Saturday, April 3, 2010

Oh, to be a cat.

Oh to be a cat. To wake up each day, beautifully and perfectly striped. Hair perfectly in place. It is a painless existence to be a cat. Especially a cat in my house.

Alas, such is not the plight of this reporter. I am among the ranks of the majority. I do not wake up beautifully striped, hair perfectly in place. Those of us among the majority do not enjoy the painless existence of a cat.

But what is it to be "painless" anyway. Is life really that "painful?" Do we really think we should merely exist? Is that what has built the world in which we live? I don't think so.

Yet, we want painless you-name-it. Painless weight loss. Painless beauty. Painless whatever. We wish our work worlds could be painless, because that is where we spend so much of our time. I wish for that too.

In my world, I often hear people say "I want painless planning." Don't we all. I have been thinking. There has to be a business idea in this.

Maybe I will start a fast food planning drive through. I will call it McPlannalds.

Ahem. I would like a strategic plan that will allow me to outshine my competitors, have an inspired and engaged workforce, a culture that is envied by all, and I want ecstatic shareholders. Oh, can I have a side of efficiency with that?

Or here's another idea: A Planning Game Show called "Get Lucky."

Guests would roll the dice, and move their men around the track, and try to send the others back. That's popomatic trouble. (Oops, it's been done.)

OK, as entertaining as this might be, it's actually very serious. I have heard these words uttered over the years many times. I want painless planning. I am sure HR types hear the same thing, and so do accountants. I am not alone in this, since we all want work to be . . . easier.

When I think back to when planning is painful, it is when there are 3 problems afoot:

1. There is a misalignment of roles responsibilities around the table. That's corporate talk for people are not clear about what they are supposed to be delivering, so avoidance becomes the strategy.

2. There is a disagreement among leadership about the direction, or the outcomes. Again, avoidance is the strategy of choice. I have seen people leave the room, and book meetings during planning sessions.

3. There is a lack of strategic foresight. In other words, the players around the table either don't see the future, or don't think they need to. This is often a sign of organizations that have experienced what I like to call "easy affluence" - or easy street, in layman terms.

Either way, who wouldn't choose painless anything if it was worth having? I would love to wake up perfect every day and simply exist to be adored (like my cat does).

I would love to not have "teacher arms" without the 25 hours a week I spend at the gym.

I would love to have a nice life for my family without working for it. (They call that the lottery).

But such is not the plight of the majority. We have to work for what we have.

Organizational success is no different. And planning is big part of that. It is a mental workout that requires courage, foresight, thinking, commitment and actually being engaged in the company's success.

Like beauty, planning quality is in the eye of the beholder - or should I say the one holding the mirror. The planning experience is the mirror image of the company's leadership, attitudes and intent to . . . well, get somewhere.

It can be healthy, productive, challenging and inspiring, or it can be painful if participants are disengaged, disinterested, or discombobulated.

The trick is to have good leadership and good information at the table. The best CEO that I know supported the process, held the executives to it, and when necessary stepped in (respectfully) and said what needed to be said. As a planner and middle manager, I could see the company was in good hands, and it was.

Good leaders give direction. They don't allow side stepping, or other evasive actions. Good leaders support their planners (who are just trying to do their job) by ensuring their employees are engaged, active and accountable.

I guess we are all cats to some degree. We tend to be independent in our beliefs, and we tend to like things our way. We are who we are and we come in all colors. In fact, in the corporate world, we go to great efforts to understand the cat across the table. Depending on the color coding tool, some of us are red (just do it), others are yellow (creative, intuitive, non linear), others are blue (methodical and process oriented) and others are green (logical and linear).

Good leaders keep the "cats" moving forward together. And good leaders don't ask for "painless planning"; they ask for their leaders to be good leaders.


Susan said...

I haven't been reading your blogs lately so I'll have to go back through them. I enjoyed this one. I have a comment about leaders who know how to herd cats. Speaking as a cat, I don't think I knew how to be herded. I just didn't understand it. I was mostly cooperative and wanted to do my job well - but I didn't think being herded was an important part of my job. I thought honesty was more important - a truth to power sort of idea. I am only talking about important issues here. If it was not important, I was happy to let the boss have his or her way. I should point out that I was colour coded at SaskCentral and turned out to be the quintessential green hippie.

Lynear Thinking said...

Thanks Susan for your thoughts. I changed the article a little after reading your comment. It's not too bad being a cat. I think it's good to recognize that individuals that we are and appreciate each other for that. I always thought you were a pretty cool cat.