Blog Business and Leadership

What To Do When You Are Overwhelmed By New Ideas

Since our company became a fully agile organization, we have unlocked so much energy, innovation, and brilliance from our team. Our employees went from focusing just on their day-to-day tasks (which were often repetitive) to creating and leading massive changes and improvements within the company.

This has overall been a really good thing, but sometimes too much innovation truly becomes… too much.

The other day I was facilitating a meeting with our leaders, and I asked how they were feeling about all the committees and new special projects that were happening. Although hesitant at first, one by one, they began to confess they were feeling overwhelmed. 

We had started so many new things, but very few seemed to be getting finished.

And there were so many new ideas (and meetings about new ideas) that it felt like a distraction from our core purpose: serving our clients at the highest level.

I had come into that meeting with a pre-planned agenda, but it became clear that it was time to abandon that agenda and pivot to focus on the very pressing issue at hand; 

How do we address our innovation overwhelm?

Here is what we did:

1. We Set Up a Kanban Board to Manage Our Ongoing Projects

The Kanban board has been one of the simplest but most effective tools agile has given us. You can create a Kanban board using post-its or create one for virtual teams on a digital platform (we make our Kanban boards on Trello).

A basic Kanban board consists of three columns: “to do,” “doing,” and “done.” (The “to do” column is also known as the backlog). 

By laying out everything the team is working on in this format, we can all see at a glance where each initiative is in the process. Dragging items from column to column until they reach “done” is satisfying and makes sure things aren’t just floating around in limbo or forgotten.

We were already using Kanban boards within our scrum teams but hadn’t created a master Kanban board for company-wide projects. We decided to create a leaders’ Kanban board so we could easily see everything, understand where each project was in process, and know at a glance if we had taken on too much.

2. We Set a Work in Progress Limit to Improve Follow Through

This is a key area where we went wrong initially. 

Because we hadn’t laid out all our new projects in a format we could easily digest at a glance (Kanban board), we hadn’t realized we were taking on way too many things at the same time.

We agreed to set a work-in-progress limit as a team and cap the number of initiatives in each category. By doing fewer things at once, we will be able to be more effective and make sure everything makes it to the “done” column.

3. We Created a Parking Lot for Great (Future) Ideas

We love ideas, and many of our ideas we deemed good and worth implementing. However, thanks to our work-in-progress limit, we knew many of our amazing ideas didn’t fit in our “to do” or “doing” categories without exceeding our WIP limit. 

In order to capture those great ideas without letting them become a distraction, we added a “parking lot” column on our Kanban board right before “to do.” 

Our parking lot is where we keep amazing ideas that we solemnly swear not to implement or even think about until enough of our current initiatives move to “done.” This really helps us learn to prioritize and not get distracted.

4. We Stopped Focusing on the Problems

We had gotten so good at optimizing and problem solving that it became overwhelming. In life and in business, we never run out of problems and things that can be improved. Sometimes it’s important to take a step back and appreciate that your business is not a problem to be solved.

I reminded the team of this. 

Our company is working. We have happy clients. We have a great business. 

When you get so focused on fixing problems, it’s easy to forget how much IS working.

Dan Sullivan really nails this idea in his book, “The Gap and the Gain.” 

Being in the gap is when you measure from where you are to your ideal. The ideal is always in the future and always moving and changing. When you measure this way, it can feel overwhelming and disheartening. In the gap, you feel like you will never arrive because since the goalpost keeps moving, you will, in fact, NEVER arrive.

The gain, on the other hand, is the distance between where you were in the past and where you are now. Gain thinking (similar to gratitude) allows you to appreciate just how far you have come. It’s a place of optimism and appreciation.

When we shifted our perspective from problem-solving to looking at how far we have come in the last 6 months, it eased our overwhelm and put us back into appreciation. The problems to solve felt less frantic and urgent.

5. We Leaned Into Trial and Error

I feel no regret that we got into this situation. 

I truly believe we needed to hit this place of realizing we had taken on too much in order to deepen our understanding of how to manage change and new initiatives more effectively.

You often don’t know where the line is until you find it. 

We didn’t know how many projects would feel like too many for us until we experienced it. Trial and error can feel messy, but it is such an effective tool to gather information and understand things more deeply than theory or hypotheticals could ever take you.

6. We Said “Yes And” to a Pivot

Being an effective leader requires you to be able to stay present and pivot. It’s a lot like improv. 

