The Human Side of Planning

July 27, 2015

ExecutionToDieForcover If I were to ask you to jot down a list of the factors that result in great execution, I’m quite sure that leadership, goals, teamwork, change management, communication and employee engagement would feature prominently on your list. But if we all know the basics of what is required to achieve great execution, why is the standard of execution so mediocre?

The answer is twofold. We don’t have a defined process and we neglect the human side of planning. We are so desperate to put the plan into action that we convince ourselves that the sooner we begin to execute, the sooner our organisation will experience the plan’s projected benefits.

Developing any plan or business strategy is made up of three phases.

■          Phase 1 – this is what we want to do

■          Phase 2 – this is how we are going to do it

■          Phase 3 – the initial Action Plan – based on Phase 2, not Phase 1

Each of these phases has a human dimension which if neglected will seriously compromise the plan’s execution.

Phase 1 – This is what we want to do

This phase of the planning process is usually put together by a core group of planners. However, even at this stage there is a human dimension – two in fact.

1)         The planners need to explain the rationale behind the plan – this is what we want to  do because ………. If you are going to ask your staff to make changes – of whatever  kind – that are necessary to implement the plan, you have to explain the rationale behind those changes.

2)         The planning under Phase 1 must result in an overall goal to which everyone in the  organisation can relate. The goal must represent a collective challenge – everyone  from the CEO to the receptionist should feel that they have a part to play in its achievement. It should have a competitive element, an external, customer focus and its achievement will only be possible if everyone works together.

Phase 2 – This is how we are going to do it

In most planning, the time spent by the planners on Phase 1 far exceeds the time spent considering and planning for Phase 2. Incorporating the human dimension is of paramount importance if the plan is to be effectively executed. This is what you need to do.

3)         Enlarge the planning team to include those who will be responsible for the plan’s execution. There is a saying that the more people who plan the battle, the less there are to battle the plan. Bringing the implementers on board at this stage of the planning process will result in these benefits:

■          Those charged with the execution of the plan are better equipped to consider  its implications on the support functions within the organisation. If aspects of the plan are unachievable or inappropriate, now’s the time to revise the plan,  not six months down the track when the barriers to execution become apparent.

■          Involving those who will be charged with the plan’s execution will enhance Oganisational Alignment – the key to effective execution.

■          Their involvement marks the commencement of joint ownership of the Plan between planners and implementers.

■          You will end up with a better plan.

4)         If the plan is a strategic one with major implications for the organisation, its implementation may require an organisational restructuring. Nothing is more likely to raise staff concerns – and potential antagonism to the plan – than change that impacts people’s jobs and roles. But note the following. Only  5 – 10% of your staff will  actively oppose such restructuring. The bulk of your staff – 70% – will accept change,  given a rational and convincing reason to do so. That’s why Human Dimension No.1 is so important.

Phase 3 – The initial Action Plan – based on Phase 2, not Phase 1

When I talk to people about implementation, there is always much nodding of heads when Human Dimension No. 5 is tabled.

5)         Management underestimated the time required for implementation – those charged with its implementation did not have enough hours in the day to complete the actions they were responsible by the date indicated and do their “normal” jobs at the same  time.

When you take into account the human dimensions of planning, you lay the foundation stone of great execution – Organisational Alignment. There are two dimensions to Organisational Alignment. The first is the ability of the planners to match the resources and capabilities of the organisation to the environment in which the organisation operates – now and in the future. This is the technical dimension – and it’s the focus of the planners on achieving this aspect of Organisational Alignment that frequently blinds them to the second – human – dimension. No plan can be successfully executed unless –

6)         Everyone understands where the organisation is “now”. If this is not the case, it will result in varying levels of commitment to the plan’s implementation

7)         Staff need to know, not only what their role is, but how it fits into the ‘big Picture’.   This is what gives staff meaning and context to their jobs.

8)         Staff need to know and understand what others’ roles are. Organisational Alignment  takes place at three levels – individual, within workgroups and between workgroups.

