Implementing accountability: lessons from Brazil

Helicopter image of Foz do Iguaçu
We facilitated a strategic planning meeting in southern Brazil. While there, we had the opportunity to visit IguaçuFalls, one of the great sites on the World Heritage List. IguaçuFalls has a flow capacity equal to three times that of Niagara Falls. It is also the site of Itaipu Dam, the largest generator of hydro-electric power in the world, located in the Parana river, between Brazil and Paraguay.

Our guide drove us out to visit the dam, the falls, and a bird sanctuary. Along the way, he was exceptionally careful to stay within the posted speed limit. His behavior differed from that of the other guides we’ve traveled with in other locations around the US and Europe. Why? Because there were significant consequences to exceeding the speed limit that fostered personal accountability.

First, there were speed bumps on the major roads every few miles. Since anyone speeding would knock the bottom off of his car, every driver was careful to follow the speed limits. The speed bumps led to automatic compliance.

Even without speed bumps, our guide continued to be very careful about obeying the speed limit in the park where the IguaçuFalls were located. I asked him why and he explained that the first time he got caught speeding in the park, he would lose his right to take tourists into the park for a full month. If there were a second violation, he would lose this right for life. (Losing access to the Falls would be the end of his career as a guide.) The consequences of breaking the law were dramatic enough to lead to automatic compliance.

When we visited the bird sanctuary, we were given stickers to put on our jackets. The stickers had the name of our guide, nothing else. Our guide asked us to be careful not to hurt any of the birds. If any sanctuary visitor hurt any of the park wildlife, the guide would be banned from bringing anyone else in. Our guide explained that he was careful to only bring responsible people to the sanctuary.

Establishing believable, enforced consequences is often more productive than policing detailed policies. For example, consider a simple expense reimbursement policy at your company under which all expenses have to be reasonable. When an employee abuses the policy, just don’t reimburse the expense. That will be the last time he books a suite at the Hyatt Regency rather than an equally available HiltonGarden room.

It always works better to tell people what they should do rather than give them a long list of things they shouldn’t do. Focus on the consequences of poor judgment. However, be careful. Don’t threaten a consequence that you are unwilling to enforce.

Establishing an environment supporting and promoting personal accountability is key to successful implementation of strategy. If you’re interested in having a facilitated strategic planning meeting that moves you from concept to tangible implementation, check out our service offerings online, contact us, by email or better yet, give us a call at (800) 207-8192 to arrange for a complementary consultation to determine if you are ready for strategic planning and if our program is right for you.

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It isn’t enough to tell people what you want

In 1979, Ted Kennedy, brother of the assassinated President John Kennedy, was asked this straightforward question during an interview with CBS Newsman Roger Mudd.

“Why do you want to be President?”

Kennedy couldn’t come up with a straightforward answer. He couldn’t express why he wanted people to elect him President, and that was the end of Ted Kennedy’s candidacy.

Too often, I’ve seen a company CEO clearly communicate WHAT the company strategy is and HOW he and his team want it implemented without explaining WHY it’s the strategy.

When people don’t understand why they are being asked to take action, they will fill in the blanks with their best guess. Often their guess is that this latest directive is just another waste of their time that will eventually fade away and can safely be ignored.

Effective communication is a key element of implementing your strategic plan. Strategy is about taking actions today that are consistent with creating the company’s visualization of the future. Investing time and focus today in the expectation of a better tomorrow impacts people’s ability to deal with their immediate, tactical challenges. People will focus all their energy on today’s challenges if they don’t have a clear sense of WHY they need to make today’s life more difficult by spending time on implementing strategic goals.

If you’re interested in having a facilitated strategic planning meeting that moves you from concept to tangible implementation, check out our service offerings online, contact us, by email or better yet, give us a call at (800) 207-8192 to arrange for a complementary consultation to determine if you are ready for strategic planning and if our program is right for you.

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“Plans are nothing… Planning is everything.”

“Plans are nothing… Planning is everything.”
Dwight D. Eisenhower

Maria Birkhead, Senior Facilitator at Myrna Associates, discussed this famous quote with a client’s executive team during a recent review meeting. She noted that Eisenhower’s quote is an amazing statement, coming from the person in charge of planning the Allied invasion of Europe during World War II. What did he mean by the phrase “plans are nothing”?

