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Killers Out of Nowhere and Deep Future Strategic Thinking

Author: ; Published: May 11, 2017; Category: Customer Service, Leadership, Mentoring, Strategic Planning, Workforce Planning; Tags: ; No Comments»

 

A three-year planning horizon is generally appropriate for development of a strategic plan.  The speed of business and the rate of change preclude usefulness of a plan which extends five years or more.  However, today’s three-year strategic plan should be developed against a backdrop of 5-10 year “skyhooks” if we are to cultivate readiness for a tomorrow which will be radically different from today.

 

Several long-term dynamics should serve as our backdrop for near-term strategic planning.  The future is unknowable, but, now more than ever, an organization which doesn’t plan for its future isn’t likely to have one.  Let’s agitate our thinking before we initiate strategic planning. Here’s a partial list of budding trends organized by category which will likely define the business environment of 2025: (1) Technological Advances and Challenges; (2) The Competitive Landscape; (3) Forces Impacting the Ability to Hire Top Talent; and (4) Overarching Challenges.

 

Technological Advances and Challenges.  The “advances” are the “challenges.”  How can we cultivate organizations which apply technology optimally? Artificial Intelligence, Block Chain Technology, interoperability, and the highest-and-best use of the cloud are among the deep future considerations which need attention in a near-term strategic plan.  Intense pressure to automate any function which is performed more than twice will continue to rise. Also consider the implications of the fact that the last “fully human” generation is already here and in the process of expiring: Whether through implants or strap-on devices, sole reliance on the human brain qua brain is fading quickly.

 

The Competitive Landscape.  At what point does accelerating evolution achieve altitude and become revolution, pure and simple?  This has become a distinction without a difference. Business disruption is increasingly frequent and revolutionary in its consequences.  Expect the emergence of killers out of nowhere, causing overnight obsolescence of previously viable business models.  Think about how Amazon killed  — or at least wounded severely – the retail shopping mall.  Think about how Wal-Mart killed the mom-and-pop optometry practice on Main Street.  Think about how Motorola got blindsided by the Digital Revolution a quarter-century ago. Looking ahead, think of a technology company with not all that many attorneys in tow capsizing the traditional law firm consisting of attorneys assisted by technology.  New and largely unexpected competitors will define the next decade.  Wild card possibilities need to be factored into the strategic planning process.

 

Forces Impacting the Ability to Hire Top Talent.  Future competition for employees educated in “Computer Science Plus” (CS +) will be fierce.  CS + law; CS+ medicine; CS+ engineering, CS+ social science, and the list goes on.  To compete successfully for this new breed of employee will require offering a bundle of value which surrounds the employee and fosters passion.  Strong mentoring and coaching, which positions the employee towards career satisfaction will be differentiating.  Creating and facilitating systematic pathways to the “next job,” including pathways which may lead outside of your firm will create favorable buzz.  In addition, conscious well-executed decisions to shape and reinforce the corporate culture will be essential.   For example, will we seek consciously to erase the boundaries between employees’ personal lives and their corporate lives by enticing them to remain on-campus for a longer day through pizza and ping-pong? Or, will we afford flexible time-off policies?  Or, will we do both and more depending on the needs and preferences of the employee, coupled with our corporate strategy to heighten the employees’ need for “belonging.”

 

Overarching Challenges.  Today’s techno-infatuation too often derails the alignment of strategy and structure with our systems – an alignment which is vital to satisfying current and anticipated needs of the customer.  “Magical” over-reliance on technology in and of itself absent alignment with strategy and structure has contributed to recent customer service debacles in the airline industry, as one example.  How can we become truly customer-centric and eradicate disregard or even contempt for the customer? This question is usually unspoken in most organizations but that doesn’t mean that it isn’t central to future success. As one of my mentors put it a couple of decades ago, “IT is too important to be left to the IT people.”

 

The life-cycle of any business model will become evermore brief.  “Those not busy being born are busy dying.” Complacency must be eradicated when survival is at stake

 

A few other megatrends to consider?  Extreme weather will continue to intensify, interrupting supply chains, employee productivity, transportation, and more. Continued decay of the neglected US infrastructure will disrupt transportation and other utilities, rendering an increasing number of routes impassable and congesting severely those routes which remain. Big companies will get bigger and richer, with strategic implications for merger and acquisition activity at all levels. The continuing devaluation of “expertise” will require that professional services firms demonstrate added-value at the gold standard.  Political turbulence will intensify with more frequent crescendos of “populism.”  The dependency burden in Europe and the US will continue to grow as will political pressures for a Basic Income Guarantee (BIG).  The amazing historical ability of capitalism to morph itself and re-integrate with the polity and society to ensure its continuity is approaching a challenging climacteric. Customers for anything will experience frustration, and this will express itself in tsunamis of anger and resistance fueled by social media; future incident volatility will put some organizations out of business overnight.

