Sunday, September 26, 2010

Everything you wanted to know about strategic planning, and wished you never asked.

You can probably tell by my headline that I have something to say.  For those of you who read my blog, or who may know me as a strategic planner, you know that there is a resistance that a strategic planner manages every day. A resistance to order. A resistance to leadership. A resistance to follower-ship. A resistance to listening. A resistance to talking to each other. A resistance to getting engaged. A resistance to all things.

Througout my  careeer, I have been a corporate facilitator  that leads various groups through the process. I have been the eyes, ears and often times the mouth of the organization.  Does "the organization" know this? Not likely.  And that's OK because my job is to be the facilitator, that enables an outcome, not the leader. That's the job of the CEO.  The upside to my role is that I have an objective front row view. The downside is when the organization has been successful, I am invisible. C'est la vie.

I am always open to new ways of doing things.  So when I have a few moments, just for the heck of it, I google the following:  Why people hate strategic planning.

Inevitably, I am not disappointed. Today I discovered the attached link: Four Reasons Why Productive People Hate Strategic Planning.  The company is "SmartDraw" which espouses that the solution is technologically based.    I disagree. Vehemently.

A strategic plan can be captured on a napkin. One of the strategies that I am most proud of was drawn on a napkin in my friend's kitchen.  A strategic plan is merely an expression of where the organization / group / individual is going, measures that it will use to manage success, and an overview of the various strategies that it will take to get there.

It's this simple:  I am going on a road trip.  Where to? Air or car? How many days?  Who is coming along?  What am I going to do there?  What risks might I encounter  and how will I counter that?  When do I begin.

So gimme a break. It's not hard.  We make it hard when the human element is introduced. If I had to factor my entire family into that conversation, that adds complexity. Probably a good idea so they at least know where I am.

In the work environment, strategic planning is even more important because 3 or 300 or 3000 people need to have a clear view of the plan and what they  each need to do.

I have worked with 1000 person companies, 10 person companies and 3 person companies. And there is one truth that I have encountered no matter the number of people involved.  If people don't get the plan, stick to it, internalize it - understand what it means - all kinds of things go wrong.

So what's the answer?  Well, it's not technology, although it helps.  There are no answers because this is a human process. But there are some thing that can help.

1.  Strategic Planning gets muddy when agendas and vested interests muddy the water.  The strategic planning facilitator's role is the central communicator and facilitator of said plan.  That person should not be part of the company or the plan because then there can be no vested interest. That's the role that I play.  I am the outside facilitator. The objective view. The unsung hero. The one who connects the dots. I am the one who brings the people together.  That's my part.  I am not responsible for the plan Per Se. I am the conduit through which the plan can occur.

2.  Have a clear commitment to leadership. The CEO is the owner of the strategic plan. He or she must be the leader and the ultimate director of said plan.  Understanding the leadership style of the CEO is imperative.

3.  Keep it simple. Planning words tend not to be real words.  In fact the concept to strategy comes from the military so of course it is heavily coded.  The Strategic Planner (me) needs to crack the code and convince the powers that be that the language must be real. Words like "optimize" and "enhance" tend to be used, but what do they mean?  Say it, don't code it. You need a strategic planner with a communicator's soul to pull that off. Or a communicator with a strategic planner's soul.

4.  Bring people together to talk about it.  Talk about it . Talk about it . Talk about it. I can't say that enough times.  A plan and direction that doesn't get talked about doesn't happen.

5.  Expect progress and when it is not there, ask why. Lots of time, plans get lip service. We've all said it . . . "sure mom, I will do the dishes,  right after. . . ". The dishes never get done.  We've all used this trick. In business, lip service costs money. Think about it. Resources - people and money - are tied up waiting for something to happen. If the commitment to progress is not there, the resources are wasted. That's like bringing a crew to your house to clean it and then never letting them past the landing.

6.  Make it "my" job and my resume. When people are accountable, and that accountability is taken seriously, things happen.  If my name is on something, I get it done.  And then recognize me. High performing people who get things done simply won't stick around if they are not recognized.

