October 30th, 2014

Fun Travel and Living Post; My interest in Strategy Execution has be influenced by people from all over the world. I wish I could see many of my friends more often!2

Travel Map
I’ve been to 291 cities in 54 countries
Africa
Cote d’Ivoire: Abidjan
Tunisia: Tunis
Asia
China: Beijing
Hong Kong (SAR): Central District
Indonesia: Bali
Indonesia: Jakarta
Japan: Kyoto
Japan: Nara
Japan: Osaka
Japan: Tokyo
Malaysia: Kuala Lumpur
Philippines: Baguio
Philippines: Manila
Singapore: Singapore
South Korea: Seoul
Taiwan: T’ai-pei
Thailand: Bangkok
Thailand: Pattaya
Thailand: Phuket
Caribbean
Aruba: Aruba
Dominican Republic: San Felipe de Puerto Plata
Dominican Republic: Santo Domingo
Jamaica: Jamaica
Netherlands Antilles: Curacao
Puerto Rico: San Juan
The Bahamas: Freeport City
Trinidad and Tobago: Port-of-Spain
Central America
Costa Rica: San Jose
El Salvador: San Salvador
Guatemala: Guatemala
Nicaragua: Granada
Nicaragua: Managua
Panama: Panama
Europe
Austria: Lech
Austria: Vienna
Belgium: Antwerpen
Belgium: Bruges
Belgium: Brussels
Belgium: Zeebrugge
Bulgaria: Sofiya
France: Angers
France: Avignon
France: Baune
France: Bayeux
France: Blois
France: Bordeaux
France: Calais
France: Cannes
France: Carnac
France: Chartres
France: Dunkerque
France: Fecamp
France: Grenoble
France: Le Havre
France: Limoges
France: Lourde
France: Marseille
France: Menton
France: Nice
France: Orleans
France: Paris
France: Saint-Malo
France: Saumur
France: Tarbes
Germany: Hamburg
Germany: Munich
Germany: Zuffenhausen
Greece: Athens
Greece: Mykonos
Greece: Nisos Dilos
Hungary: Budapest
Ireland: Cork
Ireland: Dublin
Ireland: Gaillimh
Italy: Florence
Italy: Milano
Italy: Rome
Italy: Venice
Luxembourg: Luxembourg
Netherlands: Alkmaar
Netherlands: Almere-Haven
Netherlands: Amsterdam
Netherlands: Den Bosch
Netherlands: Gorinchem
Netherlands: Gouda
Netherlands: Hellendoorn
Netherlands: Hoorn
Netherlands: Hoorn
Netherlands: Leiden
Netherlands: Rotterdam
Netherlands: s-Hertogenbosch
Portugal: Faro
Portugal: Lagos
Portugal: Lisboa
Portugal: Portimao
Serbia: Beograd
Spain: Barcelona
Spain: Cadiz
Spain: Madrid
Spain: Marbella
Spain: Pamplona
Spain: Salou
Spain: Tarragona
Sweden: Stockholm
Switzerland: Bern
Switzerland: Geneve
Switzerland: Lausanne
Switzerland: Zurich
United Kingdom: Ambleside
United Kingdom: Ashford
United Kingdom: Ayr
United Kingdom: Barnstaple
United Kingdom: Bath
United Kingdom: Bideford
United Kingdom: Bournemouth
United Kingdom: Canterbury
United Kingdom: Crawley
United Kingdom: Dover
United Kingdom: Edenbridge
United Kingdom: Edinburgh
United Kingdom: Glasgow
United Kingdom: Glastonbury
United Kingdom: Greenwich
United Kingdom: Ilfracombe
United Kingdom: Kennington
United Kingdom: Kingston upon Hull
United Kingdom: London
United Kingdom: Lynton
United Kingdom: Minehead
United Kingdom: Newcastle upon Tyne
United Kingdom: Oxford
United Kingdom: Plymouth
United Kingdom: Sevenoaks
United Kingdom: Westleigh
United Kingdom: Windermere
United Kingdom: York
Middle East
Iraq: Baghdad
Jordan: Al ‘Aqabah
Jordan: Amman
Jordan: Wadi Musa
North America
Canada: Almonte
Canada: Arnprior
Canada: Banff
Canada: Barrie
Canada: Burlington
Canada: Calgary
Canada: Fernie
Canada: Gravenhurst
Canada: Iqaluit
Canada: London
Canada: Medicine Hat
Canada: Mississauga
Canada: Montreal
Canada: Moose Jaw
Canada: Mount Orford
Canada: North Bay
Canada: Ottawa
Canada: Quebec
Canada: Regina
Canada: Sorel
Canada: Thunder Bay
Canada: Toronto
Canada: Vancouver
Canada: Victoria
Canada: Waterloo
Canada: White Rock
Canada: Winnipeg
Mexico: Cancun
Mexico: Cozumel
Mexico: Cuernavaca
Mexico: Culiacan
Mexico: Guadalajara
Mexico: Guanajuato
Mexico: Guaymas
Mexico: Irapuato
Mexico: Manzanillo
Mexico: Mazatlan
Mexico: Merida
Mexico: Mexico City
Mexico: Monterrey
Mexico: Morelia
Mexico: Nuevo Laredo
Mexico: Queretaro
Mexico: Taxco
Mexico: Tijuana
Mexico: Veracruz
Mexico: Villahermosa
Mexico: Xochimilco
Mexico: Zihuatanejo
United States: Atlanta
United States: Atlantic City
United States: Austin
United States: Baltimore
United States: Bath
United States: Battle Creek
United States: Berkeley
United States: Bodega Bay
United States: Boston
United States: Bowling Green
United States: Brownsville
United States: Buffalo
United States: Carson
United States: Chicago
United States: Dallas
United States: Daytona Beach
United States: Denver
United States: Detroit
United States: Dowagiac
United States: Fort Lauderdale
United States: Glendale
United States: Honolulu
United States: Houston
United States: Kansas City
United States: Kansas City
United States: Lafayette
United States: Lake Alpine
United States: Las Vegas
United States: Los Angeles
United States: Marina del Rey
United States: Martha’s Vineyard
United States: Miami
United States: Monterey
United States: Muir Beach
United States: Nantucket Island
United States: Napa
United States: Nashville
United States: New Orleans
United States: New York
United States: Newport
United States: Newport Beach
United States: Orlando
United States: Orrs Island
United States: Philadelphia
United States: Phoenix
United States: Pittsburgh
United States: Placerville
United States: Point Richmond
United States: Redondo Beach
United States: Reno
United States: Sacramento
United States: Saint Louis
United States: San Antonio
United States: San Diego
United States: San Francisco
United States: San Jose
United States: Sausalito
United States: Seattle
United States: South Bend
United States: South Lake Tahoe
United States: Stamford
United States: Stinson Beach
United States: Strawberry
United States: Tacoma
United States: Tampa
United States: Thousand Oaks
United States: Tiburon
United States: Tulsa
United States: Tuolumne
United States: Visalia
United States: Washington
United States: Yosemite Village
Oceania
Australia: Melbourne
Australia: Sydney
New Zealand: Wellington
Papua New Guinea: Port Moresby
South America
Argentina: Buenos Aires
Brazil: Sao Paulo
Colombia: Bogota
Colombia: Cartagena
Colombia: Girardot
Venezuela: Caracas
Venezuela: Maiquetia

Great Strategy Discussion:The Best Corporate Strategic Planning MethodologiesComments Off

Alan S. Michaels President of eCompetitors Inc started what has become a very popular strategy discussion on Linkedin.com. It is a must read for anyone interested in how to improve development of strategy and its link to execution. It provides the ultimate list of frameworks and some of the methods used by top strategy professionals. The discussion has also categorized each strategy method for its most common usage.

The group has created a list of strategy methods and strategy frameworks. New strategy formulation methods have been added. If you’re looking to understand how professional strategist choose a method or leverage a framework to help a company or client this is a great asset.