Eisenhower and his team spent months and years building the team, the strategy, and the capabilities for a successful invasion. It was a planning process that incorporated input from all of his team members. Prior to the invasion, all of the key players knew not only what to do, but why they were supposed to do it. They understood how their role fit with that of the other team members. They knew the impact of any deviation from the plan.

Eisenhower knew that it was the planning process that would win the day. Yes, the plan would be documented and distributed, but it wasn’t the document itself that would assure success. It was the process of dialogue, challenge, expert input, assessment of resources, and adjusting to conditions that would spell success.

This is how it works with strategic planning. It’s not the plan…it’s the planning. When your team works together to identify the issues, develop the strategy, build the schedule, assign responsibilities and assess the costs, success is almost assured. Team members know what to do, when to do it, why it’s important and how any changes will affect others.

Creating a strategy that captures a visualization of the future everyone is working toward is a key element of strategic planning. If you’re interested in having a facilitated strategic planning meeting that moves you from concept to tangible implementation, check out our service offerings online, contact us, by email or better yet, give us a call at (800) 207-8192 to arrange for a complementary consultation to determine if you are ready for strategic planning and if our program is right for you.

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Wide hallways, no elevators, open doors

Bell Labs was legendary for innovation. When asked what the secret of their success was, President Mervin Kelly said it was as simple as long, wide hallways, no elevators, and an open door policy.

Long hallways forced people to walk between offices to meet with colleagues. Along the way, odds were that they would run into someone else and engage in an ad hoc conversation. Wide hallways allowed them to step out of the traffic flow and continue their discussion. Ad hoc conversations generate synergy and collaboration.

Why no elevators? Well, have you noticed that conversation stops when people step into an elevator. People will continue their conversation while walking up or down the stairs. Interactive discussions are the core of collaboration.

And open doors? Magic can happen when people with their heads in the clouds interact with people who have their hands on the manufacturing machines.

Creating an innovative culture can be a powerful status quo changer. Getting the team onto the same page and committed to strategic goals like this is what strategic planning is all about. Our two-day intensive planning meeting helps foster innovation in strategic planning in a similar manner to the way Bell Labs fostered innovation in technology — you’ve got key people in a room, interacting and collaborating, even off-site to minimize distractions, thus somewhat mimicking the conditions of wide hallways, open doors, no elevators.

If you’re interested in having a facilitated strategic planning meeting that moves you from concept to tangible implementation, check out our service offerings online, contact us by email, or better yet, give us a call at (800) 207-8192 to arrange for a complementary consultation to determine if you are ready for strategic planning and if our program is right for you.

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Attitude and Aptitude: What Combination Makes for the Best Hires?

When I was earning my BSEE from NJIT, then known as Newark College of Engineering, I was a member of an elite group of five top students. We all had high GPAs, but we all didn’t have the same IQs.

Bob and Jim (names changed to protect the innocent) were brilliant — they only had to attend classes, quickly read the textbooks, and finish their homework before driving home for the evening. (NJIT was a purely commuter college in those days.)

I paid my expenses by teaching the accordion, a business I purchased from my retiring instructor when I was a sophomore in high school. I also put in at least thirty hours a week studying. I wasn’t as brilliant as Bob and Jim, but by putting in the hours I was able to compete with them. Jerry didn’t have to work at a job, but he averaged the same thirty hours of studying to keep up with the rest of us.

Harry, on the other hand, wasn’t as smart as any of the four of us, but still kept up by studying fifty hours a week. He was an excellent student and went on to have an exemplary electrical engineering career, largely because he was willing to put in whatever number of hours it took to match the performance of others who were more brilliant.

Over the years, I’ve learned to put less emphasis on a potential employee’s resumé and current skills. I’ve found that I had success when I hired someone with a reasonable aptitude and the right attitude. With the right attitude, such a new hire might have to work over 60 hours a week to deliver the same results as a more seasoned employee. But such a person would be more than willing to invest the extra 20 hours to come up to speed. (Once up to speed, the new hire could deliver the same results in the same nominal 40-hour work week.)

