Macro Strategy and Mega Trends

Read this and reply. I want your ideas on how the world is changing.

At the highest level, a global organization’s (like ours) macro level strategy should address the biggest trends that are occurring across the globe.

I’ve reviewed a number of lists of global mega-trends. You can find a summary of them here. Of course, each list has its focus, based upon the audience that it serves, from political leaders to financial investors to industry specialists. If you have the time, I recommend you read the US National Intelligence Council’s report on Global Trends 2030.

Despite the various audiences, there are a number of trends that most of the lists highlight. The themes that occur the most frequently across these 14 inputs are as follows, in order of frequency, most frequent first:

  1. Information and communications technology.
  2. Aging, and impact of an aging population
  3. Increased energy needs and supply
  4. Climate change
  5. Water & food scarcity
  6. Urbanization / mega-cities
  7. Power shift from West to East
  8. Globalization
  9. Individualization
  10. Growth of the middle class

Do you agree with this list? What do you think are the biggest changes occurring around the world? Leave a reply please.

Actual Results From Focusing On Strategy

This year we saw actual positive results from focusing on our strategy.

For the first time in 3 years we have seen an increase in the number of countries with new spiritual movements launched. This is the outcome from our Mission, and directly leads us towards our Vision. I do not believe that this has happened by accident, but that it is the result of 3 years of focus on one thing by senior leadership across about 170 countries.

Key lessons I learned from this success:

  • Focus on one thing.
  • For years and years.
  • Don’t change the focus, and don’t change the rules. People can’t keep up with our ability to create change.
  • Keep it simple – both the strategy, and the process for turning the strategy into something that people can execute day to day.
  • Be consistent in messaging world-wide.
  • Review progress frequently (we aimed at bi-weekly, but we probably ended up with monthly).
  • Don’t allow your ability to think of new things to do distract you from the most important one thing.
  • Don’t let up. I had an old boss who used to say “Don’t let them grind you down!”, although he used an expletive before the object of the sentiment to reinforce the point.
  • Public accountability keeps even independent minded people focused on group goals.

I have been writing this blog now for nearly 2 years as I have been trying to figure out how to help 16,000 people spread across nearly 170 countries lead strategically. I hope that the fact that we have seen some success encourages you to stick to the strategy and use the strategic planning process to keep focused on the long term goal.

Overseeing Implementation Of Strategies

Over the last 2 months I’ve received the national plans or national objectives from 70 different countries for our organization, along with plans from 11 regional leadership teams. This is a record for us. So, what next?

These plans vary from a summary of the philosophy of their work, to short list of objectives, through lists of key action items, to comprehensive lists of key actions with dates, resources and finances allocated. However, the important thing is not the plan, but the execution of the plan.

So, if you are a leader, how are you going to ensure that the plan gets executed?

Different teams are taking different approaches, for example:

  • Some teams have taken a “4 Disciplines of Execution” approach, with weekly reviews of lead measurements, lag measurements, and actions.
  • Other teams are holding bi-weekly reviews of progress towards targets.
  • Other teams plan to hold monthly reviews of completion of actions, and progress towards goals.
  • Other teams will review widely accessible dashboards.

The important thing is that progress is being monitored, and if insufficient progress is being made, that corrective action is taken. A long time ago I shared that I thought the hardest question that a leader can ask someone who is working with them is: Show me that you are making the most effective progress towards your goal. The implications of this being asked by a leader are that the leader will listen to an answer from time to time to see this “most effective progress”.

So, have you:

  • allocated regular time in your calendar to review progress against the plan in the coming year;
  • made this the priority in your calendar so that it does not get usurped by the urgent;
  • figured out how you are going to do this when you are travelling or otherwise away from your normal routine;
  • made sure that the team executing the plan has allocated time to review its progress with you over the coming year?

Creating Personas to Help Define Strategy

Do you know who the consumer is that your strategy is trying to serve? Is your strategy defined around your history, or the anticipated needs of the person you want to serve?

During the last couple of weeks I have been helping some of my colleagues who lead digital strategies to develop their personas. What is a persona?

  • In digital tool development a persona is a fictional character that communicates the primary characteristics of a group of users who use your website, social media feed or application.
  • Personas help software development teams understand their audience. They provide insights about the attitudes, behaviors, thought processes, challenges and desires of those being reached and served.
  • Personas inform what kind of content the developers need to create and where they publish it. They also give insight and direction for wording, images, tone and design.

When developing a digital tool personas are needed because:

  • if the customer is always right, you need to know who your customer is, and
  • you need to be constantly thinking about who is visiting your website, social media feed or application so that you design and use the tool to best meet the needs of the user.

We started discussing when in the development process someone would create their personas. There are parts of developing strategy for a digital program that have to be done prior to developing personas, e.g. basic market segmentation. However, if personas are developed as soon as the market has been segmented, then personas can really help develop the whole of the rest of the strategy.

