Effective Delegation –Positive Communication Breakdown

 

Stop talking and listen. The key to achieving effective delegation of work is to foster bi-directional communication where clarity can be established and details defined.

“I know you heard what I said but you didn’t understand what I meant”

This happens all the time. As the leader it is your responsibility to take measures to ensure the success of your employees. Where many leaders fall short is delegating responsibilities and not providing for the opportunity for the employee to fully understand and validate the assignment. Waiting to the deadline to find out the assignment wasn’t understood and will not be completed to desired expectations is courting failure -yours not theirs.

Message verification is critical.

I use a 3 question approach.

1) Do you and your employee understand what the successful outcome looks like? Have them tell you what they have heard. Are they comfortable with the assignment? Right here you can validate employee understanding of the desired outcome and set them up for success.

2) Can your employee or team identify their strategy, tactics or actions to achieve the desired outcome? It’s key that they can articulate their approach indicating both ownership and competency. This is an excellent question to disclose potential issues, as well as an opportunity to mentor, offer supportive suggestions to increase the likelihood of success.

3) Any issues, obstacles, concerns or assistance required is identified. This signals to your employee that you are not delegating and departing but will remain an active resource. Many initiatives will encounter unforeseen obstacles and as leaders your ongoing support and mentorship is invaluable.

Collectively these questions increase the likelihood of getting an on time and successful outcome. Additionally, I recommend scheduled progress reviews to ensure the employees success is on track. Good leaders empower, equip and support. This does not mean micromanagement so be sure to support and not direct.

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.

Creating and Sustaining Urgency

As leaders we need to create a sense of urgency in our organizations to harness the collective energy of our workforce. It is important that the organization is always being enabled and challenged to improve, and indifference and apathy get rooted out. This is best accomplished through the establishing, and robust execution of key business initiatives developed during the annual planning process and the development of a  results orientated culture differentiating your business to customers and employees alike.

Leaders must inspire action not demand it.”

Employee buy-in is best accomplished through enablement and not coercion. Coercion creates rebellion / pushback and anxiety. When employees feel pressured to perform they look for ways to reduce it and this may result in low performance, withdrawal or departure. Any gains through coercion are short-lived. A good leader will challenge but will not dictate.

As a leader we must create an environment where purpose is clear and where employees are actively involved early in the process.

“Don’t tell me what to do ask me to how to achieve the desired result.”

 Engagement occurs when employees value the accomplishment of the goal and feel connected to the achievement of it through their efforts and contributions. Ensuring roadblocks and obstacles are removed is a key management support action in ensuring employee efforts are not unnecessarily hampered with unneeded bureaucracy or other business inefficiencies. As examples these two disruptors a) unclear responsibilities / ownership creates unnecessary power struggles orb) indecisive management decision-making are real de-motivators.

Keys to Building Engagement:

  1. Employees understand the goals and buy into their accomplishment.
  2. Employees feel empowered to a goal ownership level.
  3. The Plan is real and achievable.
  4. Success / rewards / recognition are distributed to those contributing to the attainment.
  5. Failure is understood and not punished.
  6. Leaders enable and don’t interfere.
  7. Trust and respect are real and not just slogans.
  8. Underperformance and inefficiencies are understood and resolved.
  9. Expectations are reasonable and sustainable.
  10. Accountability is clear for execution purposes not blame assignment.

As leaders we must step back and see things for what they are. I call this curb vision. This is looking at your business without bias and seeing things as they really are not as you would like them or accept them. Identifying where opportunity is and seizing it will ensure urgency is consistent and ongoing. Any Thoughts?

 

A United Mind , Body and Spirit

This article is for anyone wanting more. Turning ambition into accomplishment requires focus and dedication but they alone without structure, often lack the substance to become reality. This article tells the story about how I set a goal to pedal my road bike 3000 km and the reasons why and how this challenge delivered so much more.

Life is what you make it. Being the person you aspire to be requires your passion, your committment and your dedication. To rise and maintain the quality of life you desire is a worthy challenge . The higher the standard, the greater the struggle, the more satisfying the achievement . The key is to understand why your goal is important to you. Goals that aren’t inspired with passion and personal meaning are difficult to attain and maintain.

I pursue my personal goals much as I would for my business goals. The crafting of a strategic plan, managing the implementation, and executing an ongoing committment to deliver the capabilities and realize the desired outcomes. While not as formal, the thinking is the same.

Achieving your personal or professional goals requires focus on mind, body and spirit collectively.

My 2017 initiative was to ride my bike 3000 kilometers. At 61 I felt I needed to attempt this challenge as an effort to challenge and re-energize myself. This was a very physical effort over a 5 month period that required determination, focus and undying desire to achieve. Challenging my body required harnessing the power of mind and spirit.

I felt it was such an important journey because it was a goal that entailed commitment over a five month period. It required me to invest and maintain a disciplined schedule. Because of the physicality of the goal there was a need to get in the mindset that I could do this and realize this was so much more important than the ride itself. I steeled myself against the body strains and pains, the scorching summer heat, the incessant insects and their bites, and the mental challenge not to succumb to the long rides / steep hills. The spiritual growth of achieving this new challenge had meaning in that it reconfirmed my core belief that given time and commitment almost anything is possible. In addition, enjoying the quiet solitude of being in nature and experiencing it’s awesome beauty was spiritually uplifting.

