In today’s digital era, speed and innovation aren’t just a requirement for companies who want to keep up. As individuals, we have to be nimble, focused, open-minded, and quick learners in order to navigate the rapid change we’re experiencing.

Emissary VIP Kristie Wilson knows a thing or two about innovation, both personally and professionally. As a former Senior Director of IT Strategy at Walmart, she’s seen first-hand how agility and adaptability are essential qualities in any thriving organization. And, as an executive coach, she knows what it takes to transform a good leader into a great leader.

Recently, she shared her guidance for personal performance in the digital age with us. Whether you’re an enterprise seller looking to up your game, a leading IT executive managing thousands, or just getting started in your career, Kristie’s guidance is clear, actionable, and practical, and we’re confident you’ll come away with a larger toolbox for success this year.

Building an Engine of Peak Performance

Acting with speed and innovation isn’t just a requirement for companies who want to thrive in today’s digital era. Cultivating these qualities can also help individuals differentiate themselves, propelling professional growth while creating measurable results for their employers.

Clarity as Foundation

Start by getting clear on what is most important. This enables you to make faster decisions, and allows both individuals and organizations to separate the wheat from the chaff. Allow efforts that will waste time to end up in the throw-away pile, and get clear in which opportunities hold the most promise

Clarity also refines your focus. When you’re certain about where your energy is being spent, you prioritize more readily, and you are able to clear your mind of the projects that can wait until later.

Finally, clarity guards against innovation for innovation’s sake – creating something which doesn’t actually have the potential to differentiate. In the digital age, the demands on our time seem endless, and we don’t have time to waste on approaches or actions that won’t meet the needs of our goals. Apply this to your professional life and the same is true: we won’t meet the needs of our customers or our leaders.

Fostering Clarity

How do you go about creating an effective personal practice of clarity? Simple. Start with self-assessment.

  1. Set aside time every 90 days to assess your overall performance. When you observe how you’re “showing up”, it’s like watching game film of your work – be objective. This will empower you to act on what is critical, identify blockages, and acknowledge your strengths.
  2. Avoid jumping into extremes of “zero” or “hero” thinking. In other words, be careful not to be too harsh with yourself, or too self-aggrandizing. You want a balance of constructive insight and awareness of what’s working.
  3. Deepen your self-awareness. Tools like meditation are powerful for self-assessment without judgment. Even just five minutes per day can slow the mental treadmill and create more space for objective awareness.

Move to assessment of your environment. The world around us is constantly changing, and their is a constantly evolving need for new skills. Identify opportunities to alter or add to your role based on organizational changes – you may discover new ways to contribute, increasing your value and self-worth.

Finally, assess your vision. What’s your big picture? What do you want to achieve, and more importantly, why?

Your vision doesn’t have to be complex or even finite – it will likely evolve – it just needs to keep you pointed in the right direction. Go beyond where you’d like to be in a year, and consider what you’d like to be known for. This will inform your self-assessment, and your assessment of the opportunities around you.

Using Speed Rather than Resisting it to Drive Results

As the speed of change around us increases, it can seem as though opportunities come and go in an instant. Staying open and adapting quickly ensures that you will be able to identify the right opportunities to pounce on. With clarity, determining the right opportunities becomes easier – if you know your overall direction you simply need to align your choices accordingly.

Constant activity with no growth is like a black hole for productivity – accomplishing what feels like a lot but in actuality is very little. If you can get clear on your endgame, motivations, and desired focus, you will take a mountain of to-dos down to a manageable mole hill, which you can address individually. Which leads into the next point.

Maintain a Narrow Focus

Avoid doing so much in parallel. Research has shown that working on multiple tasks concurrently takes twice as long and has more errors. Create space for your mind to rest, and disallow constant distraction while you’re focused on a particular project.

Limit your priorities to 1-2 over 90-day cycles. Sound crazy? Take a look at the visual below, which offers a glimpse into the quality of work using a narrow focus versus juggling multiple priorities. In this example, each task requires four days of focus.

You’ll notice that as more opportunities present themselves, less is accomplished. Using a typical multi-focus approach over four weeks yields completion of two projects (C & D). And yes, there are more projects included here, but less is completed.

