The Gordian Knot...

The Gordian Knot is a knot that cannot be untied and is used as a metaphor for a problem without a conventional solution. 

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I was once in a situation that seemed like a Gordian Knot, but in the end I was able to accomplish a seemingly impossible task. Here’s how I did it. At the end I provide 8 take-aways that you can use to do more with less.

My situation: I was asked to help a company restructure a failed Joint Venture. I started working on a separation agreement and quickly realized that the company needed more than just a Joint Venture separation. The strain of the Joint Venture had taken its toll on all parts of the company. The sales were significantly down, yet costs were out of control. Everyone seemed busy, but very little was being delivered. I had restructured the legal entities and balance sheets to address the solvency problem, but something had to be done about the profitability and long-term viability of the company. 

The problem seemed to be a Gordian Knot – it was clear that staff costs needed to be cut which would reduce resources. But how could the company make more sales when staff were busy and a lot of projects weren’t being delivered with the existing resources?

Careful listening and consideration of the symptoms brought me to the realization that this was a focus problem on two dimensions. 

  • One, there was simply just too much going on. Instead of projects being finished, the staff were spread thin over many priorities (working on everything yet finishing nothing) and were very distracted by constant multi-tasking. 
  • Two, the focus was in the wrong area – a huge amount of time was spent on non-revenue generating overhead and low return revenue initiatives.

A root cause was a serious employee performance problem and a mismatch of skills to requirements.

The first thing I did was to run a process to identify all the projects and activities, and  prioritize these by evaluating importance, urgency, cost-benefit, and “agony” factor. I didn’t cancel any activities (because psychologically this would be difficult because of “pet projects”). But rather gained the buy-in that the staff would focus exclusively on the top priority projects and only do other projects when the priority projects were delivered. I held a session to agree the prioritization, deliverables, ownership and timescales. And I set up a governance structure to monitor progress.

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The second problem needed a four-step personnel restructure: 

  1. Determine ideal organizational requirements;
  2. Staff reduction by redundancy of excess resources that could not be re-deployed and termination of under-performing staff;
  3. Hiring and training to fulfill the skills shortfall;
  4. Culture change to be more performance delivery based, including training management in managing staff.

The program was immensely successful. The company was totally transformed:

  1. From falling, low sales to more than 30% increase year on year
  2. From costs being out of control to more than 25% cost savings
  3. From projects not being delivered to successfully delivering projects; and
  4. From a company with a questionable future to one with a solid grounding for further growth.

And that was how I was able to do what initially seemed impossible – to deliver more with less. 

Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.
— Antoine de Saint-Exupery
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This was a real lesson to myself about the power of focus. The key to doing less with more was:

  1. The important part of a breakthrough is the break part. Not every fix requires a breakthrough but be sure you have the authority before you start drastic change;
  2. Stop trying to do everything. Learn to say no, delay things indefinitely;
  3. Finish things and deliver before starting new projects: 5 finished projects is infinitely better than 10 half finished projects;
  4. The key to focusing on what is important is knowing what is important: Come up with a good method to identify and compare your options;
  5. The key to getting a team to focus on what is important is to involve them in the decision making process;
  6. One bad apple can rot a barrel – fix or fire;
  7. Get the right people in the right job and things happen automatically;
  8. Get the management basics right: responsibility, authority and accountability. Build relationships, give performance-based feedback, develop your staff and delegate. Rinse and repeat.

P.S You know how you can struggle with a problem for ages and then someone comes along and shows you a shortcut that works. Especially when it’s something complicated like with a computer problem. Well people are way more complex than computers so many bosses struggle for years with bad employee performance, like bad attitude, poor work etc. That's why I've made the www.boss.camp program - it's the best of the best, tried and tested practical people management tips and techniques to fix those stubborn employee problems


Comments:

Take a minute to think if you can use any of this in your business. If you have any good recommendations at doing less with more, please share this in the comments.


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