Monday, April 16, 2012

The Big Picture

“We live in a VUCA world (volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous) which makes it impossible to know the future.” notes Bob MCDonald, CEO of P&G. This spring when we step back from our day to day complexities, we see that instability is chronic in our society, uncertainty is permanent, change is accelerating, and disruption is common. And for those of us who hold on to this big picture, we know we can neither predict nor govern most events. As Jim Collins and Morten Hansen pointed out in their book, Great By Choice: Uncertainty, Chaos, and Luck - Why Some Thrive Despite Them All (HarperCollins, 2011), “Given this rise of complexity, globalization, and technology, all of which are accelerating change and increase volatility we must come to accept that there is no “new normal.” There will only be a continuous series of “not normal” times.”

When I step back from my day to day work, I notice the following:

First, as I noted earlier in this blog, there are three technological tsunami’s hitting the shores of business during the coming years. They are 1) mobile phones becoming smart phones, 2) the increased use of social networking to solve problems, and 3) the subtle but powerful shift to cloud computing. These three huge waves will impact us for many years to come. While I can not predict the true impact of them, I know they are coming and to a degree are already impacting us. For those of you who are interested in all of this, I again recommend reading the following article: “CEOs Tackle Technology” by Jennifer Pellet from the January/February 2012 issue of Chief Executive magazine. Here is the link:

Second, in the area of strategy, I continue to be intrigued by how many companies are talking about growth, mergers and acquisitions. It is now a regular part of all strategic planning cycles and yet I do have some concerns as we enter this new round of growth. First, very few of these organizations are considering their “hinge assumptions” or the strategic variables that could cause their core assumptions to be misaligned. For example, in the world of non-profits, the fundamental questions are simple: Will the state continue to pay for this service? Will new funding sources become available to support it? And finally, will this new service growth result in a greater degree of quality? Talking about these assumptions are vital to success.

Next in the area of strategy, more people need to explore whether or not they have the capacity to plan well and then whether or not this is matched by the capacity to execute well. More times than not the capacity does not match the strategy. Great plans need great people, and great people deserve great planning.

Also in the area of strategy, I am particularly concerned that many for-profit and non-profit Boards are not configured for growth. In the non-profit world, the paradigm shift at the Board level from one of focusing on fiduciary oversight to a more strategic and philanthropic role, i.e. one of generating significant financial support over time, and the development of financial relationships as in friend raising to generate a new and sustainable financial foundation, is rarely present. Furthermore, both in the for-profit worlds and the non-profit world, few Board members are experienced in the strategic oversight of a growing company and thus default to fiduciary oversight instead of strategic counsel.

Furthermore, in the world of strategy, I continue to be concerned about the lack of awareness of the importance of branding and marketing when it comes to growth. I believe many people are coming to the world of growth assuming that “if they build it, people will come.” While this may work in the movie, “Field of Dreams,” experienced leaders know that a well thought out branding and marketing strategy are important to long term success.

At the same time, all of us know that growing companies need a strong infrastructure. The investment and development of core operational systems and people to support what is being considered must be included in the strategic planning process and implementation. For example, the following areas need more investment and consideration: technology, performance management, financial management, and as mentioned earlier brand management.

Finally, in the area of strategy, everyone needs to spend more time discussing metrics. The question of “How do we measure the success of a new strategic direction?” needs to be more thoughtfully explored. Many companies are not exploring this in great depth and thus defaulting to old metrics which may or may not provide accurate information for improved decision making.

Third, when looking at the bigger picture, I see more and more people within companies being put on performance management plans. As all of these PIPs, i.e. performance improvement plans, are happening, there is a lot of firing and hiring taking place plus very talented people are starting to quit their dysfunctional companies and move to better opportunities. Leaders have a “show me the results” mentality now and do not have the time or energy to suffer fools. As these executives push for results, they also want cultural alignment, and brand clarity. When they encounter poorly designed systems, as noted above, especially ones not designed for growth, these same leaders are struggling greatly.

Fourth, it would be foolish not to mention when looking at the bigger picture that the Millennials are transforming the work place. The Millennials, the generation of workers born roughly between 1980 and 2000, are entering the workforce in droves. An estimated 44 million are already working and 46 million more are to become a part of the workforce in the years ahead. Many experts now say that this generation will come to dominate the workforce in both number and attitude—and in the process reshape the work experience of all employees.

The big question this spring when it comes to Milleanials is the following: What is important to this generation and how can employers best tap into the potential they have to offer at work? Given that 75 percent of this generation reports planning to find a new job as the economy improves, it is worth our investment of time and energy to see how best we can attract, motivate, and retain them in our organizations today.

Last year at the Fall 2011 From Vision to Action Executive Roundtable, I told participants we needed to focus less on control, compliance and compensation, and more on strategy, talent and execution. When I review the aforementioned bigger picture, this spring I believe we need to focus more on the following: develop or continuing to develop a strategic mindset, hold a focus on operational excellence, and continue to improve personal performance.

Looking at the bigger picture is important. It also may be a bit overwhelming. Still, we need to remember that change in one part influences and changes all other parts. Time looking at the whole helps us better understand the interconnection between the parts.

Geery Howe, M.A.Consultant, Executive Coach, Trainer inLeadership, Strategic Planning and Organizational ChangeMorning Star Associates319 - 643 - 2257

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