The realization was that developing personas should not just apply to software development. Personas can significantly help develop corporate and departmental strategies. Thinking things through from the point of view of the customer can really help determine what your response could be to meeting a customer’s need, and how to differentiate that response. If that is not development of a strategy, then what is?

This applies in the organization in which I work as well as commercial corporate organizations. How often do we develop strategy from our point of view (typically what can we do to increase the amount of what we did last year?), rather than think afresh of the people we are trying to reach or serve, and developing new strategies to reach / serve them from their point of view?

What Is a Good Strategic Plan?

I was asked this by one of my colleagues in Poland. They really wanted to know precisely what format plan to use. The answer was: A plan that is used.

I was put on the spot, and as I scrambled for an answer it occurred to me that the best plans that I have written came in different formats. It didn’t matter if the plan was an eighty page document, a one page text description, a 100 line formally completed GANTT chart or a simple time-line on a PowerPoint slide with six milestones spread over 3 years, the plans that were the best were those which were successfully implemented. If my plans used the best tools but they were not implemented then they were not good plans.

So, don’t about the template, think about the practicality, and the ability of the “plan” to motivate a group of people to execute.

How Do You Manage Implementation Of Your Strategy?

I’m at a conference, listening to a round table discussion on strategy implementation. The bottom line from the heads of strategy at corporate headquarters of BP, Orange, BAT and Compass:

  • Trust people
  • Review dashboards that show metrics of results
  • Integrate strategic planning and budgets
  • Track outcomes vs. just actions in strategy execution

So, do we do these things?

 

Communicating Your Strategy

I was with our Latin America director last week. He and his team have a strategy. So now what?

One of the biggest reasons for having a strategy is so that the staff working with you know what to do every day. They are only going to know the new strategy if it is communicated to them.

The guys on Madison Avenue (the center of the US advertising industry) know that someone has to receive a message 7 times before they internalize it. If it takes 6 repetitions to remember what brand of toothpaste to buy, then it will take at least that for someone to understand the strategy of your organization so that all their decisions are based upon it.

The strategy can be communicated in the following ways at different times:

  • E-mails
  • References to the strategy in EVERY presentation
  • Video summary on YouTube / Vimeo with link distributed to all staff
  • Articles in in-house newsletters
  • Roadshow with live presentations
  • Measurement of a key metric of the strategy
  • Cascading e-mail, with group discussions at all levels
  • Incentives / competitions
  • Internal social media articles and discussions

This communication will need to come from different people so that the staff recognizes that it is not just your hobby horse. The strategy can be communicated by:

  • the CEO
  • Department / Division heads
  • Success stories from the field staff
  • Peer groups on internal message boards / social media sites

One of the best books that I have read on the importance of this subject is Simple Church. Check it out.

Leading Strategically Through Questions

By asking questions, the CEOs for whom I worked always seem to figure out if I was doing the best thing for the organization even without knowing the details of the project I proposed. They had a knack for figuring out when I had not done my homework to maximize the benefits to the organization and minimize the risks.

I noticed that they just asked a series of really good questions. Their job was not to know how I did my job. Their job was to make sure that I really knew how to do my job to the extent that they could trust me to carry it out successfully.

The sort of questions that they would ask to determine if I know my job included:

  • What does the customer want?
  • Why does the customer want this?
  • What are the alternatives for the customer?
  • Why would the customer want our product rather than alternatives (e.g. from our competitors)?
  • How is our organization going to meet its objectives through this project?
  • How could those benefits be increased?
  • What are the alternatives to implementing this project?
  • Which alternative provides the greatest benefit for our organization?
  • What implementation process are you going to use?
  • What is the next phase for implementation?
  • What are the costs of this next phase of implementation?
  • What are the technical risks to the project?
  • What is the impact if the project takes longer than we expect?
  • What is the impact if the project costs more than we expect?
  • What is the impact if the customer buys fewer products than we expect?
  • How can each of these risks be mitigated?

Obviously, in a commercial organization the objectives for the organization were financial, and the benefits, costs and risks would all need to have their answered in economic terms. However, in a not-for-profit organization, the objectives, costs and risks can all be stated relative to the Mission of the organization, or in progress towards achieving the Vision.

If I could not answer these questions then I clearly did not know my job, and I would not get approval for the project.

If I could answer all of these questions there was a much better chance that the project would be approved.

Having said all of this, I have concluded that the hardest question that a CEO could ask me would be: “Show me how you will make the most effective progress toward achieving the Vision of the organization.”

More on Definition of Outcomes vs. Objectives

I was asked for more explanation on the differences between Outcomes and Objectives.

  • The Outcome is the effect that we want to see happen in the lives of our clients.
  • The Objective is the thing that we must achieve in order to cause the results in the lives of our clients.
  • Outcomes are written independently of us.
  • Objectives are written to tell us what we must achieve, so they are written for us.