But if you are part of the team / company actually responsible for the plan here's your job:

1. Show up.
2. Have a perspective that you are prepared to share. (One of my clients told his management team that if a person did not have a voice or opinion at the table, that person is redundant.)
3. Be realistic.  Can this plan be delivered? If it was your name on it (and it is) would you bet your career on this?  Or do you see failure?  Where do  you see failure?
4. Represent.  Make sure that you get the plan and that you know how it translates to your teams. Make sure you are putting your team in a position to be successful.  Make sure you are part of the solution.
5. Be responsible. If the plan or the process is ineffective, ask if you have followed steps 1 through 4.

Resistance to change is futile in life.  The tide moves. The wave of change is consistently upon us.  Strategic planning helps people to be prepared at the very least, and at the most to take advantage of change through foresight and action. Get involved. Get engaged or be on the outside.  It's pretty simple.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

When work . . . works.

"Wanted - mediocre employees who generally do a bad job."

No employer in their right mind would actively seek people who are not qualified, or do not have the right attitude.  In fact, I can't think of anyone who would apply for this job.  People tend to want to contribute at work.  Job ads tend to be more inspirational - in search of people who can bring their brand to life. The following is a career ad for 7-11 from their website:

We Have Absolutely No Doubt. To Be The Best Retailer, We Must Also Be The Best Employer.
Each person in the vast 7-Eleven family of professionals knows he or she counts – really counts – is genuinely respected, and will be given every opportunity to succeed and advance. Currently, 7-Eleven is home to more than 35,500 corporate and operations employees who recognize, as we do, that a combination of effective teamwork, great friendships, and selfless service will enhance our company’s position as leader of the convenience industry.

If you become part of our team, we want your work to be more than a job. We want it to be an investment in your future and ours. That goal is fully supported by the three Cs of our leadership model – The Capacity, Commitment and Character to Lead.

What I like about this ad is the closing line: The Capacity, Commitment and the Character to Lead.  These are the workforce qualities that can make or break the business.

I have the privilege of having worked with some very good people who fit these characteristics.  People who are dedicated to solving problems. Finding better ways of working.  But there's more to it than these characteristics.  There is culture.

The culture and environment is made up of all the little things that are not visible to the naked eye, but that you can feel once you arrive and begin to work.  As a newcomer, you have to figure out which way is North, and get to know the people who make things happen. In my experience, I would describe them as:
  • The high performers who make things happen.
  • Those who are most respected in the organization are worthy of listening and observation because they tend to have their finger on the pulse of the business, and they likely have the hearts and minds of the workforce.
  • The natural born communicators are those who carry the message.
Work is a two way street - it is a relationship between the employee and the employer. A contract.  So it is important to have your own ad and list of requirements.  The way the organization makes decisions, communicates and executes its plans is high on the list of the high performer.

Here's how the formula works: Decision making translates to responsibility. Responsibility translates to trust. Trust translates to loyalty.  Loyalty translates to good people doing good work.  Good people doing good work is good business.

The theory of decision making is the higher up you are in the organization, the fewer decisions you should make, with the greatest impact.  Imagine a pyramid.  At the peak is the CEO, followed by the executive, senior managers, front line managers and the people who actually do the work of the business every day - creating and delivering the products and services that create value for the customer.

In the ideal pyramid, CEO's ask questions and engage others to find the answers. CEOs set a standard of behavior. CEOs set the culture by their actions. The CEO delegates to his or her executive teams to distribute the accountability and responsibility for decision making.  And each executive delegates to his or her direct reports who delegate appropriately down the line.

Going down the pyramid, the decisions become more frequent.  Every day people who do the work - those who tend to work with the customers, create the products and services make decisions all the time so it is important they feel empowered, know the game plan and are accountable to deliver. And good employees want that.  To be accountable. To be trusted. To grow and learn.   

Sunday, September 12, 2010

A Good Day for Walls to Come Down

 Today is a day in the history of our time that deserves a moment of notice.  On September 11, 2001, lives were lost, families were devastated. A city was crushed. And we became afraid.

On this day, I want to pay tribute to those who lost their families and who are wishing today they had that last chance to tell their loved ones what they meant to them.

 I am celebrating my family.  I am thankful that we have each other, that we live peacefully and without fear, and that our children live in a time of possibility.  

When I think of family, I often am reminded of an interview with an West Berliner who told what family meant to them after the wall came down in Berlin.  (This link tells you the story. The sound track is "Winds of Change by the Scorpions).

