Posts Tagged ‘Planning’

I first heard this story during the Chick-fil-A Leadercast in May 2012, and find it, again, in the Intentional Leadership booklet we are following, developed by Giant Impact.

It’s the story of Andy Grove, long-time CEO at Intel (by the way, Andy has a fascinating personal story; if you aren’t familiar with it, I encourage you to do a little research on him). There was a point in time when Andy asked these questions:

If a new leader walked into your role today with a fresh perspective and a full mandate to make changes, what strategic shifts would he or she make? What insights would be gained as he or she talked to your customers, employees, suppliers, and consultants?

It’s an interesting exercise and you may be quite surprised at what you come up with — and the freedom you feel when you give yourself permission to step outside your normal mode of operation and look at your world from a different perspective.

As you ask yourself these questions, and imagine the answers, note the responses in your journal.

Then, explore what might be keeping you from making the necessary changes? Would it be actual barriers, self-imposed constraints, or self-limiting beliefs?

What steps do you now need to take to ensure you are really listening to your employees, customers, suppliers, and consultants? How can you maintain that listening posture and incorporate what you hear into your planning.

Choose one change to start with, and move forward.

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I recently looked at a book called Essential Questions. It’s focused on school-aged children, and how we can teach them the essential questions that drive them to do deeper exploration of ideas, concepts, and lessons; the questions that get them in the critical thinking mode. I appreciate this approach, as I believe one of the best things we can do for our children is teach them how to think and to understand that there are many ways of arriving at a workable solution for any given problem. I think we do them a disservice when we teach them there is only one path to an answer and only one way to solve a problem. I think we fail them when we teach them to merely memorize material, as opposed to seeking a fuller understanding of the context, the issues, the players involved.

So it is with strategy and running a business. Asking the right questions can be critical to the success of an endeavor. Good questions cause us to think. Good questions hold us accountable, as they don’t allow us to take the path of least resistance. Good questions feed effective strategic planning.

Today, I encourage you to spend some time developing a dozen or so key questions you can you in strategic planning to help your team / organization stay focused and in alignment with your vision and goals. When you have them written down, share them with a few respected colleagues and ask them to edit or add to your work. Then, use them the next time you do any strategic planning.

Here are some examples to help you get started:

What are we trying to accomplish?

Are our current efforts allowing us to achieve the results we desire?

How would our replacements approach our future?

Who (or what organization) is achieving the results we want? What are they doing that is driving them to success?

What ideas / actions will move us closer to our vision?

What are our core competencies and how do we master them?

Use any or all of these as your base, or develop an entirely unique set, specific to your business. As you do your strategic planning over the next couple of years, continue to fine-tune your list, keeping the ones that work well and eliminating the ones that are not helpful, then add new questions that will better serve you?

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Have you given much thought the need to adjust your strategy to adapt to changing dynamics in your business environment? I have been, prompted by a recent call with one of my mentors who brought up Kodak.

You remember Kodak, don’t you? For a while, it was Eastman Kodak, then just Kodak, and anyone with a camera — the ones that require actual film — will remember Kodak. Back then, we had to go to the store to buy rolls of film; then, when we’d taken our pictures, we took them back to the store or a film shop and dropped off the role of film to be developed…which often took a week to 10 days! Eventually, someone invented the 1-hour photo developing system, and that revolutionized photography (for us amateurs, anyway), for a while. Then along came digital photography. No longer did you need to buy film or have it developed; now the market was all about memory cards for your camera, and the pixel capability of your camera.

Clearly, this new business model didn’t fit with Kodak’s old model — sell film, photo paper, and developing services. So, how did Kodak respond?

At one point, albeit way too late in the transformation of its industry, the former giant attempted to reposition itself as the Memories company, with print-at-home photo paper and systems…but it was too late. Kodak had missed the boat and ended up filing for Chapter 11 Reorganization.

Are you even aware of what Kodak is up to — if anything — these days? I have to admit, I wasn’t sure if the company was even in business any longer. Turns out, a simple search indicates it is. Today, “Kodak has transformed itself into a technology company focused on imaging for business.”

According to its web site,

“Kodak sharpened its focus to commercial markets as part of a 20-month Chapter 11 reorganization in which it successfully removed large legacy costs, streamlined a complex infrastructure, and exited or spun-off businesses – including its remaining consumer imaging and document imaging businesses – that were no longer core to its future. People around the world will continue to see the Kodak brand through its commercial businesses and licenses with select business partners.

As a result of its reorganization, Kodak today is leaner, financially stronger and ready to grow – poised to take advantage of the digital transition underway in packaging markets; the growing demand for graphic communications products and services in emerging markets; and dynamic growth in the market for printed electronics, sensors, fuel cells and other printed products with functions beyond visual communications.”

