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True Leadership Trumps

So true. True leaders find the path forward by inspiring their organizations to take the appropriate actions to push forward. In truth adversity inspires the creativity, innovation and determination that differentiates the winning organizations from those whom live on life support. It begins with having solid strategy https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/what-makes-your-strategy-real-stephen-t-howell/

2018 Strategic Planning

As you prepare for 2018 planning its essential you understand these 3 realities.  1. Time is your most valuable asset. 2. This coming year is not new its a continuation of this year’s efforts 3. Dynamic transformation is possible ( only If you have a real plan).

What Makes Your Strategy Real

What Makes Your Strategy Real

https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/what-makes-your-strategy-real-stephen-t-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.

Why Strategic Plans Don’t Succeed –Execution Readiness

“There Are None So Blind As Those Who Will Not See”

Having been involved with the Strategic Planning process for most of my career I can quickly tell if an organization has a solid chance at making their new business initiatives successful. So how can I tell?

While there are many elements and factors that align to enable organizations to successfully implement business initiatives I look at 3 keys readiness indicators which I feel are strong indicators of the organization’s commitment to new initiatives.

1.    Have the organizations leaders made the ongoing effort to successfully communicate previous strategy initiatives to their organizations? The test is asking random employees to explain the organization’s strategy and their role in it.

2.    What is the organizations record at implementing strategy? Can they explain what has worked and what didn’t in the past? How are weaknesses and strengths captured and analyzed? How are they being addressed?

3.    What level of operation effectiveness is the organization currently achieving? I look for signs of the operation’s capability to successfully execute business processes. What is the organizations tolerance to under achievement?

Failure to realize and address previous and current shortcoming is a major concern.  “Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” The SWOT tool should address this, if, used appropriately. So why doesn’t it? The answer is people adjust to their reality.

Here’s an example.

Recently, I accepted a request to facilitate a 2 day strategy session for a new client. At the first coffee break I observed several members of the leadership team were discussing the poor performance of one of their departments and specifically, the performance of a disgruntled and underperforming middle manager. As the break ended so did the discussion.

Before allowing the meeting to progress I engaged the entire leadership team with the following observation. I said that I had observed a conversation about a situation where customer impacting underperformance was occurring, yet no one took ownership and no actions were discussed or assigned. Apparently this individual had been a problem for years and the leadership team chose to accept this as “the way it was and would be going forward.” This organization’s lacked the tenacity to take on tough challenges. They were going through the process, but, they clearly lacked the resolve. I disengaged with this client.

Moving forward into the Strategic Planning and the subsequent Execution Process without addressing the organization’s blind spots is a serious oversight. Organizations that fail to acknowledge and address these blind spots indicate an unwillingness to follow through on commitments. They are attempting to build on a poor foundation.

I recommend using a process I call Curb Vision. Curb Vision is the process of looking at your organization from the outside in, taking away any rationalizations / history and looking solely at the facts. The goal of Curb Vision is to strip away any biases and reveal the true reality of the current business situation.

A Curb Vision assessment is an invaluable tool to capture incidents of organization’s blindness and bring them forward for resolution. This exercise signals that the organization is serious about their business and willing to take the required actions to resolve the obstructions and issues needed to move the business forward.

One solution is to bring in an experienced consultant to facilitate. It is money well spent to ensure you get a handle on the challenges and capabilities that you’ll need to address to move forward. Having “outside” eyes look at your business does provide an unbiased view.

Ensuring the unfinished business become the first business in the new plan significantly improves the organizations readiness to move forward.  If it happened in the past what’s going to change to prevent it in the future?

Strategy Plan Success – Event or Process

One of the most common factors that leads to disappointing results in the organizations Strategic Planning initiative is when they are executed as an “annual event” and not an ongoing business critical process that get updated and refined year over year. Following is a short list of concerns and recommendation for your consideration:

1.     The Strategic planning process is executed as more of a sprint than a marathon. Lots of up front energy and inspiring thought-provoking ideas of what could be followed by vaguely worded action items and off the organization goes running fast and hard. Soon the demands of the daily business take precedence and strategic plan initiatives fizzle out. As soon as the plan goes off track momentum is lost and initiatives die.

Recommendation

My approach is to define success and then backwards engineer the plan to build a road map.

Ambition becomes Accomplishment when adequate time and resources are invested along with disciplined planning and follow-up. Strategy without a defined execution plan is a no go. Spend the time to fully define who, what, how, where and when. Using Smart Goals is good way to ensure there is enough manageable detail to reasonablyexpect success. A common flaw is committing to do too much, too fast. By spreading the initiatives over a realist timeline you will only commit to what can be realistically accomplished.

2.      The Strategic Planning process focus is mostly on crafting the strategy, which is the inspiring and the creative side of the process. The Execution Plan, which is the way to turn the vision into reality, is where the advancement begins to become real. Organizations typically gather under prepared senior employees to an offsite location for a multi day meeting to do “Strategic Planning”. At every break they get on their cell phones back to the business and remain immersed in the details back at the office. The message here is the initiative is a disruption to their ongoing “real priority”.

