Seth Godin wrote a blog post awhile back called The Illusion of Control. You can read the whole post here. The gist is that we need to come to grips with the reality that we actually have no control over the outcomes of our actions. In fact, all we are in control of are the actions themselves. We can only influence the outcomes.
This is particularly frustrating for successful business owners who are scaling their organizations. Making the change from doing everything to merely influencing everything is difficult. Some can’t cross that bridge ever and hopefully can be at peace with whatever size business they can manage to sustain by being a “genius with a thousand helpers”.
However there is much you can do when you accept that the best we have is influence, not control, over our prospective clients’ buying decisions, over our employees’ performance standards, and the alignment of all of our employees with our grand vision of where the company is heading and how it is going to get there.
What can you do to influence outcomes?
First, you can share your vision with all your managers, and ideally with all your employees. You can do so in concentric time frames – your really long term goals; your mid term goals, maybe three years from now; next years’ plan; and then the work you are all going to focus on this quarter. Once is not enough. You should do this quarterly, forever. This provides the context for the activities you want your employees to be engaged in with enthusiasm and professionalism.
Second, insist that all employees and managers keep track of the activities which produce those desired results. Do this on an individual level, on department or functional levels, and on the company level. For example, talking to 20 prospective clients per week usually leads to 5 product demonstrations per week which usually leads to 1 new purchase order per week. You can hold someone accountable for talking to 20 prospects per week if you give them the tools to do so. If the activities do not producer the desired result, then you have to get to the root of that issue. They have influence, not control, but they are accountable for both activities and results.
If these simple ideas sound appealing to you, you should read Gino Wickman’s Traction: Get A Grip On Your Business (you can buy a copy here) which explains these concepts in more detail and provides many other simple actions you can take to influence the outcomes with all your constituents while accepting that control is an illusion.