Organisational Alignment – the universal foundation of enterprise success

November 5, 2015

GeeseIf I offered you one free ticket to a presentation given by an acknowledged world authority on each of the following topics, which presentation would you opt to attend? Remember, you can only go to one of them. The choices are:

I think it’s a fair bet that you didn’t choose Organisational Alignment – not really sexy, is it? No doubt you’ve said to yourself at some stage or other – “I wish my employees were more engaged” or “we need to manage change much better than we do” or “our teams program seems to be running out of steam” but I doubt if you have ever said – “We need much greater organisational alignment”

Yet without organisational alignment every other success factor suffers and the organisation’s ability to bring the enterprise strategy to fruition will fail.

Most observers regard Organisational Alignment as something that relates only to the employees of an organisation. They use a three part definition as follows.

■          Everyone understands where the organisation is now (current reality)

■          Everyone understands the destination (goal) and the journey (strategies to get there)

■          Everyone understands their role in getting there

Enterprise Alignment precedes Organisational Alignment

However before the staff of an organisation can be aligned, the organisation itself needs to be aligned as well. Management has to determine the current reality; management has to agree an overall goal; management has to develop the strategies to achieve it and, lastly management must allocate responsibilities to everyone in the organisation so each may play their role in its implementation. And at the core of this whole exercise is a matching process – let’s call it Enterprise Alignment. It’s the matching of the current and future trends and characteristics of the organisation’s external environment in which it operates with its current and future resources and expertise.

In short Enterprise Alignment is a prerequisite to Organisational Alignment.

Let me illustrate this with two examples. The first involves skeins of migrating geese so beloved by management consultants as exemplars of teamwork. It’s a powerful, emotive analogy but the basis of their performance and subsequent teamwork is Organisational Alignment. The geese can only demonstrate the essence of teamwork because the members of the skein agree where they are now, share a common objective, know the direction in which they need to fly and understand the roles each need to play when the skein is in flight. Even more fundamentally, the need to migrate from A to B at particular times of the year is hard wired into geese. Yet such is their sensitivity to short term climatic change, they will alter both the timing of their migrations and their route according to climatic conditions. This is their version of Enterprise Alignment.

The second example also concerns flight – namely the Boeing 787-9’s recently ordered by Qantas as a key strategy in the rejuvenation of their International division. Qantas CEO Alan Joyce set three criteria as prerequisites for ordering Boeing’s Dreamliner – Qantas International had to be returned to a position of sustainable profitability; the Company had to be capable of paying down its $1 billion of debt and the Qantas long-haul pilots union had to accept changes to the terms and conditions of their employment. The reason for the selection of the -9 variant of the B787 is simple. Its long range – Qantas are investigating non-stop flights from Australia to London – provides Qantas with a resource that matches the trends in international air travel.

Now the fact that Qantas made a Profit Before Tax of $975 million in the 2014/15 Financial Year is clear evidence that Joyce has achieved Enterprise Alignment. The task that has already successfully begun is to develop greater Organisational Alignment to provide the internal environment in which change can be achieved without the sort of industrial conflict that led to the grounding of Qantas in October 2011.

An agreement between Qantas and the long-haul pilots union has now been struck which is a perfect illustration of Organisational Alignment at its most productive.

Everyone understands where the organisation is now

This is what Qantas pilot and president of the Australian International Pilots Association (AIPA) – Nathan Safe had to say about the negotiations over the new agreement. “These changes (to the then current agreement) have been based around building a viable business case for the type of ultra long-range flying capable of being performed by the 787. We have been pleased with the quality and tone of the negotiations …….. and we note the unprecedented level of transparency and sharing of commercially relevant information”. Note the word “unprecedented”. Sharing commercially relevant information was not a hallmark of the previous CEO, Geoff Dixon.

Everyone understands the destination and the journey

Much of the agreement between Qantas and the AIPA remains under wraps because to make it public would have given too much away to Qantas’ competitors. However, with Alan Joyce’s background in scheduling and network planning, one can rest assured that the destination and the journey have been clearly defined and shared with the pilots.

