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    Entries in strategy (14)

    Saturday
    Jan212017

    The 12 Sins of Strategy

    If you read any of Enid Blyton’s Famous Five books when you were growing up (or they're in the family library) you might have read of the adventures of five young people who faced challenges, learned lessons and built strong friendships.

    The recent release of a series of spoof books on the Famous Five sees some new titles tailored just for grown-ups. The books might well be poking fun at some of the realities of life with titles like:

    ·     5 Go Parenting

    ·     5 Give up the Booze

    ·     5 Go Gluten Free

    ·     5 on Brexit Island…

    but it’s the one titled ‘5 go on a strategy away day’ that’s calling out many of the clichés and sins of bad strategic planning.

    After all, it’s the offsite and team session that is aimed at creating a refreshed organisational strategy: and it’s often the place where a new direction is set or the team presses ‘reset’ to chart a course for a new world.

    As the Harvard Business Review Blog Network presented recently:

    "Strategy formulation.. is an ongoing requirement of good management… This is a process you must permanently embed in your organization."

    When it comes time to bring the team together to revisit the positioning, profitability and progress of the business, what will you do?

    If you look at rebooking the same venue, using the same agenda as last year and find that the most challenging part of the strategic process is finding a common date when all the players can get in a room at once, your approach to strategy may be ticking off some of The 12 Sins of Strategy.

    Beware these sins and take steps pronto to move away from the sins and move towards the good and better of strategy.

     

     

    Before the session

    1. Same Same

    Here’s the sin: It’s all the same as last year – same dates, people, venue, agenda, menu and program. This isn’t to mention what gets discussed and decided -- if that’s the same, that’s a sure sin.

    If your ‘save as’ button is getting a workout, you’re a sinner! The world is VUCA – volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous. And our approach to strategy will need to change to adapt and respond to this environment.

     “Longevity is decreasing .. corporate mortality rates are rising .. the good news is the newer firms are more nimble. The bad news for (older firms) is that their days are numbered, unless they continually innovate.”

    From ‘Strategy: The scary truth about corporate survival’ -- Harvard Business Review, December 2016

     

    2. Too Safe

    This second sin could possibly read ‘dangerously safe’. The cousin to doing the same as last time – or the last decade – is playing too small or too safe.

    We are in an ongoing era of disruption and if we’re too safe (or too same) we’ll be trampled on by those who are more adequately responding to change.

    Every business is impacted by the effects of market shifts and changes. And if you haven’t ‘felt’ any of them yet, perhaps this will be the year. That maxim of ‘change or die’ is never truer.

    Have you gathered insights, information, background and the data needed to inform your strategic discussions and decisions? If you don’t know what’s going on, you may respond in a way that doesn’t set you up for the industry changes and shifts underway.

    Working with a pharmaceutical-style business recently, they discussed at their strategy day their need to adapt and change and to do so in ways they haven’t previously. The way customers were buying products and services had changed, and the type of products and services had changed too. Plus there were some new players in the market. Their long-lived era of being ‘the only’ or ‘the best’ was under threat. So their strategy session and strategic response was not just about taking out more advertising or to better train the staff who are customer facing.

    Both of these responses – training and advertising - are small tweaks and are more operational than strategic. It’s too small and too safe of a change.

     

    3. Vague Process

    If you can tick off that ‘yes’ you’re willing to look at things differently and be prepared to take some bigger steps, it’s now about HOW are you going to create that strategic response.

    This sin is what I’d call ‘vaguing the process’. That is, the process you’re planning to use on the day to create and craft your strategic response is vague. It’s ambiguous and not yet defined. You might know what you want to get at the end of the session, but you’re not crystal clear on HOW you’ll get that work done.

    By the way, the process isn’t the agenda.

    The process is the way you’re going to go about doing the strategic work, the strategic thinking in the lead up to, during and after your strategy session.

    If you were heading off on the holiday of a lifetime you wouldn’t just show up at the airport with your passport and credit card -- as fun as that may be. For the big projects and strategy work, you need some type of itinerary and how you’re going to move from one place or space… to another.

    Don't wing it or make it up as you go along.

     

    4. D.I.Y Facilitation 

    A flow on from #3 Vaguing the Process is if you are trying to facilitate the strategy session yourself: doing it yourself or D.I.Y.

    Thinking you can plan, observe, facilitate and participate all at once -- or even with a team of colleagues, trying to share the load -- is a hefty responsibility. How can you do it all?

