alignment and focused achievement. Three, when people know what they are responsible and accountable for, go for extreme empowerment within these roles and goals. And lastly, communicate the right things to the right people at the right time. They speak clearly, focusing on the essentials, exercising restraint to keep the team focused. Messages are consistent so that people are able to pick up on the essentials. Fifth is to check in regularly to check progress, recognize small wins, and remove obstacles.
Let us begin to work on the essentials and optimize the value of our people and organization!