Posted by: Bill von Achen | November 20, 2010

The 100-Day To-Do List

As we approach the Thanksgiving holiday, and the end of another year, most organization leaders are deep into the process of planning for 2011 and for the challenges that lay ahead.  In the best instances, that process will yield a financial budget, and a list of goals and objectives that everyone will work tirelessly to achieve. 

But frankly, after three years of recessionary economics, most of us lack the confidence to predict how the economy will pan out in 2011 and the impact that it will have on our companies.  That lack of certainty increasingly makes the annual planning routine seem irrelevant and inflexible.  After all, why invest so much energy in planning, when the best laid plans can quickly evaporate in the face of ever changing facts on the ground?

Geoff Vuleta, CEO of consulting firm Fahrenheit 212, takes a different approach, one that provides necessary flexibility in times of uncertainty, and increases the focus and discipline that his employees bring to their work.  He calls it the 100-day To-Do List.    

Here’s how Vuleta explained his approach in a recent interview published in the New York Times:

“We get together every 100 days as a group, and we draw up a list of all the things that we want to get done in the next 100 days.  And you go away as an individual and come back with commitments on how you’re going to contribute to that list.  Then you sit down with me…and we discuss your plan.  It’s just our job to make sure that the sum of everybody’s plan nails the firm’s list.

“(The list is) made up of really simple things.  What were the things that went wrong in the last 100 days?  You want to nail your pain points and make sure they don’t happen again.  And what do you want to do about your brand?  Not all projects are born equal—there are some that are grander than others.  What are you going to do to invest in those?  Who’s going to take responsibility for them?

“It’s a bit goofy to do it the first couple of times because people obsess over how they’re going to do something or what they’re going to do.  It isn’t about any of those things.  It’s only about what you will have achieved with the 100 days.  They’re outcomes.  You did them or you didn’t do them…If stuff happens that prevents you from being able to do it, you lean in quickly and either take it off your list or replace it with something else.

“It you’re working in a void for any period of time, human nature says that you’ll view it negatively.  You get scared; you begin to believe that what isn’t there is probably bad.  Never give people a void.  At no point does anybody in the company not know what everybody is doing in the company, what they’ve committed to and what the company thinks is important.”

Vuleta’s 100-day To-Do list isn’t really a substitute for thoughtful, in-depth planning.  But it has the advantage of providing regular opportunities to evaluate progress, and to make mid-course corrections when conditions warrant.  And it helps to keep everyone focused!

What approaches do you use to keep the members of your team (and yourself!) focused and continually engaged in your business challenges?  Post your comments and ideas here.

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