I came into this meeting with one idea of how it would go, and it became necessary to “yes and” our way to a totally new outcome.

Once I heard everyone’s concerns, I called a halt to all extra meetings. The collective sigh of relief was almost audible. 

We agreed to reconvene in two weeks with our new Kanban board and have an honest and open conversation about which special projects will need to go back to the parking lot (even if they are already in progress) so we can focus more effectively and finish what we start.

Focusing on fewer things can feel like a big ask (especially for a visionary entrepreneur who loves novelty), but it is absolutely the path to more ease and higher impact.

Blog Business and Leadership

The Dangerous Leadership Mistake You Might Be Making In Your Business (And How to Fix It With A Single Conversation)

I recently listened to a book called “Impact Players” by Liz Wiseman, and it was one of those books where I found myself enthusiastically nodding along during my walk.

“Finally!” I thought. “Someone who gets it! Someone who can put words to what so many entrepreneurs and business leaders have experienced.” 

In the past, I wasn’t sure how to articulate what caused one team member to excel with promotions and recognition, and another to seem to miss the mark despite working hard and being an intelligent person.

Impact players put words to how incredibly valuable it is as a business owner to have players who not only work hard but who can understand the bigger picture and work hard on the right things. People who don’t just grind away at the narrow task list within their original job description but have the wisdom to look up, find the important problems that need to be solved within the organization, and take them on. 

When I realized this book was a manual on getting a raise and a promotion, I asked my whole team to read it (on the clock).

One concept in particular in the book struck me. Its mirror image is something I have seen entrepreneurs demonstrate over and over again (to their detriment) regardless of industry or experience level. 

If you have had a team of 10 or more people for multiple years, you probably understand (more deeply than you’d like to) the phenomenon Wiseman refers to as the “quit and stay.” It’s one of the reasons that engagement, not retention, is the true measure of successful leadership (but that’s a whole different article).

Team members who quit and stay are simply going through the motions. They are mentally checked out, but because they fear change or lack the confidence to go for a new job they like more, they just stay. Maybe they don’t have the worst performance or attitude, but they never become an “impact player” because they simply aren’t engaged enough to bring creativity and innovation to their role. 

When I read about “quit and stay,” it resonated deeply. 

“Ugh, yes!” I thought. There was certainly a moment of judgment thinking back on the employees who had embodied this over the years. “I wish they would have just left!” I thought angrily. 

But then I took a step back. It’s very easy to judge others for avoiding the difficult conversations around a role not being a good fit, but they aren’t the only ones. 

I asked myself how this principle might apply to business owners, and I immediately saw the equivalent dysfunction. 

I am calling this mirrored behavior the “fire and keep.” As you can probably guess, this is the same as “quit and stay,” but on the business owner’s end. 

Before I go on, please indulge my Libra leanings and allow me to explicitly acknowledge the nuance here; This is NOT a black and white issue. 

When you have W2 employees, there is a lot of HR involvement in the decision to terminate employees, and even in an “at will” employment state, you often know someone is not a fit but still needs to go through the proper warnings and processes before letting them go (this is not always the case, and you should work with an HR professional… which I am not).

Nevertheless, I have seen dysfunctional  “fire and keep” scenarios play out many times, both within my own organization and with my fellow entrepreneurs. A business owner knows the person isn’t a fit, there are one or more deal breakers, but the issues don’t feel egregious enough to fire the person outright (or they fear confrontation), so they just carry on and hope they quit. 

A lot of this comes down to avoiding hard conversations. We are afraid to rock the boat, afraid to be seen as the “mean boss,” or just don’t trust ourselves enough. Delivering this type of feedback is not easy and takes real practice and determination. 

If you have a team member who has recurring issues (performance, mindset, etc.), you must ask yourself, “Have I made it crystal clear to them that there is a problem?”

Your mastermind group knows it, your spouse probably knows it, you know it, but do they? 

Have you been totally transparent with them about your concerns?

Often the person who most needs to hear this feedback (the employee in question) is the one kept in the dark. 

Hard conversations are HARD. And delivering transparent feedback (especially on more subjective topics like attitude) can feel threatening. 

But when you “fire and keep” an employee, you give up your power, harm your business, and rob the team member in question of crucial feedback they need for their personal and professional growth.

If you have a team, I challenge you to look at where you are avoiding a difficult conversation or maybe doing a full-on “fire and keep” because avoiding it feels easier. 

It’s scary to step into your power and face difficult conversations head-on, but I promise you it is ALWAYS worth it.