The upside of mistakes
Here’s the second article in my series on mistakes I have made and learned from in my career. Maybe they will be helpful for you too.
Lesson Two: Do things well rather than quickly
I know not everyone is wired this way, but I’m a doer. I get stuff done.
However, my team know that while I get stuff done, sometimes the first draft needs some work. This is a nice way of saying that I like to do things quickly, and sometimes I’m not focused enough on doing them well.
That’s a tough pill to swallow and to fess up to, but it’s true.
On some types of jobs, working speedily is great. For others, a focus on the quality is more important. Knowing which is which is a vital skill to master.
There are two good examples of this mistake:
1. Go slow to go fast
What I’ve learnt is that I need to be better at allowing things to develop and emerge, rather than imposing my own crazy deadline for something to be done. “Go slow to go fast”, in effect.
Bill Gates is often attributed with saying, “Most people overestimate what they can do in one year and underestimate what they can do in ten years.” I’ve found this to be true.
Going slow and doing things right first time can feel excruciating to someone like myself. In my mind every job should be done in 15 minutes, and if it’s a big idea we should be able to implement it in a couple of weeks. Most owner-entrepreneurs I know work on similar hardwired timescales.
The truth is, some larger value-creating projects for you and your business might take months or even years. But they’re worth it. In fact they’re the only things that are worth your time. Short-term projects generate short term results. They may burn bright if you’re lucky, but then quickly fade away. Then you’re back where you started, with no long-term value creation to show for your efforts.
I remember sitting in a meeting at a large corporate business (not in Financial Services), where I worked briefly when I first came to London. A big boss from the US had flown over and my whole team was in the meeting. I was new so I got a leave pass to some extent, but the team had not been achieving much over quite a long period of time. His comment to them was this:
“If we’d taken a long-term view four years ago, we’d be there now.”
I remind myself of this from time to time, if I’m half way through hell on a meaty but valuable project. Keep the bigger vision and longer term in mind, and keep working.
2. No sudden movements
We’ve adopted another mantra internally at FP Advance (all credit here to Angela Jia Kim and Savor the Success), if we find ourselves grinding away on a project, not quite sure if we’re achieving anything. After re-visiting our strategic thinking and ensuring it’s still valid, we tell ourselves, ‘No sudden movements’, just keep working.
Bigger projects need a lot of love, attention and nurturing in the early phases to set down roots and eventually perform. ‘No sudden movements’ reminds us to stay focused on the strategic plans and to keep delivering. The results eventually come, but it requires some persistence and some patience.
However, it is only the losses and painful experiences from my past that allow me to now live by these mantras; ‘Go slow to go fast” and ‘No sudden movements’.
Eventually I learned my lesson.
3 Strategies for Improved Patience
There are three strategies I’ve tried, and continue to use, to help me be better in this area of doing things well and not just fast:
1. Self-awareness and observation
When I’ve trotted out some work that is less than perfect there are usually consequences. They can generally lead to one of these issues:
- One of my team having to do extra in their role to compensate for my tardiness – which I think is disrespectful to them and is not cool
- I have to re-do the work myself – which always annoys me greatly
- Financial costs arising from these first two bullet points – there’s a direct cost or an opportunity cost in both cases
- A client might receive something less than perfect – which even if they don’t spot or recognise it, it reflects badly on FP Advance
- Something might happen that does cause a client grief – which is horrible to have to address and is hardly brand enhancing.
All really poor outcomes. Seeing those consequences has made me a bit better at trying to do it right the first time. However, it has also made me better at receiving feedback from my team if they catch me out doing something less than well.
2. Hire people that can do the detail
Nowadays I only do what only I can do. Everything else is done via our great team. Specific gaps where I need support have been plugged over time, so that I am not constantly trying to operate in a style that is not natural to me.
3. Plan, plan, and plan some more
Success comes in the planning, not in the doing. By planning what’s actually going to be involved in a major project, I can dispense with my crazy two-week deadline assumptions and give myself (and the team) a chance to succeed.
Lesson Learned: Do things well instead of quickly
Looking back at these errors in judgement I can see where the issues are, which means I can go forward knowing I won’t make the same mistake. So what did I learn?
What was my mistake?
Doing things quickly instead of well led to costs and impacts in other areas of the business. That could be financial costs or damage to the relationships between me and my team.
What was the impact or cost?
Annoying the brilliant members of my team is the biggest one for me. How will I ever attract and retain great people if I disrespect them by handing on poor quality work? My team want to work to the top of their skillset and to add value to the business, they don’t want to be mothering me because I can’t get my shit together. So I had to address this.
How could I do it better next time?
Keep observing and noticing the impact of when I slip up and be ready, and willing to accept feedback about this behaviour, rather than getting all defensive.
Delegate any tasks that other people can do and stay focused on doing great work in the areas that only I can do, and love, and am good at.
Set realistic deadlines for completing larger projects based on thorough planning; not my own hardwired two-week time frame.
What did I learn and now try to live by?
A lot of the advice around weaknesses suggests finding a way to get that task off your list, or to hire people who can do it better than you. I subscribe to and practice that idea.
However, in a smaller business sometimes you might still end up with a task you don’t love, but you are the only person that can do it. In my case, meeting notes after a consulting day fit that description. For that job I just have to knuckle down for a bit while I get the notes dictated. My audio typist then prepares them. I check the final edit and my Virtual Assistant will send them off to the client. However, my part has to be done well. I can’t delegate that at present.
Over to you
What lessons have you learned in your career so far when it comes to working well and not too quickly? Can you relate to these issues yourself?
I’d love to hear more about your own experiences and lessons learned.