All processes have a distribution curve that follows the arcing line of a standard bell curve: it starts off low on one end, reaches a high point in the middle, and then ends in another low point. The middle of the line is your median point (where most of the outcomes lay); those end points are what we might call the tails of distribution.
Now think about how that curve might apply to how you manage your business. It's been my experience that most leaders and managers focus on that middle of the bell curve where the bulk of the business operates. But that actually isn't the most optimal use of your time. The middle of the curve is the place for robust processes, standard operating procedures, and IT. Rather, the best leaders understand that they can achieve a greater impact on the business by focusing on those tails of distribution.
Let me explain.
On one hand, you have the low end of the distribution: you can think of this as the random outcomes and issues that are negative or even have a chance to sink your company. These are things that pop up over time that are several standard deviations away from the median activity of the business. But as a leader, it can be incredibly valuable to invest your time working on these issues because it allows you to mitigate the potential risk to the business.
For example, we work with a software firm that has one significant partner that helps distribute and resell their product. This relationship has nothing to do with the company's activity in terms of creating software. But, if this relationship were to disappear somehow, the company would be gone because they would lose access to their distribution channel. That's why the CEO of the software company spends a great deal of time cultivating the relationship with the reseller; he doesn't take anything for granted given what the stakes to his own business is. At the same time, the CEO could also invest his time in contingency planning where he could find alternative resellers to work with in the future if that need ever came about.
Again, these aren't activities related to the day-to-day performance of the business. Rather, this is about mitigating the kinds of below the waterline risks that could face the business in the future.
If we move to the other end of the curve, we find the kinds of upside issues and activities that could be merely positive or possibly game-changers to a business. By investing time on this tail of distribution, a leader might tap into new opportunities for growth or investment that could completely change the dynamics for the business as a whole.
As an example, we work with a company that helps manage multi-unit apartment buildings. They have a dominant position with just a few competitors. But one of those competitors recently became available for purchase. The CEO understood that acquiring this competitor could have a profound ripple effect on his company that would both double its size, improve profits, and deliver an amazing impact to the overall value of his firm--all thanks to a single transaction. As a result, he invested the bulk of his time on this one-off activity because he understood how important it was for his business for the acquisition to be completed. Clearly, this was a far end of the distribution event, a company like this hadn't been available for years and likely wouldn't for many more years.
So, when you think about how you go about investing your time in the business, look beyond simply managing the middle. That's a task you can leave to others inside you organization, especially the B players who excel at managing routines and keeping the train running. As a leader or A player, your time is too valuable for the middle: you need to look at the kind of long-term impact you can have by working on the tails of the distribution. That's how you'll get the most bang for every minute you invest of your time.