So the time was early January, and I had just worked with Bill Strong and his team at Strongfab to finalize their overarching strategy for the year. Their Q1 operating objectives were in place under all the segments of the plan. Starting in January, their primary growth strategy was to enter the automotive market by focusing on functional mechanical molded plastic parts with metal inserts. They’ve developed this technology to an advanced stage while serving their agricultural equipment clients and they are ready to tackle the higher volumes automotive clients would require. The plan to target clients that design and build subsystems like air conditioning and air intake systems were in place.
Strongfab’s people strategy segment plan for Q1 was to send ten key associates from operations to train in handling employee conflicts. The director of human resources would attend a week-long seminar on employee engagement and retention.
The future strategy for the quarter was to allocate fifteen percent of engineering time to develop new materials and processes in plastic molding. Everyone on the management team signed on and went to work.
Then, late in January, their primary client rejected an entire shipment of planter box assemblies, and the whole company went into crisis mode. Bill canceled his travel plans as all of his time was absorbed in fixing the problem. It made no sense to contact new client targets until the problems were solved.
Operations managers doubled up on the factory floor to inspect every part of the assembly. No time to go to training as they had to keep up with the new production schedule. HR went to work to find, hire and train ten temporary workers to receive and re-work the rejected assemblies. The result, attendance at the engagement seminar was canceled.
Engineering burned the midnight oil to figure out why the shrink rate had changed and what mold alterations would be necessary to keep parts inside the tight dimensional tolerances. No time available for developing new processes or experimenting with new materials.
That’s what often happens in the real world and what causes the tendency to get absorbed in putting out fires rather than working on our best-made plans.
As an executive coach, I work with many busy, driven leaders like Bill Strong and his team. They know the power of planning and intentionality. Most of them have internalized the habits that make people successful. I could confidently say that they are excellent managers. Why is it, then, that just like the rest of us, they find life getting in the way of their plans?
The universal answer is that high-priority stuff happens and it takes up time. It’s hard to remember to work on the new client strategy when your biggest client has a problem that requires time and energy. As their coach, I listened to all the angst caused by this significant problem that occupied their attention throughout Q1 and well into Q2. As soon as the situation stabilized, I began to challenge each member of the team to find time to work on the objectives, even if the original plan needed to be changed based on the shortened time available. They jumped through the required hoops to serve their client and still work on the initiatives that would ensure the company is ready for the future.
Helping our clients stay focused even when the going is tough is part of what we do as leadership team coaches. It is time to sit down with the Strongfab team again to and plan the next set of quarterly objectives. I am eager to congratulate them on their excellent work under pressure and facilitate their planning meeting next week.
We made sound plans
and focused hard to hit
the marks we’d set.
The quarter looked so good to us.
Our stretch goals would be met.
Then when we least expected it
a mighty storm arrived.
We couldn’t see the way through this.
We all felt so deprived.
And then our leader souls kick in
with superhuman stride.
The team stepped up and beat
our foe and everyone felt pride.
We turned this new found strength
toward our goals again and found,
with winning focus and resolve,
the team was victory bound.
Les Deck, May 2018