The Importance of Timing

I had dinner with a colleague in Melbourne last month, who proclaimed at one point that “timing is meaningless. It’s simply a human construct to organise our lives, it means nothing.”

I put down my glass and disagreed vehemently (this is what eating dinner with me is like – it’s not for everyone.)

Sure, the units we’ve chosen to box up pieces of time and the way we’ve applied social norms to it is totally constructed. But time is not just a meaningless thing. We’re not going to do the physics debate this week, but we are going to talk about why timing is bloody important – generally, and for strategy and change in particular.

In ‘When’ Daniel Pink writes “When we do something in the course of the day matters almost as much as what we actually do.” This is a super useful book, which deconstructs how the science of timing applies to how we run our day, the influence of our internal clocks and how patterns of time can affect behaviour, decisions and outcomes.

“When we do something in the course of the day matters almost as much as what we actually do.” – Daniel Pink

There are some great life hacks in there – like carrying out brain surgery in the morning, while getting creative in the afternoon, or getting on the court docket first thing rather than close to lunch – but I particularly like some of the principles around beginning, middles and ends.

As we near the end of one year and the start of another, I find myself indulging in a bit of 2018 reflection, and starting to gear up for a new start in 2019. New year, new life, right? January is a peak month for all kinds of stuff – joining a gym, starting a diet, looking for a new job – because we treat milestone moments differently to other times in our lives.

Timing is also a critical element of implementation planning for change and improvement. When we do things, what order we do them in, and how they fit with everything else that’s going on can make or break the success of a new strategy or initiative.

 1. When we do things. Debut timing matters. If we choose to launch a new strategy or business change initiative the week before Christmas, (or before Wellington Anniversary weekend in January...), our impact and engagement will be minimal.
Launch timing is so important that Bill Gross, start-up guru, credits a whopping 42% of start-up success to correct timing - the single most important variable. More important than funding, people or ideas!
This idea of timing is about so much more than planning for Christmas or working around election year. Gross points out that Air BnB and Uber were so successful because they launched in a recession,
when it wasn’t socially unacceptable to save money and rent your house out to strangers. The lesson here is about a broader contextual understanding of our social, economic and political context – fail to play the timing game at your own peril. 

2. Which order we do them in. Sequencing can make or break the successful implementation of a new project or change initiative. I don’t know how many geared-up teams I’ve worked with who want to boil the ocean before they’ve put the kettle on!
Prioritisation is important – I preach about this a lot – but when it comes to implementation, it often needs to make way for sequencing. Stephen Covey would say ‘first things first.’
Ask questions like: what are the basic foundation elements needed to get where you are going? Where are the dependencies? Does your team or organisation have the maturity to pull off the big change piece, or are there other steps to take first?
Cultivation time matters here too – is your organisation guilty of not giving things enough time to bed in before deciding it hasn’t worked? (I certainly am…)
3. What else is going on. External context is all well and good, but what else is happening internally? Most organisations take on too many initiatives, piling on new things before taking away anything else. Worse, much of this load is invisible. As each manager and division moves ahead with improvements and change, there is often little appreciation for the cumulative impact on the rest of the organisation who either passively or actively implement and embed this change.  

Watkins and Hollister talk about “impact blindness”, where senior management don’t have visibility of this cumulative impact - particularly the impact of the executive team’s decisions to people further down the chain. This kind of behaviour is damaging – it builds up, it’s unsustainable, and it’s certainly not how progress happens. Without an organisation-wide view of timing, priorities and impact, our stuff will be met with a groan no matter how good it might be.

Have you ever underestimated the importance of timing and suffered the consequences? Wrong launch date, poorly sequenced, or lost in a hotbed of change fatigue? I’d love to hear your stories – good and bad! Just hit reply and let’s chat.

How to: Harness The Power of Timing

  • Plan for launch carefully – understand the broader context you operate within.

  • Be realistic about the maturity of your team or organisation and plan accordingly

  • Smart sequencing – first things first

  • Account for the cumulative impact of internal change and make smart decisions about how your new initiative fits.

Alicia McKay