My boss put it like this: A simple way to differentiate between Outcomes and Objectives is that Objectives focus on intended results, whilst Outcomes focus on achieved results. Objectives also clarify how we get to the Outcomes; what needs to be accomplished in order for the Outcomes to be achieved.

Outcome based thinking has become standard in much of the commercial world. For example, businesses are much more focused on levels of customer satisfaction than the wait time on customer service phone answering systems. Wait time on customer service answering systems would have an impact on customer satisfaction, but if you can achieve customer satisfaction by some completely different means (e.g. change product design to have few faults, use live chat customer service rather than phone calls) then the end problem is solved.

As a result of this, some major donors to Christian ministry in the US have made donations dependent upon outcomes rather than activities. The first example I heard about was the McClellan Foundation, that was funding the Book of Hope ministry. Book of Hope was distributing Bibles in the developing world, and was being funded along the lines of “$x puts y Bibles in the hands of z children”. This led to a mentality of “our job is to distribute Bibles” regardless of their impact on people’s lives. The McClellan Foundation said it didn’t want to fund Bibles being distributed, but to see children who follow Jesus in the target countries. As a result of this, the Book of Hope ministry changed its emphasis to distribution of Bibles and teaching from them. Continued funding from the McClellan Foundation was dependent upon before-and-after qualitative surveys in the target demographics. Prior to the project a survey is taken asking key questions (e.g. Do you know who Jesus is?, Do you lie to your parents?). After the ministry the survey is taken again, and the impact of the ministry on the children is assessed.

From a leadership perspective, I think that Outcomes are better goals to set for staff because they give more freedom in implementation by the staff in order to achieve the desired end result.

Some more specific examples of Outcomes vs. Objectives:

Example A:

  • Outcome: Everyone knows someone who truly follows Jesus.
  • Objective: Spiritual movements launched everywhere containing people who truly follow Jesus by end 2020.

Example B:

  • Outcome: 100 students in the University of Warsaw living a Spirit filled life.
  • Objective: Spirit filled life taught and demonstrated to student leaders in University of Warsaw by June 30 2015.

Example C:

  • Outcome: No Eastern Europe staff leave our organization because of lack of funds.
  • Objective: 100% of Eastern Europe staff are fully funded by Dec 31 2016.

Defining Outcome vs. Objective vs. Action

There is often confusion between the terms Outcome, Objective and Actions in strategic plans.

The principle behind the use of these words is to think in terms of:

  • What do we want to see change in our client?
  • What does that change look like from the perspective of the service that we provide?
  • What do we do to create that change?

When writing a plan, the general flow of thinking should be:

  1. What changes do we want to see in the people we serve?
  2. What changes do we need to make in order to effect the desired change in the people we serve?
  3. What do we actually do to cause those changes?

If this thinking is used, then:

  • The Outcome is the change that we want to see in the people we serve.
  • The Objective is the change that we need to make in order to cause the effect of the Outcomes in the people we serve.
  • The Actions are the things that we do to cause those changes.

In more detail, the differences between these terms are:

Outcome

  • The Outcome is the result is for the people we serve.
  • An Outcome is a description of the results written from the perspective of the client.
  • The advantage of writing Outcomes is that regardless of what we do and how we get there, if we focus on the outcome the result will always be delivered for the client.
  • Outcomes should be written so that the changes in the client, or the effects of our actions on the client, are observable and measurable in a specific timeframe.

Objective

  • The Objective is the result of what we do.
  • An objective is a description of the results written from our perspective.
  • The advantage of writing Objectives is that they more directly relate to us and what we do. A possible disadvantage is that that badly written objectives could result in success for us, but not achieving the goal for the people we are supposed to serve.
  • Objectives should be written so that we can see if we have done what we said we would do (i.e. observable and measurable) in a specific timeframe.
  • Objectives can be related to desired outcomes. Objectives can be determined from Outcomes, by re-writing them from our perspective. The achievement of well written objectives should inherently and unambiguously lead to the achievement of related outcomes.

Action

  • An Action is what we do.
  • Steps taken by us in order to achieve the Outcomes or Objectives.
  • Actions should be measurable and time-bound.

Example 1:

Outcome:

Strategic plans will contain correct use of the terms Outcome, Objective and Action in 2015.

Objective:

Explain the correct use of the terms Outcome, Objective and Action in strategic plans by end of 2014.

Actions:

Write and e-mail explaining the correct use of the terms Outcome, Objective and Action in strategic plans in March 2014.

Post a blog entry explaining the correct use of the terms Outcome, Objective and Action in strategic plans in March 2014.

Respond to all questions from staff about the correct use of the terms Outcome, Objective and Action in strategic plans by end December 2014.

Example 2:

Outcome:

20 new countries have new Student Led Movements by end 2020.

Objective:

Student Led Movements launched in 20 new countries by end 2020.

Actions:

Training of students in leading new movements by end 2015.

Arrange sending trips for existing student movement leaders to 10 new countries by end 2017.