Photo of authors Holly Adams and Jennifer Horn-Frasier

By Jennifer Horn-Frasier and Holly Adams
May 2021

In our second round of Strategic Grit blog posts, we are focusing on real-life stories, sharing examples of real people who use Strategic Grit to get things done and move themselves and their organizations forward.

Holly: To kick things off, I’m going to “sing” a few lines from one of my favorite Elvis songs. 😊

Come on baby, I’m tired of talking
Grab your coat and let’s start walking
A little less conversation, a little more action.

To encourage action, I ask clients: What’s the ONE thing you can do such that by doing it everything else will be easier or unnecessary? The question is from the book, The One Thing: The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results, by Gary Keller and Jay Papasan.

Profoundly simple, this question is the first step to clarifying what to do FIRST. Even when we have fantastic, grand plans, the real magic is in doing, and the most challenging part to doing is initiating the doing.

Let me walk you through an example of using Strategic Grit to address overwhelm, which makes doing impossible. My client, a mid-level manager, struggled to keep up with her day-to-day responsibilities. She felt like she was always putting out fires and that she was missing out on building relationships with her team or proactively addressing compliance concerns.

When I asked her the One Thing question, her answer was delegation. Ah, ha! She knew what to do, but she wasn’t doing it. I pressed on with another question. What exactly did she need to delegate? She had a project in mind, creating annual compliance reports for her clients, that she wanted to transition to a team member. Even more clarity! We were then able to pinpoint specific action items that would ensure the successful transition of the project to the team member within 90 days. Boom!

There are two additional elements to consider when building and maintaining momentum.

  1. Start with the smallest incremental step possible.
    • When I first started a mindfulness practice, I literally started with a 1-minute meditation. I gradually added time to each session, but I knew I had to start small to make the habit stick.
  2. Understand that you will have to experiment.
    • Try something, evaluate its effectiveness, and then make adjustments. Back to my mindfulness practice. I tried sitting in silence for a minute; it wasn’t comfortable and didn’t yield the results I was looking for. I tried guided meditation (in which someone walked me through breathing exercises and relaxation techniques); it worked much better. I continue to make adjustments. Rarely do we have the “secret” figured out from the get-go.

Jennifer: You might know this quote from management expert Peter Drucker: “Plans are only good intentions unless they immediately degenerate into hard work.” And there is an excellent reason this quote is so often referenced: It can be hard to translate plans into action, to turn thinking into doing.

 In our last post, we shared examples from the first steps of Strategic Grit: vividly picturing the future an individual or a team wants to bring to life. Once that future vision is created in detail, plans for achieving it develop. The conversation moves from “What could we do?” to “What should we do?” And then it is time to answer the question of “What will we do?”

It is at this point that momentum can screech to a halt. The energy must move from the conversation and collective dreaming to actions individual people agree to take on. This can feel daunting. It takes grit to power through.

Let’s look at an example.

A team of multidisciplinary faculty members at a large research university joined together to create a new research center. Their vision was a thriving research community centered on gaming that would strengthen 21st Century work and learning. They engaged in deep conversations to collectively imagine what achieving this vision would look like. As you can imagine, it was a complex picture, involving many different stakeholders, critical infrastructure, events, and more.

In addition to creating this shared vision, they inventoried the assets or resources they collectively had to put to use. They looked at what they could do with these assets in support of the vision, then they evaluated what they should do with them.

Because time and resources are limited—you can’t tackle everything at once—a starting point needed to be identified. So, the team rated the whittled-down list of what should be done according to how easy or difficult it would be to implement each idea, as well as how great of an impact each would likely have on moving the group closer to achieving their vision. Using this rating system, the group identified a starting point.

This starting point was a “pathfinder project” focused not on winning multi-million-dollar research grants or hosting a national conference—both of which are future goals—but on developing a sense of community among the members of the center. Each member was part of the new center because s/he was already engaged in related work. Allowing everyone to learn more about each other’s work would help create a sense of team and reveal existing synergies; where work in support of the center’s goals could grow out of work already under way.

A small team of center members was formed to devise ways to help the center’s members learn more about one another’s work and develop camaraderie. Each team member committed to taking an action in support of this sub-goal. No more than an hour or two of work/action was required of each person. In the end, the entire center enjoyed a series of informative and social events that allowed everyone to develop a deeper understanding of their colleagues’ work and to begin to identify potential collaborations.

When you step back and look at this from a distance, the first action seems much less grand than the overall vision for the center. It’s important to remember that a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. The move from planning to doing is crucial.

Putting it together:

How about you? What have you been thinking about and planning? What is just one small step you can take this week to start your shift from planning to doing?

For our next post, we’ll look at ways to sustain the action once you get started. In the meantime, if you’d like a sounding board, we’d love to hear from you.

Strategic Grit was born of the lessons (sometimes painful, sometimes joyful) we learned in 2020, a unique year in many ways. Some of these lessons we learned on our own, through our research and personal experiences, and some were learned through our work with clients. But the theme that stands out is this: Those best equipped to ride out tumultuous times are nimble, resilient, and forward-thinking. These are people and organizations with Strategic Grit: a resilience that is not random but well-planned, effective, and durable.