“CORE TOPIC: Many believe that Michael E. Porter’s holistic corporate planning methodology (see “Competitive Advantage”) is the best. What else do you recommend? For completeness, below is a partial list of other “planning methodologies” to consider, although most are simple niche processes. Do you know of anything missing? [See the LinkedIn Site (link above) for the list]

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Bringing Together Financial Measures, Strategy and Execution, Enterprise Architecture and Change Efforts: Targeted Outcomes to the Rescue!0

Lack of Coordinated Effort at the Enterprise Level

I’ve rarely been in a meeting where the following leaders have met to bring about a coordinated effort to synchronize their key performance or financial and operational measures: VP of Finance, Strategy (Enterprise and Business Unit), Operations and Enterprise Architecture. Their perspectives, responsibilities and ability to affect positive change are indispensible but rarely coordinated. It is time to explore the opportunity and the challenges to overcome.

My experience working or consulting to executives within multi-billion revenue organizations is that their enterprise and business unit strategies are so broad and complex that very few people grasp the whole, and few could explain how they integrate. Yet, these organizations explain to Wall Street in terms of revenues and profitability how all these operations work together.

Few people operate at the enterprise level, so this coordinated enterprise story of coordination between finance strategy, execution is usually pretty weak. Often the story is basically a financial one or the power points of various business unit executives pulled together.

Most people work in business units and have their own part of the total strategy to execute. They have to optimize their operations to reach their own financial and other measured goals, regardless of the level of clarity of the enterprise strategy. A common refrain from the top executives on downwards, is “I know what our part of the organization is working on, but I have only a remote understanding of what other groups are doing and how their efforts impact ours.” Add to that, is the fact that most financial measures for organizations are not well aligned to the operational efforts.

What You End Up With Is A Major Gap In Understanding of What Has To Change Operationally To Move The Dial On Enterprise Financial Measures

How then can a large organization create this connection between corporate financial measures and business unit operations?

Creating a Common Language for Strategy to Execution: Targeted Outcomes (Financial, Strategic, Operational, Behavioral etc.)

The one approach that has consistently worked is the decomposition of Targeted Outcomes. These targeted outcomes start as targeted financial outcomes at the highest strategic level. For example, Earnings per Share can be decomposed into the profitability targets for the major strategic focus areas of the business. These in turn can be decomposed into the targeted revenue and cost savings targets within the business units. It is at this stage that you can decompose financial outcomes into all the operational targeted outcomes that are necessary to achieve the financial measures.

Once you have the set of targeted operational outcomes identified, you can add measures to them. That is exactly the type of information that VP’s and Directors need within Business Units to identify the operational efforts, programs and projects that can achieve those higher level operational outcomes.

Once the operational outcomes and associated projects are identified, it becomes just a matter of standard enterprise architecture and project management practice to identify and communicate the areas of change and then the dependency between change projects anywhere within the organization.

This is by design a short point of view based on observation and bringing about successful change. The major take away is that bringing Financial Measures, Strategy and Execution together using Targeted Outcomes Decomposition and Enterprise Architecture can be done. The problem is more often, that these groups and their efforts are still carried out within silo’s.

No Common Governing or Meeting Platform to Bring Together the Right People for the Right Actions

It is the influential executive or bold director/ manager who can bring the right level of awareness to the problem and potential solution. It is tougher still to get the right people in the room to even agree to an enterprise solution.

I’ll be writing more about the promise and value of bring these together and with some suggestions on how to bring it about in the real world of competing agendas, and not enough time.

Challenges to Overcome in Coordinating Finance to Strategy to Execution Efforts at the Enterprise Level

Here are some of the challenges that need to be explored in building coordination in Finance, Strategy, Execution and Enterprise Architecture;

  • How to inform each other of the opportunities that we each know exist if we coordinated efforts.
  • How to overcome the silo’d way those groups operate.
  • What to do, when there is no standing forum for these leaders to come together.
  • How to set up a charter for this group, and the measures of success that they can newly influence, and
  • How to measure and sustain success.

Hard to Execute Your Strategy When You Lose Your Hard Drive1

It’s hard to execute a strategy when all of a sudden your hard drive crashes. It’s happened to me a couple of times now. No matter how good you are at backing up, it leaves a sinking feeling. “Oh Oh, how much is gone forever, and how much time will it take me to recover anything?”

I came across a great article in Computer World for recovering lost files.

Surviving a home data disaster: How Shirley got her files back: Recovering 736 missing digital images can be arduous — and expensive. Here’s the right (and wrong) way to do it.

I thought I’d pass it along and hope that I save you some heartbreak. It’s enough to say, back up regularly, but when it does happen, here’s a good starting point.

The Disconnect between Strategy and Execution2

There is not enough focused effort to address the gap between strategy and execution. George Ambler’s blog The Practice of Leadership, has found a great survey on the Disconnect between Strategy and Execution. This is a must read for anyone who is looking beyond easy answers. The survey is by OnPoint Consulting and hits a home run in its observations. Most organizations have a strategy that is at least adequate, with some being clear and inspiring. Most organizations have an execution capability with capable people using standard or best practices. Still 49% of firms surveyed see the gap in their ability to execute sound strategies. Of this 49% of firms, 64% don’t have confidence in their ability to close the gap. OnPoint provide a list of eight factors that they feel provide this strategy to execution gap.

I sometimes wish that I could describe just eight things for organizations to change that would close the gap between strategy and execution. What I have decided is that there is another way to look at the strategy to execution gap. It is based on the fact that no organization has enough resources to achieve all their targeted outcomes. Just addressing eight things isn’t always enough. This is a great list and well worthwhile tracking. I’d like to suggest creating a tighter link between specific targeted business outcomes and execution success. What that means is that you have to understand what your targeted outcomes are, the relative importance between them and then apply your resources towards achieving them. Together these begin to create a strategy to execution roadmap. You can then identify those areas of execution risk that need to be managed. This is where you can apply resources to increase the certainty of success.

If you had all the resources you needed to close the strategy to execution gap, you would be moving along a path towards CERTAINTY of success. I believe that no organization will ever have enough resources to achieve certainty. What you have to look for is that point along the path that gives you a sufficient level of certainty for the resources you can afford to commit. To build cross organizational commitment to the success, you can create a visual model of what initiatives you are funding, the resource that are committed that take you along that path. You increase buy-in if you can make these targeted cross organizational outcomes and initiatives visible to all the participants.

If you choose to call your execution starting point “HOPE”, then you have the start of a strategy to execution roadmap. A good model for this is to think of moving your organization along a line from Hope of success to Certainty.

I use the word Hope, because it adequately describes most organization’s execution method. What I mean is that few people own all the resources necessary to achieve any important targeted outcome. You have to rely on other parts of the organization to provide resources to achieve success. Current management processes don’t provide you with sufficient control over all resources needed to achieve key outcomes. You have to Hope that other parts of the organization will meet their commitments to provide committed resources.

Even after resources are committed, you don’t have adequate insight into other parts of the organization’s conflicting demands and priorities. You don’t often have sufficient warning to know when another part of the organization will fail to meet their commitments. As the survey shows, expectations aren’t met at least 49% of the time. (Most other surveys I’ve seen suggest well above 65% of strategic programs fail to meet CxO (CEO, CFO, COO etc.) expectations.

The solution is to find those outcomes and initiatives that will move the certainty of success for targeted outcomes sufficiently along the path towards certainty. For some critical business outcomes that will be very far along the path to certainty. In other cases, your organizational and gut-level experience will tell you that you have a good chance of success given past history. For those outcomes and initiatives, the addition of initiatives to ensure success can be lower.

The great part is that you can balance the need for higher levels of certainty for the most important outcomes against a lower level for less important outcomes. This way you can apply your resources to the most critical outcomes. You can go a long way in building commitment to success by creating this visual line of sight between initiatives that are designed increase success and the targeted outcomes that achieve business value.

Congratulations to George Ambler for finding this great survey and highlighting its value. It’s a must read.

