How to achieve outstanding results – on time, every time

Tony Blair’s autobiography was a dull read. Then, suddenly, as he was detailing the process he drove to bring peace to Northern Ireland (pretty cool), he shared a tip so powerful that I immediately stole it, and now use every day to help myself, our businesses and people, achieve more.

Actually, I learnt a lot from Tony Blair’s autobiography, but only realised its impact some time after I finished it. For example, the power of taking breaks from the office with senior colleagues, of getting away from the pressure cooker, and calming things down so as to talk deeply and resolve – calmly – complex issues. At STW, CEO Mike, CFO Lukas and I call these our ‘Fresh Air Sessions’.

But it was the technique he used to drive complex negotiations around the Northern Ireland peace process that was his most valuable insight. It’s vital for business success, and to create sustainable momentum. Here it is:

Always set deadlines – there is huge power in deadlines

Wait!!!! Please, don’t stop reading. I know it sounds so simple. Let’s agree – please – you’ll keep reading for 90 more seconds. Then, if bored, stop. Stay and think about this concept a little longer.

There is big power in setting deadlines. (I just agreed one with you… 90 seconds, right!). By putting a flag in the ground and getting commitment from all involved that “by [date], we will have taken the first five steps in our action plan”. Or “Let’s meet again on the [date] and confirm that we have achieved a, b, and c”.

I live now by deadlines. I set them for myself. I set them for our leadership team. I set them around almost everything we do.

When we need to make fast progress against a pressing issue, we create a 30 Day Plan, and meet every 10 days to update on progress, and then regroup on Day 30 to assess whether we achieved our goals. Sometimes it’s a 10 Day Plan, or a 100 Day Plan. With agreed outcomes, actions, responsibilities and ‘check in’ dates. Sometimes it’s simply “10am Tuesday” Or… “Let’s regroup in three hours and see what progress each of us has made…”

There is nowhere to hide. No escape.

To achieve real momentum, we have to put ourselves under pressure. And agreed deadlines are a sure-fire way to do just that: they give us a clear timetable, clarity, sense of urgency and, importantly, accountability.

One of the most valued complements I ever received was from Chris Thomson, our former CFO and a highly driven, energetic change agent and disruptor, who said to me after we’d worked together a year: “You are pretty damned good at delivery – at getting done what we’ve agreed will get done, and in the time-frames agreed.” Now, I am NOT blowing hot air up my own backside here (though will give that a try sometime soon). The point of telling you this is that Chris was absolutely right. I am ‘good at delivery’. Now, I never do it alone. It’s always a much broader team effort. But at the core of the delivery DNA is setting deadlines… and policing them like crazy.

Before you know it, the job’s done, and on to the next challenge.

Try setting deadlines for the next 30 days. I bet you never stop doing it!


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