    Save your facilitation skills for the day-to-day implementation and leadership work with your team - not the big ticket item of the strategy day.

    There can be a desire to ‘involve the team’ or ‘share the load’ or even ‘give people greater responsibility’ by having them lead sessions or facilitate at strategy days, but I believe there are other more cohesive ways to do this during the session, rather than them facilitating.

    The DIY approach reminds me of an eccentric friend who decided he’d represent himself in court over a family legal matter. He didn’t want to pay the legal fees. He thought there wasn’t much to it and he could do it himself. 

    The end result saw him dabbling in an area of deep expertise that was beyond his scope of understanding – and appreciation – and the cost in the long run was way beyond financial.

    Some DIY projects end up as a dangerous mess.

     

    During the session

     

    5. All talk

    This sin already occurs daily in many workplace meetings and workshops where teams of people sit around a table and … talk.

    It’s somewhat of a workplace default: people sitting there talking. And talking. And talking some more.

    Bringing a team or group together is an invitation of diversity. Sitting around talking for two days doesn’t serve this opportunity for diversity. We have differing preferences for how we take in information, process that information, make decisions, communicate, engage and think.

    Howard Gardiner’s theory of Multiple Intelligences documents how we have a number of different ‘modalities’ rather than a single general ability. He suggests that we have multiple ways of learning. So even if your preference is to sit and talk… it’s not diverse enough, nor is it identifying and responding to what else might work for others across the business.

     

    6. PowerPoint Snooze

    For many leaders, the days before a strategic session see them spending countless hours preparing a PowerPoint pack or presentation of information.

    Rather than the big investment of tweaking and tinkering with the layout on a document, have a conversation. Have dialogue with the team.

    We are losing our social intelligence and reinforcing that at a strategy or team day by delivering more one-way presentations is a drag and a sin.

    Attention spans are already short; no wonder some sessions feel like they are dragging on when people stand up to present dense packs of 132 slides (Yes, this happened at a team session).

     

    7. Little Input

    It’s a sin indeed to keep things narrow or involving the ‘usual suspects’ at a strategy session. It might feel more comfortable but you won’t get the best out of the event, the team or get the best possible strategic response.

    The field of Design and User Experience is focused on creating and launching things that meet users needs. Customer and user insights, feedback and suggestions are pivotal, vital, in creating a successful product.

    It’s also why focus groups and testing sessions, prototyping and scenarios are used -- to get a range of people to comment on and experience things connected to your company and brand.

     

    The other half of inputs … is outputs.

    Also, beware the ‘tapper’. The tapper is the designated person sitting in the corner of the room at a strategy session, tapping on a laptop and documenting the outcomes or key points of the session.

    Err, it’s a little dated and ineffective, your honour. It looks more like a crime scene or the trial with a court reporter capturing testimony! There are more collaborative and transparent ways to represent the progress being made.

    Big sin. Guilty!

     

    8. Idea Slumps

    A low point in a workshop is often feared, or expected perhaps – think of the after lunch or afternoon energy slump when we’re all a bit drowsy from eating too many sandwiches at lunch!

    This is a period of quiet, lower energy and sometimes we can fear that it’s not a good thing. But throughout the program of crafting a strategy there can be other slumps, speed humps or slow points.

    A slump or silence can sometimes occur just when we want to start brainstorming or ideating or coming up with brilliant innovative ideas.

    We need to avoid the, ‘Yay, come on team, let’s come up with new ideas for products!’ or ‘Hey there everyone, who’s got a brilliant idea?’

    We can’t expect genius to automatically flow just because we bring a group of people together in a room and tell them to be innovative. I believe you need to set up the environment for ideas to be born -- throughout the session.

     

    After the session

     

    9. Hangover

    This sin is less about an alcohol hangover and more about a mood hangover! Once the energy of the offsite or strategy session is over, what happens next?

    Yes, there can be a real coming-down or a flat spell after a significant strategic and transformative event. You’d have felt it after a holiday on your return to work – some of us feel it after the weekend!

    While it’s great to get the team together, to get away from the office and clear the path of the usual workplace interruptions, there needs to be some time and space allocated to help you with ‘re-entry’ back into the workplace.

    How are you going to land this thing?

    And a word on real hangovers: decide if it’s a party event or a strategy event and if it’s a bit of both, make it clear what the organisation’s policies are regarding hitting the booze and showing up the next day hammered. Not a good look.