Successful Execution of Strategy in Japan (Part 1 of 3)2

We all learn in different ways. One approach says there are three basic learning styles:

  • visual, through seeing
  • aural, through listening
  • feeling, through trying/ doing.

Organizational change usually requires learning something new. In achieving the desired change, the organization has to overcoming real and perceived barriers, and deal with resistance to change.

One of my biggest change management challenges was in Japan some years ago. My firm had sold Cathay Pacific Airlines an airport departure control system. It automated their passenger handling systems. Aircraft Tipped Over It also handled many of the boring back-office activities, like aircraft weight and balance. That’s a little activity that is carried out before you take off that makes sure that choices of where the fuel, passengers, cargo and bags and stored in the aircraft don’t cause it to tip over or crush the landing gear on landing. In case you hadn’t thought about it, aircraft hit the ground pretty hard, and it is assumed that a certain amount of fuel will be burned off before you land. Otherwise the wheels/ undercarriage will get crushed. Having an aircraft tip-over or crushing the undercarriage on landing is frowned upon by most airlines.

Our firm had already installed the system, tested it and had trained the local Japanese airport staff. Unfortunately, they still reverted to manual check-in and weight/ balance of aircraft on a frequent basis. The executives from the airline started wondering if the problem was with the system. It was difficult to tell from our Amsterdam headquarters if the barriers to success were human, technical or a combination. Other highly competent engineers had gone out before me, to put things right but each time, shortly after their departure, things would fall apart.

I was called on to give it one more attempt before the customer followed through on his threat to throw the whole thing out. I was chosen because of an unusual combination of experience in airline operations, flying (as a pilot), computer hardware and software, end-user training, dealing with management issues, and also the fact that I was the new guy in the Amsterdam office.
Since there was to be no additional options if I failed, whatever I did had to deal with any and all barriers to success. That meant real and perceived barriers, both technical and human.

After three years of working in Latin America, I arrived at my new office in Amsterdam, to be shipped off three days later to Japan. I can tell you it was quite a cultural shock.

My next installment will tell you about the execution challenges that I found. The first month was one of the loneliest times I’ve ever spent, but in part three, “the solution”, I’ll tell you about how I ultimately became ‘accepted’ by the Japanese staff. I’ll explain how together we successfully executed the departure control strategy. It was much more than implementing a system. It became one of the most wonderful of experiences of my life.

Better Execution: Stick to Your Strategy? [Part 2]2

Part 2
Yesterday I started with Part 1 of a response to a posting by Rob May of BusinessPundit.com.


“Does Change Help Link Strategy and Execution?”

He’s curious about how companies can improve the link between the two.

Today I’m going to respond to Rob’s second question:

Infrequently Changing Strategy “[Do] companies that stick with a similar strategy for too long wind up with employees that are complacent about execution? Perhaps they have executed the same strategy for so many years they have mastered it.”

Here are my observations about firms that have a strategy that hasn’t been changed in a long time.

  1. We don’t have a strategy: Companies that don’t refresh their strategy for long periods have employees who typically say that they don’t have a strategy. Things change that affect any strategy. Strategies are based on internal goals, external opportunities and constraints. A change to any of these requires an adjustment or re-confirmation of the legitimacy of the strategy. What more often occurs is that change occurs and the famous strategy binder that originally was seen as the holy-grail for the firm is hence forth seen as obsolete.
  2. We go off-site once a year to develop our strategy: How wonderful it would be if we could organize all the internal and external changes that have a major impact on our firm to occur just before our annual off-site strategy exercise. We could deal with all of them at once at set our strategic course for the next year. We could then revise our strategy at some nice location each year about the same time.
    “Wait a minute now, that’s what we do now! But we haven’t sorted out how to ensure the only significant change happens before our strategy session.” Employees don’t become complacent with a stale strategy, they ignore it as irrelevant based on accumulated change since it was created and communicated.
  3. You can’t master a strategy: As explained above, there is no such thing as “mastery of a strategy”. You can’t go on auto-pilot thinking that you’ve mastered your strategy. Think of how disruptive e-commerce was to the retail industry or personal financial services. Companies like Sears and Merrill Lynch who might have seemed to have ‘mastered’ their strategy had some very hard lessons to learn from Amazon and e-Trade.
  4. Complacency comes from believing in your own hype: Yes employees can become complacent in execution. As Jim Collins suggests, it comes from a failure to face the brutal facts. Some organizations breed and work on sustaining an incredible story about their capabilities and success. They loose any real ability to tell when they’re dead wrong. When the imagined reality varies from the real situation, it seems to be the time to hold on to the myth even harder than before. Believing in the myth of being successful in execution allows you to ignore change around you. It allows you to avoid figuring out what you need to change to remain successful.

    The worst case of it I ever experienced was with DEC (Digital Equipment Corp). They were the most famous mini-computer vendor in the 1970’s and 80’s. In the early 1990’s as head of sales for a division of Westinghouse, I brought them in as a partner during a negotiation for a $100 million outsourcing deal. We were selected and were going through contract negotiation and a detailed examination of the deal. The client had a number of concerns that they wanted addressed by very senior DEC executives with DEC’s commitments put into the contract. The DEC executives were so insulted by the questioning of their capabilities, that they treated the client and their questions with unhidden contempt. To my shock, one senior DEC even resorted to calling one of the clients a @#@$&! idiot to their face for asking some questions about their ability to deliver their services. Needless to say the client ultimately broke off negotiations. The DEC executive point of view was that the clients were idiots for not taking the deal. Their own hype about their capabilities was much more real and important to them than examining the client’s sense of risk. Needless to say my experience wasn’t unique. DEC ended up breaking up their organization into parts and selling it off bit by bit until it was gone.
  • What is success, if you continuously change your strategy?
  • What is successful execution when you don’t get to complete projects and achieve targeted outcomes?
  • What is success when you don’t update your strategy?

My short definition of execution is: Leveraging the assets that you have available, to achieve targeted outcomes.
Successful execution is: meeting expectations in the execution of targeted outcomes. In order to execute a strategy you translate it into targeted outcomes.

Summary of Suggested Rules:

  1. A strategy that changes too often puts initiatives and execution in disarray.
  2. A strategy that changes too infrequently becomes irrelevant. The targeted outcomes and their associated initiatives are relevant by chance rather than by design.
  3. Few organizations can change their strategy at the speed of change. Most strategies reside in binders and PowerPoint presentations. They are not easily altered, and rarely read.
  4. Organizations can translate their strategy into targeted outcomes. It allows the organization to modify these targeted outcomes and their associated initiatives at the speed of change. Execution stays relevant.
  5. Strategy as translated into targeted outcomes can exist at any level of an organization. Targeted outcomes are the object of successful execution. The above rules apply to execution at any level of an organization.

Better Execution: Change Your Strategy? [Part 1]0

Rob May of BusinessPundit.com, poses a really interesting question in a Blog posting.

Strategy Revolving-door“Does Change Help Link Strategy and Execution?”

He’s curious about how companies can improve the link between the two. The key question he poses is:
By consistently changing your strategy, do employees become more focused on the execution of it? Do changes in strategy lead to better execution?
I’m going to give my response to his interesting question in three parts.

Part 1:

  • Too frequent change in strategy hurts execution success.

Part 2:

  • Employees don’t become complacent about execution due to infrequent change in strategy.
  • You can’t master a strategy.

Part 3:

  • A famous Harvard University study, known as the Hawthorne Effect, may actually suggest that you can get better execution if you change strategy often.

Part 1

“By consistently changing your strategy, do employees become more focused on the execution of it? Do changes in strategy lead to better execution?”