When the human side of planning has been embraced in the planning process –

■          Everyone will understand where the organisation is now

■          Everyone will understand the destination and the journey

■          Everyone will understand their role in getting there

If you give the human side of planning the attention it warrants, you will find that those execution factors such as change management, leadership, teams and teamwork, employee engagement, monitoring, measuring and adapting will be a whole lot easier to manage. Not only will the execution of the plan achieve its objectives but the overall elapsed time from the commencement of planning to the completed roll-out of the plan will be less than is the case when management rushes headlong into execution and treats planning and implementation as two separate activities.


Graham Haines is the principal of Plans to Reality, a consultancy that specialises in the issues of implementation. His most recent book – “Achieving Execution to Die For – a Simple Guide to Making It Happen” – condenses the complete operational cycle from planning and execution to monitoring, measuring and modifying into a mere 18,500 words, taking an hour to read. It also identifies 36 barriers to great execution and how to overcome them. The book is available in hard and soft copy from his web site – – and you can download the first section of the book – “The Purpose of this Guide and how to use it” for free.    


Customer service – the parable of the plate spinner

April 20, 2015

Marketing guru, Theodore Levitt postulated that the “product” could be likened to four concentric circles.  Starting with the innermost circle representing the Core product, the three outer circles represent the Expected, Augmented and Potential product respectively.  In his article “Marketing success through differentiation – of anything”, he alsdisho concluded that what one customer might regard as product Augmentation, another might see as Expected.

It’s 35 years since the article was published in the Harvard Business Review and there is no doubt that the impact of competition and technology and the resultant rise in customer expectation has seen the migration of features that used to represent the Augmented product being regarded as the Expected Product and those of the Expected Product becoming part of the Core Product.

Product quality is a given these days.  So are such attributes as reliability of supply, competitive order lead-times, delivery-on-time and competitive pricing.  These are the  qualifying dimensions of any product or service and no supplier can perform below par on these attributes for any length of time.  In Levitt terminology they are all part of the Expected Product.  The real battleground between competing organisations is customer service and despite the growth in e-business, customer service invariably involves people.

My company has completed customer/client feedback surveys for all manner of organisations from large multinationals to boutique consultancies covering every type of business from freight forwarding to stock feed and IT.  There is always a high correlation between the respondents’ rating of the level of service they receive from their main contacts at the supplier (my client) and the overall Customer Satisfaction Index.  But it is one thing to achieve high indices, another to maintain them.  And to illustrate the nature of the challenge, I tell them about the Parable of the Plate Spinner.

customer service

In the beginning, there was a plate spinner who became skilled at spinning an increasing number of plates.

He was so successful that he was being asked to do shows every night and increase the number of plates he could spin simultaneously.  This got to be too much for him so he decided to teach others to spin plates.  Naturally, they were not quite so good as him but it enabled him to take the occasional break and when they all appeared on stage together, the results were truly spectacular.
customer service
But then things started to go wrong.  The number of plates to be spun kept on increasing and there wasn’t time to train the new plate spinners to the standard required.  Instead of a set number of plates being the sole responsibility of one plate spinner, a system evolved whereby several plate spinners shared responsibility for the same plates.  At times no one was certain who was responsible for keeping the plates spinning.  Last – but by no means least – they began to spin plates of greatly differing sizes and they found that large plates took up a disproportionate amount of the plate spinners’ time and resources – both to get them up and spinning and to keep them spinning without losing equilibrium.

When a large plate started to wobble, it would require more than its fair share of spinners to reset it and the only spinners that could be spared were those who had plates that were spinning well.

customer service

The result was inevitable.  Whether or not the efforts of the spinners to restore a problem plate to equilibrium were successful or not, other plates, deprived of their regular re-spin began to oscillate ominously and inevitably some fell from their poles, never to be spun again – at least not by this troupe of plate spinners.

The moral of this story is that when the quality of your customer service is of such a standard as to attract new customers, you have to increase the resources to provide the Core, Expected, Augmented and Potential product that they have been led to expect.  Furthermore, the standard of service given to new customers must not be at the expense of the established customer base.  Even the most stable plate will fall off its pole if you ignore it for long enough.

