Want Results? – Get Serious

The problem is obvious. Merely going through the motions of business planning won’t get the desired results, it will get the obvious ones.

Imagine you paid good money to see a professional sporting event and the participants sauntered onto the playing field looking out of shape and under prepared. They go through the motions lacking the significant passion or commitment obviously required and not really caring if they win or lose. Clearly this would not be acceptable.

Similarly, when you take the time and expense to take your “key” staff offsite you should NOT accept such behavior. It’s the leader’s role to inspire and harness the passions of their staff by providing a vision bigger than the individuals and requiring collaboration, innovation and collective purpose. It’s the senior staff’s responsibility to create a culture of accountability and commitment to one another, their employees and the company in pursuit of the desired results.  That’s how teams work and results are achieved.

 

Here are the wrong signs:

  1. You plan the event weeks in advance and people reluctantly show up unprepared.
  2. Presentations requested show up late of the requested deadline and are incomplete.
  3. Participants take every opportunity to get their phone out and keep in touch with the office.
  4. The event is all fluff and form but lacks substance.
  5. No one believes anything of value will result from the exercise. Often based on past experiences.
  6. AND I AM SURE YOU CAN ADD FIVE MORE OF YOU OWN!

 “You get what you accept so expect more and get more”

So how do you solve this –you get serious!

Let’s begin!

  • Define the purpose of the event and what success looks like.

Make it clear that the purpose of the event is to discuss the issues or initiatives required to address the critical needs of the business. Be specific in advance and charge your people to come to the meeting prepared with answer and solutions. Create the expectation that this meeting is of upmost importance and requires participants to bring their “A” game.

  • This is not a 1 -2 day event, it is the launching plan of the key business initiatives the organization will commit to successfully achieving. Defining both the strategy and execution in actionable specific steps is a must. These are not optional nice to haves and failure to achieve then is not an acceptable option, so debates and commitments made are real and achievable.
  • Check your distractions at the door. Ensure the office knows these people are unavailable for the duration of the event. They can check in after the event. If the staff can’t manage without then for the day ask why.
  • Make the event real. Deal with real issues or real opportunities. I will add several links at the conclusion of this post for those who want clarification. Walking out of that event without full understanding and commitment is not acceptable. Make your Strategy Real.
  • Strategy without execution is of no value. If you have a goal you need a realistic plan to achieving it. Poor execution is almost always the leading cause of failure of strategic plan initiatives. Most goals are achievable given focus, passion, commitment and enduring commitment. The execution plan needs to be a living document that guides and measures your progress throughout the year.
  • If at any time during the meeting inappropriate levels of attention, intensity or lack of effort or commitment / buy in is observed, stop the meeting and address the causes before proceeding. Don’t let the meeting deteriorate.

In summary, the difference in producing and executing a successful Strategic Plan is setting and maintaining the expectation that the organization will commit to, and realize the stated business initiatives by taking the actions to make it real.

Make Your Strategy Real

Look Back to move forward

 

The Business Consultant’s Dilemma – Integrity or Pay Check

There are those consultants with the philosophy that as long as the cheques cashed it’s all good.  Where and how do you draw the line in the sand with clients?

Over the last 10+ years I have provided Business Consulting to over 60 businesses and senior leaders. Prior to this I held senior management positions in Finance, Operations and Marketing throughout North America. So I have been on both sides, as a client and as the one providing the consulting services.

Let’s begin with understanding The Consultant’s Dilemma.

  • As a consultant do you attempt to put things in the best possible light telling the client what they want to hear or do you tell then what they need to hear?
  • As a consultant do you gloss over sensitive business issues to avoid making the customer upset or do you risk being fired because your efforts are viewed as disruptive / uncomfortable to the organization?
  • As a consultant do you go along with a poor / or an incomplete plan because that’s what the client wants despite you knowing you’re facilitating failure, or do you openly challenge the clients assumptions and reasoning?
  • As a consultant do you continue showing up despite knowing that your client is failing or unwilling to take agreed upon actions necessary to achieve the desired outcomes, or do you terminate the assignment and part ways?
  • As a consultant do you perform the responsibilities of others to achieve success or do you identify organization deficiencies for resolution?

These real life situations are not uncommon and represent a significant challenge. The Business Consultants knowing when to invest more time and effort to facilitate a transformation versus knowing when walking away. Its essential consultants accept that change is not made it’s accepted and acted on.

Strategy –Finding Your Place

Without a winning strategy your journey has no destination and success would be an accident –they do happen but are unlikely.

At the foundation of strategy is finding a need for a good or service that is either solving a problem or creating a benefit that customers want and will pay enough for you to allow you to profit.

Understanding a market by the fundaments is an important first step.

There are 4 questions:

  1. What is the Market?
  2. Why does the Market exist?
  3. Who are the Leaders?
  4. How will you carve out you niche?

What is the market answers the question of what is being provided to meet a need of consumers of such value that there is a demand. For instance farmers grow the food that people must have unless they grow it themselves or restaurants are a market that serves prepared food. Both meet a defined need.