This is a great question. It may seem like the answer is straight forward, but there is an interesting wrinkle based on a famous, Harvard University study. I’ll return to this study after reviewing the obvious response. I think most people would immediately answer that changing the strategy frequently will lead to poor execution. Here’s are some reasons why:

  1. Uses up key Resources: Creating a coherent strategy is management intensive work. It eats up leadership time and focus. Refinement of a strategy is fine since it supports existing momentum. Changing strategy requires serious analysis, building of the end state and all the efforts necessary to gain agreement, communicate it, and build the plans to achieve it. Execution suffers due to management focus on the strategy rather than execution.
  2. Wait and See: Critical work and decisions get delayed during strategy formulation work, as employees “wait and see which way the strategy goes”. “There is no reason to start some critical initiatives if they are associated with the new strategy, is there?” Execution gets delayed.
  3. More Project Start-up Time: In many organizations a large majority is project oriented and doesn’t know what the strategy is. What they want is a good definition of the project they’re supposed to accomplish. Changing strategy means changing requirements. Execution suffers as projects associated with the former strategy have to get turned off and project resources released. New projects take time to get started as resources become available. Value isn’t achieved until the project team is providing deliverables that combine with other projects to create value. Execution suffers.
  4. Feeling that You’re Delivering Value is Destroyed: Teams like to accomplish their project scope, on-time, on-budget. It’s what they get rewarded for. Changing people’s projects regularly doesn’t let them accomplish much. It is hard to be proud of being part of continuously partially completed projects. Execution suffers as team member’s sense of the value of accomplishment is destroyed.
  5. This Too Shall Pass: When strategy changes frequently, it is tough to measure people and the value they are delivering. They start to understand that they’re not measurable. They realize that management has no ‘stick-to-it-ness’. People nod at all the right places when asked to change, but then do nothing. No one will check and they believe any change won’t be sustained anyway. It will go back to business as usual. “This too will pass” becomes the reaction to requests to change.

Part 2 Continues tomorrow.

7 Steps to Eliminate Your Organizations’ Sacred Cows0

The University of Michigan, surveyed 308 executives during 2005 on the variables that were most likely to derail their strategy. The variable chosen most frequently, by 38% of the respondents was, was “their Company’s Past / Habits”. That seems to suggest either an unwillingness or lack of a capability to address these habits. In many organizations these are also called the sacred cows or “the elephant in the room that no one wants to talk about’’.

Jim Collins has it right in his best seller “Good to Great”. One of the most important habits for a great company is to “Face the Brutal Facts”. One set of facts that few mature organizations face is the entrenched habits that hold them back from high achievement.

It is absolutely possible to change deeply entrenched organizational habits. Cause and Effect of Bad Habits I worked with a business unit of a large firm that needed to address this issue head-on. They were given five years to achieve a production target well above their historic ability, or risk being sold. They desperately needed to depart from their past, from the habits that had held them back.
They were going to need everyone’s maximum effort to achieve the target. That meant ensuring that everyone was on the same page, committed to the same objectives. We decided to identify to the whole management team what we believed were the problem habits and how they were directly linked to achieving the targeted outcomes. We then showed the actions we wanted people in the organization to take. In many cases this meant changes to deeply rooted leadership practices. The top leadership team had to lead by example. The process gave license to all of the team to ‘correct’ their peers when they were using behaviors that propped up the old habits.

They also embraced a reporting mechanism that would provide the full organization with visibility on progress. It showed that the leadership was serious about change.

The result was a great success. It was especially rewarding to hear the team formally declare when any of the ‘bad’ habits was sufficiently eliminated. It was then removed as a risk to success on the execution roadmap.
Detailed Cause and Effect
The method can work for any sized organization. To achieve the same result here are seven steps to follow;

  1. Identify the habits you’d like to change (free flowing interviews using a trusted third-party works best),
  2. Identify the root cause of the habits (to ensure you don’t just end up hiding the symptoms),
  3. Put in place outcomes and associated initiatives to remove the cause of those habits.
  4. Structure a logical diagram to communicate the links between the main program’s targeted outcomes, the habits you want to remove and the root causes.
  5. Put in place a way to track change efforts on the root causes. A modified cause/effect diagram also known as a fishbone diagram works well.
  6. Start by coloring the text for all the identified ‘bad’ habits and route-causes in red. When you start working on improving any of them, change the appropriate text colors to orange. When you agree that the cause / or symptom is sufficiently removed, color the text in green. It should also allow you to identify reduction in the visible symptoms that the organization has for so long associated with those habits.
  7. This should provide a real sense of accomplishment. Celebrate successes. You should notice fewer grumblings about ‘we’ll never be able to get it done’. It shows the organization;
    • you understand what the barriers are,
    • that they are true impediments to success,
    • that actions are in place and
    • you recognize when there is real improvement.

Feel free to contact me if you’d like further information by using the comment link on this posting.

Did You Just Volunteer for Some Work?0

Many Volunteers with Raised Hands
We don’t generally think of corporations and government organizations as volunteer organizations, but stop and think about it. How much of where you allocate your own time is influenced by what you choose to do. Probably more than you’d like to admit. We seek to get on projects that interest us. In that way we are volunteering our time.
As a leader, you’re much more likely to get people to voluntarily contribute their time, skills and money if they can sign up to help achieve a targeted outcome rather than sign up to execute a project.

I’ve recently had the opportunity to speak to, and in some cases work with, the leaders of organizations that rely on volunteers to achieve their strategic goals. They’ve ranged in size from a single leader and advisory board for a professional services community (PSVillage), to a large open source application development group (WordPress), to the Department of Energy and a number of America’s largest energy firms. In each case we talked about what their goals were and how they were going about achieving them. In most cases they identified a series of projects that they wanted to get done. They also all had limited resources for the size of their targeted objectives. None of them had any way to ensure long-term commitment from participants. It would be huge value to them to be able to increase the level of volunteerism and sustained commitment to the targeted objectives.

Volunteers start with high energy and high estimates of the time and resources they commit to. Lack of progress, frustration and lack of control over their ability to achieve success cause their commitment to wither. As a result execution success is unpredictable. Leaders have to be ever optimistic and to some degree charismatic to continue to attract and retain volunteers. On the other hand, they also have to be realistic and level-headed to continuously deal with the logistics and disappointment of incomplete or missed commitments and execution failure.

What none of them had figured out was how to effectively connect willing contributors with what needs to be done. They had no effective way to connect resources to work, other than through identified projects. This isn’t very different than what occurs in any organization. The only difference is that in traditional organizations, managers direct their people to work. They too had been directed by higher-level managers and their performance objectives. The larger the organization, the more layers are involved. In volunteer or membership based organizations, the link between work and resources is mostly one to one. Each volunteer can decide for themselves where they’d like to participate.

The approaches taken by the organizations I spoke to were each project based. The leaders had defined the projects they felt were necessary. They identified them to their pool of potential volunteers in the hope that they would be taken up by a volunteer or member. I was able to work with the Department of Energy and the energy firms to shift their thinking first to outcomes and only then to projects. They were able to create a roadmap that all understood. There was a renewed commitment to a high-level targeted outcome. They developed a logical process for aligning volunteer activity to the most important interim outcomes. For the others, they will get great value if they can start to identify targeted outcomes and their linkage to higher level targeted outcomes.
This will provide volunteers and their organization with the ability to:

  • Understand which are the most important outcomes.
  • Choose or influence their participation in the outcomes that they are most attracted to and can achieve.
  • Understand how that contribution supports the highest level outcome of the organization.
  • Understand wider context through being aware of the surrounding targeted outcomes, and so cooperate on their achievement.
  • Use their own skills to design the project / actions necessary to achieve a targeted outcome.
  • Provide an opportunity for greater emotional investment and sense of achievement in reaching a targeted outcome.
  • Provide sustained commitment, to achieve various projects necessary to achieve a targeted outcome.

Sustained Commitment
For volunteer organizations, corporations, and governments you can increase the success level of execution by getting greater commitment to the most important outcomes and attract sustained participation. These are invaluable in all of these ‘volunteer’ organizations, just like the one you’re in.

