Monthly Archives: February 2013

Keeping The Strategy Simple

I received a strategy plan by e-mail today from a colleague who I met last year. The plan is for the next 12 months. I like what I see. The reasons that I like what I see in this plan are:

  • It all starts with the Vision of what we are trying to achieve as an organization.
  • It has one objective for the team of 5 people – to make a clearly defined amount of progress directly towards the Vision in the time-frame of the plan.
  • The objective looks achievable, but focused on stretching the team to the next level of implementation.
  • They appear to have abandoned doing what they were doing for the last 10 years that did not lead towards the Vision. Yippee!!
  • The plan seems realistic as to what resources it will have available. There are not wild assumptions about availability of people or money to execute the plan.
  • The plan has specific actions by specific people during the year to do specific things that seem simple but important. Again, no wild “faith” assumptions.
  • The whole thing was three pages – and that includes lots of white space. I think that each of the 5 team members who are due to execute the plan could read this and remember what they are supposed to do by when.

All in all, I think that this plan is not a barrier to its completion in its own right. This is good in my opinion.

I will meet the authors of the plan next month. I think that the key question that I will ask them is: What could stop this plan from being implemented as the next 12 months unfold?

SMART Strategic Objectives

I spent today working with an organization that had three strategic objectives for the year. The first was directly related to making quantifiable progress towards the Vision of the organization. Great. The last was a quantifiable financial objective. Great.

The middle objective was “planned, implementable, strategic cooperation between the (operational units of the organization)”. Rats!

There were 8 people around the table. Every one of the 8 people said that they knew that this was one of the most important things that they needed to do. I asked them each to write down three characteristics of what “strategic cooperation” looked like to them. We had 8 different perspectives of this objective. Everyone agreed that they needed it, but everyone had a different view of what it was. 2 hours later I gave up, but still the only thing that they all agreed was that they needed it. I ditched the issue, circumvented trying to define it further and went straight for an application of what one person wanted out of it (whatever it was). Not very professional of me.

It turns out that it is a lot easier for a team of people to implement a strategic plan when the objectives in the plan are:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Attainable
  • Realistic
  • Timely

Please help yourself and make strategic objectives SMART.

Rich Howarth’s view on Annual vs. Continuous Strategy Assessment

Strategic leadership is a continuous approach to leadership. It is not annual strategic planning. In his book “Deep Dive” Rich Howarth describes the pitfalls of purely annual strategy reviews.

He puts it like this:

The inability to understand context is at the heart of numerous failures. There are three pitfalls of context to avoid if you are to be successful: (1) annual assessment, (2) relative versus absolute performance, and (3) prescription without diagnosis.

He then says the following about annual assessments:

From a business-planning perspective, context is often expressed as the “situational analysis.” The problem with this is that business planning generally happens once a year in most organizations, if that (nearly 40 percent of organizations have no formal business-planning process). This means that the majority of managers don’t have a solid understanding of the context of their business. This is like attempting to map out driving directions to a destination without knowing whence the car is leaving. It’s the “You Are Here” map at the museum minus the big red dot to indicate where you are. Niccolo Machiavelli wrote the following in The Prince: “I have often reflected that the causes of the successes or failures of men are dependent on their ability to suit their manner to the times.” And, as they say, “The times, they are a-changing”— usually more than once a year.

Howarth goes on to describe three tools that we can use to ensure that we remain connected to the context in which we are trying to set and implement a strategy. The first he describes as follows:

Strategy Tune-up Sessions Those who drive a car every day wouldn’t dream of going an entire year without a tune-up to check fluid levels, gauge tire pressure, change the oil, replace filters, etc. Nevertheless, while we regularly check our $ 35,000 automobiles, we wait a full year (and sometimes longer) to do a diagnostic check on our multimillion- or multibillion-dollar businesses. Now that makes sense! A simple solution is to conduct periodic (weekly, monthly, or quarterly) strategy tune-ups to check on the context of the business. The focus of these sessions isn’t to arrive at new conclusions; rather, it’s to openly discuss the four areas that constitute the context of the business: market, customers, competitors, and the company. The goal is to find changes in the context of the business and use the resulting insights to leverage opportunities and to blunt threats in a timely manner. Honda has used this technique (called “Nimawashi sessions” in Japan) with great success as one of the pillars of its strategic action plans.

Horwath, Rich (2009-08-01). Deep Dive: The Proven Method for Building Strategy, Focusing Your Resources, and Taking Smart Action. Greenleaf Book Group Press.

Do you disagree with him? If so, then leave a message and tell us all.

Use tools to help you, not hinder you

A friend and I are building a house. Some days more than 50% of our time is spent fixing the tools before starting actual construction. I find myself asking questions when this happens.

Similarly, I read a strategy plan for a national team in our organization once that contained the following:

  • SWOT / BEEM analysis
  • Capacity audit
  • Stakeholder analysis
  • Resource audit
  • Forcefield analysis
  • Balanced scorecard
  • Portfolio analysis

All very well. I concluded that a member of that team was taking an MBA.

Three years later I visited the country that wrote that strategic plan. We could hardly do any work at all because the internet didn’t work and people either didn’t have computers, or the computers they did have did not work in any reasonable timeframe.

I found myself asking questions in my head about their strategic plan.

Does it take 7 types of analysis to determine that the internet should be fixed and working computers supplied to staff?

Do you find yourself trying to fit the tool to your application, or does the tool IMMEDIATELY help you?

If the tool doesn’t help you immediately, then do something else. A tool is something that is supposed to make your work more effective, not less effective. If you spend more time playing with, or arguing about, a tool then do something different as you lead strategically.

Any tools hindered rather than helped you in strategic leadership? Leave a comment with things that helped and things that slowed you down.