Zen and the art of strategic planning

Looking back over the first six months of 2019, I can divide my customers into those having strategies that are so complex they are undecipherable and those that have no strategy at all. In the first group there were 50-page documents with diagrams that still haunt me with shapes and connecting lines akin to the first crayon scribbles of a one year old. What I see so rarely is a ‘Zen- like’ strategy that is simple and clear to any person who reads and/or views it. Understandable to the extent that the strategy can be executed.

“Drink your tea slowly and reverently, as if the axis on which the world earth revolves – slowly, evenly, without rushing to the future.”

                                                                        Thich Nhat Hanh

 

Effective strategic planning is a process and not an event. The strategic plan is developed in an evolutionary process that eliminates excess and complexity. It is this process that makes strategic planning more difficult; taking what could be complex and creating something simple and essential.

A small team creates a revolution

An accounting firm was having trouble making a decision at senior partner level to move forward with a series of our programs. Believe it or not one of the issues they identified was poor decision-making processes! In the end, we proved that a small team can create a revolution in culture change.

Out of frustration, one of principals decided to move forward with our programs in her regional office. We started out with our Profiling Program for the partners and managers and followed that with Strategic Planning, Performance Management and Advisory Skills Development.

In eight weeks, we have seen the changed processes and behaviours in the regional office create enormous interest in other offices. The interest was like a groundswell from people in middle management and junior levels who were interacting with people in the regional office.

small teams can create large scale change in an organisation.

The groundswell began as informal conversations and then we noticed emails being sent to managers, partners and senior partners. The messages were clearly motivated by a fear of missing out, FOMO.

The most common topic in the groundswell was about the new client projects the team in the regional office were working on. These were apparent both in SharePoint and the CRM used by the business. The most common topic among the senior partners was the increase of $55k in the 8 weeks after the Advisory Skills Program.

Other changes took a bit longer to be noticed. The Profiling Program expanded in the regional office to include all of the accounting professionals. As usual, this prompted people talking about their profiles and their efforts at becoming better communicators and relationship builders. People in the regional office would innocently ask about the profiles of their colleagues located in other offices and this generated the ‘why didn’t we do the profiling?’

The revolution was underway. In July we begin our Programs in the head office with a roll-out plan across the firm ending in September. You can drive organisational change beginning with a tribe. In our case, the smaller regional office became the role models for what is possible. They will now be our role models, coaches and mentors for participants in our upcoming programs.

Do you want to learn more about how we initiated and executed this revolutionary change in a staid culture? Get in touch.

Productivity has nothing to do with the latest app.

Productivity has nothing to do with the latest app. It is all about you and your behavioural style that will determine how productive you are. There is no shortage of productivity experts promoting the latest and greatest productivity apps. It is interesting how large the populations of followers these productivity experts attract. It demonstrates just how many people are interested in personal productivity.I am very interested to learn how many of these followers adopt a new app and workflow and stick with it for any length of time. In my experience, I have found a great number of people jump from app to app and different workflows in a never ending cycle of searching  for the ‘magic bullet’.The never-ending quest for productivity nirvana is a symptom of a deeper cause. This deeper cause is variable by person but there are some common characteristics:

  • Seeking perfection rather than good enough.
  • Not beginning work until the right tool has been selected.
  • Difficulty knowing how to start work and delaying the start with analysis paralysis.
  • Mistaking boredom with a lack of productivity.
  • Collecting a range of apps, tools and methodologies with bits of work created using different tools and apps.
  • Information is scattered everywhere and the person is spending time searching. 

There are three primary obstacles that get in the way of people being effective and achieving high levels of productivity. These are:

  • The organisation does not communicate its strategy well so people are not clear on what they should do to have the most impact. If the have an idea, they are not able to prioritise it amongst the fog of other tasks. 
  • The person is using workflows and tools that are not well suited to their behavioural style.  This is common in organisations that roll-out productivity software without investing in training and designing workflows. 
  • Information and knowledge sources are scattered all over the place causing people to spend hours hunting information they need to complete their tasks. In worse case scenarios people end up searching the internet for sources or re-creating information the firm already has……somewhere. 

Even with a great strategy, an organisation will not achieve its objectives if people are not effective on a personal level. The greatest strategy still relies on people executing the right tasks well and within a timeframe.

Is your LMS blocking strategy execution?

The learning management system (LMS) should be a primary support tool for ensuring strategic execution is successful. A business that is focused on strategic execution needs all people to be working on the right tasks at the right time. The whole organisation needs to know the strategic goals and their role in achieving them.  A learning management system, with the right features and tools, is ideally suited to align people to strategy and provide learning support.

One of the biggest barriers to successful execution is people not having access to information and learning to support their work. An organisation with high levels of productivity and engagement does not lose focus by people having to search for information and learning on topics they need to complete tasks. The learning management system should be a key software tool to improve productivity and engagement with learning. 

