Thinking in Threes Forces Focused Goals, Metrics

    Keeping things simple helps your team stay focused. This seems like it should be easy enough, but as billionaire investor Warren Buffett says, “There seems to be some perverse human characteristic that likes to make easy things difficult.”

    We do, in fact, live in a complex world of advancing technology, global competition, brand abundance, unprecedented variety of sales and distribution channels, and blossoming new work arrangements and organizational structures.

    Think in Threes
    In a complex world, we need straightforward methods to help us simplify; complicated processes only create more complexity and compound the problem.

    Thinking in threes is a technique we have been using for years. It is a powerful way to simplify organizational thinking. As a by-product, it also forces prioritization and focus, and the resulting clarity trickles down into the organization.

    For example, we routinely ask clients to reduce their strategies from perhaps six to three, or to consolidate their values from twelve to three, or to select the three most important business metrics from their laundry list of twenty. No doubt, it’s a struggle. But we have successfully used this technique countless times to help clients simplify their values, measures, strategies, action plans, and message points.

    Truth be told, ending up with precisely three items is less important than the clarity this process creates. For instance, when we encouraged a client to identify just three core values instead of its list of twelve (that no one could remember let alone apply), the client settled on four values. It wasn’t necessary to eliminate one more to get down to three values. The benefit was realized – clear articulation of the core values that virtually everyone in the organization now remembers and lives by.

    Thinking in threes forces us to create simple, memorable, focused frameworks for our plans, our values, and our metrics.

    Threes also factor into things that you should stop doing. Stop-doing lists tend to cluster into three main areas: e-mail, reports, and meetings. Here is a list of the most common things they choose to stop:

    • Stop continuing e-mail strings of more than three replies by picking up the phone or walking down the hall to talk to the other party.
    • Stop audible e-mail alerts to prevent from constantly reacting to incoming e-mails.
    • Stop using “Reply All” with e-mail.
    • Stop asking for reports that I do not use to make decisions and improvements.
    • Stop requesting reports that I do not review or do not use to make decisions/changes.
    • Stop allowing upward delegation by asking, “What do you recommend?”
    • Stop holding “meetings after the meetings.”
    • Stop leaving most important items for last.
    • Stop scheduling meetings back-to-back each hour and instead schedule them for 45 minutes.

    Lee J. Colan, Ph.D. is co-founder of The L Group, Inc., a Dallas, Texas-based consulting firm. Lee’s passion for serving leaders enables him to deliver cut-through-the-clutter tools that elevate leaders and their teams. He can be reached at