Making Space - When BAU Won't Quit

You know that feeling when you go and do some offsite training or attend a conference and get all inspired and energised? You’re all fired up on good ideas and ready to get back to work and be a New You who does Best Practice Things with Intention and Enthusiasm.

But then you get back to your desk and put out the fires that started burning while you were gone, you try to explain some of your inspired epiphanies to a glassy-eyed co-worker who’s under pressure and by the end of the day you feel a bit like a deflated balloon. Now you’re the Same Old You who Saw The Future Possibilities for a short time.

Strategy and change is like this. The best part of my job is enabling people to make the physical and mental space to think differently. Whether it’s training, facilitating or coaching, people schedule in a dedicated block of time to put the BAU down and focus on the big picture stuff.

This is fantastic, and empowering, and necessary. I do a lot of my best thinking on a plane (which is where I’m writing this from, in fact) and there are plenty of studies to support how impactful a change in our physical environment is when we want to think clearly.

Another interesting psychological phenomenon though, is the ‘doorway effect’. If you haven’t heard of this, it’s what happens when you go into the kitchen for something and find yourself standing there blank, wondering why you came into the room. It is well-documented that the physical movement through doorways affects our short-term memory, as we open and close different ‘doors’ in our mind.

This is so common in Strategy Land. We come together and nail down some really solid ideas and priorities for action. But when we re-enter the real world, and cross the doorway into the office, the best of intentions go awry. Urgent stuff happens, things have piled up since we made space, and it seems impossible to put in the work required to make things happen.

This is why it’s really important to make the physical and mental space to execute in the same way that we make space to develop. BAU doesn’t stop for new ideas. The only way to get through is to intentionally create that space for what’s important and take other stuff off the list to make it happen.

"Strategy is about making choices, trade-offs; it's about deliberately choosing to be different" - Michael Porter

A few weeks ago I wrote about the importance of having a To Stop list. I had a beautiful conversation on Monday night with a Superwoman at the SOGLM conference dinner. Senior local government manager, mother of two, active community member, rural business person and wife. She has decided to get back into horse-riding, a passion that got put on the backburner as other commitments amped up. Our discussion was about the importance of that space – and what specifically would have to change to make that possible.

The beauty of this story is in the detail. I’m not advocating that she drop her job, farm, husband or kids. My posts about focus trumping balance and my personal quarterly priorities caused a bit of a stir as people wondered whether I was neglecting everything that wasn’t on the priority list. And while it would be easier if life was that black and white, BAU ticks on whether we like it or not. Instead, simple, powerful trade-offs combine for big results.

For Superwoman, she has elected to join a local trekking group and head out early on a Sunday morning, back in time for family brunch. This is time that is currently being gobbled up and can be redirected more purposefully. Late Saturday nights and Sunday lie-ins have been traded in to make space for something that is more important right now.

For strategy and change implementation, small steps can have the same impact. Find the tasks, meetings, committees and commitments that can give way for a bigger goal. Intentionally schedule those things OUT in the same way that we scheduled that thinking time IN. Seize the power of those small wins and watch big changes start to take place!

How To...  Know Better and Do Better

  • Accept that BAU is going to continue whether you like it or not

  • Make the mental space for implementing the things that matter

  • Schedule specific timeslots, by removing other things, to create the physical space for change. 

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