Piece of Pi
By Gregg Piburn

17 vs. 3

Sometimes less is more.

Several years ago I sat in on a meeting of 300 employees in a troubled company. The organization had brought in a German manager to lead the effort to save the business. Now it was time for the anxious employees to hear from their new leader.

Before the meeting began and in the first few minutes the room was electric with excitement. Then it was time for the new GM to speak. It appeared that in unison the employees leaned forward in their seats. He began by saying he had enjoyed meeting many people in recent days and was excited about the challenges ahead. So far so good, I thought. Then the meeting took a bad turn. He grabbed an overhead slide (this was in the 1990s) and started to put it on the projector. As he did so, these were his spoken words: “Based on my conversations and analysis of the situation here, I believe we have 17 critical issues that must be addressed for us to survive.”

Energy zapper

The GM had sucked the energy out of the room with one slide and one sentence. Ultimately, this entity did not survive the high-tech wreck. Had I been given a chance to coach him I would have suggested he change the main message and opening slide to something like this: “Based on my knowledge of our situation, I believe we have 3 critical issues that must be addressed immediately for us to survive.” The supportive slide would have included just three short words or phrases. He would have kept the employees engaged as they received a clear and digestible message. .

Lessons for strategic planning

I have taken the lessons learned in that long-ago employee meeting as a strategic-planning facilitator. Too often boards of directors or staff leaders try to include too many things into the list of goals. And in the process it can lead to people spacing out the plan.

The consulting firm Franklin Covey (FC) refers to “The Law of Diminishing Returns” in relation to goal setting. FC’s findings show that, indeed, “less (goals) is more (action).”

If an organization, board or department sets 2-3 major goals, 2-3 goals will likely be accomplished. If 4-10 goals are set, 1-2 will likely be accomplished. If 11-20 goals are set, probably none will be met.

As I tell groups, a billion things will happen in that organization in the coming year. A meaningful strategic plan recognizes that fact and conveys the 2-3 key issues/activities that strategically deserve special attention and action in the coming months or years.

I believe that “clarity brings power.” The clarity of a concise list of a few special goals gives people the focus and motivation to get the important work done.

In my book, 3 beats 17 every time when it comes to setting major goals.


Handle these buttons with care

Interpersonal conflict often begins when someone pushes another’s hot button. That conflict can also be heightened or prolonged when other hot buttons get pushed. While we all have a few individualized hot buttons, there are also three universal hot buttons that get a rise out of virtually anyone.

I believe it is important to know what those universal hot buttons are so that you:

  1. Might refrain from saying/doing something that sparks conflict;
  2. Might better understand why someone reacts in a highly charged way after you have said/done something; and/or
  3. Might better understand your own emotional response at times.

Here they are. I will likely push a hot button if I say or do something that makes you:

  • ONE: Feel as if I’ve taken from you a legitimate amount of control, and/or
  • TWO: Feel de-valued or unloved, and/or
  • THREE: Doubt your self-worth.

Think about the last time you were in the midst of personal conflict with someone. Were one or more of those hot buttons pushed by you and/or the other person? My guess is your answer is “yes.”

Handle hot buttons with care.


The president of Blank Blank Enterprises

Congratulations. I’m giving you a promotion. Wow, other blog writers merely talk about giving value but in the first sentence of my first post I give you a promotion. That’s just the kind of guy I am.

OK, OK, so the promotion is a word and mind game … but some people I tell this to come back later and say that the “game” changes everything for them. I hope it will change the way you look at your career, especially if you currently are employed rather than self-employed.

You are now president of Blank Blank Enterprise. Put your first and last name in the two blanks and the enterprise is your career. Imagine that you, as I am, are president of a one-person (that would be you) company. Why, pray tell, do I believe there is value in having you shift your mind-set from that of an employee to that of a self-employed president?

When I’ve asked my clients that question, their answers have included:

  • Presidents have more control than employees,
  • Presidents take a longer view of things,
  • Presidents know they and their companies must add significant value, and
  • Presidents know they must depend on their own creativity, perseverance and resilience, among other things, to improve their odds of success.

A few years back I started coaching a person recently laid off from a high-tech firm. Several times in the first session he described himself, in a lethargic voice, as “just a down-sized project manager.” Pretty glum. I describe “project manager” as a “do statement.” It is oftentimes the job title on your business card. I ask some of my coaching clients to come up with a “DO Statement” – which describes what a person really brings to the table when at his or her best. In other words, how could you add significant value if given the chance to shine?

The next session he came bounding into the coffee shop and said he couldn’t wait to tell me his “DO Statement.” I smiled and said, “Lay it on me.”

In a voice brimming with confidence, he said, “I take creative leaders’ visions and turn them into reality.” That confidence and those words were integrated into his revised resume and cover letter as well as in his interviews. Two weeks later he had a new job … but I strongly encouraged him to still act as if he was a self-employed president who knows he must add significant value every day.

How would your words, actions and decisions change if you approached your job next week as president of your career?

And if you bounded into a coffee shop and saw me at the corner table, what would you tell me your “DO Statement” is?