Always bear in mind the research by TARP (Technical Assistance Research Programs Washington DC) that showed that 68% of customers changed their suppliers because the supplier “appeared disinterested or indifferent to its customer’s needs”.

Graham Haines runs his own consulting practice Plans to Reality and has been conducting his proprietary customer feedback surveys for over 20 years.  The feedback from these surveys provides a key input into operational and strategic initiatives for improving the performance of any enterprise.  You can read about these surveys and others covering executives, employees and workgroups at

Draining the swamp

March 13, 2013

draining the swampSometimes it’s referred to as fire-fighting; others will tell you that they are too busy avoiding the alligators to drain the swamp. But whichever figure of speech or analogy you use, the meaning is the same. You keep treating the symptoms and fail to address the causes.

I recently received an e-mail from a colleague in the UK who was bemoaning the fact that “companies seem to be perpetually in a flat-spin and using all their energies killing alligators.  There is little left for swamp-draining”.

We tend to associate swamp-draining with the big strategic issues and the belief that this is the preserve of senior management. Yet all too often we fall into the trap of increasing our implementation activities rather than questioning the goals that these activities are designed to achieve. As the Duke of Wellington is reputed to have said, ”having lost sight of our objectives, we redoubled our efforts”.

  • So if sales are down the answer is to increase the call rate
  • If product quality is variable, increase the inspection rate
  • If the order fulfilment time is blowing out, change the transport company and increase the stock

But there’s an opportunity coming up that you should take advantage of…

Most businesses display some degree of seasonality and for many the pre-Christmas period is one of frantic activity followed by a welcome lull in the beginning of the year.

So how about using the beginning of the year to identify the swamps that need draining in your company?

Start with the assumptions behind the Strategic Business Plan.

Are they still valid? Because if they are not, no amount of implementation effort will succeed in realising the Plan’s objectives. So update the plan. Think through the implications of drought, a new competitor or new technology and adapt the Plan accordingly.

But if the assumptions are current, any problems must lie in aspects of its implementation. The symptoms of poor implementation take many forms but the cause is invariably a lack of organisational alignment.

Do all your employees:

  • Understand where the organisation is now?
  • Understand the destination and the journey?
  • Understand their role in getting there?

How do you find out? Ask them. Undertake an Employee Feedback Survey. Our surveys consistently show that the two most common areas of negative feedback are Communication and Participation in Decision-making.

When you are in the swamp up to your neck in alligators, explaining to everyone how you got there and asking them for their ideas for getting you out are not the first things that spring to mind.

  • In addition to feedback from your employees, what about feedback from your customers?
  • Is your understanding of their needs still current?
  • Is the new IT system really working from the customers’ perspective?
  • Do you do anything that is different and better than your competitors – from your customers’ viewpoint?
  • Do you have a competitive advantage – and how sustainable is it?

When it comes to customer satisfaction, the people who most influence this are not the senior management team. How your customers feel about their business relationship with you is dictated by how helpful the staff member in customer service is, how accurately their order is picked, how accurate the paperwork is, how hassle-free it is to do business with you.

So how effective are your workgroups? In all probability, they cover the full spectrum from groups of individuals to a high performance team.

Do you play golf? If so, you will know only too well that the key to a good round is avoiding the double and triple bogies. It’s the same with your workgroups. Your company’s performance will benefit more from effort expended on the poorer performing workgroups than it will by concentrating on the star performers.

How do you know how effective your workgroups are? Ask them using Towards Ten Thousand, our workgroup assessment survey.

One of the major reasons why we continue to treat the symptoms and ignore the causes is that the former tactic is more likely to result in an immediate “cure”. Uncovering the cause takes time and intelligent analysis. The reward is a cure that might take longer to take effect but which provides a permanent solution.

So why not spend some time in the beginning of the year making a list of swamps that you need to drain?

If you have the need, we certainly have the tools to get the job done – see

Strategic Market Management

March 13, 2013

planningWhenever I hear a radio interview with a public figure who speaks candidly on a topic without the usual spin, resists the temptation to offer black or white solutions and is prepared to admit that he or she does not have all the answers, a flood of text messages always seems to follow  from listeners saying how refreshing it is to hear someone speaking with such candour.  Rather than detracting from the interviewee’s reputation, it actually enhances it.