Everyone understands their role in getting there

Building the commercial case for buying and operating the B787 was not solely dependent on securing the cooperation and support of AIPA members. Everyone from baggage handlers and cabin crew to aircraft maintenance engineers have bought into the plan by signing new agreements on the terms and conditions of their employment. Having suffered all the pain of recent years, everyone in Qantas International understands the significance of the B787-9 purchase in placing Qantas on the offensive once again and no one wants to jeopardise its success and the beneficial impact that that would have on job security and career opportunities.

In my book “Execution to Die For – the Manager’s Guide to Making It Happen” I refrained from claiming that any aspect of implementation was ‘the most critical’.

I’ve changed my mind.

Without alignment of the enterprise with its external environment and of the employees within the enterprise, no organisation of any shape, size or form can fulfil its potential. So before you rush off to sign up to some program on employee engagement, effective communication, change management or leadership, you need to ask yourself a simple question. Is our organisation aligned? And if it ain’t, no amount of training in the aforementioned skills will make an iota of difference. It’s doomed to failure.

 

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 – http://www.planstoreality.com.au – and you can download the first section of the book – “The Purpose of this Guide and how to use it” for free.      


Implementation – what universities don’t teach – and won’t? – and can’t? – and should!

November 5, 2015

untitledI’m a bit of a bower bird when it comes to quotations and one that I have always treasured is by 19th Century reformer, essayist, critic, artist – John Ruskin. “What we think, or what we know, or what we believe, is, in the end of little consequence. The only consequence is what we do”.

The ability to get things done – to make it happen – is the quality that most distinguishes great managers from those that merely bear the title as descriptive of the role they are charged to perform. Great managers are rare – so rare in fact that the best of them end up being feted by their peers, honoured by their governments and writing their memoirs.

Given that the ability to execute is the ultimate worth of a manager, one would think that execution would find a place in any university degree program, particularly those programs that have an emphasis on management or HR. Instead what we find is a modular program structure where each topic or subject is a self-contained unit. This modularity facilitates program reviews as units that are thought to have passed their use-by dates can be unplugged and new units inserted. The great majority of these units relate to the technicalities of the subject studied. I have no problem with this. After all, if I employ an IT specialist or a chemist or if I use the services of an Occupational Therapist, then my first requirement is that those people have a technical grasp of the discipline that they have chosen to study.

BUT … if our salesman or brand manager or accountant is any good at his or her job, inevitably they will either be promoted or, if promotion is denied them, seek employment with another employer to further their career. Quite suddenly, the emphasis of their job and the skill set they need to perform it, changes. The hard technical skills become less important than the soft people skills. The key to their success in managerial positions lies in their ability – to quote Dwight Eisenhower – “to get someone else to do what you want because he wants to do it”. It’s still necessary to do the right thing – but hopefully the technical skills will take care of that – the challenge is to do it right – and make it happen.

Conventional wisdom has it that such managerial and leadership skills are learned on the job from your supervisor or manager. I would argue that the current work environment is not conducive to this happening. My anecdotal experience is that the standards of people management are in decline. So shouldn’t it be taught at university? By “it” I don’t mean a unit on teamwork or one on leadership or another on change management – I mean a unit on execution from whoa to go that incorporates all aspects of making it happen. Yet there seems great reluctance on the part of academics to even consider such a unit.

A couple of years ago, I gave a 20 minute presentation on this subject to the members of a Commerce Advisory Board at the University’s Faculty of Business and Law. At its end, despite the fact that no one argued against my hypothesis or questioned any aspect of the hand-outs that were given, there was not even a reference to my presentation in the subsequent minutes of the meeting! Was this an oversight or was it a deliberate attempt to bury the topic?

I suspect it was the latter because I subsequently wrote an article entitled “The Human Side of Planning” in which I claimed that the seeds of success or failure to implement were sown the moment the planners sat down to plan. The article was submitted to the Editor – himself an academic – of an international journal on management. I quote from the email of rejection.

It’s very interesting, but not suitable for an academic journal. Academic journal papers are based on a different approach and have a different objective. Academic papers focus on making small and highly focused extensions to existing knowledge on one very clearly defined issue – either through testing or proposing relationships which are generated from multidimensional perspectives. Academic papers move along fairly linear lines to develop theory in incremental stages and are very clinical.”