The Office of Strategy Management: A Good Idea or Not?0

There is some disagreement around the value of the creation of an Office of Strategy Management. Some years ago I suggested that there was a needed successor to the Program Manager role, that is, the Chief Benefits Officer. (Not meaning HR Benefits) That role, or in a larger organization the Strategy Management Office, is to be responsible for maximizing the potential from execution of any strategy. Since organizations fail at an alarming rate, the role would be to identify and remove barriers to success and continuously work to elevate Strategy 2 Execution capabilities. Note, I use Strategy 2 Execution (S2E), when I am referring to strategy to execution as a single integrated process, rather than the sum of its parts.

So why is a Strategy Management Office a good idea?

Strategy and its execution happen everywhere within an organization. But, no one can directly execute a strategy. This is especially true when it is embedded in a thick binder or PowerPoint presentation. A strategy needs to be translated into a set of high-level targeted outcomes. Outcomes achieved equal strategy achieved.

With this approach it is possible to identify the interim outcomes necessary to achieve the next highest one. Accountability can be moved to the local level by identifying coordinators for each interim outcome. It allows people at all levels of the organization to get enrolled in both the strategy and execution of an outcome.

You can think of an outcome and all the interim outcomes necessary to achieve it as an enterprise. We participate in various enterprises across the organization and have different types of roles in each one. You effectively have Strategy / Execution “Offices” for each outcome, over-seeing strategy and execution at a much more localized level. The Office of Strategy Management can assist these ad hoc Strategy / Execution “Offices” when they run into typical organizational road-blocks to success.

I’d claim that there are only a handful of people who go home at night worried about Corporate Performance Management. People all over the organization go home thinking about the performance of their specific outcome. It is the sum total of their execution that creates Corporate Performance. An Office of Strategy Management can help these enterprises be more successful in S2E.

There are some risks in setting up an Office of Strategy Management. You run the risk of having the weight of strategy management shift from the local levels where strategy and execution really connect, to some corner office with a great view, and best color printer in the building. The Office of Strategy Management is a great idea if its focus is on ensuring that S2E is improving execution success on an ever increasing basis.

How Many Strategy Binders Do You Have? Get Strategy Out of the Binders0

One of the first things that I do with a new client is to ask to see any documents regarding their last strategy. What I get is usually a thick binder or three and some PowerPoint presentations. After studying the binders, my experience has been that if the client had just executed what was in the binders, they’d be way ahead of where they were.

In a recent meeting with the president of a large cable/ telecommunications firm, they voiced the problem in this way. The president had a variety of strategy binders. “We know what to do; we just can’t get it out of the binders”.

When I’ve asked clients what happened with the execution, they have a variety of explanations.
Strategy Binders Safely Locked Away

    • Something big came along that diverted our CEO’s attention.
    • Before we were able to execute the strategy something happened that changed the basic assumptions / context for the strategy.
    • The key sponsor left the firm or changed positions.
    • We didn’t have sufficient funding to continue.
    • We couldn’t get everyone to agree. We were never all on the same page.

Organizations treat strategy as if it were divorced from execution. I just had a long discussion with a partner at one of largest strategy consulting firms about execution improvement approaches. He suggested that a number of the partners in his firm wouldn’t be overly interested in improved execution approaches. They would their focus on anything but the actual formulation of strategy, as ‘below their pay-grade’. They look to others to execute the strategy they’ve created with their clients. What they would likely leave for these other consultants are the famous strategy binders.

Many organizations have one group that develops their organization’s strategy and another group expected to implement it as if the strategy were some sort of static thing that could live in a binder like fish in an aquarium.

When a consulting firm is involved in strategy formulation you’re pretty much guaranteed that a binder is coming. Very few have instructions on how to get the strategy out of the binders. The assumption is that a business case and project plan will do it.
Within the big four consulting firm, where I spent six year doing strategy work, it was the rule that a different group of specialists would be brought in to execute the strategy that was described in the binders. The original strategy team would be off to new client strategy assignments. There is that nagging question of how many people actually read the binder, how many understand it and how what percent of the key execution participants understand it. Anecdotal information would say that very few people understand their organization’s strategy.

There doesn’t seem to be much energy or focus around the despair of “How do we get the strategy out of the binders?” Here are some links to organizations with something to say about getting strategy out of the binders.
Strategy 101: Ten Simple Planning Mistakes to Avoid by Dan R. Dick

I intend to keep this as an ongoing topic and encourage readers to comment with links to material that has something to say about the problem and solutions.

The Heart of a Canadian Fish Mystery: Dead Fish in the Ottawa River1

It’s been about 10 days since my last post. You could call it the perfect storm, as three events came together.

Cottage in Canada

  1. Nature trumps Internet Access: I’ve traveled with my family to a remote spot in Ontario Canada along the Ottawa River. It’s a summer cottage that’s been in the family for about 75 years. Located at the end of a road that winds through beautiful a natural forest, there are many more animals than humans. Beaver dam up small creeks to create small lakes for their young. The call of the heron and blue jay are much more frequently heard than the sound of a telephone. The sound of children playing with friends they only see for two weeks a year is like music. We all look forward to the sandy beaches and catching up news with local cottagers we have known since birth. It’s a chance to appreciate all that we have on earth as God originally provided. Internet access is a challenge with good reason. No one wants too much civilization to arrive.
  2. Where’s Technical Support When You Need Them?: Just before departing for Canada, I upgraded the software for this Blog. You can guess. It didn’t work. I lost the ability to add new posts until this morning. With limited access to the internet it has been a real challenge to get back online. Many thanks to the WordPress support, the problem ended up at the host.
  3. Dead Catfish By the Hundreds: I’ve been in the middle of a mystery here on the Ottawa River. On arrival here, we started discovering scores of dead catfish washed up on our little beach. It continued for a few days with no local news reports. After having picked up over 50 dead fish on the third day of vacation, we called the local papers to alert them. Surprisingly they hadn’t heard. Reporters descended and finally the authorities started investigating. The Blog has taken a back seat as we’ve been busy keeping our children safe and happy out of the water. Yesterday was “Pirate Day” put on by the older kids for the younger ones. There were pirate costumes, pirate names, scary pirate face painting, sword fights and a hunt for buried treasure. We had a tired but happy group of little pirates by the end of the day.

It’s Hard to Get on the Same Page When Everyone Speaks a Different Language1

It is exceptionally difficult getting everyone on the same page to execute a strategy or high-level targeted outcome. It’s especially hard to do when the participants don’t even seem to speak the same language.

Brainstorming

I’m Canadian and speak English as a first language. The first time I went to Scotland, I could hardly understand a thing they said, even though we both spoke English. My father’s side of the family originally comes from Scotland, so I somehow thought that it wouldn’t be that difficult. It was.

While I was living in Amsterdam we had a receptionist, Rhona, from Glasgow Scotland. Clients from countries all over the world would call and she was the first person they would speak to. She had the most beautiful voice you’ve ever heard [What I wouldn’t do to figure out how to find Rhona and put a clip of her voice in here for you]. Anyone who didn’t speak English as a first language had a hard time understanding her. We thought of giving her a different job, but never did. Whenever she was away, clients said they hoped she would return soon. They looked forward to her laughter and the lilt of her voice as she tried to figure out who they were and wanted to speak to.

Few of us have such beautiful voices that other people, whose first language is not the same as our own, will take the time to try to understand us. The same is true in organizations.

Businesses slot people into units that have areas of market focus or skills like finance, sales, engineering etc. It is the same for Universities, Governments and other organizations. Each organizational unit speaks its own language. Their language includes their acronyms, processes and even the personal incentives that shape their behaviors.

Each organizational unit emphasizes their differences to demonstrate their area of expertise. We often use the term ‘silos’ when we talk about groups within the same organizational. They are the vertical hierarchies that have a high level of separation and uniqueness of skill and language. These differences make communications between silos very difficult.

How did this all come about? There actually is an origin with the problem and it goes back before Henry Ford started the automated factory. In fact, according to the Bible it goes back to the Story of the Tower of Babel. It seems it was all the fault of the Babylonians.

