Lab Manager Academy: Don't Just Do Something S.I.T. There!

Success ultimately depends on the “something” that we do, not a flurry of misguided activity.

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Counter-Intuitive Approach to "Getting Busy"

“Don’t just sit there, do something!”

You’ve probably heard this phrase uttered (i.e. screamed) from frustrated lab managers to their employees. It is usually followed by a sincere, yet pathetically feeble, attempt to look busy while pretending that “doing something” will help. Yet, success ultimately depends on the “something” that we do, not a flurry of misguided activity.

With today’s grim economic realities, most people and companies are running scared, frantically “doing something” without strategic, thoughtful, calculated evaluations of their plans and actions.

Certainly, I believe this IS the time for Massive Action for lab managers.

However, I’m advocating a counterintuitive approach to your natural tendency to “get busy”. Massive Action is great, but WHAT you do is more important than WHEN you do it.

My contrarian mantra is: Don’t just DO something, S.I.T. there! S.I.T. is my 3-step plan for Massive Action:

1. Strategize

The first step involves digging down to the core issues and getting clarity about WHY and WHAT you want to do. The key is to become (or hire) a “strategic questioner”— someone who knows how to craft provocative questions that get past your clichéridden, top-of-mind, cookie cutter answers. Great strategy comes from being clear about the results you seek, the trends and technologies that will affect them, and the resources needed to produce a successful outcome. Many companies are sticking their heads in the sand, hoping CHANGE will go away. It won’t. In fact, it’s coming FASTER than ever. Look how fast the banking, music, and real estate industries have changed. What’s next? … Your lab!

2. Innovate

Make a list of every area of your lab and the processes you can innovate (i.e. research, techniques, equipment, vendors, relationships, etc.). Set up a lab-wide “TeamStorming™” event to harvest stakeholder ideas. Ask your team to review the list and share ideas about:

  1. Stupidest things we’re doing and why?
  2. How can we save time/money?
  3. How can we make money?

Be prepared for their honest feedback. You’re looking for both micro (incremental) and macro (revolutionary) ideas, some of which can be acted on immediately, and some of which will take more time. Think about your idea evaluation process (who, how, criteria, budget, communication plan, etc.). Think about the pros/ cons of anonymity, incentives for best ideas, transparency, etc. Categorize and combine the ideas, eliminate duplicates, and then select the top 1 to 3 ideas within each area. Then assemble cross-functional teams to flesh out each idea and develop a plan.

3. Take Action

In today’s high velocity world, we can’t wait forever to make the perfect decision. The days of 5-year strategic plans are long gone, replaced by a rapid evolutionary process. Once you are clear about your ultimate goals, you must take massive action, knowing you’ll make mistakes along the way. The process of testing, risking, failing, evaluating, and continually improving is the new norm for strategic action. Just be sure you know WHY you are doing what you’re doing and what the BENEFITS are for your stakeholders.

“Don’t just do something, S.I.T. there!”

John Storm helps people get unstuck and is the Innovation Strategist for Brain- Storm Network. For a free copy of his High Stakes Innovation magazine, send email to: Lab@BrainStormNetwork.com.

If you missed John Storm’s Lab Manager Academy webinar “Innovation for Results - The Tools and Techniques of Creative Problem Solving”, originally broadcast on Wednesday November 3, 2010, visit www.labmanager.com/problemsolving to watch the archived video.

Published In

Career Building Magazine Issue Cover
Career Building

Published: October 1, 2010

Cover Story

Career Building

While technical ability is essential to becoming a successful laboratory manager, it is not sufficient. Many outstanding scientists or engineers have failed as lab managers. It takes more than just technical ability. What is this more that outstanding lab managers have?