How to Get a Quick Win

Posted 03.02.2011

Trackwinner As the author of The Next Level, the coaching engagements that I’m asked to take on often involve supporting an executive who’s taking on a bigger job, leading after a reorganization or some other situation where the stakes are high and the expectations are different.  As the old saying goes, you never get a second chance to make a first impression. It’s important to get off to a strong start in a job like this.  Building some momentum with a few quick wins is a good way to do it.

You’ve got to be careful out there, though. Going after the quick win doesn’t mean putting yourself in the position to be a hero.  If you do that, all you’ll do is tick people off.  Mark Van Buren and Todd Safferstone do a nice job of cataloging some behaviors to avoid in their Harvard Business Review article, The Quick Wins Paradox.

So, it’s good to have a list of what not to do when you’re searching for a quick win, but what should you do?  Based on a decade of coaching leaders who need to get off to a strong start, here’s a short list of what I’ve see that works when you’re in search of a quick win:

It’s relatively easy to do and likely to make a difference:  Don’t take on a moon launch for your quick win. Look for tasks that can be accomplished relatively quickly and easily and are likely to make a difference. The fresh set of eyes you bring to the situation as a new leader will probably enable you to see some obvious things that can be done that others have overlooked. Look for them.

It matters in the larger context:  Start with your understanding of the big picture goals of your organization and reverse engineer your way back to the smaller steps that will lead to that goal. Make a list of those steps. Pick one or two to get started with that are momentum builders. When you’re talking with stakeholders about your quick win projects, be sure to tie in how the project matters in the larger context.

It addresses a pain point:  There’s no better way to get off to a good start than to make life easier or less painful for the people around you. Take the time up front to ask your stakeholders what really annoys them or is a huge hassle. Look for simple, visible things you can do to alleviate their pain.

It gets others involved:  Build commitment and enthusiasm by getting others involved in the solution.  Ask your stakeholders (e.g. your team, your peers, your boss) to get involved. Make requests for contributions that are relatively easy for them to make.

It builds your brand:  The quick wins you put on the board will go a long way toward establishing your leadership brand. It makes sense, then, to be very clear about the brand attributes you want to project in the organization. Literally make a list of those attributes. Be careful to choose quick win projects that will build your brand in terms of what you do and how you do it.

What's your take?  What difference has getting some some quick wins meant for you?  What's your best advice on to get a quick win?