Fifteen years ago, I had a dog named Killer. Killer was really cute – a Yorkshire terrier – and was about 15 years old. Killer hated squirrels with a passion. One day, he saw a squirrel across the street and took off after him. Before we could catch him, he was hit by a car and passed away.
I apologize for the sad story, and I know that probably wasn’t something you expected to read from The Strategic CFO. The purpose of this story is to tell you that there are “squirrels” in your business that will kill you, too. Idea management in companies is more difficult than you think. In our company, we have a saying. Whenever someone shares a new idea that is irrelevant to our current projects, we call out “Squirrel!”. We do this to do two things: identify that it is in fact a squirrel and refocus our attention so that we don’t get distracted from our current projects. We don’t spend all of our money doing every new idea that we think of. This may even be an issue in your own company. Let’s explore why…
Squirrels are tangible, worth pursuing, and bring value. But what you may not know is that those new ideas may hurt you more than they help you more often than not.
Let’s say you’re in a room full of executives and business leaders, pursuing a project that you’ve worked on for months. Suddenly, one of your colleagues brings up the problem with the vending machine. The vending machine problem has nothing to do with your project. Another colleague chimes in and agrees with your other colleague about the vending machine. Now you’re all talking about the vending machine, and the initial project is pushed again… another 2 months.
That squirrel just killed your chances of successfully finishing that initial project.
If you’re an entrepreneur or a business leader, creativity is in your blood. You can’t help but think of new ways to grow your business, or fix small problems when they turn up. At the same time, squirrels distract you from your goals. “Chasing squirrels” is especially dangerous for entrepreneurs and businesses that have been operating for less than 5 years. Try to focus on what’s really important. Remember…. if you’re always chasing squirrels, you’ll never get down the street. This is where new idea management in companies comes into play.
Take the 40,000 foot level view when looking at projects! There are more squirrels than can be caught. Download our free 7 Habits of Highly Effective CFOs and learn how to take your financial leadership to the next level!
Just because you have a main project doesn’t mean you can’t have ideas. If you have a useful idea, but it may not be related to what you’re currently working on, write them down! Writing down your ideas is more than a list; it’s a goal that you can one day pursue (and maybe should pursue).
Our biggest recommendation is to make an action plan for your company. An action plan is a tool to manage the tasks to be achieved within a certain period of time. This tool isn’t solely for the leaders of a company to watch their employees. The action plan serves as a communication tool between ownership and staff, which then ensures accountability within a company.
Many of my clients, and my own employees, can attest to The Strategic CFO action plan tool (can be found in the SCFO Lab). When managing the “squirrels” in your company, your efforts shouldn’t stop at merely having a tool. What makes it effective is how you use it. Here’s how we all learned how to use an action plan effectively:
It’s okay to brainstorm and unleash your ideas. In fact, we highly recommend you do this. But you can let the ideas flow out in a constructive manner that will prevent you from derailing off the tracks. List out any ideas, from small to big; from things you want to accomplish today, to milestones you want to accomplish by 2019. The sky’s the limit!… as long as the ideas are realistic and attainable.
Now is the time to organize your ideas. Which tasks are easily attainable? Which tasks serve a purpose? Which tasks align with other tasks? And finally, who will complete these tasks? are all questions you should be asking yourself when completing this step. Color code, write notes, create labels… do what you need to do to organize your thoughts. As you do this, also try to map out how you’re going to accomplish a goal (because some goals need sub goals in order to accomplish them).
Oftentimes, plans don’t always happen like you had originally expected. It’s normal to move around certain tasks to make room for more pressing ones. Just make sure that you don’t move them around too much… It might end up being a “squirrel.” It’s always a good idea to update your progress as well. When you complete a task, mark it as finished and don’t delete it.
Leaving the completed tasks is crucial because the management needs to review progress trends, and quite honestly, it also boosts morale within the company. If you constantly remove the accomplishments, it will feel like your company has gotten nowhere. On the other hand, if you leave your completed tasks, you can see what works and what doesn’t work. You’ll also see how fast certain tasks are completed, and the work habits of your staff and yourself.
Constant ideas can help your company, but they can also hurt your company. Having an action plan for your company is important not only for your staff, but for yourself. Action plans, or ideas with a plan in mind, organize the company’s thoughts and ideas in a more manageable and realistic fashion. Ask yourself: Are these ideas helpful right now? Will they be helpful in a couple of years? If you answered “no” to the first question, the ideas are squirrels. If they’re not helpful ever… then those are just bad ideas. Take care of your company, or else it might end up like Killer.
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