By Scott Gordon, The Chief Revenue Officer
Writing blogs, like this one, is a Quadrant 2 activity. Sure, we all know that we need to write more blogs to promote our businesses, but we just never seem to get around to it. The same is true for a lot of things that move the needle: process improvement (we’ve always done it this way), networking (who has time for that?), training, strategic planning, preparation, and prevention (see preparation).
While all of these are important to the long-term success of any business, they are not jumping up and down screaming for immediate attention like the latest customer mishap or the missed shipment. Now everyone is pulling their hair out. Make no mistake, that customer mishap and missed shipment were first seeded in Quadrant 2.
According to Steven Covey in his seminal book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People all our activities (re: focus) are spread across four quadrants:
Quadrant 1 is Urgent and Important. I like to call this the ‘firefighting’ quadrant. This is where all your angry customers, dropped balls, deadline driven projects (which generally start as quadrant 2 initiatives but transform themselves into Quadrant 1 fires via procrastination), and crises live. While some crises are inevitable, much of the noise and confusion resident in Quadrant 1 is self-inflicted. They are the result of a lack of preparation, planning, relationship building, etc that became the sparks that ignited the fire you and your teams are now fighting.
Yeah, I know I’m skipping Quadrant 2, but indulge me for a moment. I promise I’ll come back to it. Quadrant 3 consists of tasks, interruptions, meetings, and emails (other communications) that are Urgent but Not Important. They are typically items that are urgent for others, but not important to you or what you need to accomplish. Let’s face it, most email we receive is some CYA info piece sent to maintain a paper trail.
Simply schedule time for email and blast through it. Never loiter in your inbox! I check mine 3x a day for 10 minutes each:
The problem with Quadrant 3 is that, to the untrained eye, it can look a lot like Quadrant 1. Unable to discern the difference, many executives and employees toil away in Quadrant 3 under the illusion that they are accomplishing something, when, in fact, they are not. It’s a ruse. It’s busy work. Nothing more, and it sure as hell doesn’t move the needle. At all. Ever. You can hit it out of the park in Quadrant 3, and the points don't count.
If your work feels unrewarding, this is probably why.
How much time do you spend each day checking Facebook? Instagram? Twitter? Unless you’re in the marketing department and running campaigns in these media (like this blog post), bopping around in social media is a complete waste of time. Yet, many of us spend hours a day checking up on the latest baby photos and enviously perusing some long lost high school friend’s latest European vacation galleries.
Quadrant 4 is the dimension of the time suck. The things that live here are neither urgent nor important. It’s social media, binge watching, and otherwise procrastinating.
Unfortunately for many people, Quadrant 4 is an entertaining distraction, and therefore, alluring. Quadrant 4 is where we go when we are weary of the world around us and need a break or we simply don’t know what to do with ourselves. Quadrant 4 is where overtime in Quadrant 1 will send us.
While the action items that inhabit Quadrant 2 are important (the most important over the long term, I’d argue), they are not urgent, therefore, most companies never get around to executing on them.
The result? Executives and employees are embroiled in the maelstrom of Quadrant 1, with requisite Quadrant 3 bleed over (since most can’t tell the difference between the two anyway). Quadrant 4 thus becomes the place where they take a break from the ‘action’. Meanwhile, Quadrant 2 remains on the back burner, constantly getting kicked down the road, until it finally falls off everyone’s radar. A victim of Quadrant 1 exhaustion.
Then, the shit hits the fan. Quadrant 1 is boiling over. Customers are screaming. Employees bail and burnout. Morale plummets and no one can see a way out. You’re behind with your vendors. Your credit’s getting yanked out from under you. BK.
In the movie version, a charismatic and visionary hero steps up, unites the employees, comes to terms with the creditors (or raises a ton of money), and saves the town.
In life, that visionary is Quadrant 2 and the people focused there.
Ignoring Quadrant 2 in your business is like building a rocket only to discover that no one thought to build a launch pad to go with it.
The result are:
The launch pad does several things for the rocket, but most important are:
Yet many companies that approach me for help have already launched the rocket, often in the wrong direction (or several directions at once – I call these squirrel chasers), at a low altitude, and without enough fuel for the journey.
If we are early enough in the process we can often correct the trajectory and perform an aerial refueling exercise, but both of these are time intensive and expensive. Of course, the longer a company waits to get back on course, the more complicated and expensive the eventual fix. The irony is that the shallow trajectory of their business often isn’t throwing off enough cash to bring in consultants to get Quadrant 2 strategy formulated and executed.
And that is where we consultants live – Quadrant 2. When you hire us for strategic direction that’s Quadrant 2, so is fixing most of your HR issues. That angry customer call is likely due to a process that is inconsistent or undocumented, as is the missed deadline, prolific margin bleed, and the resulting lack of profitability. If you are running your business off a spreadsheet, Quadrant 2 trouble is likely brewing.
Some companies think they can outrun Quadrant 2 by selling more, faster. While the rocket may fly higher, when it crashes, it crashes a lot harder and hurts a lot more people (employees, customers, and vendors). That rocket burns way too much fuel (cash) way too fast (cash burn) and is housed in an ineffective design that could explode long before it runs out of gas.
Quadrant 1 is where heart attacks, burnout, and customer churn happen. It’s how your competitors outmaneuver you. They’re in 2 and you’re in 1, 3, & 4 because you don't make time for 2.
Fortunately, a strong and consistent focus on Quadrant 2 not only moves the needle across the organization, the more time we and our teams spend here, the less time we spend in Quadrant 1 (unplanned crisis mitigation & overdue projects).
Like the old Italian saying goes, 'It ain't rocket surgery.'