To Do

Do you do the ‘To Do List Dance?’

By Ron Slee

I remember when I was operating as a manager within a dealership that the teams I worked with could come up with plenty of ideas of improvement. We had smart and talented people who could identify problems and opportunities. What we had more difficulty with was implementation.

Do you have that problem too?

This is what I call the “To Do List Dance.”

Corporations in the United States, regardless of size, fail miserably at executing their strategy. I find this rather disturbing. We have some of the best minds in the world working in some of the most modern, technologically up-to-date businesses employing the highest ratio of college graduates of any country. Yet to quote the actual statistic—90% of American companies fail to execute their strategies.

Those of you who have read my columns regularly know I have written about this before. You know I have referenced the “Balanced Scorecard” as a wonderful tool to use to perform better in executing strategy. And yet, we still have a lot of work to do as the problem still exists.

Root of the Problem

I want to talk about the communications aspect of implementing our strategy. Do you remember this fact from one of my earlier columns? Fact: 95% of the workforce can’t state out loud or in writing the company strategy.

Communications is at the root of nearly all problems we experience in our lives. Perhaps I used a poor choice of words. Perhaps the person I was talking with didn’t hear me—you know, the one where the individual you are having a conversation with disappears from the conversation while they think about what they will say to you next. No matter the cause, we need to focus on communications.

In order for communications to become more of a solution, I believe we have to be more deliberate in our communications. So, let’s start at the top—the boss.

Anything and everything we want to get done, from the most fundamental to the most complex change, needs to be put in writing. It needs to be posted everywhere the company posts internal communications.

I once worked with a project manager from IBM who was famous for saying, “If it isn’t in writing it doesn’t exist.” This is a great philosophy to have as it shows the importance of having things documented.

Then we need to have meetings. The size of the group of people in the meeting will depend on the severity and degree of difficulty of the “To Do” involved. That too is rather obvious, isn’t it?

Then we need to employ what Patrick Lencioni (author of many best-selling business books; see a reading list at calls cascading communications. The next level down on the organization chart does the same thing with their direct reports and so on down the organization.

Now I want to ask you to start a communications tree. Start the tree with the roots. Create working groups of employees who meet once a month. Keep the groups small, perhaps three or four people. The mission of the groups is to find three things each month that will make the work easier to do, make the work less frustrating to do, or make their lives at work better. Three things that are good for them. Then they have to start the uphill communications climb.

They put their ideas down in writing and make a presentation to their boss. They discuss the ideas and decide on whether or not to implement them. Then the boss communicates up his communications tree to his boss and so on.

This has a profound effect on the employees because it means all of a sudden they are being listened to. Their ideas and feelings are being considered. Formally. Officially. This makes them more involved with the whole idea of change and communications.

Critical Solution

I want to take you back to what I believe is the most critical aspect of communications.

  • Understanding: Everyone has to understand what to do.

This sounds much too obvious, but it is not clear everyone understands what is expected of them.

  • Acceptance: Everyone has to accept this is the right thing to do.

We must allow vigorous debate on the item in question. We can’t just have people nodding their heads and moving on. This has to be clear and seriously understood as the right thing or the best thing to do.

  • Commitment: Only after understanding and acceptance will everyone be committed to the accomplishment of the goals and objectives.

Try these simple steps and you will be pleased with the results.

The choice is yours. The time is now.

Ron Slee is the founder of R.J. Slee & Associates in Rancho Mirage, California, a consulting firm that specializes in dealership operations. He also operates Quest, Learning Centers, which provides training services specializing in product support, and Insight (M&R) Institute, which operates “Dealer Twenty” Groups. He can be reached at