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Is Long Range Planning Still Relevant?

In today’s rapidly changing business environment, some argue conventional long range planning may no longer be relevant.

As background, here are the elements of a traditional strategic plan1:

  1. Mission – why you do what you do
  2. Vision – where do you want to be
  3. Core values – what guides you
  4. Driving Force – What is the nature of the products, services, customers, market segments and geographic areas that a company chooses to pursue?  What is it now?  Should it change?
  5. Strategic analysis
  6. The Five Forces2 – suppliers, customers, threat of substitutes (technology), ease of entry (potential entrants)
  7. SWOT – Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats
  8. Analysis of competitors SWOT
  9. Competitive advantage
  10. What should we continue, what should we change?
  11. Operating Plans & KPI’s (Key Performance Indicators)
  12. Budget, both capital and operating
  13. Balanced Scorecard – Finance, Internal Processes, Learning & Growth, Customer Satisfaction

Among those challenging traditional strategic planning is Clayton Christensen.  In his book, The Innovator’s Dilemma3, he questions traditional concepts of strategic planning in an environment populated by increasingly innovative and agile competitors.  His focus is on large companies who historically are not good at being agile and innovative and therefore lack the ability to respond to small, entrepreneurial, innovative competitors.

Rita Gunther McGrath, in her new book, The End of Competitive Advantage4, makes a frontal attack on accepted strategic planning methods designed, in her opinion, for another time. These are methods based on the presumption that competitive advantage is sustainable.

McGrath believes that the best one can hope for is “transient competitive advantage.”  Her prescription for achieving transient competitive advantage includes smaller, faster, more agile organizations where “management-by-consensus” is a thing of the past. Her emphasis is on marshalling rather than owning assets, including talent. To ensure the appropriate deployment of these assets from one opportunity to the next, it is necessary to recentralize control over the resource allocation process, moving it out of strategic business units (SBUs). This raises the question as to the relevancy of SBUs and suggests that they be replaced by transient teams as a primary form of organization.  They engage in a continuous process of creating and testing options, doing things fast and “roughly right” rather than relying on traditional strategic planning methods.

Like Christensen, McGrath’s message is aimed at large, historically slow moving companies.  So as a TEC member, is strategic planning still relevant to you?  What do you think?

Some closing thoughts:

  • “Strategic Planning is the single most important function of the CEO”, Patrick Below
  • “I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.”, Dwight D. Eisenhower
  • “If you don’t know where you are going, any road will take you there”, Lewis Carroll

Click here to read more on this subject.  ( http://hbswk.hbs.edu/item/7341.html )

1”The Executive Guide to Strategic Planning”, by Patrick J. Below

2”Competitive Strategy”, by Michael E. Porter

3Clayton M. Christensen, The Innovator’s Dilemma (Boston: Harvard Business School Press, 1997)

4Rita Gunther McGrath, The End of Competitive Strategy: How to Keep Your Strategy Moving as Fast as Your Business, (Boston: Harvard Business Review Press, 2013)

How to Be an Effective Group Leader

Why Dominating Leaders Kill Teams

Dominating leaders tend to stifle creative ideas that might otherwise emerge from group discussions thus making the teams less productive.

Francesca Gino is an Associate Professor in the Negotiations, Organizations, and Markets Unit at Harvard Business School.  In the November 13, 2013 edition for “Working Knowledge” published by the Harvard Business School, Michael Blanding discusses Professor Gino’s series of studies in which she and her colleagues, Leigh Plunkett Tost of the University of Michigan and Richard P. Larrick of Duke University found that when leaders are focused on their own sense of power, they can hurt the performance of their teams—but with an important catch. The effects only occur when leaders are actually in a position of power.

Usually when we think about groups, we think that a strong leader naturally improves the functioning of the team. Professors Gino, Tost and Larrick explore this in depth in their article “When Power Makes Others Speechless: The Negative Impact of Leader Power on Team Performance”. In their work they differentiate between a “subjective sense of power,” that is, when someone thinks they have control over others, and actual power, when someone has formal authority over compensation, promotions, how resources are allocated or how decisions are made. Actual power and as sense of power often go hand in hand, but not always.

