There’s an old saying about “how do you eat an elephant?” The answer unquestionably is “one mouthful at a time”.

In my coaching practice, I am often meeting senior executives who have been parachuted in to organisations specifically to make change happen. Regardless of organisation size or type, they almost always reach the point where they are faced by the corporate elephant. A mass of problems so big it is hard to know where to start.

The risk is that in trying to tackle everything, you achieve nothing. Consequently you become frustrated and put yourself in danger of being viewed as a failure.

The scale of the challenge can be daunting

So instead of trying to swallow the elephant whole, you have to break it down into bitesize chunks. And that means prioritising.

I am a great fan of the concept of “must win battles”. Those key levers that move the dial, build confidence and remove barriers to further change. The challenge is identifying those and concentrating on them.

Deliberate neglect

I introduce almost every individual I coach to the concept of a deliberate neglect list. Basically it is a list of things you know need to be done but which you have to acknowledge can’t be tackled now. You just don’t have the bandwidth, resources or support to do them immediately.

The key is that your deliberate neglect list isn’t a drawer, tray or folder where things get hidden away until later. By contrast, it is a very public statement of “I’m choosing not to do this”.

Your deliberate neglect list is regularly shared with your boss and your stakeholders. You invite them to comment and challenge. Ensuring everyone is explicitly aware of what you aren’t doing and why.

Must win battles

Strip out the deliberate neglect list and your agenda will be significantly reduced. What’s left should be your must win battles. That’s where your energy needs to be focused.

My typical advice to newly appointed change leaders is that their must win battleground needs to be drawn up within their first hundred days. CEOs and Boards are typically impatient for things to happen and you therefore have to feed that appetite.

Regular communication with key stakeholders to manage expectation is vital. As are “quick wins”.

Easing the pain

Quick wins earn you the right to make bolder and more radical suggestions later. They prove you can significantly ease day-to-day operational pain and establish you can make a difference quickly.

Those quick wins also give you a great learning opportunity. A chance to “lift the floorboards” and see what is going on under the surface. You’ll also get a better grip on the competencies of the people around you. Including working out who is on the bus for the journey ahead.

Don’t be a plate spinner

The risk, when faced with a big agenda, is trying to spin to many plates simultaneously. You find yourself dashing between the poles burning up energy spinning plate after plate. Lots of activity with few meaningful outcomes.

The temptation, particulary early on, is to try and please everyone. It is usually impossible. A key skill is managing those you can’t help immediately. You can’t eat an elephant at one sitting.

There’s only so many battles you can fight…

History tells us that people who try and fight on too many fronts at once rarely succeed. They run out of resources and time. Better to focus on just a few things and execute them brilliantly well. Or, in other words, eat an elephant one mouthful at a time.

A great coach can help you identify your must win battles. And develop the skills to manage multiple stakeholders. To find out more about Chiumento’s coaching offer visit our website.