I wish more of this country’s politicians would get the message.

What triggered the above thought was the recent announcement by the government that bringing the budget into surplus in the current fiscal year was no longer achievable.  Most commentators had always believed that it was an objective doomed to failure and that Labor regarded it as a political rather than an economic necessity.  Treasurer Wayne Swan was at pains to point out that the government’s expenditure cuts had been outdone by the fall in tax revenue due to a variety of factors outside the government’s direct control.  I just do not understand why governments and organisations of all sorts make promises when their ability to keep them is beyond their power to manage.  All plans and strategies are developed on the back of certain assumptions and when those assumptions no longer hold true, it’s time to adapt and revise the plan to the new reality.

This is no more true than with business plans and the adoption of the Wagon Wheel Enterprise Operating System (EOS) provides executive management with not just a process for achieving great execution but also one for testing whether failure to meet the planners’ expectations is due to circumstances beyond or within the planners’ sphere of influence and control.  If the latter, the solution lies within the organisation itself; if the former, there is no alternative but to revise the plan – as Wayne Swan has demonstrated.

If the plan under consideration is a far-reaching one – a strategic business plan for example – the assumptions or the rationale behind the Plan need to be summarised in the planning document.  In the list of the 36 barriers to making it happen, Barrier No. 2 states – “The rationale behind the Plan was never incorporated in the final written document.”

Apart from providing a point of reference, this summary of the Plan’s rationale and the assumptions upon which it was based also pays dividends at the implementation phase.  Barrier No.18 states – “The rationale behind the proposed changes was not sufficiently explained to those most affected by them”.

Unlike the majority of organisational “visions”, Wayne Swan’s policy did have a clear objective so it was possible to do the sums and conclude that a budget surplus was no longer achievable without inflicting unnecessary damage to the economy.  Note that the budget surplus has not been wholly abandoned; it has just been put back a year.

In this age of on-going change and the global economy, it is inevitable that plans at best need constant adaptation; at worst, complete revision.  Yet so many organisations develop a plan and then fail to keep check on the assumptions on which it was founded.  Such organisations run foul of Barrier No. 35 – “Although we recognised that the external environment is changing. we continue to focus on implementation rather than revise the Plan”.

Successful plans and strategies are always a combination of doing the right thing and doing things right.  If a continuation of doing the right thing is still practical and realistic, then the emphasis remains on doing things right.  But if doing the right thing is no longer feasible then how well you do it is irrelevant.  You have to face the new reality and do what Wayne Swan has done – change the plan.

Organisational Alignment – The Big “O”

November 21, 2012

Organisational Alignment - The Big "O"I came across this piece of research that supports my contention that the key to great execution is Organisational Alignment.  Stephen Covey, in his book, “The 8th Habit” describes a poll of 23,000 employees from a number of companies and industries.

He reports the poll’s findings.

  • Only 37% said that they had a clear understanding of what their organisation is trying achieve and why.
  • Only one in five was enthusiastic about their team’s and their organisation’s goals.
  • Only one in five said that they had clear “line of sight” between their tasks and their team’s and organisation’s goals.
  • Only 15% felt that their organisation fully enables them to execute key goals.
  • Only 20% fully trusted the organisation they worked for.

If an AFL team had these same scores, only 7 players would know which way they were playing.  What’s more, only 4 would care.  Only 4 would know what position they play and know exactly what they were supposed to do.  And 14 out of the 18 players would, in some way, be competing against their own team members rather than an opponent!

Makes you think doesn’t it? I define Organisational Alignment as follows:

  • Everyone understands where the organisation is now
  • Everyone understands the destination and the journey
  • Everyone understands their role in getting there

How would your organisation rate?


How NOT To Manage Change

November 21, 2012

How NOT To Manage ChangeOften the best way of explainingto someonehow one should do something is to show him or her what can happen if you do the opposite…

In the Chapter in “Execution to die for”on the management of change, I referred to the case of French Telecom.  Over a two year period, 35 employees of the Company committed suicide and many of these left suicide notes blaming French Telecom for their decisions to end their lives.

