I was having a beer with my son and his father-in-law, Ken, and talking about airplanes. Ken was discussing the massive buildup of equipment that Americans had to undertake as one of the critical issues to win World War II. He was a kid then and later served in the military so saw this firsthand.
I spent numerous years flying myself for business and then spent the weekends flying with my kids and going to airshows. My son, Danny, was a Marine and is a military history buff, so Ken, Danny and I had a pretty lively conversation about flying. We ended up talking about the B-24, also known as the Liberator, pictured above.
One fact that awed us all was that workers in Willow Run, a facility outside of Detroit, could assemble a B-24 every 63 minutes, 24/7! This has to be one of the greatest manufacturing success stories in history.
You hear of people doing superhuman feats when there’s literally or figuratively a gun to their head. In this case, there was a gun to the collective heads of all Americans, and the men and women (this was the era of Rosie the Riveter!) came through.
Organizations and individuals can only endure so much stress before they break, but they can produce extraordinary results for brief periods with a gun to their heads.
My experience is that you can, as a leader, periodically ask extraordinary things of your team. In fact, I believe this makes an organization stronger. The CrossFit® exercise program proved that constantly varied, functional movements done at high intensity can lead to great fitness. But the intense actions are for brief periods.
If you, as a leader, push your people to their limit over a long period, they’ll burn out. But if you don’t challenge them, you have a bunch of corporate couch potatoes. Think about how you can chunk your work so that your team performs intensely for periods of time but also has recovery phases.
Much like athletes need to peak for certain events to focus their training, your team members must have clear and compelling objectives to shoot for so that they can commit to (not just comply with!) the intensity required to meet those goals.
Here’s something to chew on: If you graphed the intensity of work that you have asked your organization to do over the past year, what would it look like?
As you start planning for next year, consider what your objectives are, what the compelling stories are to develop commitment, and then add an “intensity periodization” component to your monthly and quarterly plans. You’ll develop a more fit organization and get more done. If a B-24 can be built in 63 minutes, imagine what you can do in 12 months with the right plans and intensity!