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Do these points apply to you?

  • you get 150-200 emails a day plus 30 phone calls and you are not a call centre agent but a manager or an executive
  • you routinely find yourself engaged in remediation, fixing, making sure things happen – also known as firefighting
  • you are in the narrow part of the funnel of every decision. In fact, you are the funnel – no decision seem to be possible without you
  • people come to you with problems and leave them on your desk
  • you are referred to as someone who would “make it happen” 
  • you find yourself taking on things that your admin assistant could easily do and probably should
  • you compulsively check your Blackberry, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and whatnot many times a day

What’s happening? There seem to be a couple of trends at play here.

Firstly, in the age of omni-connectedness, being available at all times seems to be de riguer even for senior executives. I get emails from people asking me if they could call me. In fact, I feel somewhat shortchanged by not receiving a text message asking for a permission to send such an email to me. The amount of traffic, the unnecessary information, the interruptions is often so great that many feel compelled to “stay after hours to actually get the work done.”

Secondly, it is exceedingly common to see people charge with strategic work descend into the mire of tactical stuff, which sometimes borders on such sheer triteness that it is beyond any criticism. Wordsmithing, filling out forms, writing vapid “status reports,” checking that staff members submitted their timesheets, meetings ad nauseum with no substance to them … you name it!

Tactical stuff is comfortable. We know how to go about it, especially if this is something we did in our previous job.

Tactical stuff is rewarding: results can be observed rather quickly: a report sent out, a problem rectified, a simple decision made.

Tactical stuff feels like “real work” of which you are not afraid.

I think it’s time to practice a closed door policy. Stop being interrupted all the time. Explain to your people and others likely to seek our time that you won’t be available for a few hours a day. Demand that people bring you solutions and not problems. Stop meddling.

Close the office door and spend a couple of hours thinking or writing. Strategize. Communicate. Raise the brand awareness and the profile of your company or department. Design.

These will be the most productive hours of your day.

The business might have been shaky in the last year or so. The recovery is tentative, yes, I’ve heard that. Your clients are not ordering… that’s understandable. You have to cut cost and offshore your operations, or die. It is next to impossible to hire qualified people… of course.

I guess Apple is not aware of these pearls of wisdom, since they have just had their most profitable quarter ever. Ever!

Apple reported net income of $3.4 billion, or $3.67 per share, in the latest quarter ending Dec. 26. In the same period of 2008, it had income of $2.3 billion, or $2.50 per share (adjusted due to changes in accounting policies).

You can read more about the numbers some place else but here is the point I want to make. If you have a great product strategy and you execute well, you don’t have to listen to all the wisdom being spewed out by th numerous prognosticators. You don’t have to count pennies and compete on price. You can always hire great people.

Most importantly, you don’t have to play by the others’ rules. You set your own.

I am happy to announce collaboration with a media outlet dedicated to outsourcing, in particular nearshoring. My articles will appear every couple of months.

In the first article I share my thoughts on three strategic errors in decision making on outsourcing. Read on…

For any business case, one of the most important questions you have to ask yourself is the following.
Does this proposal deliver strategic value?
What exactly does this mean? In July of 2008, I wrote an article for CNET, which I think you may find valuable in this context. It can be found at
This is a repost from my monthly newsletter, sent out early this week.

I may have shared with you in the past that I believe in stretch goals, objectives that challenge you, your team or your organization to venture to the brink of what’s perceived to be doable. This concept appeals to great many people but the key question that I am asked again and again is this: “It’s fine to think big and set challenging goals, but how do you make sure you reach them?”

Whether you are setting your organization’s strategy or seeking breakthrough in a tactical matter or looking for a leap in self-development, there is one particular skill that you need to master. I call it the art of walking backwards. Here is what it’s all about.

We all make plans in work and personal life. Traditional planning works reasonably well for objectives that we are reasonably familiar and comfortable with. Take, for example, new product launch, which your organization may do all the time. A product manager knows what it takes and how long the lead time is, which enables her to put together a roadmap, a project plan. Prior experience comes in very handy in this case.