Brandenburg Gate - where East meets West
I was there in 1997.  I was invited as a guest of the German government to attend and report on Green Week, an agricultural trade show and conference.  The family of Germany was on the rebuild, and they were anxious to let the rest of the world see what they had to offer.

I toured the country side of Brandenburg, the city state that surrounded Berlin at the time that was once occupied territory.  We went to Bonn, and toured Berlin, along with 25 other journalists from around the world.

I met with government officials and met people who had grown up on both sides of the wall. 

People told me they were sensitive about covering up the effects of the war and the occupation.   They didn't want to forget what had happened, one woman told me.  

She said if we forget what "we did" we might not remember the next time. I visited a 14th century church in Bonn that had been bombed out and restored with much debate.

Downtown I was taken aback by the bullet spray that speckled the sides of buildings, and the graffiti, which no one would translate for me, likely because there are no words that translate the feelings of oppression, angst, anger and frustration. 

Czech writer, Milan Kundera used the word "Litost" to describe this feeling in his book, "The Book of Laughter and Forgetting" which takes aim at totalitarianism and political oppression.
I couldn't help but be curious about the social healing that was under way and how the people were coping.

When the Wall came down, the difference between the East and West was profound. The West side had continued to develop along with Western world and the East side was behind.  Education, language differences, and cultural differences, along with a history of hurt and heartache were realities.  

At the time of my visit, there were over 300 cranes spanning the skyline of Eastern Berlin to bring the city back from the brink.  Germany had opened its arms to those who fled, and thousands of immigrants came home, creating further challenges with language and employment. At the time, the news papers and officials were reporting that the unemployment rate was 13.5%, which was substantial in a city of 8 million people.  

Was there resentment in this family I wondered? 

 I interviewed a young man who had grown up on the West side of the wall.  He told me that, yes, it was difficult that so much help and investment was needed to help their eastern cousins. 

But then he said: "they are our family. Our aunts. Our mothers. Our fathers. Of course we will help them. We are one." 

So here are we.  The Wall in Berlin no longer exists.  21 years has passed since the wall came down. November 9 is a day that will be celebrated for the rest of memory.

It has been 9 years since 9-11.  The day a new wall was built.  And since then, wars are raging. People have lost their lives that day, and people have lost their lives since.  There are no physical walls, but there are walls.  Walls that the average person does not understand, but we live with the effects of them.

There are no winners and losers in these scenarios.  Just losers.  I wonder sometimes why we find reasons to put up walls, and why we spend so much time and energy trying to tear each other down instead of tearing down the walls. Why destruction of another is  tolerated anywhere in the world. Are we not learning and evolving? When will we get the point that it is pointless? That nobody wins. That political differences, religion, ethnic origin and lifestyle is not a reason to be intolerant. There is no reason to put another in the path of danger or to negatively affect someone's life. 

Not in my backyard, we say.  Well, I have news.  Just 3 hours away from my front door and south of the border there is a nation mourning and reliving 9-11 this weekend, wishing their families were together. Wishing things had been different that day.  

Like my friend in Germany said,  Family is family. No matter what. We are connected.  We are one.

For more news footage on the wall, check out the following:

 9-11 Video - Where were you when the world stopped turning:

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

The Book of Work

Mind changing strategy and communications is about bringing people together to think and explore what's possible, make decisions and make things happen.  I help people interpret the environment, set a direction and go there.  I have had a front row seat with non - profit organizations, government organizations, private sector and the co-operative sector.

This journey has been one of curiosity and understanding.  In university, the first book that I studied in English 100 was entitled, "Work."  It was a story of work experiences. My English professor chose it because it would have more meaning to us than Romeo and Juliet would have at the time.  Without knowing it at the time, I had become inspired to build a career on the study of work to make work better.

I began my career as a journalist, which I loved, but that I found limiting given the time and monetary constraints of the industry. I moved on to be a corporate communication specialist and writer, and found there was more to learn in policy, because that's where decisions were made.  From policy I went to strategic planning, because that's how the decisions are made, and who makes the decisions. I shifted to other aspects of governance, Enterprise Risk Management, and social responsibility because that is why decisions are made.

And that is where I live now.  I am an instigator of thought.  A facilitator of change.  A map maker in the journey of work. I am the "where's Waldo" of the work world because my journey has taken me to strange and unique places, where I am not the leader, Per Se, but one that creates an environment where leadership can occur.