If the LMS is not performing these vital functions effectively then it is acting as a roadblock to strategy execution.  How does a well implemented learning management system support strategic execution? Below are some of the ones we have identified in our most recent implementation projects.

  • Configurable, flexible and scalable organisation structure in the LMS that accurately reflects how the business operates and its ongoing reporting needs. 
  • Ability to support large numbers of users and an extended enterprise. The performance of the LMS should not be compromised when there are large user populations accessing it. 
  • User administration of large populations is supported with the user interface, bulk actions and  adaptable configurations. 
  • The LMS includes extensive automated actions and workflow configurations to support how the  organisation operates. You should not be forced to adapt your workflows to the LMS.   
  • Reporting must be extensive and flexible. The LMS should provide senior leadership historical and predictive indicators to support decision making.
  • Integration and data sharing is essential to support the organisation’s information architecture. The LMS should not be an ‘island’ of data. 

It is critical that the selection process reflects requirements that are both strategic and tactical. The requirements are best collected and assessed drawing on a wide range of stakeholders in the organisation including the ‘C suite’.

There are just some of the areas that we assess when working on a new LMS acquisition plan with a client. This helps us assess the various LMS software options and vendors that are proactively updating their software to meet changes in the workforce and operating environments.

  • Are there plans for any mergers and acquisitions?
  • Is the business likely to open up offices in other locations?
  • Will be business adopt a remote workforce model?
  • Does the business currently support a channel or may do so in the future?
  • Will the business undertake a digital transformation project and will the new learning management system remain fit for purpose?

How to create a value driver tree

The value driver tree is a tool used to identify the root cause of an issue. In our case it is used to identify causes of business issues. The value driver tree is also known as a fishbone analysis. 

The value driver tree is a very useful model to use when engaging in discovery sessions with prospective and current clients. You should be familiar with the model so that you are able to use it in conversations as a way to structure thinking. The best use case is creating a value driver tree on a whiteboard, computer or paper flip-chart as part of the meeting with clients, prospects and internal stakeholders.

An example of a simple value driver tree is shown above. In this case the issue facing the business is declining profitability.

The next level to the right of the business issue breaks the issue of declining profitability down to three possible solutions. The third level are the actions needed to execute the solutions. A key concept when creating value driver trees is MECE.

The MECE model is used to separate items into subsets that are ‘mutually exclusive’ and ‘collectively exhaustive.’ The MECE model as developed by Barbara Minto at McKinsey and Company in the late 1960s. You can learn more here.

In some cases these actions may directly address the issue or be actions such as research and analysis. In the latter case, this may then lead to a further value driver tree created to reflect the outcomes of research and analysis.

A value driver tree must focus on one single issue. Therefore there may be a number of value driver trees created in the course of a discovery session. It is common to start the process with a value driver tree to determine which of a range of issue should be prioritised and then break that down to individual issues. 

The example above shows a value driver tree that will then be broken down into the issue that is considered the highest priority. 

The value driver tree helped my client remain focused and not go off in a number of different directions. In my consulting practice, I only focus on one issue per engagement. I have learned this removes the risks of project creep and uncertainty about closure of an engagement. 

Once I have worked with my client to create a value driver tree on the challenge with the highest priority, there are two necessary steps before we commit to working together. The first step is gaining conceptual agreement. The process to this point is very positive for the client. Once the person is fully able to identify a business issue there is a sense of relief even before a solution is executed. 

The positive state achieved in the value driver tree process is the precursor to conceptual agreement. The conceptual agreement is both parties agreeing that there is a compelling case for moving forward with an engagement to build and apply a solution to the business issue. The conceptual agreement is gained by asking the client whether they wish to solve this issue using you and/or your firm. 

When this question is asked, there may be a few responses. One may be related to cost, another related to time, another related to decision making, etc. There is absolutely no point in developing a proposal with costs, activities and timelines until you have reached conceptual agreement with your client. 

This is always very hard for my clients to accept. Most people in business to business professional services are using an outdated paradigm wherein the proposal is a huge document that is used to sell an engagement to a client or prospect. This is all wrong. The proposal I use includes seven sections and the whole document is rarely more than four to seven pages. I will cover more about proposals in another article.

For now let’s assume you gain conceptual agreement with the client or prospect. You are now ready to create your short proposal. What about the value driver tree?

The value driver tree is captured and saved. You photograph the whiteboard, photograph and roll up the flip-chart paper, save the digital file or whatever. The value driver tree is your navigation tool moving forward with the the engagement. The value driver tree will set the scope of the engagement as well as define the parameters of the activities that are going to be included in the engagement. I will cover more about using the value driver tree to develop your engagement plan in another article.