Sometimes in a group situation without a formal leader, a leadership role can be assumed by a person who believes he or she has superior knowledge or skills. The researchers found that in cases when someone felt powerful but was not recognized as being in a position of authority, team members were able to override that person’s domination of the conversation and add their own input.

As I would expect, they found that in the best performing groups, the leader orchestrates the conversation, and gets everyone talking. In other words, strong leaders can and do improve team performance when they go into a situation with a sense of humility about their own relative power.

On the other end of the spectrum, poor performing teams were dominated by a leader who made his power known, controlling the conversation and stifling input from the non-leader members of the group.

In conclusion, Professors Gino, Tost and Larrick suggest there is a powerful opportunity to improve performance just by making leaders aware of the dangers of hogging airtime in a discussion.

“I want to believe that oftentimes we behave the way we do because we are not aware of the effects of our actions,” says Gino. “Bringing this type of awareness to leaders walking into group decision-making situations could set up a different process whereby they benefit from what others have to offer.”

They further conclude that being aware of the negative effects generated by an overpowering leader can make non-leaders feel more empowered to assert their own point of view—whether or not the person dominating the conversation is a formal leader.  I believe that this requires the non-leaders to trust that the leader with power will not exercise that power against them.

It is no surprise to me that getting leaders to listen to others and to facilitate a productive group discussion is powerful indeed.

Read the complete article, here.

9 Things Successful People Do Differently

Why have you been so successful in reaching some of your goals, but not others?

If you aren’t sure, you are far from alone in your confusion. It turns out that even brilliant, highly accomplished people are pretty lousy when it comes to understanding why they succeed or fail. The intuitive answer — that you are born predisposed to certain talents and lacking in others — is really just one small piece of the puzzle. In fact decades of research on achievement suggests that successful people reach their goals not simply because of who they are but more often because of what they do.

1. Get specific. When you set yourself a goal, try to be as specific as possible. “Lose 5 pounds” is a better goal than “lose some weight,” because it gives you a clear idea of what success looks like. Knowing exactly what you want to achieve keeps you motivated until you get there. Also, think about the specific actions that need to be taken to reach your goal. Just promising you’ll “eat less” or “sleep more” is too vague — be clear and precise. “I’ll be in bed by 10pm on weeknights” leaves no room for doubt about what you need to do, and whether or not you’ve actually done it.

2. Seize the moment to act on your goals. Given how busy most of us are, and how many goals we are juggling at once, it’s not surprising that we routinely miss opportunities to act on a goal because we simply fail to notice them. Did you really have no time to work out today? No chance at any point to return that phone call? Achieving your goal means grabbing hold of these opportunities before they slip through your fingers.

To seize the moment, decide when and where you will take each action you want to take, in advance. Again, be as specific as possible (e.g., “If it’s Monday, Wednesday, or Friday, I’ll work out for 30 minutes before work.”) Studies show that this kind of planning will help your brain to detect and seize the opportunity when it arises, increasing your chances of success by roughly 300%.

3. Know exactly how far you have left to go. Achieving any goal also requires honest and regular monitoring of your progress — if not by others, then by you yourself. If you don’t know how well you are doing, you can’t adjust your behavior or your strategies accordingly. Check your progress frequently — weekly, or even daily, depending on the goal.

4. Be a realistic optimist. When you are setting a goal, by all means engage in lots of positive thinking about how likely you are to achieve it. Believing in your ability to succeed is enormously helpful for creating and sustaining your motivation. But whatever you do, don’t underestimate how difficult it will be to reach your goal. Most goals worth achieving require time, planning, effort, and persistence. Studies show that thinking things will come to you easily and effortlessly leaves you ill-prepared for the journey ahead, and significantly increases the odds of failure.

