Monthly Archives: January 2013

Continuous Strategic Leadership vs. Periodic Strategic Planning

Basically, I am against annual planning. Annual planning implies that once a year we sit down and draw up our plans of what we are going to do that year. However, on the ground, nearly all the work we do is project based. Our projects could be product developments, outreach campaigns, events or other tasks. So, our annual plans are really a summary of plans for the combination of projects that we will progress during the next planning cycle period to most effectively move ourselves towards our vision.

Some projects in the year take longer than a year, and some take less than a year. Let’s say that the planning cycle runs January to December. What happens if a brilliant opportunity for a 6 month project to most effectively make progress towards our vision appears in March? Where does it fit in the strategic plan?

What happens if we think of the strategic planning process as the ongoing assessment and management of implementation of the projects that would jointly help us to most effectively achieve the vision? When we do this, then the planning cycle need no longer exist at that project level. However, most of us lead departments or parts of a larger organization and our projects are sub projects to a wider program, or at least contribute towards a wider program. At the program (or higher level) there may be a desire to periodically (either calendar initiated or program phase initiated) review strategy and progress of our projects. When this happens all that needs to be done at the project level is provide descriptions of the current strategy and status of our projects to those looking at a wider picture.

In other words, the our strategic plans should not be driven by the cycle or reporting needs of the wider picture, but driven by the cycles of our own projects and shared with those who might need the same information for other needs at other levels in other cycles.

If the only planning that we do is annual and driven by wider needs then there is a strong possibility that we are not being strategic with the use of all of the resources that we have at our disposal in our domain of influence.

Let me give an example. At ADC Telecom there might have been 100 projects (product developments) across the company at any one time. Each of these projects was reviewed throughout the product life-cycle for most effective implementation, and for most effective use of the overall company’s resources. However, once a year the corporation had its reporting cycle based around the SEC reporting requirements, In addition the board needed to show the shareholders good value in use of the shareholder’s resources at the annual shareholder meeting.

The annual cycle of the board did not drive the strategic planning at the divisional and product line level. At the divisional and product line level strategic planning was continuous, driven by the product life cycles. However, annual reviews at the divisional and board level just collected the current views and data sets from all of the product lines and reviewed them en-masse.

The strategic planning cycle was dead, but long lived strategic planning as part of day to day strategic leadership.

A Definition of Strategy

A colleague recommended Rich Howarth’s book on strategy and management of strategy called “Deep Dive: The Proven Method for Building Strategy, Focusing Your Resources, and Taking Smart Action.”

Howarth has a definition of strategy that I like:

“the intelligent allocation of limited resources through a unique system of activities to outperform the competition in serving customers.”

Based upon this definition of strategy, then Strategic Leadership would be defined as

“Causing people in an organization to intelligently allocate limited resources through a unique system of activities to outperform the competition in serving customers.”

I like the idea of recognition of limited resources, and the idea of well thought through intentional use of those resources in a way that improves upon existing ways to achieve the end result. The only thing that I’d love to see changed is the replacement of the word “intelligent” with “optimum”. “Optimum” implies so much more. It implies not just that a better allocation of resources is used, but the best allocation of resources is used.

Regardless of this, at least the idea of “intelligently” allocating resources implies that someone thought of what could be done, and decided to do something for a reason other than “we have always done it like this”.

I thought that this was worth sharing, as I like the thinking behind the definition.

Reviewing Strategy Progress

Without regular reviews of progress towards strategic goals, most people will get swamped by the urgent. You’d think that goals that are defined as strategically important would automatically be reviewed. Experience tells me that this is not so. In fact, the opposite can occur. When people are swamped by the urgent, taking time to remind oneself that what is truly important is not happening can be embarrassing, and avoided.

Sean Covey in 4 Disciplines of Execution recommends weekly reviews of lead measurements. I think that lag measurements (or the desired outcomes or goals) should also be reviewed, just in case the lead measurements are not leading to the correct lag effects.

Covey recommends frequent, but short, reviews of progress. I agree. This keeps the goals in the front of the minds of those people who would otherwise be swamped by the urgent. I can remember many projects when we were developing telecoms products that did not have regular reviews. I don’t remember them being consistently delivered on time. This is Project Management 101, and I’ve paid for not following it before.

This principle applies to any project. During 2 hour meetings we review progress against an agenda to see if we are still on track to do what we wanted to do during the time allocated. Similarly, we should regularly review macro progress to macro level goals over the life cycle of the strategy to achieve that goal.

I have concluded that daily or weekly 15 or 30 minute stand-up meetings in the short-term can save a lot of crisis management and war-room meetings in the long-term.

Creating a Culture of Strategic Leadership

Creating a culture in an organization where people engage in creative thinking, planning and execution to most effectively accomplish the vision is a culture change.

To create this culture requires use of culture change management. There are well thought out processes for doing this based upon a lot of experience. John Kotter describes one of the most respected processes for culture change in his book “Leading Change“.

Kotter outlines the process that he observed to have worked the most often. It has 8 steps as follows:

  • Establish a sense of urgency
  • Create the guiding coalition
  • Develop a change vision
  • Communicate the vision for buy-in
  • Empower broad-based action
  • Generate short-term wins
  • Never let up
  • Incorporate changes in the culture
Personally, it’s been a long time since I learned any change management theory, and I can’t remember much of it. However, I do remember that the key was to utilize “change agents” to create “critical mass” of people who operate according to the new cultural principles. I think that I remember that a critical mass had to be between 30% and 40% of the population of an organization for it to reach the tipping point where everyone else would adopt the change.
Anyway, food for thought when thinking about introducing a culture of strategic leadership.