The Scattering Stage:  Trying to see what will stick 

by | Dec 26, 2022 | Growth Acceleration, Scaling and Acceleration

Gaining focus to get results

In our first blog, we introduced a new model and map to help identify where your company is and a path to more quickly get to where you want to go. By way of review, the map identified six destinations of companies from Start Up to Legacy.  These six are:  Planting, Drowning, Grinding, Scattering, Evolving, and Transcending.

The Scattering Stage is the fourth destination we are unfolding in more detail.  As before, we will identify each destination’s signs, paths, obstacles, and states of heart.  At a 30,000-foot view, below is what the destination of Scattering looks like: 

Now, we will drill down into “Scattering” to help it come to life. 

The Scattering Stage:  The Signs and the Paths 

The Scattering Stage is a destination that can be found in organizations big and small, new and old.  The word “scattering” comes from “schateren,” which meant “shatter” or to squander.  It will probably not surprise you that the word, “scattershot” was coined to describe a gun charge meant to broadly spread pellets when fired. That analogy starts to give you a sense of what happens for companies in Scattering. 

In a business, employees and owners can end up in the destination of Scattering while doing good things.  One example is starting with a simple activity like throwing ideas on a white board.  What turns this process into “scattering” is the attempt to follow through on many or all of the ideas. If good is the enemy of great, pursuing too many good ideas is the enemy of the best. 

What started out as a way to generate ideas can turn into a lack of focus.  If the pursuit of too many objectives becomes the norm—our hearts can move into a state of agitation or restlessness.  This can lead to owners or leaders becoming increasingly impatient as they strive to “get everything done” or “get it right.” This often results in exhaustion.

How Do Businesses Fall Into the Scattering Stage?

The path for organizations to fall into the Scattering Stage can start from a number of sources.  On the surface, all of these paths are founded in good intentions.  In, and of themselves, each is needed at some level in every business.

Creativity:  Creative leaders are great at devising a plan, but not always great at working the plan. Many enjoy the brainstorming phases of a project and suggest all sorts of ideas to move ahead or solve problems.  As mentioned earlier, unchecked, this can lead to a large number of initiatives that hijack time and energy from one, or a few, solid ideas that have better grounding and market opportunity.

Internal Issue Resolution:  A second path to Scattering can come when trying to solve issues in the business.  In a desire to resolve a situation, we can try too many things that hopefully will “undo” the problem.  

Product or Service Opportunities:  Being connected with our customers is critical to our business.  This becomes an issue if, in our desire to understand their needs, we turn each gap we see into an initiative to find the solution. Or, we take the approach that any, and all solutions are pursued as a priority.  Without some in-depth examination of market issues, plus adequate effort on prioritization, staff becomes engulfed in solving market problems. Employees get very busy with many things…but unfortunately, this temptation can lead them to neglect the most important ones.  

Too Many Initiatives Dissipate Efforts and Effectiveness:  

It is hard to be excellent at many things, although we like to believe we can be! Entrepreneur Jim Rohn had some sage advice when he said, “Learn how to separate the majors and the minors. A lot of people don’t do well simply because they major in minor things.” Not all ideas are equal in value and return. It is advantageous to discern which things can have the most important impact. Not taking the time to understand or have a method for identifying impact can lead to energy spent in the wrong directions.

It is also true that limited resources cannot execute unlimited ideas, even if they are good. There is a breaking point to which the owner’s and/or employee’s time, energy, and well-being will be reached. The adage, “less is more,” applies to determining which projects to pursue and expedite. Creating order and efficiency often starts with reexamination and prioritization.

So, what are the obstacles to look for in your organization that can help you see if you are heading into, or are living in Scattering?

Obstacle 1:  “We can do it all!” 

Pride can lead us to think we have all the answers and know no limits. This belief can lead us to a spirit of restlessness and impatience. It unmistakably causes owners and employees to feel both tired from trying to manage multiple initiatives and frantic from not seeing good results. If not checked, full-blown panic can become visible in the workplace. Often accompanying pride is the desire to create at all costs. The prevailing thought, “If we don’t keep innovating…we will fall behind,” has some truth to it, but there will be tradeoffs. 

The opposite of “scattering” is assembling, converging, or collaborating. One client we worked with had created a large backlog of projects.  Sales had outstripped the capacity of their implementation team, which now had hundreds of projects of varying sizes and importance.  Instead of working to prioritize and create a schedule, the team was attempting to treat every project as equal and start with a first in, first out (FIFO) approach.  