5. Focus on getting better, rather than being good. Believing you have the ability to reach your goals is important, but so is believing you can get the ability. Many of us believe that our intelligence, our personality, and our physical aptitudes are fixed — that no matter what we do, we won’t improve. As a result, we focus on goals that are all about proving ourselves, rather than developing and acquiring new skills.

Fortunately, decades of research suggest that the belief in fixed ability is completely wrong — abilities of all kinds are profoundly malleable. Embracing the fact that you can change will allow you to make better choices, and reach your fullest potential. People whose goals are about getting better, rather than being good, take difficulty in stride, and appreciate the journey as much as the destination.

6. Have grit. Grit is a willingness to commit to long-term goals, and to persist in the face of difficulty. Studies show that gritty people obtain more education in their lifetime, and earn higher college GPAs. Grit predicts which cadets will stick out their first grueling year at West Point. In fact, Dr. John Izzo, a recent TEC Inspirational Leadership speaker referred to studies that indicate that grit is a key component of managerial success.

The good news is, if you aren’t particularly gritty now, there is something you can do about it. People who lack grit more often than not believe that they just don’t have the innate abilities successful people have. If that describes your own thinking ….well, there’s no way to put this nicely: you are wrong. As I mentioned earlier, effort, planning, persistence, and good strategies are what it really takes to succeed. Embracing this knowledge will not only help you see yourself and your goals more accurately, but also do wonders for your grit.

7. Build your willpower muscle. Your self-control “muscle” is just like the other muscles in your body — when it doesn’t get much exercise, it becomes weaker over time. But when you give it regular workouts by putting it to good use, it will grow stronger and stronger, and better able to help you successfully reach your goals.

To build willpower, take on a challenge that requires you to do something you’d honestly rather not do. Give up high-fat snacks, do 100 sit-ups a day, stand up straight when you catch yourself slouching, try to learn a new skill. When you find yourself wanting to give in, give up, or just not bother — don’t. Start with just one activity, and make a plan for how you will deal with troubles when they occur (“If I have a craving for a snack, I will eat one piece of fresh or three pieces of dried fruit.”) It will be hard in the beginning, but it will get easier, and that’s the whole point. As your strength grows, you can take on more challenges and step-up your self-control workout.

8. Don’t tempt fate. No matter how strong your willpower muscle becomes, it’s important to always respect the fact that it is limited, and if you overtax it you will temporarily run out of steam. Don’t try to take on two challenging tasks at once, if you can help it (like quitting smoking and dieting at the same time). And don’t put yourself in harm’s way — many people are overly-confident in their ability to resist temptation, and as a result they put themselves in situations where temptations abound. Successful people know not to make reaching a goal harder than it already is.

9. Focus on what you will do, not what you won’t do. Do you want to successfully lose weight, quit smoking, or put a lid on your bad temper? Then plan how you will replace bad habits with good ones, rather than focusing only on the bad habits themselves. Research on thought suppression (e.g., “Don’t think about white bears!”) has shown that trying to avoid a thought makes it even more active in your mind. The same holds true when it comes to behavior — by trying not to engage in a bad habit, our habits get strengthened rather than broken.

If you want to change your ways, ask yourself, What will I do instead? For example, if you are trying to gain control of your temper and stop flying off the handle, you might make a plan like “If I am starting to feel angry, then I will take three deep breaths to calm down.” By using deep breathing as a replacement for giving in to your anger, your bad habit will get worn away over time until it disappears completely.

It is my hope that, after reading about the nine things successful people do differently, you have gained some insight into all the things you have been doing right all along. Even more important, I hope are able to identify the mistakes that have derailed you, and use that knowledge to your advantage from now on. Remember, you don’t need to become a different person to become a more successful one. It’s never what you are, but what you do.

Can You Lead Through a Disaster?

Headlines Read . . .

