Category Archives: Productivity

Leaders have goals, but what are their intentions?

Implementation intentions lighten the load on your brain to pursue goals more reliably; it boosts your chances of success, research has found, by 300%. ~Caroline Webb

Over the course of more than 20 years of consulting, I can confidently state that most leaders have goals. However, I can also state that not nearly as many leaders (or their organizations) have implementation intentions.

Implementation intentions are very specific statements about what we’ll do and when we’ll do it. Here’s an example of a leader’s personal goal: I’m going help my team be more collaborative. That’s a goal. Implementation intentions might sound more like this: When anyone on my team raises issues in our meeting today, I’ll pause and listen to understand, then ask questions to find out more. The second is not only more tangible, it’s also easier to imagine achieving.

Caroline Webb, author of How to Have a Good Day, calls this the “when-then” rule. It states when X happens, then I will do Y. Scientists know this as implementation intention. It actually takes much less effort for our brains to handle an implementation intention than it does something more abstract like “be more collaborative.”

According to Heidi Grant Halvorson, at Columbia’s Motivation Science Center, setting implementation intentions makes people as much as three times more likely to achieve their goals.

I believe the concept of implementation intentions not only applies to personal goals, but also applies to departmental or organizational goals. I just gave myself a test. I did a random online search for a goal of “financial strength.” This is a very common, but vague, goal for many organizations. Below is the actual goal I discovered for a large state university. Then I created an implementation intention using the “when-then” rule to demonstrate the difference.

Actual Goal: We will operate from a position of financial strength by becoming as efficient as possible in our spending and maximizing resource generation.

My Implementation Intention: When funding levels drop to 105% of baseline expense budgeting in academic and administrative program reviews, then a financial performance improvement taskforce will be appointed to bring the program back into alignment with a margin greater than 5%.

You tell me, which one is more tangible and would be easier to imagine achieving?

In this example, to me, the goal says generate as much money as you can and try to keep your expenses low. The implementation intention gives specific definition as to what that really means, and identifies when and what type of action will be taken to ensure the goal is achieved.

Goals are great, but intentions are even better!

What’s one implementation intention you will achieve this week?

Leaders: what’s your “minimum effective dose”?

More than a hundred years of research shows that every hour you work over 40 hours a week is making you less effective and productive over both the short and the long haul. ~Sara Robinson

A hundred years of research; you would think we’d catch-on eventually. Christine Carter referenced this quote from Robinson in her book Sweet Spot as she explains her prescription to fend off the desire to work, at anything, more than is really necessary. She uses an analogy from health care. “The ‘minimum effective dose’ (MED) is considered to be the lowest dose of a pharmaceutical product that spurs a clinically significant change in health or well-being.”

I’m clearly not a physician, but I assume that if I have some form of disease or illness and I’m prescribed a MED, if I up the dose to one more pill per day than I’ve been prescribed, I’m probably not going to be “more well.” In fact, I may even have an adverse reaction.

Carter challenges us to apply this “minimum effective dose” concept to everything we do. What’s the minimum amount of time really necessary to adequately answer all of the emails sitting in your inbox? What amount of time and energy is really necessary to create an effective presentation?

The MED concept can address a number of “ailments.” Maybe your ailment is busyness. You’ve convinced yourself that to be an effective leader you need to always be “busy.” Or another ailment for many leaders could be “perfectionism.” After all, you’re a leader, what’s wrong with doing things really, really well? Here’s Carter’s response: “Perfectionism is not a quest for the best. It is a pursuit of the worst in ourselves, the part that tells us that nothing we do will ever be good enough.” Ouch!

The point here is not to do substandard work. The point is that spending time, effort, and energy to be “more than effective” while not making the end product any better or more perfect is wasted time, effort, and energy.

Another analogy frequently cited is boiling water. Water boils at 212 degrees. If you turn the temperature up higher, it’s still just boiling water. You will have wasted resources and energy, without any additional return.

Years ago I recall reading a short book about the history of Microsoft. One of the main points I still remember. The chapter was entitled something like “80% is good enough.” Apparently, Bill Gates’ philosophy was that when a product was 80% ready, it was time to launch. If they waited until it was perfect, chances are a competitor would have beaten them to market. So for Microsoft, 80% was the MED for a new product launch.

MEDs can sometimes be tough to swallow. But they are nearly always in our best interest and for our ultimate health. What “MEDs” do you need to model, as a leader, for your team?