Relationships – A Failure to Connect is a Failure to Lead

 

I say relationships because effective communication is only one side of the coin. Connection is the other.

As leaders one of the pitfalls is that you can speak to someone and they will take action. It can be totally one sided. You say go do this and they do. You can deliver a speech and watch the audience disengage or you can pitch a great idea and receiving low support or buy in. It simply takes more than your words to be a true leader of change.

Speaking at someone is not the same as speaking with someone

Leadership is most effective when the leader can inspire and motivated people to not only follow but internalize the goal and commit to the realization. It comes down to engaging with them to build a solid connection. Here are a few recommendations on building those connections.

  1. Listen to learn. Taking the time to listen builds awareness, demonstrates respect, builds perspective and uncovers concerns. It is often recounted people will not listen when they have not be heard.
  2. Know your audience. What is their interest, knowledge, or position on the issue to be discussed or spoken about? Talking over or under their knowledge level, failure to understand or not recognizing their beliefs, perspectives or position will be speaking to deaf ears and made up minds.
  3. Speak to the person not the situation. Always remember speaking to the person will ensure higher engagement because it is personal. You need them to participate not observe. Speak with them not about them.
  4. Speak about the concerns. Don’t make the problem about the person make it about the circumstances, situation or behavior. Offending the person shuts them down, where as asking for involvement / clarification in addressing potential solutions encourages dialogue and maintains respect.
  5. Don’t assume build the facts. Observations are fine when they are made to bring out more facts not represent the only facts. Asking a leading question is more effective that taking a position not yet determined, validated or accepted.
  6. Offer WIN / WIN. Solutions that allow both side to claim success are the ones that have the best chance at realizing lasting benefits because it give both sides a reason to uphold the agreement. As a leader you may have the power to force compliance, however, good leaders know and practice the ability to connect and build the relationships that produce engagement, partnerships, mutual fulfillment and solid sustainable results.
  7. Speak only what you believe and are passionate about. Good leaders are genuine, passionate and believable. Ask only for what’s necessary and only for things you would be willing to do given a chance in circumstances.
  8. Avoid the fork tongue -follow through. You word is your bond only when your words are followed up by the action you take. There is an old and wise saying, “Listen to the words but believe their actions.”
  9. Servant leadership is the best way to inspire / facilitate the success of others leading to the realization of the desired outcome. Now do this leader’s get at best what they ask for but no more.
  10. Achieving a connected relationship is not an event it’s an ongoing partnership born of mutual respect, trust and admiration.

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.

How to Turn Every Failure Into a Measure for Success

Excellent article. By far failure offers the best opportunity to learn, improve and reach new success That’s how science and life works. Building character, taking responsibility, learning to manage risk its on great! Making small bets is a great way to test out you ideas you don’t need to bet the farm.

How to Turn Every Failure Into a Measure for Success

How to Turn Every Failure Into a Measure for Success

Originally posted by http://www.twitter.com/LollyDaskal

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.

Strategy –Finding Your Place

Without a winning strategy your journey has no destination and success would be an accident –they do happen but are unlikely.

At the foundation of strategy is finding a need for a good or service that is either solving a problem or creating a benefit that customers want and will pay enough for you to generate a profit.

Understanding a market by the fundaments is an important first step.

There are 4 questions:

  1. What is the Market?
  2. Why does the Market exist?
  3. Who are the Leaders?
  4. How will you carve out you niche?

What is the market answers the question of what is being provided to meet a need of consumers of such value that there is a demand. For instance farmers grow the food that people must have unless they grow it themselves or restaurants are a market that serves prepared food. Both meet a defined need.

Why the Market exists is about understanding why the need exists and how that need is addressed. Farmers are needed because in much of today’s society people don’t grow their own food. Restaurants exist to serve people that can’t or don’t want to buy food and prepare it for a variety of reason.

 

Who are the leaders is about understanding how the market is currently being serviced by the major players of each definitive market segment. This is understanding who, currently, are the major participants such as Kroger, WalMart or McDonalds. These players are market leaders in their respective category. There is great diversity on market segments, how providers service specific consumer groups, and who owns consumer mindshare within each category.

And finally how will you position your product or service to capture enough business to be successful by defining a unique offering and hopefully defendable position. By understanding the why the market exists the provider can position to meet the needs of specific consumer preferences. You don’t need to be the biggest to own a segment but, you have to be unique enough to carve out your dominance and meet your segments consumer’s preferences. For instance, Trader Joes does not compete with Kroger for selection or price but instead attracts and serves  a specific customer group.

While the questions are simple the answers can be very complex and challenging. Successfully understanding the questions is essential to the crafting of the winning strategy for your organization. Strategy is about making informed choices and commitments that must concisely define your organization’s vision before the execution can be undertaken to successful achieve the strategy. Yes there is order in the universe.

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/

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/

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