Here’s the extract from the book:

“Unfortunately even-handedness and reasonableness is totally lacking in some of the restructuring that has taken place around the world in recent years. I am appalled and horrified at the stories I read about the stress and hardships inflicted on staff in the name of restructuring. The combination of advances in information technology and privatisation is a potent force for management excesses.”

“In October 2009, the world’s press was full of news that 25 employees of France Telecom had committed suicide since the beginning of 2008. During this period the company made another 22,000 people redundant, bringing to 40,000 the number of employees shed since its privatisation in 1998. One employee in his suicide note referred to “management by terror”, another wrote that she “was getting a new boss and I’d rather die”.”

“In April 2009, the company’s chief executive said in a letter to shareholders that the company had added 12 million new customers in 2008 and had met all of its objectives for the year confirming that it was “equipped to withstand the impact of a very unstable environment”. But at what price was this commercial goal achieved?”

“The initial response of France Telecom was to maintain that the suicide rate among its employees was no more than the national average. It was then pointed out to the company that the reasons given by employees for their decision to end their lives referred to the stress at work caused by individual, performance based evaluations and such policies as the “principle of mobility” that forced managers to move to new branch offices every three years. The former had led to a workplace climate of “every man for himself”.”

“When employees feel harassed at work, they are less likely to confide in colleagues or seek help. “It is a kind of great loneliness that settles in the workplace”, commented Christophe Dejours, a psychiatrist and occupational health expert. Two questions need to be asked. Could the same commercial result have been achieved without the above consequences? And if it could not, is it morally right and ethical that commercial performance should come at such a price?”

Due to pressure exerted by the unions and politicians, Didier Lombard, the CEO, was forced to step down from the job before his tenure was up.  He has now been indicted by a French court over allegations that he led a corporate culture of bullying and harassment that resulted in the aforementioned deaths. In addition to the 35 employees, another 22,000 lost their jobs in the same period.  Does restructuring come at any price? I think not…

Which Dog Would You Choose As Your Manager?

August 22, 2012

Which Dog Would You Choose As Your ManagerIt is often said that owners resemble their dogs so being handsome, incredibly good natured and someone who likes their food, it will come as no surprise to you to learn that my wife and I have been the proud owners of an equally handsome and good natured Labrador.  This train of thought left me wondering what breed of dog I would choose if I had a canine boss.

I’ve decided that it depends at what level of the organisation one is considering but at the lower to middle management level, managers that display Labrador characteristics would be a decided asset.  Is your boss enthusiastic?  Can you trust your boss and does your boss trust you?  If you had to dig a hole, would your boss stand around and watch or would he or she help with the digging?  Does your boss appreciate what you do and offer praise when deserved?  Does your boss take the time to keep you “in” on things or does he or she just issue instructions on a need to know basis?  If I had a boss that displayed all of these characteristics, I might even overlook the lick when I arrived for work each morning.

But I don’t see a Labrador as a top executive – developing the strategy, taking the hard decisions – they are just too laid back.  They would want to avoid conflict; they wouldn’t want to upset anyone.  No – a top dog would be a Collie or a German Shepherd – highly intelligent, courageous, never satisfied with the status quo – always seeking a better way.  They are masters of organisational alignment – they instinctively know how to get everyone in the organisation moving in the same direction and are quite prepared to nip the heels of those who get out of line.

In the 20th century the top dog might have been a St Bernard, a member of the old boy network, spending too much time at the club with a brandy at hand.

So how would you characterise your boss – as a Labrador or a collie or a German Shepherd?  Or does your boss display the traits of a Rottweiler, or a miniature poodle or an American Pit Bull terrier?  Does your boss yap at the slightest provocation or growl at you after the slightest of misdemeanours?

Now I’m going to suggest a radical alternative to all Gen Y’s who spend every coffee and lunch break silently engrossed in their smart phones.  How about having a conversation?  The topic is – if my boss were a dog, what breed would he or she be?

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