energizing breakthrough performance

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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Matrix Management: Avoid the Activity Trap by Using the Matching Principle

Author: ; Published: Aug 5, 2013; Category: Collaboration, Cross-Functional Teams, Matrix Management, Mentoring, Uncategorized; Tags: None; No Comments»

Faster, better, cheaper summarizes the top strategic priority for nearly every enterprise. That said, we can sometimes forget that achieving better and cheaper, let alone breakthrough innovation and differentiation, requires episodic changes in organizational and personal speed. Stated differently, we must sometimes slow down in order to speed up if we are to make quality and cost containment improvements. A single, chronic, unvarying speed is not appropriate to all circumstances.

 

It seems to me that we too often set our velocity – organizationally and personally – calibrated to the velocity of incoming messages on our handheld device. This can result in an activity trap that is more mind-numbing than mindful.. Stated in vehicular terms, an automobile which only had one speed – apart from “stopped” – would either be hitting other vehicles or being hit by other vehicles all too often. Such collisions happen in organizations as well and yet many of us act surprised at the consequences of incessant racing.  Matrix management success requires the ability to adjust speed deftly if only because cross-functional teams are sharing resources more intricately than in a siloed hierarchy.

 

There’s a matching principle in finance, which requires that we match long-term financing with long-term debt.  There’s also a matching principle in accounting. That said, there’s a matching principle for management which is highly important in exercising leadership in a high-performance matrix organization. This matching principle is evidenced by and consistent with MBTI and other personality profile approaches and instruments.

 

A practical, simplified view of these useful instruments is that there are times to be more task-focused than people-focused and vice versa.  Similarly, there are times to be caffeinated and there are times to be de-caffeinated. If the executive needs to be in an analytic mode, the correct flex is towards the de-caffeinated/task focused approach.  If we are coaching an employee to higher performance, we need to take a de-caffeinated/people-focused approach. If we are seeking the outer limits of innovation, we need “big sky” thinking that is caffeinated and a mix of tasks and people, with emphasis on bringing out people’s best thinking.  Finally, if we are prosecuting a sturdy and established agenda, the caffeinated task-focused approach generally works best.

 

Deft leadership of the matrix organization requires that leaders flex their velocity and focus depending on the nature of the challenge.  This is true in a traditional hierarchy, but it is even truer in a well-tuned, more sensitive and interdependent matrix organization. One size doesn’t fit all, and one speed doesn’t either. It’s easy to forget this management matching principle at today’s speed of business but consider this: There are going to be times when you will be better off if you slow down now to speed up later.

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Sasquatch, Santa, and Phantom Supervision

Author: ; Published: Mar 6, 2013; Category: Customer Service, Mentoring, Uncategorized; Tags: None; No Comments»

It was mid-December and Shirley was clearly excited.  She breathlessly exclaimed to her co-worker Antonio, “There’s been a sighting!”

 

 “Really!? Get out of town! A real-deal sighting!?” Did he show up as Sasquatch or Santa this time?” Antonio inquired. 

 

“I’m not sure,” Shirley replied.  “I just heard it from Carmelita.”

 

These front-line employees were referring to a rare Brigadoon-like  moment when the fog cleared and their supervisor was seen to walk among them..  Phantom Supervision had abated temporarily in that brief instant.  Rumors abounded that there had been person-to-person interaction between a member of management and the employees on the floor..

 

However, despite his racing heart rate, Antonio’s inquiring mind still wanted to know: Was it Sasquatch or Santa?  A “Sasquatch Sighting” of a supervisor on the floor occurs rarely and  randomly. You are so stunned that you don’t know what to say and you forget to pull out your Smartphone camera in time.

 

A “Santa Sighting” happens at more predictable times.  It being December, Antonio speculated that the sighting might be event-driven somehow,  perhaps occasioned by the holiday season. 

 

Some thirty years ago, Peters and Waterman popularized Management By Walking Around  (MBWA) in their book In Search of Excellence. (1982).  MBWA had been a key to the early success of Hewlett-Packard during the 1970s.  Abraham Lincoln is said to have been the first practitioner of MBWA during the Civil War when he would informally inspect Union troops and engage them in conversation. 

 

MBWA delivers important benefits to the supervisor, the employee, and the organization.  Employees begin to believe that the supervisor is paying attention and that there might just be a solid, objective basis for their performance appraisals.  The organization begins to close the gap between management and employees, creating a “one-team” organization rather than having a “management team” and an “employee team.”  Supervisors gain first-hand insights into what’s working and what’s not working; they can answer factually senior management’s questions about what needs to be  stopped, started  and/or continued.  The list of benefits goes on but the salutary effects on job satisfaction, morale and correlated productivity and effectiveness are significant.  That said, in some organizations, the absence of MBWA suggests that the benefits are not obvious and that management’s time can be put to much higher and better use, day after day, month after month…

 

What happened to MBWA?  Where did it go?  Invasion of the Body Snatchers? Only the Phantom knows.

 

Did supervisory management morph into a group of e-mail operators, transfixed by their screens?  Did management circle the wagons, only keeping company with “our own kind?”  Did supervisors decide that walking among the employees could expose them to questions to which they do not have an immediate answer?  (What a frightening and heartbreaking development that would be!)

 

Stated differently, is the decline and fall of MBWA a technological development; a cultural development; a lack of  basic supervisory training and coaching; or a lack of senior management emphasis on its importance?  Is it fear of being criticized by senior management  for disturbing throughput and employee productivity?  Is it fear of being seen as “fraternizing” with the employees?  Is it all of the above?  Is it none of the above?  Is it something else entirely?

 

Whatever the source, it’s time to end phantom supervision because it doesn’t cut it.. 

 

MBWA is not that hard to do if a few pointers are remembered:

 

n      Try to interact with as many employees as possible on your rounds; make a point of getting to those you did not greet on Round 1 when you do a Round 2 the next time through  (Do MBWA when it is least disruptive to production; if that’s a problem, then go ahead and pitch in to help your team! Or, visit the Employee Break Room instead.  Also challenge yourself to learn a little something about each employee when you make a round)

 

n      Catch somebody doing something right and help raise the standards and the morale in your enterprise (Make certain it’s meaningfully right; no inflation)

 

n      Remember that this is not a quiz show and you don’t have to know all answers on the spot, but do get back to the employee who asked the question when you locate the answer.  Don’t take forever to do this.

 

n      If you see problems, make a mental note and address what you saw at a later time, not during your MBWA tour.

 

Alas, I must now adjourn to contemplate the Zen management question of the day: When is supervision not supervision? I shall approach this contemplation first from the Sasquatch perspective and then from the Santa perspective.. On second thought, it makes me tired to think about it so I’ll get up and walk around instead.

 

 

 

 

 

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