Procrastination comes in many forms. One of those forms involves simply doing too much preparation before putting something into action. In working with businesses, sports teams, and other groups, I have often used the quote, “Proper Preparation Prevents Poor Performance” – or – “Proper Preparation Promotes Positive Performance.” However, there is always a potential problem of having too much of anything. Too much food can be bad for the figure. Too much walking or running can be bad for the knees. Too much preparation… well, you get the picture. Country music artist Rita Coolidge said, “Often, the opportunity knocks, but by the time you push back the chain, push back the bolt, unhook the two locks, and shut off the burglar alarm, it’s too late.”
As I have stood on the sidelines at football games, I have heard coaches admonish their running backs, “Turn it up field!” And then when runners are tackled while running “east or west” rather than “north or south,” the coaches get upset, call the runners over to the sidelines and tell them, “You’ve got to make a decision! You can’t run around in the backfield all night!” Or, they may say, “Quit running from sideline to sideline and turn it up!”
As mentioned in a previous column, I presented my A Strategy For Winning keynote address at the Department of Homeland Security’s National Conference for Border Patrol Chiefs in July 2006. Prior to my speaking, Border Patrol Chief David Aguilar urged the 60 sector chiefs and others at the El Paso conference to keep the path to progress as unencumbered as possible and he would work to do the same. Involved in a continuing great task and challenge, he encouraged conference participants: “Don’t let the process get in the way of the progress.” As I reflect on Chief Aguilar’s words now, I am reminded that this is good advice for all of us, regardless of our fields of endeavor.
Research by Dr. Michael Tushman from the Harvard Business School and Dr. Mary Benner from the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business shows that companies often sacrifice progress for process and lose out to their competitors who are spending more time and effort moving ahead and less time and effort determining how to move. Additional research by Dr. Robert Cole, professor emeritus at the University of California-Berkley’s Haas School of Business, substantiated the claim. One example he gives in his book, Recovering from Success, is of a company that failed to move forward on some things. The company’s reasoning was that certain items and procedures needed to be submitted to additional process management, which Dr. Cole reveals was unnecessary. As a result of the delay, the company was passed by and lost a golden opportunity to be a market leader. Dr. Cole says that “process versus progress” was at the crux of the problem.
Of course, government is known for dealing with red tape, going through numerous channels, and becoming involved in all types of processes before any progress whatsoever is realized. Chief Aguilar is very much aware of this. He knew in July 2006, and he knows today, that his work is cut out for him. But what about us? As we inspect the various things in which we are involved, what can we do to move things along? This might be a good time to inspect your involvements and see how you can “turn it up field” rather than running from “sideline to sideline.”
The great American writer Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882) penned, “Great is the art of beginning, but greater is the art of ending.” It’s easy to get bogged down with the process. That’s why Principle Nine in A Strategy For Winning is “Do It Now!”