The reviewer went on to say that Your article, however, is more holistic and extensive and is more appropriate for a practitioner audience (who would be interested in this type of perspective)”. When I asked another academic whether he would consider using my book “Execution to Die For – the Manager’s Guide to Making It Happen” as a reference for his students, his response was that he couldn’t do this because of the lack of references to other publications. In reality the book has over 50 references but the majority are to people who have been there and done that – or haven’t done that – not to academic research programs. I can only conclude that academics won’t contemplate the inclusion of a unit on execution.

But even if they did, I have doubts as to their ability to develop such a unit. As the reviewer of my article said, the subject matter “is more holistic and extensive” and thus by inference would not be of interest to academics. And I only wrote about a small part of the overall topic! Nevertheless, if the subject matter is not of academic interest, it seems a fair conclusion to make that academics would have great difficulty in developing a unit on this topic. I’m not suggesting that no academics have the ability to appreciate the inter-connectivity of our existence or the ability to weave topics and issues into a cohesive tapestry but the trouble is, they’re all on television making documentary series!

I appreciate that some universities now promote “personal edge” and “capstone” courses but again I would argue that these are still stand alone and rely on the student’s own capacity to see any connections between them. Great execution is a process and, like any process, a) the steps to it are in a specific sequence and b) they can be learned. Still, one might hope that units on team dynamics, interpersonal skills and the adoption of a global mindset might enhance a graduate’s ability at execution. This is not the case. There are too many factors in the current organisational environment that militate against great execution. Change is too frequent; competition between employees is intense; job security is a thing of the past; tenure in the one position has become shorter and shorter – and all these factors develop a “me” rather than “we” mentality. And yet the great achievers, when asked about the reasons for their ability to make things happen, all give credit to the employees they manage. “It was a team effort” is the almost inevitable comment.

It seems to me to be a sad state of affairs that an understanding of what’s involved in developing plans and bringing them successfully to fruition through others is not part of the academic curricula. The reality is that as the work environment becomes ever more hostile to great execution, the need for managers who understand how to make it happen becomes ever more pressing.

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 – http://www.planstoreality.com.au – 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 www.planstoreality.com.au.


Holistic – weasel word or word of wisdom?

January 17, 2014

Connecting The Plan With The Current Reality

I was reading an article recently about Adrian Newey, the Chief Technical Officer of Red Bull’s Formula 1 team and one of the primary reasons for Sebastian Vettel’s string of four consecutive world driver’s Championships.  The article began with the following sentence.  “Holistic is a weasel word beloved of management consultants and other such flim-flam merchants, but when it sallies from one man’s mouth (Adrian Newey), you know what he means.”

Indeed, whilst “holistic” might not be as popular a weasel word as “world’s best practice”, “engagement” or “emotional intelligence”, it does make an appearance in Don Watson’s “Dictionary of Weasel Words” where one of his definitions of “holistic” is “taking account of more than one part.  Not partial or fragmentary, thereby yielding superior conclusions.”

However what Newey means by holistic is the capacity to understand how every aspect of a Formula 1 car’s components interact with every other part so that the car’s overall performance is superior to that of its competitors.  After graduating in 1980 with a degree in aerodynamics from Southampton University in the UK, Newey worked his way up from years as a race engineer to senior designer at Williams, McLaren and now Red Bull.  During this period, the design offices at F1 teams have become dramatically larger with dozens of engineers and aerodynamicists working in semi-autonomous groups, each trying to optimise the performance of their particular speciality.  Newey is in a class of his own in his ability to both understand the detail and how each design component will impact on the car’s overall performance.  In contrast, with some of Newey’s competitors, “graduates arrive in design offices without hands-on experience and go straight to the coalface, joining those sub-groups working on individual sections of the car, chiselling away at abstract targets to yield a certain percentage improvement in downforce … and the result is a disjointed overall design that looks as if its constituent elements have been picked and assembled at random.”

