Power Question: “What’s the Next Action?”

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A CEO recently contacted me to learn more about our strategy execution system.  Early in the conversation, I realized that he was actually looking for a system to manage his own time, projects, and work flow.  Of course, the disciplines of our strategy execution process are as applicable to individuals as they are to organizations: long-term, quarterly, weekly, and daily priorities.  (Read more about setting daily priorities.)  Having established that, I recommended this CEO read Getting Things Done by David Allen. 

If you’re not familiar with this book, read it.  Allen lays out a 5-stage system for managing workflow.  I have clients who have used this book to completely change the information storage systems throughout their organizations with great results. 

In addition to that system, Allen drills the importance of the phrase, “What’s the next action?”  I have found this to be a powerful question for driving clarity in strategic conversations with executive teams.  Allen writes:

“I am frequently asked to facilitate meetings.  I’ve learned the hard way that no matter where we are in the conversation, twenty minutes before the agreed end-time of the discussion I must force the question: “So what’s the next action here?”  In my experience, there is usually twenty minutes’ worth of clarifying (and sometimes tough decisions) still required to come up with an answer.”

As you work with your team, ask two questions: (1) Is there a decision to come out of this conversation? and (2) What’s the next action?  My own experience confirms that of David Allen; there is at least twenty minutes worth of conversation yet to take place.

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