The path out of the backlog took two forms.  The first step was to identify the projects by highest impact.  This brought a sense of direction and priority.  The second step was to categorize the work and create specific expertise within a certain segment of resources.  This approach removed the need for everyone on staff to know how to do every type of project. This clarity increased job satisfaction, created expertise which could then be cross-trained, and produced order. A sense of calm and purpose emerged from the previous chaotic efforts.

Infinite Trap Symptoms:

You know you are in the Infinite Trap if your business is experiencing one or all of the following situations. There is no clear indication of what is leading, or can lead, to success. What is clear, however, is that staff is confused and continues to work hard on multiple major initiatives. Because the pace of work is unsustainable, staff is reaching burnout.

Obstacle 2:  Everything is our Highest Priority

This problem occurs when the company’s mindset says, “everything has equal weight and needs to get done now!” Of course, the truth is that if everything is highest priority, then nothing has priority. Simplicity and clarity have been replaced by a full-blown frenzy that has become necessary to sustain productivity and meet goals. The sense of impatience dramatically increases and so does anxiety. “Rush” becomes the mode for each project and the level of stress escalates.

High Priority Trap Symptoms:

This hidden trap claims many companies. Today’s environment with endless information cultivates the perspective that being “busy” is prized, and, that “slow and steady” will never win the race. Elements of order, simplicity, coherence, margin, pace, and balance are ignored. Imperceptibly, too much to do has led to a sense that the “house is on fire!” Staff scurries everywhere to put out the flames. Employees feel pressured to solve constant problems as fast as possible, while remaining in heightened alert. In this disheartening scenario, few projects reach completion because major interruptions receive the immediate attention. 

Obstacle 3:  Every Idea is a Good Idea

Every business seeks to improve and move forward to greater success. However, this aspiration becomes problematic if it turns into, “I have not heard an idea I didn’t like.” While innovation is important, it should not blur the company’s vision, mission, and core competencies. 

It’s All Good Trap Symptoms:

You know you stepped into this trap when ideas flow readily, but there is not a gate to stop the flow. There is no way of determining which idea has the right to take precedence..Good ideas are heralded, but not weighed according to relative value and impact. Seeking innovation, while a good thing, has obscured time and effort spent on ranking new ideas—the best thing. The Scattering of ideas turns into fragmented possibilities without order of importance. Motivational speaker Zig Ziglar warns against this stumbling block in his statement, “I don’t care how much power, brilliance, or energy you have, if you don’t harness it and focus it on a specific target, and hold it there, you’re never going to accomplish as much as your ability warrants.”

Obstacle 4:  “If We Build It, They Will Come” 

This mindset is a common barrier to growth, especially in the technology industry. Many companies have a “build” mentality.  They believe they know what is best, and often don’t create (or ignore) customer feedback loops or mechanisms. A danger with this mindset is that it can easily slip into pride and restlessness.  This inability to receive and interpret constructive feedback, or market data, eventually becomes self-defeating. 

We helped one company that thrived on creativity and innovation.  The owner had created a daily practice of generating new ideas.  While seeking to be innovative, this had a significant downside. The flurry of ideas caused a constant change in priorities.  What was the highest priority Monday often changed by Wednesday.  Staff responded with confusion and panic. 

In addition, the change in priorities was impacting overall company productivity. An analysis revealed a high customer attrition rate that went from 40-60% year over year. We determined that a mechanism of prioritization needed to be put in place, and that a business case needed to be prepared for each idea. We also created a focused initiative to understand from customers why they were leaving.  Being proactive gave the company the data to determine what areas needed to be improved before adding the next new product.  

Our culture is filled with inspiring stories about innovation.  Owners may romanticize and esteem business visionaries that, “just saw it and people did not get it for years,” such as Steve Jobs and Elon Musk.  While again there is truth here, it can be used as an excuse for not vetting ideas, or understanding which idea can have the greatest impact.  It can be commonly used as the reason to “just do it!” 

We Know Best Trap Symptoms:

This snare is easy for business owners to slide into. What started with good intentions can slip into pride, and its offspring, arrogance.  If there is a prior history of success, it can further find its way into an identity of self-importance.  This can result in too many, or the wrong projects being launched. Because there is no feedback loop with the market or customers to gather accurate data, valuable intelligence is lost.Eventually,clear indications develop that show only a few initiatives had true promise. 