Employees with the right attitude view the extra hours as their personal investment in achieving the goals they set out for themselves. While you may think that employees who on day one can achieve the desired results in the normal 40-hour week would be superior, they aren’t necessarily. Consider when there is a new challenge in your business. When there is a new skill set that’s required for a job, which employee is most likely to rise to the occasion because he or she already has the established habit of investing extra time to come up to speed?

Hire based on aptitude, i.e. having enough grey matter to master the skills, and attitude, i.e. the passion and commitment to put in the time to master the skills.

What happened to my brilliant colleagues? Bob went on to MIT for an advanced degree, but dropped out because competing with the other brilliant students required too many study hours. He had superior aptitude but had not yet developed the attitude required to succeed at that level.

Hiring strategy is one of the elements of a well-formed strategic plan. If you’re interested in having a facilitated strategic planning meeting that moves you from concept to tangible implementation, check out our service offerings online, contact us by email, or better yet, give us a call at (800) 207-8192 to arrange for a complementary consultation to determine if you are ready for strategic planning and if our program is right for you.

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Size Matters

How large do you want your company to be within five years? Why?

When you hire an architect to design a new headquarters building, the first question he asks is how many square feet you want. If you tell him that it all depends on how well the new products go, what the market does and what your competitors do, he’ll repeat the same question: “How many square feet do you want?” Once the building size is specified, the architect can move on to other design-related questions. Similarly, a company strategy must start with a sense of size. Size frames all the other elements of your strategy.

While revenue and profit are the most common measures of size, they are not the best metrics for all businesses. For many companies the key measures may be the number of contracts, employees, or customers.

Asking yourself what size you want your company to be in the future is not about fantasizing or wishing. Nor is it about forecasting or projecting. It’s about visualizing a company size that supports the answers to the following questions.

What size will you need to be, in order to continue to compete? As in a poker
game, the ante required for staying in the game increases over time. You need to be large enough to sustain the level of resources required to meet the customer’s growing expectations of the quality and scope of your products or services.

What size do you need to be to obtain the resources you need to sustain the
business? What will it take to attract the talent, capital, and partners you need to succeed?

What will your team require to remain engaged in the future? Company growth
creates opportunities for career growth. Key players will require greater compensation to support their lifestyles (children, school tuitions, bigger homes, travel, etc.). Key players also expect opportunities for personal and professional growth, so they can master new skills and increase their own personal market value.

What growth in ROI will it take to keep the owner’s capital in the business?

What size will you need to be to remain important to your vendors? In order
to get priority when there are shortages? To have orders large enough to get the favorable pricing required to remain competitive?

What size do you need to be to fully utilize your assets? Return on Assets
(ROA) is low when utilization of machines, people, and your intellectual property is low. What size do you need to be in order to have enough experience to drive your unit costs down through the learning curve?

What size do you need to be to support the owner’s ultimate exit strategy?

What size do you need to be to minimize risk? Depending on one customer
purchasing one product makes you very vulnerable. What size do you need to be to support a “safe” diversity of customers and products?

What size do you need to be to keep a competitor from preempting you in the
market? One big-company strategy is to identify products that are successful and swoop in and “steal” them. Big companies like to reverse-engineer a small company’s winning product and then use their own well-oiled distribution system to roll it out nationally or internationally.

What size do you need to be to take out your competition? You can do this
either by acquiring your competitor’s customers or acquiring your competitors directly.

What size do you need to be to manage government and customer certifications? It takes resources and time to obtain and sustain certifications from ISO, TSO, FDA, OSHA, EPA, mil-spec and the like.

What size do you need to be to satisfy your vision and ego? What size do you
have to be to make the kind on market impact you desire?

Everyone in a company has a future size in mind as they prioritize their daily actions. Lacking any formal planning, everyone’s number is different. Developing your strategy starts with getting everyone’s number on the table, sorting through their reasons for that number, and agreeing to a common number that will harmonize everyone’s daily actions.

Having a common visualization of the future everyone is working toward is key. Agreement on the future size the company is working toward creates a framework for answering the next set of strategy questions. (These strategy questions will be the focus of future blog posts.)

Creating a strategy that captures a visualization of the future everyone is working toward is a key element of strategic planning. If you’re interested in having a facilitated strategic planning meeting that moves you from concept to tangible implementation, check out our service offerings online, contact us, by email or better yet, give us a call at (800) 207-8192 to arrange for a complementary consultation to determine if you are ready for strategic planning and if our program is right for you.