Violent thunderstorms. Fatal Flooding. Category 5 Hurricane. F-5 Tornado. Golf  Ball Sized Hail. 100 mph Straight Line Winds. Trees Uprooted. Power Outage for 12,000 Residents. Gas Line Explosion. Local Businesses Affected.

Leadership can be challenging when things are going well, there is always something you need to work through.

However, the rules of the game change when disaster strikes. Regardless of the cause, the best run businesses have prepared a plan to handle a potential disaster situation.

Are you prepared to operate your business the morning after a disaster?

Do you have a Disaster Recovery or Business Continuity Plan?

Up to 40% of businesses affected by a natural or human-caused disaster never reopen. (Source: Insurance Information Institute)

If your business is prepared you get an “A-Grade”!

If not, Ready.gov is a place you can get unbiased information and resources to help you and your team be prepared.

How We Will Operate | B. Charles Ames Series

How We Will Operate

This is the fourth in a series of posts that will describe what the CEO Reliance Electric thought about basic commitments, how the organization was going to operate and ground rules for managers. Once again, all the content of this article is based on the work of B. Charles Ames as outlined in his management manifesto titled Basic Management Concepts dated January 14, 1974.

Reliance Electric was a $1 billion conglomerate at the time our company was acquired.  They had been on a run of successful acquisitions for several years.  They owned about a hundred companies producing electric motors, power transmission equipment, retail food packaging and weighing equipment, telecommunications equipment, and more.

How do you run a conglomerate with a wide range of diverse businesses . . . effectively?  Ames wrote the following.

  • In light of Reliance Electric’s girth, the Divisions of the company needed to work together to take advantage of lessor endowed competitors.
  • The company centralized “certain functions” when it was economically advantageous.  The interests of the corporation trumped those of any individual Division.
  • Reliance followed a uniform set of administrative policies throughout all operations.  Human Resources, for example, would be managed consistently throughout the organization.

So far, so good.  Here is where it gets interesting. Ames was clear here:

  • The company would not force integration where it didn’t make sense or seek consistency among the Divisions without regard to individual differences of the Divisions.
  • The company would not impose corporate policies on decisions without seeking into from the Divisions.

What Ames wanted us to do was gain a competitive advantage from our size and diversity, without messing around with the basic integrity of the divisional profit center concept.  An interesting balancing act, to be sure.  And, the basic business strategy of the company.  Because Ames wrote it down and distributed it all of us, we knew what was expected.

B. Chuck Ames and his wife Jay currently manage the Ames Family Foundation.  They divide their time between a home in Vero Beach, Florida and a second home in a suburb of Cleveland.  

 

Getting Referrals Isn’t That Hard

As we work with sales professionals, we regularly preach about the importance of getting referrals. Many feel uncomfortable asking for referrals from new customers. As with so many things, the easiest way to get referrals is to ask for them. It becomes surprisingly easy the more you practice.

Let’s look at the last time you completed selling a solution to a new customer. You are wrapping up the conversation. Everyone is feeling really good about the process. They are pleased with you and your company, and you feel confident that they will be happy with the results.

Now that you’ve established a strong new relationship, this is the perfect time to capitalize on it.  But do NOT make the common mistake of asking “Do you know anyone else I should be talking to about my product/service?” More than likely, that will produce the typical response of “Gee, no, I don’t” or “Hmm, let me think about it and get back to you.”

It is so much easier for someone to make a referral if they know the type of businesses or people you want to add to your portfolio of customers. You’ve done this homework already and know the type of customers that have been most successful for you. You have targeted customers by job title, annual company sales, location, approximate size, and other factors. Now, just use these characteristics when you ask for a referral. Try something like this:

“Martha, my best customers are those I have found from a referral. I’d like to describe my preferred customer. Would you be so kind as to just jot down the names that come to mind as you hear those qualities? “

After you’ve finished describing your preferred customer and a list has been created, ask for some details. Don’t overdo it. Get basic contact information and permission to use your new customer’s name when contacting the referral.