     

    10. Cascade Down

    By ‘cascading’ information, the idea is that you take what was discussed or decided at the strategy day and then package it up to send over the cliff, down down down to the murky depths below to the minions who will put the strategy into action.

    The fact there is a word for this – to cascade – to deliver information down to your team says structure, hierarchy and downward flowing things. Often it’s about telling your next level, then they tell the next and they tell the next and before long, you have the whispers game you played as a child except now it’s being played out by grown-ups. Information is misinterpreted, not delivered at all or edited to take out the difficult-to-explain bits.

    People what to know what happened at the strategy session. Make that communication swift, clear, authentic and in more directions than just down.

     

    11. Few Actions

    Too many events, conferences, workshops and talk, none or few actions are agreed on ...and so nothing much changes. are focused on the event itself, and not the outcomes and strategic implementation that will follow. As a result of lots of offsites

    An organisation’s leaders who go on a strategy day and then don’t do anything with what they worked on is simply poor form.

    “If they can’t follow through on this, what else won’t they follow through on?”

    These were the words from a senior team member after a strategy day’s actions hit a roadblock and … just stopped.

    The excuse and blame game is just a step away as people shirk responsibility and dodge accountability.

    Most meetings, discussions, workshops are judged on what their outcomes are, on what they achieve and on what they produce. So too with the strategy day.

     

    12. Too Vanilla

    At some point you’ll want to, and need to share the strategy across the wider organisation.

    Further to the sin on ‘cascade down’, now it’s about the actual communication. Whether it’s a ‘strategy on a page’ distillation, a typical PowerPoint deck or something more creative, make sure it looks like it belongs to your organisation.

    Too many comms efforts are bland, lacking life and icon-ed to death. It’s as if the creativity has been stripped out and the end result could apply to any company at all - or any pre-school at all. There’s nothing that differentiates the company or shows its human side or brings the strategy to life.

    Where’s the story, the visual, the creative elements that will cut through and connect with people emotionally?

     

    So there you go, 12 sins of strategy. Get the full ebook on these 12 sins, by completing your details here and let’s stop the strategy sinning!

    Monday
    Dec212015

    A tool to make 2016 even better than 2015

    Before you turn the lights off, disconnect or switch off, no matter how cray-cray it feels out there, do this one thing...
     
    Hint at the future. 
     
    To help you make 2016 even better than 2015, indicate a few things on this visual roadmap for next year and give some hints for what could be for 2016.
     
    What could be better for you, your clients and customers, your team, your family, your community...?
     
    Don’t leave your work, team or project this year without this thought for next year’s focus.
     
    Even if you don’t know all the details yet. 
     
    When you hint at the future now, you'll have a much better result than trying to start fresh in 2016. If you come at this thinking all cold after a break or if you're feeling a little ‘bluh’ after too much turkey, you won’t do your best work - alone or together. 
     
    Leverage the crazy momentum of now to set some thoughts for next.
    So go ahead and get some of your initial thoughts, hints and hunches down now. Just a few. 
     
    Use a Roadmap for 2016
    Here's how to use my Visual Roadmap above for 2016....Print it out and have a think about:
    • the four quarters for 2016, stretching out ahead of you; what will they be about for next year? You can include a phrase or list of things to get done. (And there's a fifth quarter in there, did you see that? Use it to wrap up 2015 or even hint at 2017 - you choose!)
    • what your focus or major project is for each of those quarters; you could write that theme in the white signs on the side of the road.
    • and then add in any other key things to look out for or think about or work on; you could write that on the greenery on the roadside. 
    Some teams have a meeting to work on and chat about my roadmap, others fill it in and then compare notes - whatever works for you, get some initial thoughts down before you wrap up the year. 

    Comfort and Joy
    Here’s how else this Visual Roadmap for 2016 will be super helpful :
    • if you won’t be around for some of the holiday time, or if the team are working alone - they'll have a reminder of their overall focus
    • to help get people on the same page swiftly
    • make projects and activities connected to a bigger purpose or reason
    • make it real for people
    • put people at ease, and
    • make them part of the picture. 
    Get some of your thinking outta your head now; you will all reap great rewards when 2016 arrives. 

    Be super safe and enjoy every little thing until then...
    Monday
    Oct192015

    Leaders Who Pivot

    The term pivot has grown in popularity recently with its application to the world of the start up, the lean start up and making a course correction.

