“What the hell is water?”

Two young fish are out for a swim.

An older fish is coming upstream, and asks cheerily: “Morning kids – how’s the water?”

One young fish turns to the other: “What the hell is water?

This post deals with simple and completely unoriginal idea. No apologies though, because I have rarely met a client who couldn’t benefit from revisiting it, either for their business as a whole, or for themselves personally.

It’s this: periodically considering TO STOP lists is at least as important as drawing up TO DO lists.

We keep taking on commitments but then forget that they were originally a matter of choice – we now take for granted that we have to do them. But we don’t, and stopping a few could be very refreshing.

Here are some of the questions that have come up in discussions with clients recently:

  • Do you really have to continue to offer that unprofitable product or service? (you need to know the true relative profitability of your range, of course …)
  • Why not just sack that high-hassle (as so high-cost, high-stress) client? They are demanding disproportionate input and are probably demoralising your people to boot.
  • Are you in the habit of taking on upward delegation from direct reports? (if your response to that is “Huh?” then I heartily recommend an old Harvard Business Review article by William Oncken called “Who’s Got the Monkey”).
  • Is it time to stop tolerating that divisive manager who is simply the wrong person in the wrong job? You know the one… Is there really anything to stop you at least moving them to where they can’t do so much harm?

These are some of the common issues, although your most promising ‘TO STOP candidates’ may be idiosyncratic to your unique situation.

Commitments taken on voluntarily, or because they were a good idea at the time, quickly become hard to notice, as if they are just the waters in which you have to swim. Many of them just seem that way. Find the ones that are no longer right for you or the business, stop them, and it’s amazing how much new energy is released.

© 2012. Andrew Bass. All Rights Reserved.