Our Growth Strategies

Our Growth Strategies

This is the third in a series of posts that will describe what the CEO Reliance Electric thought about basic commitments, how the organization was going to operate and ground rules for managers. Once again, all the content of this article is based on the work of B. Charles Ames as outlined in his management manifesto titled Basic Management Concepts dated January 14, 1974.

In a multi-business company like Reliance Electric, a one size fits all, master strategy defined by corporate was destined to fail, according to Ames. He did not see a single thrust in the business or an “either or” proposition. He saw a “combination of thrusts” that would create the best opportunity for obtaining the company’s growth and profit objectives.

With this multi-business, multi-thrust concept in mind, Ames suggested a three phased growth strategy that would 1) increase earnings at a rate that was attractive to investors and 2) improve the quality and stability of company’s earnings. To accomplish this he suggested the following:

  • Continued emphasis on our strengths to increase profits from our core businesses.
  • Increased emphasis on products and markets less vulnerable to the ups and downs of of the economy. Service businesses, maintenance, repair businesses, for example, fit here as did all of the telecommunications businesses.
  • Increased emphasis on acquisitions that added to our strengths, particularly in businesses less vulnerable to business cycles.

Ames left the rest up to the individual operating company to decide. He wanted dynamic product and market strategies that were tailored to the individual opportunities of each business. He suggested that each business strive for a momentum in order to “make things happen” rather than wait and react to the competition. He felt we could not win by being defensive. His advice was to be aware of the competition but take the initiative and let them react to us.

Interesting advice, on the competition, regardless of the business or industry.  Just as interesting was the reality that everyone in the organization knew exactly what was expected in terms of job performance. Ames wrote it all down for all of us. And that may be the most significant basic management concept of all.

B. Chuck Ames and his wife Jay currently manage the Ames Family Foundation.  They divide their time between a home in Vero Beach, Florida and a second home in a suburb of Cleveland.  

 

Failed Change Initiatives Come Down To The CEO

 Most TEC-involved CEOs and organization leaders are well aware of the elements that need to be in place to create change initiatives.  In today’s world, change comes more rapidly than ever.

But by and large, these initiatives are not sufficiently successful … at least they don’t reach the performance levels we aspired to.

Why?

In his TEC presentations, Michael Canic of Bridgeway Leadership, Denver, provides a litany of required efforts under the headings of the right environment, focus and people.  But we get all that.  We do it, at least most of it.  So, why don’t our people make it happen?

He was asked about the top three reasons after a recent presentation.  They are, in his consulting experience:

1.  CEO Commitment

We say we are, but we actually aren’t.  Canic says, “There is a massive difference between the will to win, and the will to do what it takes to win.”  We earnestly put in place the roadmap for the change initiative and make assignments to our most competent direct reports, with touch base sessions.  But then we get distracted with all the other demands on our time.  We fail to give the impression that the change effort is a “must”.  We send a “mixed message.”  The energy we initially created subsides.

What the CEO has to do, he says, is have just one major commitment at a time … and focus relentlessly on it.  There might be three important ones, but deal with them sequentially.  It will be CEO attention that makes them happen, he says.  By your paying attention, people take responsibility to perform on schedule.

2.  CEO Capability

Simply, this means that some important elements aren’t put in place.  The CEO doesn’t know about them, or doesn’t feel they’re important to the initiative.  We’re good at knowing the technical things that have to happen, but not the “people” things.  These include knowing that people really do understand the purpose … what success looks like … have the knowledge and skills to do what’s expected of them … that they know what’s expected and by when … that they get affirmation … and help when they have a problem.  Simple things when we say them … but often missed.  Have a very visible Master Calendar, showing initiatives, champions and timelines, and manage to it.  It shows people the whole process is being managed, and they see where their part fits in.

As Canic says, what YOU do as CEO is not as important as what your PEOPLE experience.  Don’t assume.

