Start with the Deliverables, Then Work on the Do-Ables

Posted 04.08.2011

Back in the days when I was a corporate executive myself, I had the good fortune to work on several occasions with Professor Dave Ulrich of the University of Michigan.  Dave is one of the all time great thinkers on how lead and organize people to get results.  I learned a lot from Dave in those years, but there’s one idea that stands out the most.

He expressed it in this mathematical statement:

D > d

Deliverables are greater than do-ables.  If you want to get results, start with what your organization has to deliver and then work your way back to the things to do that will make the biggest contribution to the deliverables.  Another way to think about is that strategy drives tactics.

Unfortunately, it’s pretty easy to get so focused on the tactics and the “have to do’s” that tactics can overshadow strategy.

Here’s an example of what I mean:

A few weeks ago, I was in a coaching conversation with a business owner whose company is growing rapidly.  They’re up to 700 employees after five years of business and are on path to have 1,000 employees by the end of the year.  He and his partners have concluded they need a full time HR director.  While the growth that fuels the need was exciting for my client, he clearly wasn’t that excited about the prospect of hiring an HR director.  He started listing the things the HR director would likely do:  performance evaluations, sexual harassment training, administering bonus pools and the like.  It was a blah, blah, blah, yadda, yadda, yadda list. The feeling was “Yeah, we have to do this stuff, but it’s a pain and doesn’t add that much value.”  My client was focused on all the HR do-ables.  Unfortunately, too many HR people are too.

From talking with him over the past several months, I know my client is passionate about the deliverables of his business.  He gets totally pumped about creating “consistently remarkable experiences” for his customers and making “perfect” products. 

I wrote the statement, D > d, for him on a piece of paper, explained what it meant and asked him, “What difference would it make if you found an HR director who focused on creating remarkable experiences and then put the training and incentive programs in place that would enable the company to continue to do that as it grows?”

The look on his face said it was an “ah-ha moment.”   When you start with the deliverables, you can see the do-ables in a whole new light.

What do you do to keep a deliverables are greater than do-ables perspective?