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First things first – the lesson of rocks, sand, and water

Author Steven R. Covey inspired today’s retelling of a time management classic. Covey’s story starts with a speaker showing a group of business students a large glass jar and a box of large rocks. The speaker pulled rocks from the box and placed them in the jar until no more rocks would fit.

“Is the jug full?” he asked. The students reply “yes,” and the speaker pulls out a bag of sand, pouring it into the jar so it fills the spaces between the rocks. “Is the jug full now?” he asks.

The students are so sure this time. The speaker pulls out a pitcher of water, and pours over a quart of water into the jar. “Now it’s full,” he said. “What’s the most important lesson to be learned from this demonstration?”

One student piped up: “You can always find time to do more things!”

“Wrong lesson,” replied the speaker. “The right lesson is that you can’t fit the rocks in the jar if you’ve filled it with sand and water first.” This is an illustration of the principle of “first things first.”

In strategic planning, your team determines what the “rocks,” or first things are, after visualizing the future they want to reach. These “rocks are the four to six strategic goals that will literally change the company’s status quo, and which must be the company’s focus over the next 12 to 18 months.

Once the goals are set, next comes a set of four to six Key Result Measures (KRMs) for each strategic goal. When these KRMs are achieved, your team will have achieved the company’s strategic goal and changed the status quo.

Finally come the action steps, which are tactical, fluid actions to be completed over the next one to 90 days.

Strategic goals are the rocks. They need to go into the plan’s jar first. Key Result Measures are the sand. They fill out the space around the goals. Action steps are the water. They utilize small blocks of time to implement.

The impulse is for teams is to jump to action steps. Fill a plan with water and sand and there won’t be any room left for the big rocks. Filling a plan with action steps and KRMs without the big strategic goals in place will keep everyone busy but won’t likely change the status quo.

Strategic planning is the best process for determining what the “first things first” should be. If you’re interested in having a facilitated strategic planning meeting that moves you from concept to tangible implementation, check out our service offerings online, contact us by email, or better yet, give us a call at (800) 207-8192 to arrange for a complementary consultation to determine if you are ready for strategic planning and if our program is right for you.

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Learning marketing tricks from bowerbirds

A common marketing challenge is getting prospects to take your company seriously. Your company may in fact be the perfect partner for a specific prospect. This will be a moot point, however, unless your prospect perceives you as such.

Unfortunately, for many companies, size matters. “How could that small company help us? We’ll focus on the vendors who are obviously big enough to earn a second look from us.” The first task when searching for a new vendor is winnowing down the list of potential vendors to a manageable number. Company size is a simple way to reduce the field.

Even if you’re a large company, you may be a small player in an expansion market that is new for you. What’s a company to do?

An answer can be found in nature. No matter how accomplished a male bowerbird may be, he still has to get through a female’s perceptual filters to get a fair consideration as a mate. Successful bowerbirds have developed a way to make themselves appear larger than life, according to new research published in Discover magazine. The male bowerbirds arrange their nests with smaller stones at the base of the nest and large ones at the rear. This creates an optical illusion, so that the female looking into the nest perceives the male as being bigger than he actually is.  This “trick,” augmented with a sparkly object held in the male’s beak, is enough to catch her interest. He may not close the deal every time, but at least he gets considered.

One of your primary goals in marketing is to sustain a “larger-than-life” image. A quality website, responsive customer support, and product or service “sparkle” can create and sustain that image. One the best lessons I learned in business was “sell the sizzle, deliver the steak!”

Marketing strategy will map out the sizzle you’ll need for selling, but to successfully deliver your product or service to a customer, your company will need a strong strategic plan. If you’re interested in having a facilitated strategic planning meeting that moves you from concept to tangible implementation, check out our service offerings online, contact us by email, or better yet, give us a call at (800)207-8192 to arrange for a complementary consultation to determine if you are ready for strategic planning and if our program is right for you.

 

 

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Why vision is key to successful implementation

….. Typical Bicycle Cab …..

My wife Mary and I were on an anniversary trip to take in a couple of new shows in New York City. One of the challenges we faced as theatergoers was finding a cab to get back to the hotel or train station when the shows let out. Hundreds of theater patrons flood the streets, all looking for a ride at the same time.