3.  CEO Control of His/Her EGO

Too often, he says, CEOs compromise their own forward success by reflecting their past success in how they comport themselves, in their demeanor.  People recognize this immediately.  You aren’t on the same “level” with them, not on the same “team” with them … and it affects their commitment.  Successful change leaders hold their egos in check.  They put what’s necessary in place, and then spend the rest of their time being a servant, helping others to be successful.

Interestingly, he notes, all failed change initiatives come down to the CEO!

 

WAIT: Why Am I Talking? | The Power of Silence in Business

The Sounds of Silence

“If we were meant to talk more than listen, we would have two mouths and one ear” is a famous Mark Twain quote, one that is good to reflect on when communicating in business.  Leaders that excel at active listening possess a critical asset that will elevate them from good to great.  That element however is often the hardest to grasp and incorporate into day-to-day interactions.  Why is it so hard to listen effectively?a

Most business leaders are very driven individuals, constantly moving forward with great intensity and a deep desire to perform.  This stereotype is well ingrained in our business culture.  The profile of a successful leader rarely includes appreciating and practicing the art of being a good listener.  BTW – have you ever seen a CEO  position description include “must be an excellent listener”?

True listening (not just waiting to speak) presents an opportunity to evaluate, process and uncover clues to solve problems and create strategic advantage.  Chances are when listening in earnest we will  learn something new or be motivated to think about an issue or topic differently, particularly when engaging individuals who view the world differently.  The best solutions and strategies can result from these diverse exchanges. Without this experience we might never grow and improve as business people!

The benefits of having those skills when interacting with colleagues and associates are many. Someone who is an authentic listener can and does evoke a higher level of trust within a relationship.  And, trusting relationships are priceless. When individuals feel that they have been heard, leaders are much more effective at inspiring professional development and overall performance.

So why is it so hard to shut up and listen?  It takes work. Wanting to be a better listener is a start.  A tip?  Recently a fellow TEC Chair shared this acronym. I think is terrific and use it as a reminder.  WAIT: Why Am I Talking?

How To Trim and Score Your Customer List

I heard a great quote recently; “If a salesperson is calling on more than 50 prospects and customers, that salesperson has a hunting license instead of an account list.”

It is unrealistic to think you can manage more than 50 accounts.  The only exception to this rule is if you are selling high end capital equipment that is purchased once every 20 to 30 years.  But, if you are making repetitive sales to the same customers over and over, you are kidding yourself to think you can manage more than 40 to 50 accounts.

After you slim down your customer list do some analysis and I’d wager that somewhere around 80 percent of your revenue comes from the top 20 percent of your account list.  Furthermore, those last few accounts that make up your top 20 percent of the revenue are substantially smaller than those at the top of your list.  Do some account review and balance your accounts with some new larger accounts.

Next, implement an RPM Customer Scorecard.  Yes, just like purchasing does with your suppliers, but they call it a Vendor Scorecard.  An RPM Customer Scorecard measures three critical components of a customer:

  1. Revenue.  What is the gross sales volume of each customer?  Those accounts at the top receive a value of 10 and those at the bottom get a score of 1.
  2. Profit.  This is a measurement of the percentage of revenue that goes to the bottom line.  The highest get a 10 and lowest get a 1.  Here’s a chance to work with your controller!  Controllers are pleasantly surprised when salespeople ask this question.
  3. Maintenance.  Here’s the fun measurement, sometimes called the nuisance factor.  Those dream customers that you enjoy working with, although demanding, are fair and when they need a favor you go out of your way to help them.  On the other end is the person’s name that makes you flinch every time you see it in your inbox.  They ask for discounts, shorter lead times and never say thank you.  You can guess who gets the 10 and who gets the 1.

Total up the scores.  A score of 25-30 represents a customer you want to make sure you have a plan to keep them as a customer.  A score of under 10 is a customer you should refer to a competitor.   With this scorecard in hand think about the creative conversations you can have with your customers, particularly at the time of a price increase.  With those customers scoring between 10 and 25 you can have great conversation reviewing the scorecard.