Monthly Archives: January 2011
One of my favorite quotes is from a British poster from World War II. My business partner, Corey, bought me the poster and it proudly hangs in my office. “Keep Calm and Carry On” was the message that Winston Churchill wanted to instill in the hearts and minds of the British when things must have looked pretty dire. The pressures my business is faced with seem inconsequential in comparison, but the poster is a reminder to me that nothing productive gets done in a state of panic.
I also like the fact that the poster isn’t exactly optimistic. Imagine how ineffective the posters would have been if Churchill had instead decided to go with, “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade!â€ Everybody hates a pessimist, but a starry-eyed optimist is often equally unwelcome when things are in the toilet. Neither the pessimist nor the optimist is doing something productive. The pessimist decides that nothing can be done and the optimist decides that nothing needs to be done. An effective operator decides to keep calm and carry on.
Recently we had a client whose agreement was set to expire within a few months. The original agreement had some performance benchmarks that we had to hit or we would be faced with significant penalties – penalties that would have caused problems for our company and would have strained our relationship with our client. At that point, we were well below the benchmark and achieving it seemed impossible.
I remember the meeting very clearly. I had pulled the team together to review where we were and what we needed to do to meet our commitments. It was tempting to take the pessimistic view that we couldn’t hit our goals and therefore we needed to begin preemptive damage control. There was some temptation to take the optimist route and just hope for the best, but nobody on our team was willing to fall into that trap. Instead, we laid out the specific things that had to happen to meet our commitment. The list was daunting because it would require us to perform at a higher level than we had ever performed at before. We had a lot of ground to make up.
But we didn’t just stop at listing what we needed to do, we got specific. We went as far as naming specific deals that we needed to close in order to make our commitment. We also recognized that we didn’t have control of every aspect of the process. Our success depended on convincing third parties to make significant commitments. It was inevitable that we would not have a 100% close rate, so we identified multiple paths to achieve our plan. Ultimately, we identified three paths and we assigned owners for each path. And I wouldn’t be writing this down if we hadn’t succeeded.
I don’t get much accomplished in a state of panic, so the reminder to keep calm and carry on is one that’s worth hanging on my wall.