The Tower of Babel

At the time we were all descended from Noah and spoke the same language. The people of Babylon started constructing a building that would reach all the way up to heaven. Talk about being upset. God was so put out that he came up with a really inspired punishment for mankind. He made everyone start speaking different languages. You can imagine that it became impossible for anyone to work together. They could no longer finish building the tower. This is the origin of the word ‘babbling’. Now you know why you can never understand engineers. There are wonderful paintings of artists’ ideas about of all the crazy building problems that occurred.

I’m an engineer and apologize on behalf of all other engineers for speaking in ways that most people can’t understand. Who is going to speak up and apologize on behalf of doctors, accountants or lawyers?

To this day we are still trying to construct towers of Babel for our organization. It appears that we’re still suffering for the Babylonian’s mistake. Attempts by countless managers over the past hundred years haven’t helped much us get on the same page, to understand each other. Many organizations seem to have given up entirely trying to get their people on the same page.

A level of commitment is required for those organizations that truly want to get everyone on the same page. If there is commitment, then there are a few ideas that do seem to significantly improve the ability for different groups to work together on execution. Most surveys would put place getting everyone on the same page at the top of the list for enabling successful execution. Let’s start there.

You have to start being more precise in your language about what common execution words actually mean. It isn’t that difficult if you start with this small set of words and phrases. Just try be very consistent in their use. Here are the most important three words to use with a consistent meaning:

  1. Outcome
  2. Relative Importance
  3. Initiative or Project

Three Quick Ideas for How to Get People on the Same Page with these Words:

  1. Draft up an Outcomes Roadmap before or During Discussions
  2. Draft a picture that on the right side of the page shows the highest-level common outcome. Working from right to left, draw the interim outcomes necessary to achieve the outcome above it. Use a sufficient level of detail to make who you’re talking to comfortable that the outcomes they are interested are also included.

    Creating it together increases shared ownership of the outcome roadmap. The outcome descriptions should be in language that everyone understands. Use it again and again as the basis of ongoing conversation as things change.

  3. Talk about Relative Importance instead of Priorities
  4. No one has enough resources to plan and execute every initiative that is likely to be identified. Use the roadmap to gain agreement on the relative importance of the outcomes. For example, there may be three interim outcomes necessary to achieve the next highest outcome. Decide together what the relative importance is of each of the interim outcomes. Which are relatively more important to achieving the next highest-level outcome? This way you don’t have three outcomes all high priority. Each one is relatively more or less important than the others.

  5. Talk about Outcomes before Initiatives or Projects
  6. Talk about targeted outcomes before diving into the projects designed to achieve them. Outcomes tend to have descriptions that everyone can understand rather than unit specific jargon that initiatives tend to be described with. The previously shared understanding of outcomes increases shared understanding of initiatives.

    Just using these three ideas will move you much further toward getting everyone on the same page. This is a great step forward in achieving increased success in execution.

Current Execution Methods Can’t Deal with Unpredictable Change: Hope is Not a Method0

Much of the change in organizations seems be unpredictable to those experiencing it. In those cases where you feel that you are the one instigating the change, it feels unpredictable to those experiencing it. The problem is that the methods and tools we use in the execution are just not up to dealing with unpredictable change.

This is what I believe to be true about organizations, processes and execution during times of unpredictable change and what we need to change.

  • Processes move strategies, goals, outcomes or projects toward success. Execution processes are unpredictably subject to change from improvement to organization wide business process re-engineering (BPR).
  • People within organizational structures are what drive the processes. These organizational structures are subject to unpredictable change.
  • Before execution is complete, anything important being executed will be unpredictably affected by unpredictable process and organization change.
  • These changes will directly impact team members working on our projects. With no warning, team members will no longer be able to meet their commitments. They will empathize, but won’t be able to help because they have new commitments.
  • It is impossible to eliminate the unpredictability of change. Important execution involves individuals from multiple parts of the organization. No one effectively controls all the resources necessary to achieve success.
  • Let’s call each uniquely managed part of the organizational hierarchy a ‘silo’. Each part uniquely controlled by another manager is also a ‘silo’. Each silo can make well intentioned changes to their process, roles, or organizational design. The overall organization may also make change to the complete organization. These changes appear to be largely unpredictable to people trying to execute based on the old ways.
  • In execution we rely on managers from other silos to meet their commitments to provide;
    • Resources for our projects, and
    • Completed projects/ deliverables that are part of our project.
  • This reliance on others and the knowledge that unpredictable change is the norm means that in most cases, the common execution method is based on Hope. We don’t control other managers’ resources. We don’t know whether they will successfully deliver a completed project for us.
  • Cultural norms in most organizations don’t permit detailed questioning by peers on how they’re going to achieve their commitments. Hope remains our most common method of execution.

  • Hope is not a Method. To move from Hope towards Certainty in execution requires a new method different than what is being used today. People would like to know in advance whether other managers or team members are at risk of being able to deliver on commitments.

Until organizations choose to find a new method to execute strategies that provides full and continuous transparency on how commitments are being met, Hope will continue to be the execution method for most organizations.

The first five requirements for a new strategy 2 execution method are:

  1. A way to get everyone on the same page. There needs to be agreement on what is required to achieve the highest-level targeted outcome.
  2. Organization-wide transparency on progress towards the achievement interim outcomes regardless which parts of the organization structure are involved.
  3. A flexible linkage between execution processes and organization design that allows for continuous change. People in a changing organization may change reporting structure but not their alignment to targeted outcomes. People may change where they are in the organization, but it is the support of targeted outcomes that is their primary work responsibility.
  4. Shift to funding of targeted outcomes rather than projects. This allows outcome owners to shift funds between outcomes and their initiatives to ensure the most important initiatives are funded and have the needed resources. Funding of initiatives over outcomes keeps initiatives that have become less important, funded much too long.
  5. An on-going assessment of the health of the overall strategy to execution process. The organization needs to have a point of view on the areas of strength and weakness of the current strategy 2 execution process. Within their span of control, managers can create execution process improvements only when taking into consideration the impact on overall strategy 2 execution success.

Note:

  1. Execution sometimes takes place where all the resources are controlled by one person. You can assume that success should be higher in such cases. For example, CEO’s tend to control all the resources. Yet, CEO’s report that well over 50% of strategic program fail to meet their expectations.
  2. Some people would say that the method is based on Trust, not Hope. I would claim that it’s only Trust if you have worked with that person before and they have established a track record of meeting their commitments. Otherwise Hope is the method.
  3. Organizations will change; sometimes to the better (for you) and sometime for the worse. I doubt that any organizational change is good for everyone at the same moment in time.
  4. There are many strategies or projects in progress at any one time. It is impossible to plan process or organizational change to eliminate the impact of change for all strategic programs or projects that are ‘inflight’.

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Blogging Trials and Tribulations0

You may have seen that I’ve had the odd day without a new posting. Getting a Blog going is tougher than I thought.

The Trial:
One of the first things I did when I started was to add a little tool to the site that would tell me how many people were visiting, from where and what they looked at. Well, this wonderful tool was showing that I was the only one looking at my site. I knew that wasn’t quite true from people who sent me emails congratulating me on getting it going. Why the missing postings? I’ve been using up my “Blog time” on fixing problems like this. Since it didn’t appear that many people were visiting, I thought I’d use the time to solve some of these problems.

The Tribulation:
I was wrong. I just got the applications going that tells me who is visiting. Within the first five minutes it showed 9 people were looking at the site. A little math and that says that more than just a few people at least think that the title of the Blog is interesting. It also says that I can’t take a day or two to work on problems at the expense of content.

Regarding the content, the only way I know if it’s interesting is if you leave a comment. Right now you have to click on the posting title. It’s not very convenient and I will fix it. For those of you who prefer to read off-line, I am now adding .pdf hardcopies of postings to download and read later.

So welcome and again let me know what part of the Language of Strategy 2 Execution Blog is interesting to you.

