The Chemistry of Strategy tm Newsletter March 04, 2010

KISS: Keep it Short and Stupid

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Lockheed's Kelly Johnson, creator of the U-2 and SR-71 Blackbird spy planes, coined the acronym KISS - Keep It Short and Stupid. Complexity is the biggest challenge to building sustainable processes. Policy manuals, employee reviews, and strategic planning processes all fail because their complexity can't be sustained.

It's fun to read about the recipes for success followed by Fortune 500 companies like Microsoft, Wal-Mart, and Exxon. It's tempting to recruit their employees and/or adopt their proven processes for our own companies. However, too often we discover that an essential part of their "secret sauce" requires dozens of sous-chefs when a company our size can barely afford a dishwasher.

As Albert Einstein said, "Make everything as simple as possible, but not simpler." Consider an expense policy that says: "Treat the company's money like your own and don't expect to be reimbursed if you don't." Contrast this to is a multipage policy that lists the daily dollar amounts you can expense by city. Too often when an employee abuses such a policy the response is to add a few more pages to "clarify." Now everyone pays the price for more bureaucratic overhead. Better to take the abuser to the "woodshed" and not reimburse them, or at least warn them that this is the ONLY time you will reimburse ANY questionable expense they submit. (Our tax code is a graphic example of responding to abuse by adding text to "clarify.")

Employee performance is another place where it doesn't make sense to model your review process after one from an organization that is one hundred, one thousand, or ten thousand times larger than your company. Systems that depend on busy managers to fill out multi-page forms for multiple employees seldom work in "normal" sized organizations. Consider implementing an Albert Einstein style system that places the responsibility for filling out the paperwork and scheduling review meetings on the employee.

Further, limit the paperwork to focusing on answering three main questions:

  1. Where are you, the employee, today with regards to your top five responsibilities and their metrics?
  2. Where do you want to be in the future with regards to responsibilities?
  3. What experience and competencies do you need to gain in order to earn those responsibilities?

The manager's role? To be the coach for the employee agreeing on the employee-driven action plan to gain those competencies. (Managers burdened with complex performance systems are notorious for telling subordinates that their review meeting has been rescheduled because "something important" came up. "What am I, chopped liver?" is the employee's unspoken thought.)

The negatives of implementing any process that can't be sustained is two fold.

  • The opportunity costs of not achieving the expected results.
  • The cynicism when you talk the talk but don't walk the walk.

Commit to implementing processes that are sustainable. The only way you change the status quo is by implementing sustainable processes such as:

  • a root cause, quality system rather than "fixing the problem."
  • an ongoing lead generation program rather than a big mailing.
  • a 2-page monthly newsletter rather than one time 24-page tome.
  • a strategic planning process rather than an event once every five years.

Make sure that you have the commitment and resources to sustain every system you put in place. Remember that when it comes to processes, it's not true that "one size fits all."

Strategic planning is your most important sustainable process.
Check out our Total Quality Planning™ system. It has been proven with hundreds of the "not yet Fortune 500" companies just like yours. Take advantage of our Premiere Strategic Planning Service or utilize our how-to book Where the Hell are We.

How to implement sustainable strategic planning

Does you company have a sustainable strategic planning process?

Is your Executive Team part of the solution or part of the problem? Are they focused on building value and winning?

As documented in the business classic "Built to Last" great success comes when you and your key Executives are able to establish and communicate a vision throughout your organization and everyone understands and is personally acting on this vision.

John W. Myrna

is co-founder of
Myrna Associates Inc


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