Recommendation

Senior leadership has to inspire and provide real purpose to harness the energy and creativity of their organization leaders to commitment to the plan. This requires that the plan becomes a major part of their jobs and not an additional commitment on top over their existing demands. No one has an extra 20+ hours to assume more responsibility as they are already maxed out. These new commitments must be prioritized and replace something they are already doing. Hard choices must be made.

3.      The strategy must be real and urgent. Well meaning strategies that are more fluff and lack substance have low buy-in and little chance of success. They may be real goals / needs but lack the detail and defined roadmap to success needed.

Recommendation

I have seen great visions evaporate because they lacked both clarity and definition. Taking the time to ensure the vision becomes a realizable initiative is essential to gain buy-in and commitment.

Time and Profitability

Time and Profitability

Time waits on no one and once spent it is lost.

For most organizations time is its most important asset. Waste it and it’s gone and with it the profits to keep your organization viable. How an organization spends its time can be the difference between success and failure.

Below is a tool to help assess how your organization spends time and the associated impact on profits. The tool is designed to bring awareness and understanding of the usage of time into four different quadrants.

Quadrants

1.       Planning             5- 10%

2.       Execution             85% +

3.       Fire Fight            <   5%

4.       Crisis                    <   1 %

Planning

Time in this quadrant is spent on defining how and what the organization will deliver. Activities such as strategic planning, competitor analysis, product/service development, procedure definition, process mapping, performance measures and problem solving are done here.

Time spent is this quadrant is extremely valuable to your organization and should ensure your business has a focused plan for success.  Depending on the size and maturity of the organization I recommend spending somewhere between 5 – 10% of the time here. The right amount is determined by the time needed to ensure the organization remains successful.

Execution

Time used here is spent delivering the products and services of your organization. In high performing businesses time spent here will be 85%+. This means 8.5 /10 or better the transaction is to standard.

To qualify as time spent in this quadrant, time must be used to meet performance standards.  For instance, the time required to take a customer order and ship the product or perform the service should be in compliance with the process standard/job definition. If the required customer order information is missing or incorrect, the product is not available, you use excessive labour or other disruptions occur, that time is captured and allocated to time spent in quadrant 3 or 4. I have included an example below.

Fire Fight

Time spent here is the incremental/reactive (Fire Fight) time spent to redo or correct for a failure. In a struggling organization time spent here can be moderate to excessive. For instance, a construction project with a 25% labor overrun, a capital project severely over budget and behind schedule or a failed service delivery would be an example of this. Any event where more labor, especially management intervention, is required than would be expected qualifies here.

Here is an example of a personal experience. I recently ordered 500 new business cards. The original order arrived and there was a minor error on the card. I called the company and, as promised, they agreed to correct it at no additional cost to me. While the original order was online it now involved a customer service representative and took approximately 20 minutes.  The reorder was shipped express mail and was received about a week later. I opened the shipment and found they shipped me only 100 cards. Back on the phone again and another 20 minutes later they apologized and agreed to ship the order a third time and because they only ship in 100, 250, 500+ order sizes they informed me I would receive 500 more business cards. So now I have 1100 new business cards and this vendor spent their profit and more fulfilling the order. This could be a onetime occurrence but I doubt it!

I see these things go on everywhere. Redo’s can crush an organization’s profit and can be a leading cause of business losses. No business can sustain prolonged under-performance and the associated overspending on labor. Take a second and consider instances that occur inside your business.

Crisis

To qualify as time spent in crisis, the circumstances are dire and the resulting cost/business impact would be considered extreme. Events here can be classified as internal and external.

Internal crisis are or should be controllable, whereas, external events are caused, arguably, as events beyond the control of your organization. I will explain why I say arguably, shortly.

Internal events are things like chronic labor overruns, major inventory mismanagement, extreme excess non valued added labor spending or simply failure to maintain a healthy organization culture and efficient customer focused workforce.

External causes include changes in government policy, major changes in economic conditions, changing customer preferences, disruptive competitive offerings or actions including anything from new entrants, price actions or new technology:

My arguably comments is relevant to the extent of your organization’s responsiveness to addressable events. The best example of this might be Yahoo, an undisputed market champion that fell prey to Google and others due to lack of focus and failure to correct course.

 Action

By classifying the time your organization spends in each of the quadrants, you can raise awareness and take the appropriate corrective action. This tool is intended to start conversations that will lead to addressing required changes as opposed to accepting that this is the way things work around here. Most organizations have standards; however, often the prevailing practice becomes the de facto standard. In some case an organization is knowingly underperforming and accepts this as acceptable due to weak leadership. Say for instance our standard is to return customer calls within 2 hours but call routinely don’t get make until 6 or more hours and no corrective action is initiated. Or more severe would be no investigation into labor overruns.

I recently led a strategic planning session for a client where – during a mid morning break – several managers began a conversation identifying several inefficiencies that we’re occurring and had been occurring for a long time. As I listened each manager shared their displeasure with the situation. As the break ended the conversation dropped.