    Eric Ries’ 'The Lean StartUp' explains it as a whole step in the process of Build/Measure/Learn, that from the learning part, you may need to head off over there, in another direction depending on market response to your idea or other influences that mean you need to shift and adjust and adapt… to be agile. 

    In this VUCA world (volatile, uncertain, complex, ambiguous), uncertainty needs to be met not with ridigity but with flexibility. 

    Are you willing to shift off your set course? How willing are you to make a course correction?

    Aaah, but what if you’re not a start up? What if you’re an old old family business? What if you’re part of a BIG global institution like a bank or a service business or health care provider or a big, cumbersome government department? 
    What has 'starting up' anything got to do with you? How could you possibly pivot with what the organisation is working on? Maybe you think it will take six months to get things to shift to another direction no matter how small. Or perhaps the place is always pivoting, crazy-like, not able to set its mind on anything.

    Well, here’s the deal.  Individuals can pivot.  A lot. 

    The Daily Pivot

    Have you watched someone walking down the street, then they kind of change their mind and quickly start walking back the way they’ve come, only to switch again and head across the road in another direction (looking both ways of course).   There are some quick pivots there, a change of mind, a rearranging of priorities and working out what to do first, next, later. 

    The Lifestyle Pivot

    Or have you heard from a friend who had plan A in place (selling their house, living in another country, planning a holiday to exotic location) only to meet up with them again and they’re now running with plan B (staying put, staying put and staying put - having a staycation). These are all changes in thinking, although these are all pretty safe. 

    Perhaps next time you meet up they are onto Plan C: haven’t sold the house but are renting it out, are doing a work placement in another city and are holidaying in a developing country as a volunteer. More changes. More pivots.  
    In business, connecting in to experimenting and risking and willingness to fail is the pivot. 

    If something doesn’t work, move on and get on to doing something else. 


    "So what do we do? Anything. Something. So long as we just don't sit there. If we screw it up, start over. Try something else. If we wait until we've satisfied all the uncertainties, it may be too late. 

    - Lee Iacocca


    Plot Twists and Tilts

    The pivot is the ‘plot twist’. You’ve seen it in movies and films and some of the best storyline in the world feature the unexpected pivot.

    It looks like this: all’s well and everything is going great and then when you least expect it, here it comes, the ‘whammmo’ plot twist. 

    In improvisation where performers make up stuff as they go along, it’s called a ‘tilt’. Unexpected but responsive and it makes for brilliant theatre. You’ll get gasps and oooohs and aaaaaahs from the audience for a good tilt!

    The Business Pivot

    Learn from this. If you’re building, measuring and learning, no matter your field or industry, welcome the plot twist, the pivot and the preparedness to head off in another direction. It may be just a slight correction, a few degrees off, but it’s different enough to show you some different measurements and create some different learnings and leads to very different outcomes. 

    Ask these questions (in a workshop, strategy session or team meeting): 

    • What are you sticking to at the moment?
    • What are you hanging on to, willing the thing to work dammit?
    • What do you need to ‘give up’ on and shift, or pivot?
    • What could a pivot look like in this situation?
    • What would be a BIG mofo pivot?
    • What could be a smaller pivot - but a pivot nonetheless?
    • Who are you working with at the moment who needs to read this? Who isn’t shifting, one iota? Who needs to pivot?

     Be a leader who pivots; a leader who responds in uncertainty and doesn’t get stuck, paralysed or frozen from indecision. 

    Monday
    Oct192015

    Will we, won't we, maybe... umm: the killer of business momentum

    Indecision is such a business and momentum killer

    Think of a meeting or conversation; there are ideas, possibilities, but then it all screeches to a halt because there isn’t a decision. Or wait, here’s the decision: lets set another meeting date and talk about it all again next time. Urgh! 
    I think we are losing the drive to decide. 

    Yet decisions are such a vital component of leadership. They help you choose a course of action. They set a direction. They help express your leadership. They give people some certainty in this crazy uncertain world. 

    How about this: earlier this week I heard of more than 30 team members being on the receiving end and consequences of the indecision of a senior manager in a large organisation …  the leader couldn’t decide what to do with the most important part of their strategy day, which is just a few days away. 

    What? It’s a big and important strategy day. And it’s that big and important and you can’t decide!?  

    You still have no certainty on what you want to achieve, how you will do that, and you’re still oscillating and circulating and debating and ruminating over what could possibly be done.

