Why Circles of Control Should Be Part of Your Strategy


Siimon Reynolds’ business philosophy sounds simple enough: “In tough times, I think — get back to process, get back to performing well, and then the rest will take care of itself.” His process includes tapping into circles of control, visual triggers, and the Jeff Bezos decision-​making system. Reynolds explained how to use these techniques in a recent Manage Smarter podcast episode.

Circles of Control

The pandemic has resulted in two broad reactions from business leaders and team members. Some people are either tremendously fearful of what might happen next, and they don’t make any changes. They simply hope things will get better. Other people pivot and start to work harder.

To work toward a successful outcome might still seem overwhelming.  Reynolds suggests separating problems into two circles. The items in one circle represent factors you can’t control. The economy is an example of this kind of problem. The factors you can control belong in the other circle. Your attitude belongs in this circle.

From there, you can build a list of tasks to focus on. For example, you can set a goal to increase sales by a specific percentage. And then you’ll spend your time on the activities to help you achieve that goal. One stumbling block for many people is deciding on the right activities. In this pandemic, we’ve learned that we can no longer set in-​person meetings with clients. We need to shift focus to email outreach and video calls.

Another aspect of business success many of us know is that 20% of our activity leads to 80% of our positive results. Richard Koch wrote on this topic in his ‘80/​20 Principle’ book, and sales leaders have been paying attention ever since it was published. Reynolds drilled down into the book and told us Koch’s bottom line. It turns out that about 4% of your activity generates 64% of your results. Wouldn’t you want to change what you do on a daily basis to focus on those all-​important top activities?

One way to make that change is to strive to be in the top 10% of everything you do professionally. Getting to be the best person or company in an industry can be nearly impossible to achieve. And once you’re there, everyone is gunning for you. You’ll spend all kinds of time trying to hold onto that position and engage in activities that won’t generate revenue or success. Reynolds believes it’s better to get into the top 10%. It’s easier to stay at that level and to stay focused on activities that yield results. “That’s where the money is,” says Reynolds.

Visual Triggers

Reynolds makes this process sound easy. In truth, many of us start out our days wondering if we have what it takes to thrive in the new normal. During times like these, you can benefit from using positive visual triggers. This idea may sound simplistic, but it’s backed up research by Reynolds cites in his book, 'Win Fast. Quick Ways to Achieve More, Earn More and Be More.' When you surround yourself with positive imagery, your mood and mindset improves. The sight of the award posted on your wall is a reminder that you have the right stuff to succeed.

Your Decision-​Making System

Every day, as you weigh how you’ll spend your time and which accounts you want your team to focus on, you’re making decisions. Over 61% of managers say they wants reps who take initiative on their teams, according to our research. This desire indicates that managers understand the importance of working with team members who make decisions. The problem with decision-​making is that people sometimes get bogged down in the details.

One way to speed up the process is to adapt a version of the Jeff Bezos decision-​making philosophy:

  • Type One Decision: Once you make it, you’ll find it difficult to come back from.
  • Type Two Decision: After making this change, it’s easy to reverse direction.

When faced with your next decision, ask yourself if it’s a type one or type two change. If it’s in the type two arena, make your decision quickly and then watch the outcomes. You can always revert back to the status quo. If you need to make a type one decision, involve your peers or team members as appropriate and take the time you need.