Business Flameout

Business Flameout

When I was a boy who dreamed of becoming a fighter pilot, I tried to learn everything I could about jet planes. That’s when I heard about flameout for the first time.

A flameout is “the failure of a jet engine caused by the extinction of the flame in the combustion chamber.” I’ve never seen a jet engine flameout, but I’ve seen a lot of flameouts in business. You probably have as well.

Superior results are achieved when I work with clients on an ongoing basis using a cadence of strategic planning, but I’ve worked with several clients who engage me for a one-off strategic planning facilitation. Many of them start out all gung-ho and fired up about their Strategic Plans, but when I check back with them a few months later, all that energy is gone and not much has happened. They flamed out. Just like a jet engine, those companies lost thrust.

Over the years, I’ve learned that there are three main reasons for business flameout when it comes to strategy execution.

Flameout reason #1: Lack of Focus.

Less is more when it comes to strategy execution. Some companies flameout because they lack focus. They spread their energy over too many Projects; beyond the small handful of Strategic Projects we originally agreed upon at their strategic planning session. They keep saying “yes” to more things when they should be saying “no”. They try to take on too much.

Too many Projects dilutes people’s focus. As a result, they fail to do anything well.

Flameout reason #2: Lack of Good Data.

Someone decides that “just for this week” he or she won’t update their Goals & Tasks on the software dashboard. They are too busy fighting fires and doing “busy work”. Then it happens again. Very soon, the dashboard is not “telling the truth”. The numbers lie!

When Metrics (Key Performance Indicators) are not updated every week with current, accurate data, or progress is not accurately tracked on Projects and Tasks, no one has a clear picture of what people are actually working on, or how well things are going. Before long, people stop looking at the dashboards altogether. Performance suffers.

Flameout reason #3: Lack of Follow Up.

I’ve seen dashboards where a person is “in the red” on their Goals or Tasks, and they have been for several weeks. They are falling behind, but the team leader has not said anything about it.

Making performance visible on a dashboard is a good first step, but a software tool is not going to manage your people for you. Managers still need to manage. You must meet with your people to discuss their performance and follow up to make sure things are getting done every week. Dashboards don’t absolve the manager of their obligation to coach and support their people.

If Projects and Tasks are not getting done on time, or agreed Metrics (KPI) performance standards are not being achieved by one of your team members, you need to shine a spotlight on the issue and hold people accountable for achieving the agreed standards.

Letting people off the hook without discussing poor performance is like letting weeds grow in your garden. If you don’t pull the weeds out quickly, the weeds will quickly take over your garden and choke the growth of your crops. Weeds aren’t going to remove themselves, but they are much easier to deal with when they are still small and there aren’t too many.

What is the answer? Effective Meetings.

I know that meetings get a bad rap. Many people claim to hate them. They think that meetings are a gigantic waste of time. In 2011, Harris Interactive surveyed more than 2,000 workers about status meetings, and 70 percent said that status meetings don’t help them accomplish their work.

A Microsoft survey tracking office productivity contacted 38,000 workers around the world to identify “productivity pitfalls.” Respondents reported that two out of every five days on the job were wasted. The main culprit: “ineffective meetings.”

It doesn’t have to be that way. Meetings can help you be more productive, not less. They can actually save you time, instead of wasting it. In fact, if you want to become a great manager, you must learn how to run effective meetings.

Great managers run great meetings, whether with the team or with each person, one-on-one. And the great news is that running great meetings is a learnable skill.

Here are my meeting guidelines that clients have found useful:

How to run a daily huddle

How to run a 1 on 1 meeting

How to run an effective team meeting


Until next time…