Ron

p.s. My thanks to my friend Mike Werner of Bikes in the Fast Lane – Motorcycle News. Apart from sharing his passion for motorcycles, his site is wonderful for anyone contemplating a visit to Normandy France. His blog has lots of suggestions that only locals would know about. He has been great in sharing his long time Blogging experience.

Business Context Changes Faster Than You Can Execute Anything Important.0

One of the primary guidelines I share with clients is;

Business context changes faster than you can execute anything important.

How relevant is that?

I just had a long term colleague depart from a senior corporate position. I asked him if he saw any warning signs. Apart from the reorganization that was the triggering factor, he saw a recurring theme.

The CEO would set out a new initiative for his department. They would work on it, and as they were nearing completion provide some initial feedback to the CEO. The CEO would let him know that it was no longer that important, and set out a new task. After enough of these episodes, he lost a sense of accomplishment and contribution.

This scenario is not unique to my colleague. Many organizations have similar issues.

Here are five lessons to be learned by any organization for dealing with the speed of change.

  1. You can’t successfully operate a business with executives focused on initiatives. They need to be focused on targeted outcomes, which is a translation of how the strategy can be achieved. A strategy doesn’t change nearly as often as initiatives.

    With a defined, narrow, set of high-level targeted outcomes, it is possible to define the additional necessary interim outcomes. An executive can then determine the initiatives necessary to achieve that outcome. As conditions inevitably change, the executive can shift to more appropriate initiatives. This makes better use of key resources.

  2. Use a shared method to communicate the agreed upon relative importance of the top-level targeted outcomes. No organization has enough resources to achieve all the outcomes necessary to carry out a strategy. There must be agreement on the starting point for the relative importance of outcomes. This is what in turn points you towards the initial set of approved initiatives. The problem is that business context changes faster than you can execute anything important. Midstream you’ll to have to shift resources to the initiatives that support the now more important outcomes.
  3. Changed business context forces a change in execution behavior. For example, after some business change, you might be required to achieve the original targeted outcome:
    1. With an even higher level of performance
    2. sooner,
    3. at a lower cost, or with reduced management attention,
    4. with greater certainty of success,
    5. with a wider reach to increase the area of impact
    6. with greater buy-in,
    7. with increased sustainability or
    8. with greater measurability and transparency of progress.

    I call these “Qualities of Execution”. Any change between behaviors you used when you started execution to one of the new Qualities of Execution™ requires potential shifts. These shifts can be in many areas e.g. behavior, process, technologies, partnerships etc.

  4. Keep everyone on the same page. People learn about change at different times, in different ways. Their managers interpret the impact of change for their team members, and they interpret what their manager has told them. The organization must have a method to identify and communicate how a changed business context impacts the high-level outcomes and Qualities of Execution. Otherwise targeted outcomes will not be achieved. That’s what seems to have happened with my colleague. Failure statistics for strategic programs are well over 50%.
  5. Manage down conflicting execution behaviors. Based on continuous interpretations of new business context, managers and team members change their expectations on how execution will occur and what the final results should be. Hopefully this means team members will change their execution behaviors. We all have met those people who don’t or won’t change their behavior regardless of the situation. They’re not reading this anyway and will randomly disrupt execution when their behavior is at odds with the desired Qualities of Execution.

    You must keep everyone on the same page as per the point above. You can then identify the desired Qualities of Execution for everyone at the same time, in the same way. You now stand a chance of having complementary behaviors and increase the chance of successful execution.

    Seeing conflicting behaviors is more often the case. You can imagine team members or a sponsor working differently to achieve an outcome;

    • as fast as possible, and another
    • at as low cost as possible, and another
    • with as much buy-in as possible.

These conflicting behaviors lead to dysfunctional inter-actions and increase the likelihood of failed execution.

Here are six steps you can follow to deal with the speed of change.

  1. Start with everyone on the same page. Create an Outcomes Roadmap. Translate strategy into targeted and interim outcomes. They’re more executable than a thick strategy binder or PowerPoint presentation.
  2. Assign outcome coordinators to ensure accountability. Outcomes use resources from all over the organization. One person needs to coordinate achievement of each outcome on behalf of the whole organization.
  3. Focus on the most important things. Identify the relative importance of outcomes and the initiatives that support them. Attach resources to the most important outcomes. Manage how importance changes over time and shift resources as needed.
  4. Keep everyone on the same page. Use multiple types of media to communicate the updated Outcomes Roadmap. Use gaps in achievement of targeted outcomes rather than initiatives as the focus of status reports and meetings.
  5. Manage changing expectations and desired behaviors for success. Change occurs and is communicated through the Outcomes Roadmap. Use it to identify the Qualities of Execution that drive desired behaviors for execution success. Talk about the desired execution behaviors in your teams as they are required to change.
  6. Translate wins into normal operations. Deal with diminishing returns when nearing completion of an outcome. Be prepared to capture value and shift resources. Make management status meeting more effective by reduced reporting on historic important outcomes as outcomes of higher importance eclipse the old.

I’ve introduced these steps to many clients. They can be adopted by individuals for their own targeted outcomes, by project teams on a targeted outcome, or for an organization trying to manage multiple competing critical outcomes.

All of the above is required. The days of completing a project before the business context changes are long gone.

Business Context Changes Faster.pdf

Curling in Abidjan, Ivory Coast (Cote d’Ivoire) Africa circa 19823

This the second installment sharing a personal work experience having worked in over 45 countries. One picture that keeps coming back to me is about execution in the Cote d’Ivoire. (Don’t worry, no one dies).

I was a project manager for Raytheon in the early 1980′s. The airport manager for Air Afrique in the Ivory Coast was one of my clients. I spent about 3 months installing an airport departure control system for their main airport. French is the local language, which I spoke well, but with a limited vocabulary. But, one day my language skills completely failed me. My client also owned a restaurant and part of the deal was that I would eat all evening meals there. This particular evening there were a large number of French colleagues, their wives and my host. We were having a wonderful time, and with a few glasses of wine, my French was almost fluent. I was excited to tell them that I’d made the most fantastic discovery that day. There was Curling in Abidjan.

abidjan curling photo

The Intercontinental Hotel had connected to it, a skating rink. I was told that, at that time, it was the only skating rink in all of Africa. Not only that, but it also had markings under the ice for Curling! Every second Tuesday a group of expats gathered and played curling. Beyond that, I was at a loss how to explain the game in French. There was no other option. With great excitement I invited my dinner table to come to the next curling bonspiel two weeks hence.

Here is what the Duluth Curling Club says about curling: “The strategy of positioning rocks as the end develops is extremely subtle, and is what makes curling a lifelong obsession for some people. It has been called “chess on ice”. … Above all else, curling is game of skillful execution of strategy.” That’s right Curling is a game of skillful execution of strategy. I hadn’t known that my years of curling in my teens would be a foreshadowing of my life work!

I had a trip back to Amsterdam, where I was living, and secured the right footgear for my grand entry into the world of African curling. I arrived at the rink duly attired and was made Skip of my team of four, which meant I was the last to throw a rock. (see the photo). I’m sure that I had an audience of fifty locals and expats. Many of them were ready with cameras to capture my first rock thrown in Africa. I have to say that I was excited and confident of my skills. Six other players each threw two rocks before it was my turn. As skip, I had demonstrated my strategic abilities and had created a difficult situation for my competing skip. It was now my turn to execute. I made my way with great speed, and elegance down the ice, pushing with one foot and sliding with the other.
As I prepared to squat down into the “hack” to take my shot, I took one last look at my audience before squatting down to execute, to throw my stone, and achieve our team’s strategy.

The next thing I heard was roaring laughter. As I had squatted down to take my first shot, my pants split with a great ripping sound. If you look at the photo, you can actually see a small sliver of white in a strategic location. That is where a cool breeze confirmed what had just happened. There was nothing to do about it, except continue playing amid the flashing of the cameras my friends had all brought. You might have even seen the reflection of my red face in the ice that day.

Curling; it’s all about strategy and execution. Sometimes execution takes some unusual turns. As far as I know they’re still playing curling in Abidjan.

