Tag: Boston College

Guest post: Playing with fireball

December 16th, 2014 by

My long-time friend Gregory Stoller teaches entrepreneurship and international business in Boston College’s MBA program. He’s not really a healthcare guy, so you haven’t heard about him from me before. However, he is the chair of two committees at Hebrew SeniorLife, which provided inspiration for the guest post below.

Gregory Stoller
Gregory Stoller

To climb the corporate ladder, you must consistently deliver against strategic plans for which you have primary responsibility. Most successful C-level executives share that resume item. But with fires constantly appearing, how do you focus on the big picture without getting sidetracked?

A non-business world experience offers good inspiration. I recently attended a seminar hosted by one of the non-profits where I volunteer. It traced the orthopedic patient’s journey through physician consult, to surgery, rehab and eventual discharge, via a series of live, inter-departmental “warm handoffs.” You can’t just throw something over the wall but must thoughtfully pass it to others.

Albeit filled with daunting medical nomenclature, the perioperative lessons are quite transferable to business: Across a patient panel comprising thousands of complicated surgical procedures and unpredictable results, it’s possible to implement systems, bringing order to natural chaos. Even if occasionally imperfect, with enough data, practice and time, entropy eventually does become predictable.

Being productive is as equally personal, as it is classroom content. I have run my own business for well over a decade, so am well versed in plan implementation, extinguishing unexpected roadblocks and keeping investors informed. How to navigate these minefields is part of what I teach to my MBAs.

Yet well removed from teaching anecdotes and boardroom banter, everything still seems eerily reminiscent of Harold Ramis’ film Groundhog Day. Each morning, I calmly review the day’s schedule; the word “planner” is at the top of the page but the irony is never lost. By 5:00 pm, my actual activities could have been associated with someone else’s calendar. Sound familiar?

We have more technological firepower than ever before: instant information access, telephonic phone-in capabilities and an unlimited choice of customized pings as task reminders. In theory, we can plan better than we ever have. But it always comes down to working through those unexpected interruptions.

The secret of the tail not wagging the dog is deconstructing a big picture plan into a series of more attainable, and shorter-term, metrics and milestones. You’ll feel like you’ve accomplished “something” by scaling the smaller plateaus, and cumulatively, should eventually reach the peak of the overall target over time. But don’t ignore the 800-pound gorilla: the path is not linear and nearly always requires twice as much effort and three times your budgeted expense.

Additionally, the top leaders are effective due to their delegation. They’re paid to “think about” the work, not “do” it. By being removed from the daily trenches, they can see the fireball coming, and either deftly hand it off or stop it in its tracks, well before it affects their staff.

Mutually negotiate attainable metrics and rise above the fray of being sidetracked by a passing disruptive breeze. You’ll eventually hit your mark. And be nice to the people cleaning your surgical wound dressing. They might not speak COGS, but they’re Harold Ramis fans, too.