Monthly Archives: February 2014

Simplifying

“Simplify” has been the theme of the week that I have just spent with some of my colleagues in the Far East. Ten regional management teams, each of about seven people, have been developing strategic plans for the next year.

Each regional leadership team used a process as follows:

  1. The whole group review the Vision and Mission of the organization.
  2. Each person review the purpose of the team in which they work.
  3. Each person individually review their job description.
  4. As a team, review where their part of the organization is now, and what the Vision is for the organization. Determine what new “Wildly Important Goal(s)” they might want in their region for the coming year.
  5. Agree as a team what each person’s contribution needs to be towards the Wildly Important Goal(s) for the coming year.
  6. As a team, merge the new goal and the resulting actions for the team into the team’s tactical and ongoing strategic plan.
  7. Each person determines what actions they need to take in the coming year to execute their job description to achieve the goals (including the Wildly Important Goal(s)) for the team. For each proposed action, the number of working days to implement the action over the coming year is determined.
  8. Each person individually ranks their proposed actions in order of priority.
  9. Each person briefly explains their proposed actions to the rest of their team. Each explanation can take a maximum of 30 seconds per action.
  10. All of the proposed actions from each team member are collected into one list that everyone in the team can see.
  11. All of the team discusses and votes on the relative importance of all of the proposed actions for the team. Everyone has a certain number of votes (e.g. 10 votes), but they are not allowed to vote on their own actions. Discussion, even heated discussion, is allowed at this point.
  12. The team maps onto a yearly calendar the time taken to implement the agreed highest priority 30 actions. If the calendar says that the team has time to implement more actions, then the next highest batch of actions are mapped onto the calendar. This is continued as far as the practical amount of time on the calendar allows.
  13. Each action on the plan is costed out for the team budget.
  14. Funding plans and funding justifications are developed for each new key initiative in the plan.

This process is taking about 20 working hours, in our case, spread over 5 days.

There are several things that I like about this process. Hence I’m putting it out here for you to see.

I like the focus on prioritization at the team level, and mapping the reality of the workload impact on the team into a calendar. This forces a realistic view on what the team can handle, and stops the team from being overly optimistic on new initiatives it is trying to adopt.

The bigger thing that I like is the voting to weed out of actions taken out by the team that really do not add value to achieving the Vision of the organization. This is the part where simplification really comes into the process. This also echoes ideas behind lean management that are described in this McKinsey article.

However, if there was one thing that I would change, it would be to include heavy direct input from the local staff and our volunteer associates into the idea pool of possible initiatives that could be taken over the coming year. Maybe in next year’s planning process……

Are your Goals Outcomes or just Actions?

Goals should be the desired result or change that you want to see effected by a strategy. Often, when reviewing plans, we see goals that describe actions that people think that they should take.

There is a very important difference between these two types of goals, If your goal is an action that you take, then when you take the action, you have achieved the goal, regardless of the results of the action. However, a better goal would be one that describes the desired result. Actions can then be taken, but if the actions are not having the desired effect, then you can change the action to one that does have the desired effect.

The process of setting goals, and measuring progress, according to the desired effects, rather than the actions taken to get those effects, is called Outcome Based Thinking. The idea is to focus measurement of progress on the Outcome rather than the action.

Typical actions that I see set as objectives in plans include:

  • arrange a conference
  • provide training
  • hold coaching sessions
  • develop new products

Better objectives that are described as outcomes might be things like:

  • 1000 new people are exposed to our messages
  • 100% of our staff are fully funded
  • 100% of our staff are working to objectives agreed in job descriptions
  • 80% of the population in a newly identified demographic group can see what we do in a locally understandable manner

The latter are descriptions of what results we want to see (the outcomes) and the former are actions that may, or may not, lead to some of those desired outcomes.

We originally defined strategic leadership as “engaging people in creative thinking, planning and execution to most effectively accomplish the vision”.

If we set action oriented objectives then we are defining how the objectives are to be met, which removes the ability of our staff to think,  plan and execute creatively. Give your staff flexibility to do their work – set objectives that allow creativity in the solution taken to achieve them.

This all sounds really simple but, in an action oriented working culture like ours, it goes against the grain, and we have to consciously work against our instincts.

A presentation that someone else created, but which I have used to explain this further, can be found here.

What’s The Point of a SWOT Analysis?

SWOT is about the only tool that is used proactively across our organization. So, how should we use it and why?

Rich Horwath has a good list of 5 common mistakes made in completing SWOT analyses.

At the bottom of that webpage he points out why we should complete a SWOT analysis in the first place. As he says:

Step 1 is the SWOT Analysis. Step 2 is to use the Opportunity & Threat Matrices to prioritize the opportunities and threats based on probability and impact. Step 3 consists of SWOT Alignment where you align strengths and weaknesses with opportunities and threats to develop potential strategies. SWOT can be a powerful tool when used correctly and can be a time sucking, snooze-fest when used incorrectly.

In his book Deep Dive, Horwath describes his Step 3 like this:

The SWOT Alignment model aligns the internal capabilities (strengths and weaknesses) with the external possibilities (opportunities and threats) to methodically develop potential strategies. …… To construct the SWOT Alignment model, list the strengths, weaknesses , opportunities, and threats in their respective boxes. Then create potential strategies by methodically aligning the strengths and opportunities, strengths and threats, weaknesses and opportunities, and weaknesses and threats in the appropriate boxes. This model serves as an appropriate exercise after a SWOT Analysis and Opportunity & Threat matrices have been completed.

I’d tell you more, but Horwath will probably sue me for stealing his IP. You’ll have to read the book I’m afraid.