Try to do the same kind of planning for stretch goals and you will find that experience becomes baggage, too heavy to allow any progress and too precious to relinquish. A consultant I know was once facilitating an executive retreat for a large residential builder. Profitability was the hot topic on the agenda and as it was discussed, it transpired that it would typically take all of 120 days to build a house. The company’s management couldn’t shrink the construction time any further and was looking for a miracle.

“What would it take to build the house in just 10 days?” asked the consultant, which prompted the audience to question his lucidity. He continued: “Well, we already know that it is impossible, so don’t say it again. If it were possible, what would have to happen to enable that?”

What happened then is this. The company did not hit the 10 day goal, but they managed 20 days, which they hadn’t seen in their wildest dreams.

And so is the key: you have to learn to walk backwards:

  1. Set the goal (e.g. own 1/3 of the East Coast market, acquire 100 new customers by 2010, reduce product development cycles by 40% and so on)
  2. Walk backwards from the desired future state and determine what needs to be in place to enable your goal.
  3. Capture all critical issues that need to be addressed: facilities created, people hired, R&D, systems deployed, etc.
  4. When you reach the present state, you should have in front of you a list of future projects. Prioritize them and run as a program.
  5. Maintain the momentum.

 This is a very powerful technique that not only helps to get over that “Impossible!” or “It will never happen!” reaction but also challenges your people to find solutions to difficult problems. If, as many other executives, you are looking to spark the spirit of innovation within your organization, this is a great way to do that.

 Sometimes, walking backwards is a sure way to get ahead.

Do you know what the altitude effect is? I’ve coined this term to signify the misalignment in decision making that exists between the layers in organization. Those standing on the lower rungs of the corporate ladder often make decisions that are misaligned with the priorities, musts and wants of the top leadership.

I am not going to cite any examples because if you think carefully, you should be able to come up with at least a few. But here are the top three recommendations on getting rid of the altitude effect in your organization:

  1. Disabuse yourself from the fallacy that decisions are made entirely at the top, while other layers merely execute them.
  2. Lay a foundation for distributed decision making by adopting a corporate vision and values and ensure they are known and subscribed to at all levels of the organization.
  3. Act as the exemplar by adhering to the set vision and values in all decisions and actions, not merely in words.

My fellow consultants will confirm that very often, organizational problems are clear and apparent from the day one of an engagement with a client. On such occasions, rapid diagnosis and resolution stuns the client and the typical comment is “Wow, thank you, I cannot believe we couldn’t see this ourselves.”

Actually, it is not surprising at all. Self-diagnosis is exceedingly difficult for a variety of reasons, such as the emotional attachment, the too-close-to-the-grinding-wheel myopia and the lack of perspective (“We’ve never thought of it this way”). 

At the same time, we live in the times when the do-it-yourself approach to anything is more popular than ever. There are television programs and literature available on pretty much any avocation or endeavour. This is often taken into such areas as mental health, wellness and marital counselling and there are lots of books on these subjects in your nearest bookstore. Be it do-it-yourself renovation, gourmet cooking or gestalt therapy, there is a sense of empowerment and fascination that comes with seeing and feeling the results.

Unfortunately, the DIY approach that works (cooking, pottery, etc) or sometimes works (nutrition, sports, renovations, personal finance, etc) for an individual, does not work well for organizations. The problem is with identifying the issue that needs to be addressed and, as I have mentioned in the beginning, it can be exceedingly difficult.

And so we have it – a great danger that the key problem is misdiagnosed and the overwhelming propensity to go DIY route. Result: misguided projects, changes that produce little value, lost business opportunities, millions down the drain.

I like DIY (my home-grown tomatoes are probably $50/lb) but I know when to call in a professional. Do you?

I guess you’ve heard it thousands of times. We have no time for this. We are stretched. We are busy. We are doing more with less. We are in a survival mode.

Give me a break. There is no such thing as “no time”. It is merely a matter of getting your priorities straight. If you don’t have the time for something, you either don’t want it or are afraid of it or just don’t think it’s important enough.

I spoke to a consultant yesterday who needed an advice on setting vision, mission and values for a shared services organization. I was happy to provide an advice to a colleague, since I have been known to get this objective accomplished in just 45 minutes.  As I was outlining the process for her, I suggested a half-day group meeting with the organization’s top officers.

