What – How – When: A Peek Inside the Cockpit of a Seasoned Senior Leader!

One of the most senior level “belts” to master as a leader is What – How – WhenTM. Early in my career as I was taking on some complex businesses, I had to devise a way to collaborate with others to solve big and complex business riddles. How could I possibly get a high-powered team of diverse experienced executives to set and nail the right goals? I noticed that by separating the decision into three distinct and logical stages, in a certain order, we could move faster and achieve more. What – How – WhenTM was born!

Decision making is complex when you are at the top of a company, leading a team, and trying to deliver for your owners, customers and your employees. One of the most powerful and teachable methodologies out there to fuel and empower a problem solving culture is What – How – WhenTM. In a brief overview, here is how it works:

  1. What: Without regard to how or when we accomplish it, what do we want to do? What is the right thing to do? What is the top drawer, best thing we want? By separating “what’ from “how we do it” or “when we do it,” we allow our minds to see and reach for what we really should do. If we do not settle, what can we do? Now it is imperative that we focus on “what” and stop discussions on “how” or “when”, yet. Focus on “what,” first. Try not to compromise. This is extremely powerful in collaborative decision-making, especially for the leader accountable for leading the collaboration and making the final decision. Once we have objectively and passionately decided what we want to do, then we move to how we do it.
  2. How: By establishing “what”, first, we can now challenge ourselves to not backup and change what we need to do, but rather find the way to do it. How can do we that? Be bold. Be creative. Be smart. This is problem solving at its best. We have a goal (what) and we now strive to accomplish it. Once we have a solid plan for how to do it, then we decide when we do it.
  3. When: Deciding “when” we do something can really slow down and inhibit the boldness of what we need to do. So by holding off on “when” we can aim better. Sometimes we have a great “what to do”, and a solid “how we will do it”, and the “when we do it” may be 3 months away. Other scenarios may require an immediate “when” and execution happens quickly. The bottom line is that by separating the discussion and collaboration into What, How, When, by the time we get to when we have a solid goal with a solid how to do it plan, and the last lever is when we execute it.

These three separate levers operate in a logical sequence in almost all decision-making scenarios. It allows the team to focus together to set a lofty and best practice goal, without worry or regard, yet, for how or when to do it. Then by locking the What Lever at the ideal goal, we can move to the How Lever and focus attention there, without backing up and lowering our goal of what we need to do. Upon a solid plan for how to do it, we can then move to the When Lever to decide when it can be executed, based on priority and ability to execute. When can we get this plan done? It is powerful stuff.

Just today I was working on site coaching one of my executive teams with which I am working this quarter, and we applied this methodology in some really complex discussions. It is awesome how we are becoming more able to get in a rhythm together, row the same direction and slay a seriously complex series of issues. Using What – How – WhenTM is a perfect example of how an Executive Coach with vast experience and background can engage, hands-on, to coach and empower an already good and powerful executive team to be even better. And it is more fun. Winning is fun and this approach is a powerful competitive advantage!

Imagine an entire organization collaborating and solving issues in such a functional way! That is advanced traction and supreme leverage. This type of thinking and muscle memory can start at the top in the senior leadership team meetings and grow into every department top-down. What a beautiful thing, but it takes some help, usually.

Until next time, cheers! Never settle. Next week we will look at the culture of goal setting and help you assess whether you have a culture of almost hitting goals or a culture of far surpassing goals. It is not only a choice, you may be driving it.

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