E+R=O i.e. Event plus Response equals Outcome

Throughout my career I have had the pleasure and privilege to spend my days with a number of very passionate, driven, perceptive and intelligent people. As a Finance Director for twenty years I have usually been surrounded by a strong team, witnessing a variety of leaders and leadership styles ranging from the consumate professional, to the inspired entrepreneur and the meglamaniacal tyrant.

All of these leaders have had positive qualities such as clarity of vision, total commitment and business acumen, by the truck load. One of the key differences between them all was how they reacted to events, together with the consistency of the reaction. I have witnessed, to name but a few, messengers shot, good people humiliated, countless finger pointing and blaming. All these from leaders seemingly oblivious to the fact they were shredding part of their credibility and leadership status in the process. These were all intelligent people who forgot that leadership is not a quality you can award yourself, it is awarded by those you lead.

I remember learning at the feet of a young, but wise CEO by the name of Patrick Mullins. A yank with a huge personality, an innate ability to communicate and some of the best one liners, so good that I shamelessly plagiarise them to this day. One of the key things I remember about his leadership was his reaction to the “big stuff”. We were working in a company that had grown by 450% in 18 months and, as you would expect, it wasn’t all plain sailing. We hit several significant bumps in the road. I remember one board meeting when such a bump, and it was a biggy, was flagged up. My heart sank, “this is going to be uncomfortable to watch”, I thought. To my surprise and admiration Pat said “OK”, he took a minute to think and then said very calmly, “ok guys shit happens – what are we going to do about it”. No blame, no personal attacks, no wasted time finding a villain, just straight into solving the problem, which we did quickly and relatively painlessly.

This was a big lesson for me and I was reminded of it when the esteemed Vistage Chair, Ivan Goldberg  did a session on E+R=O i.e. an Event plus our Reaction equals the Outcome and, in his usual way, encapsulated the whole story in a clear, concise and presentable way.

Within each organization there are events – events of an individual nature, events of a corporate nature. Each of us is faced with ‘events’ everyday. When an event presents itself, we react. We choose to react to an event in many different ways, we can even choose not to react. We can choose to react positively or negatively, we can choose to be supportive in our reaction, or we can choose to be critical. How we react to an event is the measure of our maturity and character. Taking the event and adding our reaction creates the Outcome.

Let’s be clear, you cannot control the outcome and you cannot control the event, but you can control your reaction which, when added to the event, will influence the outcome to a significant degree. In the example above, Pat decided that the most important thing was for the team to pull together and find a solution to a problem affecting our customer. The post mortem could wait, his reaction to the event ensured this happened.

This is further illustrated by the next chapter in the story. Time moved on and Pat enjoyed the outome resulting from the “shit happens” response. The rest of the team did too and the phrase was repeated by members of the Senior Management team until we hit another bump in the road, an event that was more controllable than the first and a direct result of a Director’s mistake. They relayed the event and Pat’s reaction was simple. He asked “how did this come to pass?” What he wasn’t expecting was to have his own words thrown back at him. Pat realised that his own words were being misused on this occassion avoid accountability and responsibility. “That is not shit happens” was his repsonse, “that’s you making a mistake and you need to 1) realise that, 2) put it right, 3) make sure it never happens again and 4) never, ever, say shit happens again”.

Thus it came to pass that one of the less edifying of Pat’s sayings died at that point, which was a great shame, but hey “shit happens”.

PS. Realising the Director had taken the rebuke to heart another pearl of wisdom was despatched by Mr Mullins, “pull up your pants and slide on the ice, we ain’t saving lives here.”

Meeting Mantra – So what are we going to do about it?

Recently I have been reviewing the meetings I am attending to determine their effectiveness. Like many, I am guilty of attending routinely scheduled meetings where the desired outcomes are not clearly defined. On the face of it they appear to be good meetings, actions are derived, allocated to attendees and a completion date assigned. However, attendees know that there is an element of “going through the motions” that not everybody has read the papers and many are unhappy at the drain on their time.

The problem is one of attitude. The leader needs to shake the meeting out of stasis by:-

1. Focusing on actions needed

Too often I am in meeting where the “meaty” issues are talked about yet no conclusion is reached, the issue is simply parked or kicked down the road whilst more information is gathered. This is a way of avoiding decisions and being accountable to the meeting.  Deep down people know this, hence the mindless actioning of minor insignificant tasks to make attendees feel like some good has come of their time. The truth is that it is a massive waste of everybody’s time and the de-motivational effect is significant. The solution is one phrase, “So what are we going to do about it?” Yes it really is that simple,. At the end every topic of conversation ask that question. Do not allow the answer to be anything other than positive action.  Neither ideas nor talk make money. Actions do.

Action point: – At the end of every topic ask – “So what are we going to do about it then?”

2. Make people accountable for completion dates

Follow up the actions to ensure that they are completed in a timely manner and not just “rolled forward to the next meeting”. Too many times I have heard the phrase,” I didn’t have time, I will do it for next week”, worse still I hear, “Its OK I know you have been really busy, you won’t have done this will you”. Actions make money or save money, if it is important enough to take up the time of several meeting attendees then it should be done. If it isn’t that important, it shouldn’t even be talked about at the meeting.

Action Point – At your next meeting go through the action points and delete or delegate the minor issues. For all the rest set an expectation that “rolling forward” dates will not be tolerated.