Obstacle 5:  We Need to Try Something

This problem is often found in turn-around situations.  There is a sense of urgency when a company is “bleeding.” Owners and staff know there are issues, but may not be sure what they are or how to solve them.  Because of this uncertainty, staff becomes anxious and restless, as they are always trying different things…while hoping that “something” will eventually work well. 

One company we worked with was highly creative and had developed multiple initiatives, to improve the company.  Each group within the company was tasked with this improvement.  The challenge was that each initiative needed resourcing, and with all these projects running simultaneously, resources conflicted with one another. Each of the staff was interviewed and, to a person, they indicated there was way too much to do, in too little time, without clarity of focus.  Staff turn-over had become an issue.

We recommended creating a Business Canvas for each initiative.  Using these as a backdrop, both the potential upside and the resource constraint would be easier to understand.  Then, using the data, prioritization decisions could be made.  

Desperation Trap Symptoms:

High turnover is an unwelcome and abrupt transition that can promote anxiety and uncertainty—even fear—among staff. Often it is the good employees that will turn in their resignation, while many others “just put their heads down” and hope it all will pass. What happens next? Staff suffers from a distinct lack of focus, direction, and purpose. Morale is very low.

Impacts of the Obstacles and Traps:

All these stumbling blocks in the Scattering Stage affect potential growth. Efforts become defused and staff feels that nothing gets done. Poor execution leads to a loss of credibility both internally, and externally. Turnover becomes high as staff gets worn out. Priorities change rapidly, which, in turn, stops progress on truly important initiatives. Combined with all the frenzied activity, there is market confusion.  Consumers don’t have a clear picture of the company’s mission, competencies, and differentiation.  When the target audience does not understand what your company does, what it represents, and how it differentiates in the market…sales can slump.

Paths to move from Obstacles to Results:

  1. Prepare a Business Case, or Business Canvas for each idea. Justify a proposed project on the basis of its expected commercial benefit. This action provides focus and replaces anxiety with intentionality and conviction. Both owners and staff become encouraged as a vetting process or weeding out process brings clarity to their glut of initiatives. 
  2. Prioritize initiatives based on impact.  One popular method is Eisenhower’s decision matrix. The former US president created this system after he mentioned in a speech his “two problems: the urgent and the important.” In his previous roles as US Army General, then Supreme Commander of the NATO forces, Eisenhower has inspired countless leaders. His matrix has 4 quadrants: Urgent, Not Urgent, Important, Not Important. Four boxes within the cube indicate which tasks are best suited to “do, decide, delegate, or delete.” 
  3. Perform Root Cause Analysis to solve issues.  This path is widely used in IT operations and uses a 5-step process to reveal the root cause: a) Define the problem precisely, b) Gather data, c) Identify causal factors, d) Determine the root causes, e) Recommend and implement solutions. 
  4. Add a Customer Feedback Loop. It is imperative to discover customer needs and wants. Because market environment changes often, what worked before will not work in the near or immediate future. Assigning a team or group to focus on new client needs and evaluate customer feedback is an impactful step to take. 
  5. Define Your Competencies:  Stick to what you are good at. Just like each player on a team has a different set of skills, so do companies.  What does your company do better than competitors? Identify the strengths and weaknesses, and revisit and/or maintain your purpose and direction. You’ll expend more energy on the right tasks in the best way possible.

From Scattering to Success

One way to think about the path to success is to use a game of pool analogy.  To begin, you break boldly and balls scatter. Then you gauge each position and aim on the “shot line” to sink one ball into a pocket, then another. Each time you consider and set yourself up for the next shot.  Leveraging the paths noted above is like lining up your next shot with a smooth follow-through. You become on target for success. Soon sheer focus, united purpose, and orderliness start to slow down the frantic pace. 

When you harness a flurry of creative ideas with a collaborative framework, you can better assess and confirm market value and creation. This will allow a true business focus to reappear. Both owners, leaders, and staff can relax, knowing that a clear sense of direction has returned.  Employees feel encouraged and are no longer anxious and impatient to get things done. Energy is precisely channeled and fatigue fades away.

The prudent understand where they are going, 

but fools deceive themselves.

Proverbs 14:8

The simple believe anything, but the prudent give thought to their steps.

Proverbs 14:15


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