Why you and your team should remember to eat ‘elephant sandwiches’

All good things come in 3’s are there are 3 ingredients of business success – a clear VISION – a practical PLAN – and strong DESIRE.

Collabor8 3_ingredients_of_success


DESIRE is all about implementation of your PLAN to achieve your business VISION. As outlined in a previous blog, it is the ‘desire (of the business owner and their team) to implement’ that is actually the most important ingredient of success.

However, your desire to implement is not just down to sheer willpower – its also about having the desire to instill a practical, and workable (long term) strategic approach into your team.

The ‘Strategic Plan’ that you are implementing is likely to ‘something big’ – something that is going to take time – something that is not going to be implemented in the short term (like an afternoon, a day, a week, or even a month).

Essentially what we are talking about is educating your people about the difference between short term and long term strategic implementation.

Most of your team will basically ‘live in the short term’. Typically they will be relatively comfortable with their ‘to do lists’ and making things happen on a day to day, or week to week basis. That is good – and it is vitally important for your short term prosperity that they are able to drive towards short term goals (like weekly or monthly sales targets etc.).

However, too many teams ONLY ‘live in the short term’. They are so focused on achieving their short term targets that they NEVER think about ‘long term implementation’. Definition of insanity – if you always do the same thing (e.g. only focus on the short term) – why would you imagine that things will ever change (e.g. suddenly also focus on the long term)?

The problem is that – by definition – achieving a long term vision means getting to a place somewhere in the future (maybe 3 years away). The further problem is that the ‘Strategic Plan’ to achieve that Vision will probably be quite complex ( and not something that can be fixed short term).

If you look at the Action Plan quadrant below – you will see that there are broadly 4 types of business actions:

Collabor8 structure_action_plan

- Bottom right is the type of action to avoid – its high EFFORT and low VALUE. Its like ‘breaking rocks in the chain gang’.

- Bottom left is typical short term actions – relatively low EFFORT and low (strategic) VALUE. Its action orientated – but ‘out of small acorns ….etc’. These type of actions are also good because they create a feeling of momentum (‘things are happening’).

- Top left is potentially great – low (planning) EFFORT and high VALUE. Its like ‘panning for gold’ – and you may ‘strike lucky’. However, its most often hard to plan to make these ‘lucky strikes’ happen.

- Top right is probably where your long term planning sits – high EFFORT andhigh VALUE. Its like ‘drilling for oil’. The long term rewards can be huge – but it just doesn’t happen without a lot of pre-planning and sustained effort.

This is where your team need to be educated to ‘eat elephant sandwiches’.

Collabor8 One_Page_Plan

‘Elephant tasks’ are those (long term planning type) actions which are too big to be completed within (say) a month. Think about eating turkeys at Thanksgiving – they are too big to be consumed in just one sitting (so over a few days you have turkey soup and turkey sandwiches). Business (long term planning) issues typically need to be consumed over several months. As a team it is good to get used to regularly ‘sitting down and eating elephant sandwiches’ (as in the illustration above) – and so consume the (business strategic) ‘elephant’.

The ‘trick’ for the owner is to give some direction as to how much time their team NEEDS to allocate to the short term (typically at least 90% of a management  team week) and how much time they WANT to allocate to the long term (so in this case 10% becomes the available time). If (say) a manager works a 40 hour week – then 10% of their time obviously equates to 4 hours a week.

If we assume that (in a hypothetical case) the plan realistically needs (say) 100 hours of effort dedicating to it – then (assuming simplistically that this is a task for only one person) – that manager will take 25 weeks (about 6 months) to ‘consume the elephant’ – whilst also (critically) keeping all the – business as usual – short term goals on track.

In my experience, business owners rarely provide such basic short term/long term % guidelines to their team (nor do they even think to do so). They then wonder why their strategic plans fizzle out and are not implemented!

My general advice to business owners and their teams is to try and build solid ‘habits’ around when the team eat their ‘elephant sandwiches’ (e.g. always on a Wednesday afternoon). That way they can begin to build some consistency – it becomes more obvious when they are breaking the habit – and other team members can more easily work with/around their colleagues long term strategic implementation habits.

So, if you are trying to educate your team and drive long term strategic change – remember the importance of ‘eating elephant sandwiches’!


For more information, contact Paul Latham.