Why the Market exists is about understanding why the need exists and how that need is addressed. Farmers are needed because in much of today’s society people don’t grow their own food. Restaurants exist to serve people that can’t or don’t want to buy food and prepare it for a variety of reason.

 

Who are the leaders is about understanding how the market is currently being serviced by the major players of each definitive market segment. This is the understandings who, currently, are the major participants such as Kroger, WalMart or McDonalds. These players are market leaders in their respective category. There is great diversity on market segments, how providers service specific consumer groups, and who owns consumer mindshare within each category.

And finally how will you position your product or service to capture enough business to be successful by defining a unique offering and hopefully defendable position. By understanding the why the market exists the provider can position to meet the needs of specific consumer preferences. You don’t need to be the biggest to own a segment, but, you have to be unique enough to carve out your dominance and meet your segments consumer’s preferences. For instance Trader Joes does not compete with Kroger for selection or price but instead attracts and serves  a specific customer group.

While the questions are simple the answers can be very complex and challenging. Successfully understanding the questions is essential to the crafting of the winning strategy for your organization. Strategy is about making informed choices and commitments that must concisely defined in your organization’s vision before the execution can be undertaken to successful achieve the strategy. Yes there is order in the universe.

Look Backwards to Learn How to Move Forward -Learn From or Repeat Your History

Leaders must understand their organizations capabilities both good and bad. This assessment is crucial to the success of any change initiative. The best way to do this is to examine the past history of their organization’s ability to plan and execute.

“Leaders who use the let’s try it again approach expecting to achieve a different more positive result are true optimists but poor leaders.”

I like to say anything is possible and made more likely through proper planning and solid execution. Realism begins with a true understanding of the gap between the present state and the desired future state, specifically, what is the required time, talent and tools / processes to bridge the gap.

Change requires critical thinking and involves hard choices. Leaders must understand that resources are limited and the organizations ability to change will be limited by the choices of what needs to start, be continued or stopped. Truth is you can not keep doing the same things and expect change to successfully occur.

“Ambition will not become accomplishment unless you address the organizations shortfalls and mitigate them.”

Will I firmly believe success belongs to those doing the work and short comings belong to the leader the successful leader must determine the way froward. It is the responsibility of the leadership to determine and address the performance gaps.

“Leadership involves hard choices and the responsibility to successfully sell them to the organization”

The organization that points fingers to avoid accountability will fail. Specifically when managements blames the workers and the employees blame management accountability is ambiguous and non-existent. Leadership must have the hard conversations and forge mutual ownership of problem solving with the employees to understand and address the performance gap.

For employee engagement to occur two questions have to be asked and answered. First, what is in it for the employee to accept the change and secondly, what is the employee expected to do. It is with this clarity that leadership can sell the needed changes.

https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/why-strategic-plans-dont-succeed-execution-readiness-howell/

Decision Making Awareness: Red Light / Green Light

 

Scenario One

You walk up to an intersection and the light is green. You have the right away. As you walk across the intersection a fast-moving car runs the red light and kills you!

Scenario Two

You walk up to an intersection and the light is red. You do not have the right away but you risk it. As you walk across the intersection a fast-moving car drives through the intersection on his green light and kills you!

Result

The result is the same you’re dead. And so it goes with decision-making, following the basic rules is seldom sufficient. In my experience, whether making the decision based on generally accepted principles or taking the risk and breaking the rules, both, can get you in trouble if you don’t see the blind spot. In the scenarios above neither considered the oncoming car, perhaps the most important variable. We made the assumption the car driver was playing by the same (our) rules.

Blind Spot

Avoiding the “blind spot” thinking trap means looking at all the variables and applying judgement. For instance, in the above scenario was the driver of the oncoming car acting appropriately? Was the vehicle slowing down? Was there any acknowledgement by the driver showing awareness that someone was crossing the intersection? This is basic commonsense, which often, isn’t so common after all.

Reliability and Awareness

The best definition of reliability is “understanding all the causes of reliability and mitigating them”. In decision-making this means understanding all the factors and considerations and remaining in a state of readiness.  Key assumptions or expectations need to be continuously monitored and updated based on results to date.

Real World Thinking –Airline Policy Example

As we have learned from the recent events occurring in the airline industry, operating by standard policy can be disastrous. In these events, the passengers, in some cases, were not playing by the assumed rules and while the airlines though they were in the right they were clearly proven wrong in the court of public opinion. Did the airlines plan for dealing with uncooperative passengers? If they did and I believe they do, did the actions taken in line with their policy? Obviously this policy needs refinement.

Agility and Adaptability Decision Making Guidelines

Following are five guidelines I recommend to ensure your decision-making is “Real World Ready”.

1.      Policies are guidelines that show a path / process to the desired results, they are not the unbreakable rules of engagement.

2.      Leadership must be aware of potential conflicts of interest of key stakeholders, and have mitigation protocols in place to allow for appropriate discretion to be taken.