But it’s not just the application of holistic thinking to the technical side of the job.  Certainly, like Newey, you need to understand and then orchestrate the integration of every technical function within an organisation so the performance of the whole is optimised.  But it’s one thing to plan; quite another to implement.  You don’t achieve anything if your plans, however brilliant, remain on the drawing board.  Thus, taking a holistic approach requires the manager to appreciate the linkage between managing the technical and managing the people who will bring the plan to reality.

Newey puts it this way:  “When I started at Red Bull, I treated the job as mainly a design based challenge.  But there were two main problems that had nothing directly to do with design.  The first was that this was a team of low morale because there had been a lot of hiring and firing of key personnel with different owners through the years.  The second was a strange type of arrogance – a refusal to acknowledge how mediocre their performance was.”

“It took quite a while for Christian (Horner – Team Manager at Red Bull) and I to create the cultural change that we needed to get away from the ‘we’re happy to finish seventh mentality’.  I wasn’t a believer in setting out that we’re going to win the championship next year.  But I did want to say: ‘This is how we’ll try to go about things.  Let’s see where it gets us – hopefully, further up the grid than we are now.'”

“These days there’s a huge energy through the place.  The factory and the race team are incredibly hard working …….  It’s very rewarding that many of the people who were there from the very early days of Red Bull are still there today.  They are performing at such a high level now.  They’ve been able to really re-invent themselves, and I admire them for that”.

So to summarise what it means to take a holistic approach to management, here are the key points:

■          Think and act holistically – make it your responsibility to achieve an understanding of the “technical” aspects of what everyone does who works for you.

■          If it’s an area that you are not familiar with, sit with the people who are and ask questions – spend time with accounts, your IT team, your customer service people.  Go out with your reps, spend a day in the labs, get behind the customer service desk.  Observe and analyse – but remember it’s your role to take the individual pieces of the jigsaw and connect them to form the big picture.

■          Managing holistically means managing the technical component of the job and managing people.

■          At the risk of using another weasel word, your job is to empower the people who work for you.

■          How to do that?

●          Work with them to set collective goals that are SMART – Specific, Measurable, Achievable, a Result – not an activity and Time related.

●          Be visible and available – practice management by wandering around

●          Don’t micro-manage – your role is to set objectives and provide the support and resources for others to accomplish them

●          Encourage innovative thinking – “how could your job be made more effective – how can we collectively improve”?

●          Provide feedback on the big picture – people want to be “in” on things

●          Show appreciation for a job well done.  Everyone at Red Bull, from the cleaners to Adrian Newey received the same bonus of $10,000 for their part in winning the team’s fourth Constructor’s championship.

The sad reality is that our world does not encourage holistic management of the style that Newey epitomises.  Conversely, the rewards for those that do practice it have never been greater.

Graham Haines


Do you have an operating platform?

November 19, 2013

I’m told that the number of apps for SMART phones now exceeds a million; quite a contrast between that statistic and the handful of platforms and operating systems required to support them.Connecting The Plan With The Current Reality

Whilst not showing quite the virility of the mobile apps family, the market for training courses and consulting programs continues to escalate to the extent that no matter what your need, there is a product tailor-made to “fix” the problem.  The trouble is that without an operating platform on which to run this type of applications software, there is a tendency towards treating the symptoms rather than the causes.  Take, for example, a program on teams and teamwork.  It’s a fair bet that the program will encompass team members’ roles, dealing with conflict, active listening, emotional intelligence, communication, team leadership and many other facets of what we instinctively recognise as team attributes.  Games to foster and illustrate teamwork are played and sporting exemplars are tabled.  The program might culminate in an address given by a well-known personality who headed a celebrated team.

Fired with enthusiasm and keen to practice what they have been taught, the attendees return to their everyday work environment.  After a few short weeks, the course is but a pleasant memory and the reality sets in.  The work environment is simply not conducive to the practice of teamwork.

Why is this scenario played out so often?

The short answer is that teams and teamwork, or leadership, or employee engagement or customer service are all dependent variables.  And if you trace their dependency back to their origins, they all end up at Planning.  If you want to get maximum value out of your training budget; indeed, if you want your organisation to be successful – however that is measured – it’s essential that you have an operating platform that sets out the hierarchy of dependency.  That way you know what parameters have to be satisfied in order to extract the maximum value from any “applications software” program and for your organisation to achieve success.