My colleague told me that she was told upfront that such a meeting would not be possible due to the fact that these people are too busy.

This is an incredibly pathetic excuse and a sign of a lost organization desperately needing help. If the management cannot set aside half a day to work on what very well may be the most important thing, the guiding framework of their organization, they either don’t see it as a priority (incompetence, should be dismissed for this reason) or oppose the change (sabotaging decisions of their superior, should be dismissed for this reason).

There is no such thing as “no time.” Get your priorities right and you will find time. I promise.

Just 8 days left to take advantage of the early bird discount!

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What’s included:

  • Five hourly teleconferences and webinars on the key leadership competencies. Five hours of highly valuable content which you can start applying immediately.
  • Prep work emailed to you before each session to maximize learning.
  • Follow up information and suggested reading emailed after each session.
  • Download of a session, so that if the circumstances don’t allow you to participate in the live event, you will be able to take it up at your leisure. Your investment is therefore protected.

All sessions commence at 11:30am Eastern on a second Tuesday of the month. The schedule is as follows:

September 8 – Practical Strategy. Learn how to chart your course, whether you are in charge of 2 people or 20,000, in a practical, no nonsense way that informs your decisions immediately. You will be able to transform uncertainty into clear, actionable steps and milestones, and commitment.

  • What is strategy, sans buzzwords
  • How to assess your present position objectively
  • How to create common vision, goals and milestones, which are endorsed (“bought into”) by all concerned
  • How to execute a successful strategy.

October 13 – Financial Skills for non-Financial Managers. The essense of financial management delivered in an intensive format. You will learn to talk to CFOs in the language they will understand.

  • Practical primer in financial accounting
  • How to read financial statements
  • Understanding financing, investing and operating decisions

November 10 – Cost-Benefit Analysis. Learn the state of the art methods of financial analysis in just one hour. Plus, a comprehensive review of non-economic factors that often get forgotten. You will learn how to make or recommend sound investment and operating decisions, and validate proposals and other documents from vendors and consultants.

  • Tools and inputs needed for analysis
  • Typical weaknesses – learn why 9 out of 10 analyses can be questioned.
  • Contemporary methods, their strengths and weaknesses: payback, IRR, NPV, and Real Options.

December 8 – Business Cases and Decision Making. Advocate and make winning decisions, blending the knowledge of strategy, finance, behavioral economics and psychology.

  • How to use a proven framework, key success factors and typical mistakes
  • How to use what you know about the audience: attention to detail, agenda, priorities, preferences, style, etc
  • How to use principles of behavioral economics to your advantage, whether you are on the giving or the receiving end.

January 12 – Practical Change Management. This content is well beyond the usual project management curriculum. We will talk about the key success factors in change management, why 2/3 of all change efforts fail and how to ensure yours is a clear win.

  • How to ensure broad support
  • How to make others do what you want them to do
  • How to measure progress and refine the approach.

Click here to book

I recently answered this question and then thought it may be worth posting in the blog.

Question: What quality frameworks (ISO, CMMI, ITIL, etc.) have you used in your organization(s), and what pros/cons from each have you found in your experiences?

Answer: There are three key issues that I encounter time after time:

– Faulty belief that a framework (any of these) is a silver bullet for all and any problems. I have seen them applied to correct personality conflicts and dysfunctional leadership. I kid you not!

– Failure to customize. You gotta make it yours to work for you. An IT services organization I know lost customers because third line support found themselves compiling case documentation 80% per cent of their time. Resolved that, but not before some changes at the top.

– Falling in love with your methodology. This is not set-it-and-forget-it deal and you have to test your approach for relevance all the time. Is there a better way to do it? Are our assumptions still valid? A bank I know implemented user account management policies which require faxing (this was in 2008!) of a change form to the support centre. It takes 2-3 weeks to have a user set up. Meanwhile, the business has to put these people to work, so passwords are shared as a matter of standard practice. Formally, they have adopted ITIL. In reality, they are providing poor (if not dangerous to the business) service, having failed to re-evaluate their approach.

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