3.      All decisions (guidelines) have four components: 1)The goal or outcome to be achieved, 2) Defined Strategy / Tactics to be used, 3) Deployment of the Process, 4) and an Active Feedback Loop. A formal process must exist where evaluation of the success of the decision / guideline / policy can be evaluated and lessons learned incorporated. I can guarantee you this was not the first time the airlines were made aware of the issues and concerns of the passengers to the existing policies. And to be fair the airline industry is certainly not alone here.

4.      Empowerment of the employees to allow for agility and adaptability to on the ground events. This means allowing the employees to make the final decision where discretion is required.

5.      Active communication loops to ensure awareness and process reliability can be assured. Successful organizations have to be ready and flexible to changing environments and factors, Remember what worked yesterday may not work today.

So the next time you make a decision to walk across that traffic intersection, red light or green, remember the yellow light and execute the caution and awareness needed to ensure you can remain agile and adaptable enough to reach the other side

Dazed and Confused

It is not uncommon to find employees in a dazed and confused state. My observation is employees are, in some cases, under served by their manager. They lack both the clarity and support to perform their jobs successfully. Shocking is the fact many organizations turn a blind eye to under performing managers and assign blame for failure to the lowest level. So the above slides is my attempt to right the wrong.

Slide one is about awareness of the gap between the expected versus the actual performance to the job description. If we know what is required why would we accept something less? Getting the facts out in the open is the start. Implementing an improvement initiative works best when clear facts are used versus generalizations or opinions.

Slide two is a five point approach to ensuring the employee gets the definition, support, training, timely feedback and their purpose / role in the organization’s success defined.

Slide three is the three questions used to ensure the employee gets clear goals and the outcomes expected. If the employee can answer these questions both they and their manager are aligned. The employee has clarity as does the manager as to the level of understanding and capabilities of their employee. The manager has insight as to where the employee is and can contribute /support the employee’s success. This is a real-time saver with a huge payback. Not only does the initial kickoff have clarity the foundation is laid for ongoing discussions.

Slide four is the measurement model. It’s a sliding scale as to where the employee is in their ability to perform their job as defined in the job description. The theory is for the organization to attain optimal results responsibilities not achieved by the employee must be performed by the manager. Realistically much of the result goes unrealized as the manager can’t completely do the employee’s job, although they try. This tools measures both the employee and the managers ability to performance , as well as, facilitating a reconciliation back to the job definition.

The goal here is to continually grow the employee’s ability and confidence to perform their job or complete the project and provide insight as to the effectiveness / abilities of the manager. When I find a struggling employee I then look at the manager and if they are ineffective then their manager and so on. In short, the buck stops at level where the issue is owned and acted on.

Finally what is the so what why should you care. The benefits list is long and meaningful. Everything from higher employee engagement, lower costs, higher profits, happier customers to reduced turn over and so much more. What we are talking about is high quality bi-directional conversation around how the resources of business work together to achieve the best possible outcome. As Stephen Covey states, “Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.” Clearly so much is sacrificed through ineffective communications, We have so much to gain by ensuring clarity and understanding!

What Makes Your Strategy Real

your strategic plan is comprised of two components. Part one is the vision which must be fully defined and vetted and part two is the requirement that the vision is supported by a realistic deployment / execution plan that is carefully managed. Vision without execution is a hallucination.

 

As a veteran Strategic Planner with 25+ years of progressive experience I have experienced first hand the keys to making your strategic initiatives real and achievable. Conversely, I have witnessed the common traps which many strategies fall victim to. The following image is a one page do’s and don’ts that will provide you a few top-level guidelines to which you may choose to use to evaluate you strategy’s realism.

Remember the your strategic plan is composed of two components. Part one is the vision which must be fully defined and vetted and part two is the requirement that the vision is supported by a realistic deployment / execution plan that is carefully managed. Vision without execution is a hallucination.

It is important to note a strategy is not just a great vision of a much desired future state, it’s that future state validated and driven down into to realist executable details and controls. Effective strategy is driven by passion and realized through alignment of focused resources committed to a structured and managed execution plan. Most strategies fail because they lack the way to make them real.

One final comment is trying to do too much too fast, “we know what’s wrong just fix it” approach is one sure way to kill any chance of success. Rome was not built-in a day and nor will you “fix” your organization’s issues /challenges / opportunities through wishful overly optimistic initiatives. The reality is real change takes real-time and focus. First step is the building the vision on a sound vetted platform, as discussed above, and then building a long view of how to realize the intended outcomes. My recommendation is to break the initiatives down into detailed project plans with 90 day review cycles.

As this slide suggest some, most significant strategies are multi-year in realization. That is why investing the time to build a solid plan is essential to keep the strategy alive and achievable. Breaking the plan into a first things first 90 cycle will help keep organization focus and accountability alive.

While this post is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to developing and executing business strategy it represents some important factors that must be strongly considered.

As always I welcome your comments and suggestions.