    And it’s a strategy day. And it’s important. And it’s involving other people. And it’s about the future of the team and what you work on. 

    Whatever the details and the whys and wherefores and ‘yeah but maybe theys’ that you may be scripting in your mind about this situation, the point here is that a decision wasn’t made. Over a period of time. No decision. 

    There’s a lack of leadership right there. That’s what it looks like.

    It's Indecision. It's Oscillation. And Hesitation. 

    Contemporary leaders must give some their teams certainty over the stuff they CAN give certainty on. And making decisions is one of them. Decisions help give people certainty. 

    Leadership is about making heaps of decisions. Every day. Deciding which things will you tell, which you’ll share, ask or do; which things will you instigate, delegate, escalate, mitigate.    Yet it’s that flipping from one view to another, unable to make a call or to put a marker in the sand… it's that 'dicking around’ I call it, the not deciding that is a momentum and engagement killer. 

    Do we fear that: 

    • it will be the wrong decision
    • it could really stuff things up
    • maybe it’s not totally right
    • is it the best we can possibly do, maybe we can do better later with a bit more time
    • stuffing this up will hurt my career
    • maybe this will cause conflict … and a bunch of other hesitation hang ups.  

    Along with authenticity, clear communication and setting visions, leaders dear leaders, you need to make a FREAKING DECISION. And make it fast. Make one now. 

    Failing Fast

    If it doesn’t work, that is also known as ‘failing fast’. And you will soon know if it’s not right. Failure and failing fast is very ‘now’; it’s contemporary, hip and the done thing in agile teams and organisations. But you’ve got to decide so you can act and then see what happens. If you don’t decide, then you’re not leading.  
    If you’re not making a decision you’re not stepping into action, you’re not running an experiment and you’re not leading. You’re lying… in waiting.

    Dangerously Safe

    It’s like you are balancing on a high wire, not moving towards the end goal and neither are you reversing or backing up to go along some other high wire. You don’t even have anything to help you balance on that wire. You’re a balance-less high wire walker. And that’s dangerous.  
    You’re putting yourself in a situation where a little gust of wind, a little rattle on the high wire is something that could topple you over. That wouldn’t be a good ending.   

    An End to Choice

    "To decide". It means to end and terminate the choices you have. It means to ‘cut off’.

    Don’t be the person or role that someone else decides to cut off because you’re not making decisions in your team or organisation. 

    Decisions are leadership.Do them. Make them. Lead. 

    Wednesday
    Oct072015

    The Competitive Advantage of Seeing What Others Don't

    What does the view look like from where you are right now?

    Jim Haudan in 'The Art of Engagement: Bridging the Gap between People and Possibilities' explains how people across an organisation 'fly' at different levels. He suggests 1000ft, 15000ft and 35000ft. 

    Because we're flying at different altitudes, we have different views and perspectives.You'd know it from being in an aircraft:

    • On the ground: you can see the airport and the tarmac as you're taxiing to the runway;
    • Up in the air: up to a few thousand feet up there, you can make out towns and cities, roads and patchwork quilts of fields and farms; and
    • Cruising Altitude: way up there, at 35,000 feet you're getting the big picture and a broad perspective stretching way over the horizon.




    Just above here is a visual I use with teams to get them thinking about these different levels. You can write your thoughts in the clouds!

    Relax and enjoy the flight; these levels are normal, natural and a part of everyday. But sheeesh it's hard when you're trying to bring people together to align to a strategy, implement a change or adopt some new ways of doing things!

    We're so biased to see things that reinforce our beliefs that we need to take some deliberate action to see things in another way... in a way that other people may not see. 

    Gary Klein in 'Seeing What Others Don't: The remarkable ways we gain insights' suggests:


    "our insights stem from the force for noticing connections, coincidences, and curiosities"


    So think about where you're seeing things from, and are you allowing enough connections, coincidences and curiosities in? Ask yourself:

    • How does the view change if you climb up, up up?
    • What's different if you zoom down and get a closer view?
    • How do things look from where you are if you're 'on the ground'?
    • What perspective, view or angle are you missing out on from where you are now?
    • What do you need to do so you have a broader (or narrower) view?
    • What might you have missed?


    Klein says further: 
     

    "people who can pick up on trends, spot patterns, wonder about irregularities, and notice coincidences are an important resource."

    Seeing things, connecting the dots and making sense: this is the true competitive advantage of being able to see what others don't ...and I reckon that's a must-have skill for the uncertain future of work.