Monday, May 26, 2014

Building Bridges In the Midst of Complexity

It is common during strategic planning to encounter a situation where one needs a short term plan in order to create the right conditions for a longer term strategic plan. I call these short term strategic plans a “bridge plan” because they bridge the gap and create the right foundation for the longer term plan.

To create a successful bridge plan, one must first understand the difference between the following two concepts:

- Individual competencies refer to a specific person’s knowledge and skills required to fulfill specific role requirements.  

- Organizational capabilities are collective abilities of the company required to execute the business strategy.  

Sometimes a bridge plan may focus on individual competencies and other times it may focus more on organizational capabilities. The key is to be very clear on building at both levels because it will take both levels to create a sound long range strategic plan.

Second, one must understand that when building a long range strategic plan, you will be willing to work at three levels, namely the day to day operations, the distance future and the intermediate future. It is during this last level that organizations typically onboard the next generation of high growth opportunities that are already in their R&D pipeline. This is often called commercializing an innovative idea. The other thing that happens at this level is the closing of the gap between current competitive strengths and tomorrow’s competitive requirements. Here we are building new core individual competencies and new organizational capabilities.

Now, when building a bridge plan, we need to recognize the shorter time frame. Remember that the goal is to create better conditions for a more in-depth form of long range strategic planning and execution. Therefore, hardwire the plan for numerous short term wins, and to over-communicate the why factor as part of building the bridge plan. Then, make sure the metrics used actually measure progress in a clear and valid way.

Bridge plans can be very effective as an organization evolves, and they can make a profound difference when dealing with adaptive process. This week as you plan for the future, consider the option of building a bridge plan before you create a more in-depth strategic plan.

Geery Howe, M.A. Consultant, Executive Coach, Trainer in Leadership, Strategic Planning and Organizational Change Morning Star Associates 319 - 643 - 2257

Monday, May 19, 2014

Planning For The Future

Right now, a lot of people are planning for the future. Meetings are happening. Committees are being formed. Task forces are being assembled.  Everyone has a sense of how the rest of this year is going to play out so they have started focusing on 2015 - 2020 with great interest.

For many people in leadership positions, this whole planning thing is a two step process, namely plan and then implement.  While I wish it could be true, successful planning and successful implementation is a multi-step process with a great deal complexity.

For us here today, let’s realize that planning for the future is a six step process. The first step is to prepare for planning. Here we personally sense and identify problems within the organization. Next, we figure out how to frame them up so we can clearly work on them in the next stage. We also mobilize people, i.e. coalition building, around these issues and get them to work as a team so they will be ready for the next stage of planning.

During the second step, we need to help all involve understand the purpose of the planning process and the plan. For example, they need to understand the planning road map, i.e. how many meetings and what is the goal of each meeting etc.  At this stage, we create the actual plan with all of it’s specific goals and objectives.

In the third step, we prepare for implementation of the plan. Now, all involved need to understand how to communicate the plan so there is wide spread ownership of it rather than defaulting to the normal “get’er done”mentality.

In the fourth step, we roll-out the plan and begin to implement it. Here, we need to focus on short term wins so people have greater confidence in the planning and the plan over time.

In the fifth step, everyone will be executing the plan. The key to success is to make sure we are using metrics to measure our progress.  Over time, the metrics help the changes to become standard operating procedure.

Finally, in the sixth step, we need to routinely pause for dialogue, evaluation, and review. It is important that we step back from what we are doing and check to make sure the assumptions and decisions we made back in step one and step two were the correct ones. This is not a time to just hold hands and sing “cum by ya”. It is a time for reflection and accountability. 

During the next 30 days, be more mindful of the above different steps to the planning process. Make sure the one you are participating in is well organized and purposeful. Over time, it will make a world of difference throughout the organization.

Geery Howe, M.A. Consultant, Executive Coach, Trainer in Leadership, Strategic Planning and Organizational Change Morning Star Associates 319 - 643 - 2257

Monday, May 12, 2014

Strategy As A Living System

In every company, there are two operating systems happening at the same time. One is the day to day or tactical operating system, and the other is the strategic system. Whether we like it or not, both exist. Some days they are highly dysfunctional and other days they work pretty well.

First, these are living systems rather than mechanical models of rigidity with measured inputs and outputs. And thus as living systems, they are dynamic. Nevertheless, we as leaders keep approaching them as linear. Our challenge is to generate a deeper level of commitment in the organization. Therefore, we need to help people comprehend how they work, move, flow and interact with other systems. We need to help them comprehend that the goal of a living system is to support the organization and help all employed there to have better access to the insights of those who work there, plus assist them in changing as needed based on global and local conditions.