Curling in Abidjan_strategy2Execution.pdf

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The Language of Strategy 2 Execution Blog Manifesto0

“Strategy 2 Execution” is defined as the single most critical process of an organization. In this context it is not a series of processes that ultimately take you from strategy to execution. This is the overall process. I also use the acronym S2E for it.

I wanted to create a message for first time visitors. It will be kept as a permanent link on the list on the right side of the page. I wanted to set a high bar for what the content was for the Blog. In the following I set out the need for a break-through in successful execution of strategy. I also set out what tests, such a solution has to pass.

Thank you in advance for any way that you contribute to that ‘quest’, whether it is through comments to the postings or by taking advantage of any of the ideas introduced here.

We all have something that is keeping us awake at night. Current capabilities and resources don’t seem to be enough to ensure certainty of successful execution. We have to rely on resources outside our control for our success. Surveys would claim that strategic programs fail well over 50% of the time.

No country or functional group has cornered the market on successful execution. Over the past 30 years I have worked or lived in over 45 countries. I have provided services in management consulting, strategy formulation, business and IT transformations, large program delivery, sales and engineering management. Failure is high everywhere.

A break-through solution that provides a step improvement is needed. Improvement efforts that include book and magazine articles by experts, methodologies, and standards seem to be providing only incremental improvement. They are largely providing high-level leadership ideas or focus on narrowly defined functional areas. We must work on Strategy 2 Execution as a single critical process. There has not been a significant improvement in overall Strategy 2 Execution success in years.

Successful execution is defined as “having met expectations”. We need to be clear about what success is. The bar for what defines success must be set higher than ever. Anything less is an illusion of success.

Here are five tests for a Strategy 2 Execution break-through solution;

  1. Improvement is Both Measurable and Intuitively Felt: The definition of success varies widely. What is success for one participant is a failure to another. Measurability is a must but execution is often stopped because sponsors don’t feel that expectations are being met. The solution must address leaders’ intuition as to whether success is being achieved and whether their expectations are being met.
  2. It Provides Overall Improvement: Execution improvements in specific functional or process areas sometime occurs at the cost of overall Strategy 2 Execution success. Overall Strategy 2 Execution improvement is what is needed. This will only be achieved by providing a solution that integrates strategy to execution processes with the way people are organized and deployed to work. It must hold overall improvement at a higher value than improvement in a specific area.
  3. It is Scalable, for All Types of Execution: We exist in a global, connected world. Any solution must enhance execution across different hierarchies, functional areas, companies, industries, governments and cultures. Major performance improvement will only occur if the solution is scalable starting from individual to multi-party to large scale execution. To be widely adopted, it must be able to be incrementally deployed and serve all types of execution.
  4. It Survives Unpredictable Change: Nothing important can be completed anymore before its starting conditions and assumptions change in some significant way. Level of importance, organization design and available resource/ finances will change before execution is complete. Inevitable change is the norm. Strategy 2 Execution must survive this.
  5. It Serves Everyone Equally: The solution must be practical, simple to understand and easy to adopt. To be sustainable it must be shared by choice, by all roles, at all levels of the organization. It must serve to get everyone on the same page using a common language that all participants share.

This is the opportunity for leaders of all types to share our passion, curiosity, experience, and simple-to-radical ideas for improving overall Strategy 2 Execution success. Welcome.

Strategy 2 Execution Blog Manifesto.pdf

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Failure to Meet Expectations Has a Major Impact on Success During and From Execution0

Skip Reardon at Six Disciplines brings to light a McKinsey survey that sheds new light on what drives a successful transformation in organizational performance.  Respondents  reckoned  that their companies were conspicuously more effective than others at raising expectations about future performance, addressing short-term performance, engaging people at all levels of the organization, including a clear and coordinated program design, and making change visible –through, say, new IT tools or physical surroundings.  McKinsey also claims survey results show that emotions play a leading role in a performance transformation.

There is a strong link between expectations and emotions. (See research below carried out at the University of Colorado). 

I would claim that the right measure for execution success is having met expectations. If you agree with that, then you can see how important emotions are to success. The dark side of this equation is that missed expectations can lead to negative emotions that lead to poor execution. Sounds too theoretical, too academic? If you can’t find a way to improve management of expectations then execution will continue to be perceived as failure on a regular basis.

There are limitless types of performance expectations. Participants in a major change program might all agree on a high-level outcome for organization change /transformation. Even with that agreement performance expectations will vary widely in two unique areas.

  • How transformation execution should be optimized during execution and
  • What to optimize around for the transformation results achieved from execution

These two areas yield very different types of expectations. Expectations of how execution will be carried out during execution and what the result will be from execution lead transformation team members to very different types of behaviors.

When behaviors are conflicting between team members engaged in achieving the same transformation outcome, sparks fly, failure is the norm and careers can be lost.

Expectations of Performance During Execution
During transformation execution, participants and those funding it can differ wildly on how to optimize. That is, whether the execution of the transformation is proceeding;

  • too quickly or slowly (optimized for speed),
  • with enough concern for risk factors (optimized for certainty of success),
  • in a way that provides visible, measurable progress (optimized to provide clarity and measurability),
  • to reduce expenditure of  financial and fixed resources, and management time) (optimized for best use of resources/ low cost)

Conflict During Execution
A number of these from the list above are types of conflicting expectations. One group might be expecting to see the transformation occur as quickly as possible and another group expects it to occurs with as much organizational buy-in as possible. These two “Qualities of Execution” are usually conflicting. Change teams will execute in a way that optimizes one or more of these Qualities of Execution. Someone optimizing execution for speed will execute the same project quite differently than someone who is optimizing for certainty. There are very different behaviors involved in executing for speed versus for certainty. Which is the right behavior for the transformation manager? Someone who crosses all the t’s and dot’s all the i’s (e.g. a process/ details oriented behavior), or a Captain Kirk, a transformation manager who cuts corners, makes bold moves, “goes where no man has gone before”. Such variations in behavior during execution of a major change program lead to conflict and dysfunctional behavior among team members.

Expectations of Performance From Execution:
These same participants in the transformation have their own expectations from execution. Sure, they may all absolutely sign-on for the highest level change outcome, but during transformation, participants and those funding it can differ wildly on what to optimize around. That is, whether the transformation will result in;

  • the greatest size of change possible (optimize for the greatest amount of transformation change)
  • the change / transformation be long lasting (optimized for sustainability)
  • an exceptionally high level of commitment to the change / transformation (optimized for buy-in)
  • the change /transformation having the broadest impact (optimized for reach)

Conflict From Execution
A number of these from the list above lead to different and sometimes conflicting expectations.  For example, while working on initiatives to achieve an outcome, you might have team members working to maximize the amount of performance change.  At the same time you might have other team members working on the same outcome but in a way that would achieve it at the lowest cost.  The team behaviors by both groups would be quite different. You can imagine the type of conflict that can occur when there are different expectations for what to optimize on from execution.

Emotions and Performance are Impacted When Expectations Are Not Being Met
When expectations aren’t being met, emotions start to erupt.  The higher a team member’s expectations (e.g. Gee, I really thought we were on the same page here!) the bigger the emotional impact.  According to McKinsey, while respondents reported negative and positive moods in roughly equal proportions, more of the top performers reported experiencing the positive emotions – especially focus and enthusiasm.  It doesn’t take much to figure out that those two emotions can have a major impact on successful execution of any organizational change and transformation.

Here is some research on the connection between emotions and expectations. It is somewhat obvious, but nonetheless supports the research by McKinsey and my contention that you have to manage expectations for successful execution.
Management of Expectation can be accomplished using the “Qualities of Execution” approach.

Olympians’ Emotions Greatly Affected By Prior Expectations Says CU Professor from PhysOrg.com Olympians’ expectations going into the games often affect how thrilling their victories or agonizing their defeats will be, according to a University of Colorado at Boulder professor.

fail_expect.pdf

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