What Organizations Must Do, Could Do and Should Do to Succeed

What Organizations Must, Could and Should Do to Succeed

If you’ve been reading my blogsthen you know I like to lay things out in threes. According to a business professor I once had, three is a magic number. When three people have a vote, there are no ties; small, medium, large; risky, neutral, safe. Threes just work.

Coincidentally, this is my third blog aimed at helping you create a better business plan. To review, I hopped up on my soapbox for a lesson on creating measurements, continued on with getting engagement from everyone on your staff, and we’ll finish with how to build teams, enlist contractors and tap resources to get things done.

It all starts with three simple questions:

  • What must we do?
  • What could we do?
  • What should we do?

1. Determine what must be done.

In working with corporations and businesses of literally every shape and size, it has always amazed me how difficult it is for companies to complete this exercise. Maybe it’s an organizational Attention Deficit Disorder thing, but executives like to get past the basics and start dreaming. That will come, but it can’t before we know what things must be accomplished to keep the organization running. Your must do’s are the minimum criticals, the things you simply have to do to exist. Identify the tasks. List them out and assign owners. Make sure these things get done. And by “things,” that means the mundane things (like cleaning kennels a certain way, ascribing to a filing nomenclature) as well as the exciting things (like conducting adoption events or funding drives). It’s important to spend sufficient time on this exercise — don’t move on before you are done. Organizations fail when the must do’s aren’t completed.

2. Dream what could be done.

This one is fun, and that’s why many organizations leave the must do’s early to get to this one. You’ve hired people you trust to do their jobs. As they’ve done them, they’ve probably thought of ways to do their jobs better. They are experts. The people that clean kennels probably have ideas on how to make that more efficient; the people who file things probably have ideas on better nomenclature. If you believe you’ve hired good people, help them be better and let them contribute their ideas to make things really run. Sometimes your best people are the ones staring out the window. As long as they’ve completed the must do before they get to the could do, give them the freedom to harness change.

3. Commit to what should be done.

This is the most common breaking point, where someone has to put a stake in the ground and make a recommendation. Recommendations can be risky, but they are necessary to move any organization forward. A fully vetted recommendation earns approval and quickly becomes a commitment to do something in a new way — a better way. Routines are comfortable and change is hard, but doing things smarter and better makes the organization smarter and better. That’s the goal.

Problems arise quickly when an organization does not have a good balance of must do, could do and should do people. Organizations overly focused on the must do’s are factories: They are efficient at cranking things out but they get passed by eventually. Organizations that take a shortcut to get to the could do exercise leave important tasks undone and will cause a collapse. And organizations void of the courage to make decisions, create change and adjust are doomed to stagnation.

 Must do, could do, should do. Pick one and you’ll fall. Do all three and you’ll fly.


Tom Tholen

Tom Tholen is SAWA's Senior Vice President of Marketing & Development. The SAWA member has served as President of Companion Channel, a cloud-based digital screen media service that streamed into partner shelters. Tom is perhaps best known in the animal welfare industry as the former President & Chief Marketing Officer for Callahan Creek, which was the agency of record for Hill’s in the early days of their shelter program. Over the years, he has worked for several agencies, as well as major corporations including Hallmark, Sprint and General Electric. A Colorado native, Tom received his BS in Journalism from the University of Colorado at Boulder, and he lives with his family in the Kansas City area.


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