This is a prime example of the need to adapt one’s strategy as the dynamics of business and industry shift, and they are constantly shifting. The point: One must adapt to survive, and this is as true for you — as leaders — as it is for your organizations.

Today, spend some time reflecting on the changes you’ve experienced in your industry in the past few years. What were some of the most dramatic? And what adaptations were required for your organization to remain relevant?

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There are two key components to a strategy — the vision and the plan to achieve it. It truly is that simple.

As a leader, its your responsibility to not only dream the vision and be able to articulate it to your team / organization, but also to create the plan and inspire your team / organization to achieve it.

This is another area in which it is important that your level of self-awareness is high. In all honesty, are you better at the dreaming part or the achieving it part?

Explain your answer to that question.

Now that you are focused on your personal strength, and have been giving thought to the importance of strategy in achieving goals, what are the keys to an effective strategy?

What are your weaknesses around strategy?

How do you compensate for them?

Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.   ~Sun Tzu

Having spent a considerable amount of time and energy reflecting on this, and having undergone a broad variety of personal assessments and 360 reviews, I can easily say I’m good at creating a vision and laying out the strategic plan. From a tactical standpoint, I am perfectly capable of defining specific tactics and carrying them out, but this part of the process is not my primary strength, consequently it is a much more taxing part of the process for me. I, as well as my team or organization, am better served if I have within my resources someone whose strength lies in the tactical work.

What about you?

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Today, examine the core strategies your organization or team  is following. Are they easily explained and when written, do they fit on one page? If not, it’s time for some review and simplification. Challenge your team to do the same — simplify the core strategies each member of your team will follow in their specific roles that will allow them to support the organizational strategies — and fit them on one page.

Again, if they are too complicated and difficult to explain, understand, or follow, no one will use them.

Then, bring your team together and evaluate each person’s revised strategy. This exercise will allow you to determine whether individual members really understand the overall organizational strategies, and if they are on track to support the bigger picture goals.

This is a great opportunity to address any adjustments that need to be made and to refine individual and team-level strategies to ensure your team is on track to meet organizational goals.

Take some time, right now, to get started.

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The best strategies are simple; make them too complex and they will fail because no one will follow them.

To begin, you need to define a clear destination; what are you trying to accomplish and where will you be when you arrive? The strategic plan will help you identify the significant milestones you will achieve along the way to your final destination. Knowing your final destination has been defined, and key milestones identified along the way allows you to focus on shorter-term goals and keeps you from over-planning.

This is the point from which to start. As you reach the first milestone, you can take stock and assess your progress and review your end destination. This is when you can make necessary adjustments based on progress to-date and any changes in the dynamics related to our goals.

As you develop your strategies, keep in mind your organization’s and team’s strengths, identify the resources you will need that you don’t already possess, and prepare accordingly. You might look at it this way, using a “quadrant” view…draw a box on a flip chart or white board, with four break-out areas.

Top left: What are your organization’s vision, goals, and values?

Top right: What are your organization’s strengths?

Bottom left: What problem or opportunity is your organization currently facing?

Bottom right: What assets (time, capital, and talent) are you willing to commit to your pursuit of the goal?

For this particular opportunity, develop a clear objective, answer the questions, and map out three to five mile markers that you will hit along the journey.

Now, schedule the first step towards reaching the first milestone.

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You’ve gotta have a plan!

I’ve worked for 20+ years as a professional communicator. In 2005, I took a job as the Communications Manager at Tree Top, Inc. As I started my third week, I was invited to attend a meeting of an internal team that had been tasked with reviewing all of the company’s assets and determining if any should be sold or closed, or reinvested in.  As it turned out, business conditions at the time indicated that one of our more distant plants should be closed.

From a purely business perspective — focused on logistics, dollars, and cents — it made sense to close this particular plant. It was located in northeastern Oregon, several hours from our headquarters location in central Washington, which was also where the bulk of our raw product, apples, pears, and cherries, were grown. At the time, if you remember, gas prices increased dramatically and all forecasting indicated that the cost of fuel would not be dropping, again, any time soon. So, the apples, pears, and cherries would be harvested in central Washington, shipped to Milton-Freewater, Oregon (MFO), several hours away, to be processed, then shipped back to central Washington for packaging and distribution. Couple this with the fact that other existing plants, in central Washington, had enough excess capacity to take on the processing handled by MFO. Again, from a business perspective, considering the time in transit and cost of moving it back and forth, it didn’t make sense to keep that plant.

From a people perspective, it was a difficult decision. The people managing and operating the MFO plant were top notch; they consistently did a high-quality job. In addition, this plant was one of the larger employers in this remote area, so there would be a significant impact on the local economy.