We walked a couple of blocks away from the theater but a dozen apparently empty cabs passed us without stopping. As I stood out in traffic with my hand raised, the driver of a bicycle cab, also known as a pedicab, stopped and offered to give us a twenty-block ride to Penn Station at a very competitive rate. He explained that we had just experienced not only the flood of matinee patrons but also a shift change for the cab drivers.

As he zipped us through Times Square, we commented on his fitness. “I’m training for the marathon,” he said. “What other job could pay me to work all day at getting fit?” When we asked what his ultimate goal was, he quickly replied, “The New York Triathlon.”

It wasn’t hard to reconstruct his planning. He started with a visualization of where he wanted to be within a specific time period — in his case, entered in a very competitive triathlon. He then established a goal to reach within a shorter time frame (eighteen months), running in the New York City Marathon. He then created an action plan to get himself there. His action plan included getting fit through daily exercise as a pedicab driver.

Whether you’re striving to achieve individual goals or company targets, Yogi Berra’s observation about planning is true. “You’ve got to be very careful if you don’t know where you’re going, because you might not get there.”

Do you and your team know where you are going? Can everyone on your team answer “yes!” when asked if what there’re focused on today is consistent with where the company wants to be within five years? If not, consider investing a couple of days in strategic planning to make sure everyone is on the same page regarding where you are, where you want to be, and how you intend to get there.

For more thoughts on strategic planning read my Business Strategy Series article A Rolling Stone Gathers No Moss: Prevent Your Strategic Plan from Stagnating or my how-to book on strategic planning Where the hell are we?

If you’re interested in having us facilitate a strategic planning meeting that moves you from concept to tangible implementation, check out our service offerings online, contact us by email, or better yet, give us a call at (800) 207-8192 to arrange for a complementary consultation to determine if you are ready for strategic planning and if our program is right for you.

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The business power of social engagement in planning for success

When Rome was the power to reckon with, a Roman soldier could legally require anyone else to carry his pack for a mile. (In Matthew 5:41 Jesus suggests carrying it a second mile in part to have a greater understanding of another person’s lot.) Native Americans have been credited with the proverb that you can’t really understand someone else unless you walk a mile in their moccasins.

Back in 1976, I walked into my first strategic planning meeting with a bias — no, let’s call it by its correct name, prejudice — against salesmen. As an engineer and confirmed nerd, I viewed salesmen as obstreperous, obnoxious, and oleaginous. As far as I was concerned, they were evil and only concerned with themselves.

The stereotypes I carried in my mind about other non-technical professionals were similarly negative. The folks in the accounting department were bean counters who knew the cost of everything and the value of nothing. The CEO may have been a nice man, but he didn’t appear to be adding any real value to the company.

One of the most valuable take-aways from that first strategic planning meeting was the realization that each member of the team was in fact passionate about the company’s success. Their actions were informed by their worldviews, which were shaped, as were mine, by their narrow day-to-day activities taken on behalf of the company.

Each department’s worldview was shaped much in the way the old story explains how the six blind men formed differing opinions of an elephant’s appearance by feeling different parts of the animal’s body.

I left that strategic planning meeting understanding that salesmen weren’t intrinsically evil, they were just focused on revenue and the customer’s satisfaction. The operations people weren’t sitting on their hands to slow things down — they were just focused on how to reliably deliver a new product that met the company’s quality and on-time delivery standards. Accounting wanted to make sure we generated enough cash monthly to make payroll.

Over the past twenty years, I’ve had the opportunity to work not only with companies but also with various non-profits dedicated to improving society’s view of specific minority groups. One of the most effective ways to break down stereotypes is a process called “social engagement” – essentially, spending time with actual living, breathing members of the stereotyped group.

A team-driven strategic planning process is an excellent way to build trust and respect among your executive team members. For companies, it is the easiest way to utilize social engagement to dispel the harmful stereotypes that get in the way of successful strategic planning, execution, and achievement.

If you’re interested in having a facilitated strategic planning meeting that helps you navigate from concept to tangible implementation, while building trust and respect, check out our services. Contact us by email, or better yet, give us a call at (800) 207-8192 to arrange for a complementary consultation to determine if our program is right for you and your organization is ready for the program.

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