My "to do" list this morning is twelve items long, and will grow over the next few days. The items on the list vary in importance - some are as simple as writing up the notes from my last meeting with one of our practice heads. Another to do involves getting involved with the strategy to round out our next practice area. I was thinking, however, that I've probably strayed from the Rule of Three.
In an article in INC magazine in the late 90s, writer David Freedman noted that one of the core tenants of the Marine Corps is its belief in the Rule of Three. That is, each person in the chain of command has three things to worry about. Corporals manage three privates, sergeants manage three corporals, and so forth. Clearly, we in private enterprise don't endure the stress of live battle fire that the Marines do, but do we provide our teams with the clarity of mission and direction that Marines get?
It seems to me that all of us are working with too many "priorities" and too few of them have clear alignment to corporate and team objectives. In this situation, we take on too many tasks and can't prioritize or do them all well. We are suboptimal in everything we do! There are two reasons for this. First, our corporate and team direction is too fuzzy. In the Marines, the order is to "Take that hill". In the corporate world, we tend to be less direct about our exact goals, and beyond corporate objectives, few team or division goals are built and communicated. The second reason we suboptimize is that with uncertainty about the goals and directions of the business, every task or project seems to have equal weight. What is truly important? How should I invest my time?
The Rule of Three may be too limiting in a private, corporate environment. But I think it makes a world of sense for every manager and every team at every level in a business to clearly and concisely convey the 3 or 4 key measurable goals and objectives for the group, and to hold the group accountable to achieve those goals. By limiting the goals and communicating the objectives clearly, people in the organization understand how to prioritize and where to spend their time.
Setting up a simple internal web page by product group, working team or management team to communicate the three or four key business objectives the team is striving for, and redirecting everyone in that team to that site occassionally to ensure alignment to the goals and objectives helps everyone plan and execute to the goals and will make the entire enterprise more productive.