My task, develop a strategic communication plan to announce the closure decision to all affected audiences: Employees, community leaders, local grower-owners, and the media. Our goal was to multi-faceted: We needed to retain those key employees to ensure the plant continued to operate at high levels through the closure; we needed to assure the community we would do everything in our power to sell the facility to a person or organization that would operate it in some fashion — retaining some jobs and an economic base in the community; we needed to assure the local grower-owners that our field reps would continue to serve them well and they still had a home for their culls (essentially, fruit that wasn’t “beautiful” enough to be sold fresh); and we needed to address the media’s concerns that the decision might have been made hastily or because of performance issues at the plant.

I crafted a plan that addressed all of those issues and concerns. We prepared all the internal key players to ensure they were well informed and could communicate the rationale behind the decision and the long-term impact on the company had the decision not been made. We were proactive in informing everyone, and we did this in waves to ensure plant employees learned of the plan first, then the rest of the company’s employees (at several other plants in central Washington), then we went out separately to address community leaders, grower-owners, and the media. Within a few hours, we had met in person with all the key stakeholders, and we did it nearly nine months before the closure would actually take place.

While it wasn’t the announcement anyone wanted to hear, once the rationale was explained they all understood. We retained the key employees we needed to ensure the plant operated at high levels through the closure. We relocated some of the equipment and all of the processing. We sold the remaining equipment. We sold the building to a company that began operations within a couple of months of our closure. All in all, the whole process went smoothly.

The whole concept-to-execution steps of this communication plan took place over about six weeks, so I had been in my job approximately eight weeks at the time we carried it out. My boss came to me to apologize that my first assignment was a plant closure. I appreciated his concern, but actually grateful for the opportunity. It gave me a chance to, very quickly, demonstrate my value to the organization.

I don’t tell you this story to blow my own horn and give you the impression I am a “super hero” communicator. I share it with you to demonstrate the value of a well-considered strategy. We had a task at hand to carry out, coupled with clear objectives, and defined resources in place with which to work. As a strategic communicator, it was the kind of situation I thrive in.

I can easily contrast this experience to communication positions I’ve held with other organizations. I have been directed to put together communication messages, using specific vehicles, as a reaction to a change in certain metrics tracked by the company. When I asked about the objective we were attempting to achieve through the directed action, and how the tactic fit in with any strategy, I was told to “just do it.” In fact, one leader I worked for has said I was too strategic and needed to simply focus on the tactics and get things done.

I could do this, I suppose; technically, I am capable of it. It simply doesn’t make sense to me, though. I prefer to understand the key objectives and develop a strategy to address them…I’m not one to just take action for the sake of saying I took action; I want it to make sense and drive the organization closer to a stated objective, but that’s just me!

So, what are the core strategies of your organization or team?

Are they clearly defined?

Do you have simple ways of measuring your progress towards the objectives?

How closely are you following the strategies?

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Strategy bridges the present reality to a future vision by answering the question of how a mission will be implemented. *

In this 10th month of our Intentional Leadership journey, we will focus on strategy. This is one topic I am particularly fond of, as it is my greatest strength (according to the StrengthFinders assessment)!

In my experience, once you have defined your objectives — what you’re striving to achieve — you need to outline the strategies you will use to move in that direction, and from the strategy, you will move into the tactical actions. One might consider it the leader’s blueprint or playbook. By following a well-thought-out strategy, you will arrive at a predetermined destination, rather than wandering aimlessly in uncertain directions.

Think back a few years ago, when Toyota was under siege because of the “auto-acceleration” issues with its cars. Prior to these events, Toyota had been known for high-quality; once its quality assurance processes came into question, Toyota had to shift gears, significantly. And, fortunately, it did. It went from focusing on quality to focusing on service. That’s when they changed their position to providing two years of free standard maintenance — oil changes, etc.

Had the car manufacturer attempted to emerge from that crisis still focused on quality, it would have been the laughing stock, and no one would have taken them seriously. Humbling themselves and focusing on serving their customers allowed the company to make a come-back.

Hyundai went through a similar experience. Think back to 1986 when Hyundai — a South Korean automaker — entered the US market. They started off with a bang, which quickly turned to a thud! Hyundai suffered from quality defects, as well, and soon was the target of great ridicule. It, too, had to come up with a new strategy to persuade customers to give the company another chance.

The result: An unheard of market plan (for the time, at least) promising customers a 10-year, 100,000 mile transmission and engine warranty. It worked; skeptical buyers gave the manufacturer another chance, and the strategy paid off, reviving Hyundai’s image in North America.

The strategy paid off, again, in 2008 during the beginning of the latest economic downturn. Hyundai assured buyers that if they bought a new car from them, and subsequently lost their jobs, they could return the car, essentially eliminating a source of financial stress and potential damage to one’s credit rating. With financial security of consumers’ minds, it was a brilliant strategy, that, again, paid off for the automaker.