Narrowing your focus creates space for smarter work. Over the same four-week period, this individual could have completed five projects by tuning out the noise and bringing each to completion. They could then move on to projects F and G without the distraction of projects A-E still on the mind.

Additionally, identify the most important work to accomplish that will actually bring fruition to your goals. We waste precious hours on low-value work, which dilutes our focus and diminishes our return on the time we’ve invested – I’ve seen this for both entrepreneurs and executives. Remember Pareto’s Principle: 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes. Prioritize the vital few on your agenda to create the greatest return.

Embrace Mistakes as Part of Your Journey

We’ve all been told that “failing fast” is the best way to innovate, and eventually make the big time, but often we misunderstand the meaning behind the phrase. It can strike some as a rallying call for failure, rather than an empowering permission-granted for taking risk.

To celebrate failing fast is to acknowledge that missteps will occur – it’s a necessary element to growth and innovation. Success comes from maximizing mistakes, and learning from them wherever they happen.

Additional tips:

  • Leverage curiosity to solve problems. Use the words, “What if?” as often as you can. Instead of saying, “I’m not disciplined.”, try: “What if I became more disciplined? What would have to change?” Or, instead of “I’m stuck at an impasse”, ask yourself, “What shifts can I make to unblock the flow?” Approach each problem as an objective scientist, not as the frequent self-imposed habit police we’ve all encountered.
  • Break work into small, one to two-week segments, and make space for feedback on those segments, either for yourself or from others.
  • Become more innovative on a personal level – expose yourself to new ideas, read books that challenge you, experiment with new skills. This will increase your innovative capacity professionally as well.

Questions to Spur Growth

When working with her executive coaching clients, Kristie offers 90-day assessments using the following questions. Take a look and see if any are relevant to you.

Periodic Questions (Every 90 days)

  • How would you rate how well the services you provide capture the imagination of Customers or Business Partners?  (Are they excited to work with you?)
  • How would you rate your coordination with other teams to deliver on company or organizational strategies? (Do you work smoothly with others to achieve company strategies, or do you prioritize your priorities above all else?  Do competing priorities and misunderstandings keep you from collaborating with other teams?)
  • How would you rate the diversity of your existing network?  (Does your network include mainly those you work with who also mainly know each other as well or does it include unique ties?  Does your existing network supply you with diverse ideas, unique perspectives which aid in decision making and strategy creation?)
  • How is the Company’s ideal Customer/Client changing and what impacts might that have on you? (Ways of working, Job Skills, Processes, etc.)
  • How would you rate your Personal Brand? (Is your brand clear and based on your natural strengths and/or expertise?  Is your reputation something you want to be known for?)
  • How would you rate your openness to candid feedback?  (Do you listen closely to feedback and ask clarifying questions without making excuses, interrupting and explaining away behavior?  Are you able to accept feedback factually without excessive self-judgement or criticism?)
  • How would you rate your Ability to breakdown a goal/project into manageable chunks? (Do you map out your projects so you know exactly what will happen in the next 2 weeks, to move the project forward? Or do you just get to work, and ‘hope’ things get done and the business grows/improves?)

Frequent Questions (Daily, Weekly or Bi-Weekly)

  • What is your number one priority that will make progress on your goals you’d like to accomplish this week?
  • What are the 20% of activities or projects which will create 80% of the value and do you have time blocked to complete them?
  • What is smallest chunk of work you could deliver in the next 1-2 weeks that will either start creating value or provide you with feedback?
  • What were your wins in the last 1-2 weeks?  What worked well? What positive feedback did you receive?
    What do you want to continue doing or do more of?
  • What are your lessons learned over the past two weeks and are there any concrete actions you want to take based on those learnings?
  • What do you want to stop doing or do less of?
  • Are there any small adjustments to your products and services which can be made in the next Sprint based on feedback?

The Takeaway

Leadership in the fast-paced world we occupy is challenging, and exhilarating. By employing these strategies you will find yourself innovative, adaptable, and productive in new and satisfying ways, allowing you to thrive in the digital era.