Businesses today need to watch the bottom line. But it's more than that. It's about the way we work, why we work at what we work at, and whether we should work at all at those things we work at.

Let me illustrate.  Often times, the business environment is fraught with what I often call "sundry" activities.  These are things that we do because:
a).  We always did it that way.
b).  "I" don't want to change.
c).  "I" don't have time to change.
d).  I like it this way and I can tell you 100 reasons why it's important if you are willing to let me waste your time.

All these options really say one thing:  we are resistant to change, so we dig in and justify, justify and justify some more. We like the work, even if we don't, because we dislike change.

Work does change.  For example, I remember my first job as a file clerk about 100 years ago.  If someone took a file, they were not allowed to put it back. The file had to be shipped to the department that I worked in (called Central Records) where more than 10 people were employed.  The files were sifted, sorted, piled, documented and filed.  It was pointless then, and thankfully, business has evolved and this type of system doesn't exist (much) anymore.  And those 10 people hopefully went on to bigger and better things.

It's true that resistance and fear of change is one of the toughest things to overcome.  When people feel the ground shift underneath them, they tend to dig their toes in and hang on.  This is natural.  Yet when it comes to making change, often times, the royal "we" do it badly.  We tend to force it on others and expect them to just accept it.  Through the years, business gurus and consultants have been quite successful in finding ways to make the transition from this way more effective.

In the 80's, Michael Hammer's "Re-engineering" led the way in finding and eliminating inefficient and effective ways of working to be replaced with a new and better way. The problem with the Hammer approach is how it was often applied.  If the people element was ignored (the notion that you need to bring people through their own change) then it feels like the changed is being "hammered."  Hence, the Hammer method became associated with being "hammered."

Kaplan and Norton came along with the Balanced Scorecard. Their big idea was that change requires balance, and a well managed company understands the areas that drive success. Typically people, process, customers and product value and financial management drive business success. Well managed companies make and implement decisions understanding the impact and being conscious of moving forward accordingly.  This is still a very successful theory and approach. As a student of Kaplan and Norton over the past 10 years, I continue to believe that the principles of balance are important, but not easy to achieve because of the tendency to take short cuts to change.

The problem with balanced scorecard idea is that the hammer sneaks in.  One of the elements of introducing a balanced scorecard approach is a learning culture, where there is tolerance for learning and an appreciation for innovation and risk taking.  If that learning culture does not exist, the measures of the balanced scorecard become the hammer of non-performance.

Enter the new kid on the block. This kid has many nicknames - efficiency, LEAN, SIX SIGMA, productivity, cost management to name a few.  With that many identities, this is "curiouser and curiouser", to quote Alice in Wonderland. The ubiquitous nature of its meaning can be a concern if not couched in the right context.

Let's break it down:
  • Business is commerce.  How we make money. How we derive value and deliver value to generate revenue  
  • Process is how we go about making money, creating value.  Process adds cost, in terms of time, people and systems. (subtract from cash). 
  • Innovation is about changing - something.  Creating something new.  Doing something a different way. Building a better mouse trap.  The Information Highway.  (more money is made than is being spent). 
In mathematical terms it looks something like this: Revenue -  costs  + innovation = profitability.

Some say we are in the information age.  Others say we are in innovation age. I say we are in the age of possibility. Business Process Innovation is about changing the way we work so that we can derive more value with the resources we have  - our people, systems, processes and money.  

Despite the possibility of great things,  this is a deep deep well. And the business world where some tools make it and others go the way of the file room, this trend could go the way of Re-engineering if it is not treated right.  

There is great potential in stepping back and looking at what can be better. But since people do the work in the work place, if this is not done "with" the people, it will be done "to" people, and it will be rejected.  

So it all comes down to people and work.  And people are the great variable in that equation.  People have emotions.  They have the ability to be defiant. They can justify and they can stall.  People can become fearful or create fear in others.  The greatest leaders that I have known bring people through change, not force change on them.  

Kaplan and Norton did a great job of instilling the concept of balance.  We need to remember the equation of change includes people.  It's important to remember good principles of change: 

1.  Help people understand what needs to change and why.
2. Show them how they can get involved.
3. Give them the tools and information to be successful.
4.  Get out of their way.
5.  Ask for progress reports. 

It's also important to remember that change takes time, especially when people are involved, if change happens at all.