As a leader, it will be incumbent on you to define the strategy for your teams and organization. As we prepare to dig deep into the role strategy plays in our leadership lives, spend some time today pondering these questions:

What are the benefits of having a sound strategy?

How do you recognize when your current strategy needs changing?

How do you respond when you come to that realization?

In what ways could you leverage your team and/or your organization’s assets more effectively?

How well are you executing your strategy?

I’ll “see” you tomorrow…and am looking forward to exploring this topic with you over the next four weeks.

*From the Intentional Leadership book by Giant Impact

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It’s Friday, again, and these four weeks of focus on attitude are coming to an end.

As we begin this weekend, what’s on your list?

Who do you need to spend time with this weekend?

What do you need to do for yourself this weekend?

What do you need to do to prepare for Monday, the coming week, and the weeks beyond?

My weekend will be similar to many…some writing, family time, a little more rest, and preparation for some upcoming teaching and the next Empowerment Mentoring Lesson — Drama this week, and reflection time.

It’s been a full but quick week. Several coaching sessions, including working with my coach, a team-building/strategy session, and was blessed to teach a lesson on attitude, being present, having fun, and making someone’s day.

Whatever is on your agenda for the weekend, I encourage you to spend it intentionally!

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A colleague of mine and his wife, Jeff and Kerry, are expecting their first child, a boy. The excitement they share as they anticipate this event is palpable. When they talk about doctor appointments, preparations, things they’ve purchased, and preparing the nursery, you can feel their positive energy and they glow with eager anticipation.

Shift now, to your organization. What happens in preparation for a new employee? Having been the new employee in a number of different organizations over the course of my career, I can say my experience has been varied, but only a couple of places stand out for doing it well; one of them was significantly more prepared than any other.

A couple of days after I accepted the offer at this particular company, I received a very nice flower arrangement; this was a first! A couple of days after that, my new manager called to express how pleased he was that I was joining his team, and to check on a couple of details; he wanted to know what I wanted printed on my business cards and needed some information that would allow the IT group to set up the laptop they ordered for me. This, too, was surprising behavior.

When I arrived for my first day, my office had been freshly cleaned and was as well appointed as they could make it; they wanted me to choose the furniture set-up I preferred rather than guessing, so for a couple of weeks I made do with the large, ornately carved wooden desk that formerly belonged to the company’s President! My phone was set up and the desk actually had pens, paper, stapler, tape dispenser, phone book, and company phone directory, as well as a company-branded pen & tablet and travel coffee cup.

My new teammates had each written a welcome note on brightly-colored 3×5 cards, which were tacked to the wall above my desk.  The admin assistant had already scheduled “getting to know you meetings” with all of the key leaders with whom I would be working closely, and those were spaced out over the first two weeks. They had lunch brought in for me on my first day, and we all ate together, beginning to get acquainted.

I’m sure there are other details I could share with you, but my point is this: My entry into the company was very positive and left me with no doubt about their level of excitement that I was joining them. They took the time to think through and plan for my arrival; none of it was an afterthought. The same can be said for my colleague and his wife as they prepare for the arrival of their son.

Contrast this to my first day with another company; my manager was actually on vacation the first couple of days I was there! I had office space, but nothing set up for me…no office supplies, no computer, no plan for how I would spend my time beyond the obligatory stack of documents that I had to complete. Why wouldn’t she have scheduled my first days for a time when she would actually be there? I’m still at a loss for the explanation for that. Or consider the stories I’ve heard – and I’m sure you’ve heard, or perhaps even experienced yourself – about companies that behaved as if the arrival of a new employee was a surprise, an inconvenience, maybe even an irritation.

Going back to my colleague’s son. No doubt, the baby will feel welcomed, wanted, and loved when he arrives and as he grows up. Intuitively he will know these things, but it won’t be for several years that he will have a conscious understanding of the time, effort, and thoughtfulness that his parents invested in preparing for his arrival. New employees, on the other hand, are instantly very much aware of the level of thoughtfulness and consideration that went into preparing for their arrival – or didn’t, as the case often seems to be.

I hope you don’t get caught up in the analogy I chose; it’s not my intent to imply that employees are “babies” and should be treated as such. Rather, it was a timely (for me) thought-provoking situation that got me thinking about how we often view our work entirely differently than we do other aspects of our lives, and yet, that are so many parallels and great lessons to be learned if we will only change our paradigm.

Whatever end of the spectrum you are on with respect to preparing for new employees, what message does your practice send?

Is it the message you intend to send?

What impact is it having on employee engagement and morale in your organization?

And how is that, in turn, affecting your results?

If you are interested in benefiting from your employees’ discretionary efforts (that level of performance that is above and beyond the basics as defined in one’s job description), taking some time to reflect on – and perhaps adjust – your new employee on-boarding preparation and processes may serve you well.

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