Cynthia A. Montgomery, noted in her article, “Putting Leadership Back Into Strategy”, Harvard Business Review, January 2008, there is a missing dimension to this whole process. As she wrote, “Over the past few decades strategy has become a plan that positions a company in its external landscape. That’s not enough. Strategy should also guide the development of the company - its identity and purpose - over time.” Rather than present strategy as a set solution and an unchanging plan that derives from an analytical, left brain exercise, we need to see strategy as a dynamic process, i.e a “process that is adaptive, holistic, and open ended.” When we view strategy as every day, continuos and unending, then we move from a mechanical approach to a living systems approach.

Margaret Wheatley in her book, So Far From Home: lost and found in our brave new world, Berrett-Koehler, 2012, states we start the process of building and working in a living systems approach by clarifying identity, information, and relationships.  First, people need to figure out where they fit into the organization. This comes when they are clear about what they are responsible for, i.e. outcomes, what is expected of them and what are the goals that they are trying to complete. Second, there needs to be a process for the on-going development of shared meaning and understanding. From my perspective routine strategic level dialogues and reviews makes a big difference.  Third, relationship building, which is the pre-cursor to team building, is implemented. This comes in the form of routine coaching, routine trust building amongst team members, and routine informal time to visit about all of life.

This week I challenge you to look at your organization from a living systems approach. It has the potential to change your whole perspective.

Geery Howe, M.A. Consultant, Executive Coach, Trainer in Leadership, Strategic Planning and Organizational Change Morning Star Associates 319 - 643 - 2257

Friday, May 9, 2014

For Those Planning Ahead

I am delighted to share with you the following information about our 2015 training opportunities.

2015 From Vision to Action Leadership Training:
- March 3 - 4 - 5, 2015
- May 5 - 6 - 7, 2015
- September 15 - 16 - 17, 2015
- November 10 - 11, 2015

Location: Coralville Marriott Hotel and Conference Center, Coralville, Iowa

Spring 2015 From Vision to Action Executive Roundtable:
- April 8 - 9, 2015  

Location: Courtyard by Marriott, Des Moines/Clive, Iowa

Fall 2015 From Vision to Action Executive Roundtable:
- September 23 - 24, 2015 

Location: Coralville Marriott Hotel and Conference Center, Coralville, Iowa

During the coming weeks, more information about these events will be posted on our website. I look forward to your participation as we continue learning and sharing how to translate vision into successful action.

Geery Howe, M.A. Consultant, Executive Coach, Trainer in Leadership, Strategic Planning and Organizational Change Morning Star Associates 319 - 643 - 2257

Monday, May 5, 2014

Become an Architect of Meaning

Every day, leaders are confronted with big questions such as Who are we?, Where are we going?, and How are we going to get there? Their answers to these questions are very important. People count on them to make operational and strategic decisions. 

Most leaders answer such big questions with what-we-need-to-do-next oriented answers. They focus on “go here” and “go there” answers. However, the best leaders do something different. They give purpose to the answers. They explain “why” more than “what.” As a result, the answer and the work have more meaning. The best leaders build understanding rather than simply awareness.

If you, as a leader, are seeking to create a coherent and comprehensive understanding in your organization, then do the following.  First, remember that past strategic choices were made with the best information possible; they were seen as the “right choice” at the time. 

Furthermore, everything we are doing today reflects past choices. Some of those past choices were good and some might have been poor, yet all of them were choices, typically based on the best information possible. Even choosing not to do something is a form of choice. Our challenge as leaders is to help people understand these past choices. This will give all involved perspective about what is happening now.

Second, we must remember that past strategic choices created both impact and precedence. Exceptional leaders are clear about these two elements and often explain them in greater depth to all the members of their team.

Third, current strategic choices are harder because leaders have to contend with more variables and more constituencies and stakeholders than ever before. Ram Charan, interviewed by Melinda Merino, for an article called “You Can’t Be a Wimp - Make the Tough Calls,” Harvard Business Review, November 2013, states that good decisions require “perceptual acuity,” namely the ability to see change coming,  “qualitative judgement,” which allows leaders to formulate and select the right options, and “credibility” which helps them gain acceptance for decisions. Noel M. Tichy and Warren G. Bennis in their article called “Making Judgement Calls: The Ultimate Act of Leadership”, Harvard Business Review, October 2007, explain that most judgement calls arise in three domains - people, strategy and crisis. “Good judgement is grounded - in all three domains”, they explain, “and throughout the process - in four types of knowledge: self, social network, organizational, and contextual.”

Given the current strategic choices before most organizations, it is important to role model being an architect of meaning, namely one who builds awareness and then understanding of the significance, importance, and purpose of change. Realizing that people learn more from role modeling than communicating, my challenge to you this week is practice living the mission, vision and values rather than just speaking about them. Then, you will see what happens when you become an architect of meaning.

Geery Howe, M.A. Consultant, Executive Coach, Trainer in Leadership, Strategic Planning and Organizational Change Morning Star Associates 319 - 643 - 2257