 

In conclusion, these and other skyhooks are already visible.  Our strategic planning needs to factor these skyhooks if we are to create a three-year plan informed by a sobering vision of just how challenging the faster future will be. Onward through the fog!

 

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The Pronouncement

Author: ; Published: May 15, 2015; Category: Leadership, Strategic Planning; Tags: ; No Comments»

Ah, the exquisite glamour of audacious goals. Our high-ranking executive had risen from humble beginnings in the Great Plains by setting high standards for himself and then surpassing them daily.  Perhaps it’s only natural that once he ascended the ranks he set high standards for others and pronounced them to be law. However, he regularly encountered one disappointment after another as employees failed to meet, let alone exceed, his expectations as expressed by the pronouncements.

 

Human performance equals motivation times ability.  Yes, sometimes staff failed to achieve the pronouncement because of motivational factors. In other instances, the problem was a lack of clear mutual understanding about the meaning of the standard and/or the capabilities required to attain it. Sometimes the problem was a combination of ability and motivation, often beginning with impossibility only to find expression as a cumulative motivational deficit. One thing was clear: The Pronouncement was insufficient to achieve performance at the high standards our executive had set.

 

Negative impacts accrued. Collective frustration mounted as staff became numb to the executive’s expectations. Pronouncements and exhortations degenerated into ignorable background noise. Alienation from the executive, the work, and the organization itself began to snowball, careening towards toxicity. To the extent that the high standards were not translatable to the granular level, employees came to regard executive exhortations as nonsense syllables. When understood but not accepted, high standards were regarded as unattainable based on perceived limitations on freedom to act without a plethora of “Mother-may-I?” roundabouts. Other issues included organizational capabilities, available technology, the nature and extent of workload, etc., which the executive had not analyzed prior to issuing any given pronouncement. Many employees came to view employment in the organization as a losing battle to be endured until a suitable exit could be found.

 

What was missing? The effective executive manipulates and aligns core dimensions of the organization, e.g., strategies, systems and structure/people to enable employees to attain progressively higher standards. If our executive doesn’t pull out the big wrench to achieve this alignment, then mounting frustration and subpar performance will surely result. Pronouncements themselves are not enough; they are incomplete, if not delusional. The executive’s ability to set audacious goals was laudable, but the sound of one hand clapping was sadly laughable.  

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Launch and Abandon Syndrome

Author: ; Published: May 15, 2015; Category: Leadership, Strategic Planning; Tags: ; No Comments»

Absent coherent strategies by which individual initiatives and projects can be sorted and prioritized, a Darwinian “survival of the fittest” approach comes to be pursued. Each Monday, each new project left the executive conference room wearing a shiny gold badge.  The new gold badge trumped projects with older badges, tarnished badges or badges that had long since fallen off. Each new project competed successfully for money, talent, visibility and priority. Each new project was launched with great fanfare, and then abandoned thereafter. Following a maritime metaphor, talented staff gladly ride the new launch but only up to a point. The staff objective is to avoid getting stranded at sea too far from shore because, after all, each new project will enjoy its honeymoon halo only until it is capsized by the next latest and greatest project. Experience had demonstrated over and again that last month’s project will be abandoned in favor of this month’s new favorite as a matter of course. Indeed, staff coined a term for the CEO’s repetitive behavior pattern: The Launch and Abandon Program. 

 

Negative impacts for the organization: “What’s New?” becomes not only a greeting but the central organizing principle for setting priorities and allocating resources. Recency replaces strategy as the galvanizing force of organizational thought. As time progresses, critical, do-or-die projects cannot be distinguished from trivial ones. Individual staff members develop the wrong skills in this environment. The politics of attaching to the current hit parade of popular projects is all-important. Appearances trump substance as people elbow their way into the front-end of popular projects and then exit stage left with great agility so they can do it again.

 

The executive grows more frustrated as s/he can’t get done what s/he wants to get done and the reason for this condition is wholly unclear to the executive. Word gets around that the executive can’t think strategically.  Staff and the Chairman begin “working around” the executive’s blind spot.

 

A better way is to set priorities clearly and regularly. Use a quantitative pointing system to weigh and sort priorities. When a new initiative is launched, identify prior projects to be stopped, adjusted, or continued as is. Merge related projects with one another to conserve scarce resources. Go ahead and stretch your organization within reason but don’t fail to make tough decisions about what not to do. If you fail to make these decisions, you will be frustrated by perpetual stuttering and sputtering – along with lackluster results.

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