Based on my observation I offered the following. First off all, you agreed this was a clear case of unnecessary disruption that was causing ongoing fire fighting to overcome these efficiencies. No one has taken ownership of any of the issues and no one has committed to addressing this issue for resolution. In short, they had accepted this as the way things were done. Reluctantly these issues were added to the ‘To-Do List’ by the leadership team.

This is not an isolated example. I have had similar experiences in many companies I have worked with. This is the low-hanging-fruit that successful organization harvest. Failure to identify and harvest the fruit results in decay and waste.

In my next post I will address how to best deal with undesirable findings in Time Management.

Stephen Howell

Horizon Executive Consulting

How to write the perfect e-mail

E-mail is one of the most used forms of communication today, make sure you’re using it right

 

By: Matt Beauchamp, Owner of MRB Ink

E-mail is one of the most used forms of communication today. Most of us use it all day everyday. We receive countless e-mails all day, often opening one to find a long rambling message that quickly has us deleting it.

We’ve all seen these e-mails. The ones where we wonder if the writer had any idea what they were doing when they crafted their message.

The funny thing is, we’re likely guilty of writing these e-mails as well.

When we’re contacting someone for the first time, why is it so hard to write that perfect e-mail?

Not to worry, we’ve got some tips to help you write a great e-mail that gets your message across and gets your e-mail read. We’ll even give you an example of the perfect e-mail.

Why are you writing?

First you need to establish WHY you are writing the e-mail. Are you looking to get a reply from the recipient? Are you paying them a compliment with no reply necessary? Are you inquiring about something? Or is the point of the e-mail just to open communication lines for sometime in the future?

Once you have established the point of your e-mail, it’s much easier to craft something more specific, which in turn will make it more likely to reach your goal.

Get to the point

People want to know why you’re writing and they want to know fast. Skip long-winded introductions, compliments and stories about how you know a friend-of-a-friend. Tell the reader why you’re writing and what you want from them.

If you need a reply make sure they know it. If no reply is necessary then let them know they don’t need to get back to you. They’ll love to hear it!

K.I.S.S

Keep it simple, stupid! It’s almost shocking that this needs to be said, but it’s true. There’s nothing worse than receiving an e-mail that is cluttered with pictures, and hyperlinks and different kinds of font.

Keep your message straight forward and to the point. If your message can be said in only a couple of sentences, then do that. Trim excess sentences and words to ensure that you only have the real meat of what you’re trying to say.

What’s in it for them?

Too often e-mails are about what’s in it for you, why the receiver should help you, etc. Don’t be afraid to tell them what’s in it for them.

Make sure if you’re stating benefits that they are reasonable. For example e-mailing Mashable and asking for a shout-out on their front page isn’t reasonable. Make sure you do your homework and that the receiver actually does what you are asking.

Face-to-face

As your writing your perfect e-mail, think of it the same as introducing yourself to someone face-to-face.

When meeting someone for the first time it’s not likely you would excessively shower them with compliments, or give them your whole life story. More realistically you’d do a quick introduction of yourself, then listen to them as they did the same.

In writing an e-mail this equates to hitting the send button after an introduction.

20 questions

Try to minimize the amount of questions you ask in an e-mail. The more questions (especially open-ended one) you ask, the less likely you are to get a response.

Keep your questions to one or two max per e-mail. Make sure you ask direct questions like, “Can we meet for coffee next week to discuss the proposal?” Don’t expect all of life’s questions to be answered in one e-mail. Avoid questions like “How can I get rich quick.”

Remember you can always ask more question in additional e-mails. They key here is to keep the lines of communication open.

Example

Here’s an example of a terrible e-mail.

Dear Matt,

I hope you are doing well! I was curious if you had any concerns about your online marketing and how it works or figuring out what is going to work you’re your project. I know firsthand how frustrating and challenging it can be to keep focused on your marketing with all of the different channels out there and all of the information.

When I first started my own company, I didn’t even know where to start with my marketing projects. Should I go with social media? A website? Who should I call? Luckily over the years I figured it all out!

We’ve had tremendous success with companies like ABC Corporation, where we took a marketing budget and expanded their company base by 50%. Would you like more customers? Do you want to see increased profits?

Would it make sense for us to chat? Either by phone or in person? If you don’t feel like we can be of service then please let me know, otherwise I would love to talk to you about what areas you are trying to address and how we could help. Could you please get back to me?

Thanks!

Jim Smith

Thankfully this is not an e-mail I have actually received, however I have received some VERY similar to this. Long, with too many questions, and only a vague understanding of what they could do for me.

Using the tips we’ve discussed above, here’s how this e-mail should be.

Hi Matt,

I’m writing on behalf of <Insert Web URL>.  We create online marketing programs that make it easy for businesses to grow.

Here are some companies we have created successful programs for <Insert list of related and well known sites>. Creating a program with us takes very little time and most companies see results they love within the first two weeks.

I have openings on Wednesday and Friday of next week to share these strategies with you, which day would work for you?

 

Jim
ABC Marketing Company
Marketingcompany.com

 

Take Home Points

·      Get to the point

·      Keep it simple

·      Clearly state next action

·      Present benefits

·      Edit for conciseness

·      Limit questions