October 17, 2011 by pmilleredu
The 3 BIG Questions for a Frantic Family, or what we really need to be doing with our staffs and families alike.
I picked up Patrick Lencioni’s book “The 3 BIG Questions for a frantic Family” because I had thoroughly enjoyed his other books. His writing style makes his advice as memorable and enjoyable to read as it is indispensable. Lencioni presents his theories and models in the form of fables. These fables have characters that we can relate to and grow to care about. Lencioni is a business consultant and even though his models are constructed from the lens of a business I have found them very helpful for student affairs work. I was particularly interested to see how he takes the idea of organizational clarity and applies it to a family and how that would relate to a staff of RAs. I have to say that I was a bit nervous for my fiancé to see me reading a book about frantic families! Luckily, I read a wide variety of book and she did not think that I was accusing our family of being frantic (although at times we certainly are!)
Ultimately this book offers some amazing lessons for both families and for any staff, whether you identify as frantic or not. The idea behind answering the 3 BIG questions is that we lack clarity and focus in our organizations and by developing a rallying cry and some underlying objectives we can better make decisions that are cohesive with our core purpose. The 3 BIG questions simplify conversations about strategy, goals, core purpose etc so something that is more manageable to tackle and something that fits a group like a staff or a family.
The 3 BIG Questions adapted for use with a staff are:
1. What makes our staff unique?
a. What will we do that differentiate us from others? Is it our student population that we work with? Our location on campus? Is it our focus on something particular? The purpose of this is not to compare ourselves to other staffs, but to identify what makes us unique. Without knowing what makes us unique then we will try to be all things all the time.
2. What is our top priority or “rallying cry” right now?
a. What priority do we need to focus on this semester? In other words, by the end of this semester or 6 weeks, what one thing we will need to have accomplished to feel successful?
b. The difficult thing here is just chose one main focus. People tend to include more and more priorities until everything is a priority. When everything is a priority, then nothing is. Choose the single most important focus and then flush it out. Sometimes what we think of are priorities are really goals that have a common theme that is our priority. Think of something that is more of a semester-wide focus that has sub-tasks that need to be complete to accomplish the priority.
c. With a rallying cry, you want it to speak to you and be exciting. No one is excited or rallied by “teaching residents to find their own answers on campus” but they are by “providing an experience that enables residents to be self-sufficient”. Make it exciting and something you can stick with.
d. Underneath the top-priority or rallying cry are Defining Objectives and Standard Objectives.
i. Defining objectives: These are the basic areas you will need to address to accomplish your rallying cry. For example if your rallying cry is ‘To engage residents in meaningful talent based activities.’ Some defining objectives could be ‘develop tactics to identify talents’, ‘compile list of opportunities’, ‘simplify the process for funding student initiatives’, etc. Basically this is breaking your rallying cry down into more actionable steps.
ii. Standard Objectives: These are the basic categories of ongoing responsibilities that you must attend to. These may include ‘resident follow ups’, ‘staff cohesiveness’, ‘student leader support’, ‘ongoing staff development’, etc. Having these listed helps to keep in mind those basic categories of important daily duties. The key here is list categories and not every single task.
3. How do you talk about and use the answers to these questions?
a. Schedule regular times (like weekly staff meetings) to quickly go over the priorities and objectives. This should be quick and just include a basic judgment of where you are at with accomplishing them. Lencioni suggests using colors: red (needs great improvement), yellow (going OK and could use improvement), green (doing very well in this area).
b. The purpose here is cohesion of understanding the priorities and where to go from there. So again do not spend a long time on each of these in a staff meeting or it becomes easy to skip over this part, especially if there is a lot to cover in that meeting. Keeping it to 10 minutes each week will help more than covering it for 30 minutes every once in a while.
Answering these three questions will bring clarity to your staff if you stick with it. If you choose to use this, don’t try it and then just file it away. Nothing really helps us from the back of a cabinet. I plan on using this with my staff and at home. By breaking down strategy and organizational clarity into three questions, it makes it a manageable task without going on an all-day retreat or drastically changing what we do, just focusing our energy and giving everyone a common understanding of what we are here to do.
Lencioni suggests that this go up in a common space, like a staff office too so it is a clear and visible reminder.
The main take-a-ways for me are:
1. 1. Organizational clarity & strategic thinking is easy and understandable, or at least will be if you use the 3 BIG questions.
2. 2. In terms of a rallying cry “what’s more important than choosing the right thing is choosing something” (Lencioni pg 71)
3. 3. We could all use more fables in our presentations. Telling a story with characters is far more engaging and memorable than presenting bullet lists. I still remember the models and theories from all of Patrick Lencioni’s books. He creates engaging stories to frame his model in a way that we relate to them.
For more information on model presented in Lencioni’s book (including two examples of its use by real families) see the included pdf from www.thefrantifamily.com or read the book. It is a quick and enjoyable read. http://www.amazon.com/Three-Big-Questions-Frantic-Family/dp/0787995320
Thanks for reading,