As with most new endeavors, doing it poorly until you get better meant my initial rides were short and challenging. As I continued I learned to do things better like how to pedal for distance. My early rides were around 20 km but gradually increased to 50 and 70+ kms rides. This also reminded me that I needed to pace my professional initiatives to perform better for longer as well. My first rides were short so the early progress was disappointing but I stayed committed. My emotions and personal will to achieve my goals, along with the tremendous sense of accomplishment kept me committed. This also transferred into my professional work. Things I knew I needed to get accomplished, but were not done timely due to procrastination, were now being completed.

While I realize that this accomplishment may be beyond other’s capabilities due to physical demands, interest or time constraints, and may be far beneath the accomplishments of others, it was a personal challenge appropriate to me. It is my attempt here to emphasize, to myself and others still reading, that the benefits and connectivity of mind, body and spirit is important and crucial. It truly helped me to get back in touch with myself and I sincerely hope you’ll consider these benefits as well.

As you can see below I did reach my goal just as the weather deteriorated to less desirable riding conditions here in Calgary. This was a personal victory along my path of self discovery and growth, a life long journey. I would also like to mention that while it is me pushing the pedals, I have a lot of support by those around me in my quest. My wife encourages me and allows me the time to pursue this and other initiatives. It is so incredible how others respect and encourage you when you make the goal public. Perhaps the whole humanity of helping others is the foundation of helping one’s self.

I am including brief lessons learned below…

Lessons Learned

  1. You must believe in yourself before you can turn your ambitions into accomplishments.
  2. It’s important to understand and resolve any obstacles to your success. Avoiding these is an invitation for a future occurence.
  3. Even though you may not be up for the ride you need to make it because consistency and self-discipline are essential components to success
  4. Measurement is essential and it’s motivational to track your performance towards your goal.
  5. Get your team involved, you’ll need the support and they’ll be inspired by your success.
  6. Perserverance is very important on the hill climbs, which are perhaps the biggest challenge. It would be easy to give in and stop, but these are must win battles that test your resolve and validate your passion and purpose.
  7. Never settle. Today’s accomplishments are tomorrow’s baseline.

 

Change is going to do you good! If?

Change management is indeed messy and often frustrating, but is an unavoidable reality. At some level people want it, need it, and perhaps desire it if only they could take a pill to make it happen.

Perhaps the biggest challenge in making change initiatives successful is accepting the reality of the situation by both the change facilitator and the leadership team. Perhaps the best way, my preferred approach, is to build awareness of the “current state”. I believe you must look back before attempting to go forward.

Looking backwards into what has worked and what hasn’t, in the recent past initiatives, is so revealing and builds an understanding of the organizations strengths and opportunities. I am not talking about the traditional SWOT analysis, which will come forward as the process evolves, I am referring to the debriefing of the prior attempts and identifying what lessons have been learned or need to be learned and identifying the true capability for change in the organization.

Building this awareness is necessary for the organization to accept responsibility and accountability. It’s pure insanity to repeat the same processes until the known causes of failure are understood and mitigated. Change involves making tough decisions about people, processes and purpose.

Every organization is unique and by understanding their capabilities, commitment and discipline levels, the change facilitator and leadership team can build a realistic path forward. And yes the change facilitator cannot be positioned as the champion but merely as the resource of best practices.

Strategic Plan -Implementation Challenges

One of the biggest challenges that organizations face is finding the time to implement the major initiatives that were developed during the planning process. In many cases the amount of time and effort required to put the vision into practice is under estimated and beyond realistic given the demands already on your key resources. As a result critical business initiatives will go uncompleted and the gain unrealized.

“Almost anything can be accomplished given the time and resources required to implement”

In my experience organizations put 90% of the effort into strategy creation and the remaining 10% into the implementation plan. This kind of “figure it out on the fly” thinking places a huge burden on already busy key resources to find the time after the fact to develop implementation plans. Spending the time on implementation isn’t near as exciting as coming up with ideas but it is every bit as important. In practice the breakdown should be more 50 -50.

Here are some best practices for your consideration:

  1. Spend the appropriate time on developing a realistic implementation plan defining the who, what, and when details using SMART objectives format. In reality the plan is a series of projects and should be run like projects.
  2. Prioritize and synchronize business initiatives. I recommend using a reverse engineering process to plan out the appropriate order that the initiatives should be addressed. Creating a roadmap and breaking the initiatives into 90 day time buckets will help keep the plan active and on schedule. Formal reviews maintain accountability and plan status. Every organization is different so the speed of change should fit with the circumstances of your business.
  3. Take a hard look at the time and resources required. If you need a skill or technology to accomplish an objective that you either don’t have or is not available plan how this roadblock will be overcome before commiting.
  4. Consider dedicating a resource to managing the overall plan. Having someone with the responsibility to oversee the plan will ensure focus and any issue or obstacles get immediate attention and resolution.
  5. Identify time spent on lesser priority projects than can be reallocated to the more urgent business requirements. Every plan should have a STOP list.
  6. Your plan should have as an objective on improving operational efficiency and error reduction. This is an ongoing initiative that deserves continuous focus.

In the diagram below I have identified the four ways time is spent in organizations.Planning is time spent developing policies and practices. Execution is performing those policies and practices. Fire Fighting is time spent correcting errors that have occurred because policies and practices were either not performed correctly or are not defined. Crisis is time spent by managerial level resources to fix major customer impacting or costly operational errors.

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.”

While I firmly believe success belongs to those doing the work and short comings belong to the leader the successful leader must determine the way forward. 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 management 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/

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