The operating platform is made up of four components, the first of which is independent but with the second dependent on the first and the third dependent on the first and second and the fourth dependent on the three that come before.  The platform has to be constructed in a specific sequence – you can’t build Component 2 until Component 1 is complete.

The four components are as follows:

■          Planning

■          Implementing

■          Monitoring, Measuring, Adapting

■          Revising

They represent an operational cycle – when “revising” is necessary, it’s back to “planning” again.

Within each Component, there is also a hierarchy of dependency at work.  Take “implementing” as an example.  The sequence is thus:

■          Implementing

●          Organisational Alignment

●          Management of Change

●          Leadership

●          Teams and Teamwork

●          Employee Engagement

This component of the operating platform works like this.  Organisational Alignment  – everyone understands where the organisation is now – everyone understands the destination and the journey and everyone understands their role in getting there – is dependent on Planning.  These three criteria should have been addressed at the planning stage.

Next is Management of Change.  Until the organisation is aligned, the changes required to achieve the organisation’s goals will not be known and hence cannot be managed.

Leadership – at all levels – cannot be practiced unless the organisation is aligned and consensus on the required changes has been reached.  If this is not the case, leadership will resemble

“The grand old Duke of York, he had ten thousand men

He marched them up to the top of the hill, and he marched them down again

And when they were up, they were up; and when they were down, they were down

And when they were only half way up, they were neither up nor down”

Now we come to Teams and Teamwork.  There are two prerequisites for effective teams and teamwork.  The first is that the team in question should have a clearly identified purpose and goal, both of which are subsets of the purpose and goals of the organisation as a whole.  Secondly, the catalyst to team development is a “significant performance challenge”.  Teams are a means to an end, not an end in themselves.  Whether these two team criteria are met will depend on Organisational Alignment, Management of Change and Leadership.  And only when they are in place will the applications software on effective teamwork have a platform that is conducive to its long term development.

The last factor is Employee Engagement.  Its position indicates that it is the most dependent of the five variables that together form the implementation component of the organisational operating platform.  If the three criteria for Organisational Alignment are met; if the rationale for Change is understood; if Leadership is such as to accomplish the change required with the minimum of resistance and resentment; if the basics for effective Teams and Teamwork are in place; if team purpose and goals are embraced by team members  – then surely the groundwork for engaged employees has been laid?

Just as there is a hierarchy of dependency for implementation, a similar hierarchy exists for Planning.  Most of the strategic planning that I see places too much emphasis on “this is what we want to do” with too little thought given to “this is how we are going to do it”.  As a consequence, the resultant action program is based on the former rather than the latter.  Executive management fail to appreciate that whilst strategic planning may be determined from above, it is actioned from below.  The vital link between Planning and Implementing is Organisational Alignment.  At the planning stage, OA is about aligning the organisation to its external environment and its internal resources.  At the implementing stage, OA is primarily about the alignment of staff to the outcomes from the planning stage.  At the Monitoring, Measuring and Adapting stage, It’s about both.

Understanding the interdependence of every facet of the operational cycle is no mean task.  Realising that there is a hierarchy of dependency and knowing what order that hierarchy is in adds a further degree of complexity.  That’s why enterprise operating platforms are few and far between but applications software continues to proliferate.

Graham Haines is principal consultant of Plans To Reality that specialises in strategic planning and execution. He is the developer of the unique Wagon Wheel WayEnterprise Operating Platform. Graham has a joint honours degree from Durham University and a Graduate Diploma of Education from Melbourne University. He is both a Certified Management Consultant and a Certified Practicing Marketer. His new book, “Execution to Die For – The Manager’s Guide To Making It Happen” draws on over 40 years’ of practical experience in understanding the interrelationship between all the factors that result in great execution.   His web site www.planstoreality.com.au contains upwards of sixty articles upon which “Execution to Die For” is based.


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 www.planstoreality.com.au


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.


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