Success–Are we there yet?


This perennial refrain seems to be cropping up everywhere.

There yet? The question implies trouble of being here, now.

Forgetting to experience or notice the journey can undermine the value of achievement. Stock market analysts know the difference between easy targets and more challenging ones that require more than luck to make happen.

Yes, results matter, but so does process. Every moment contributes to the resulting experience and offers learning opportunities which stick with us whether we remember them or not.

Great sports matches are often remembered by a pivotal play that resulted in subsequent win or loss.  Distance (here vs. there) and time (now vs. not now) can represent opportunity as well as additional risk to the end game.  They don’t merely differentiate success and failure.  They also color our perceptions of how cross-organization functions interact and their perspective role in three often confused activities: strategy, planning and execution.

If you are seeking to realize and sustain positive results, I suggest changing the playbook you use to compete, and recognize that of these activities two are necessary but only one sufficient to your larger purpose.

High  performing organizations both understand and differentiate themselves in strategy planning and execution. General Electric, known for six sigma, IDEO’s design thinking or Wal-Mart and its supply chain optimizations represent examples of learning institutionalized throughout an organization.  But in each of these organizations their culture and associated process orientation masks the underlying interplay of strategy , planning and execution that account for their ongoing success and growth.

If growth is the magic elixir that you and your organization crave, then I’d like to suggest you let go of certain associations that naturally arise when your team meets.

The linearity and suggested sequence implied in visual representations and schematics of value may block creativity and obstruct alternative points of view.  Sure, there’s a value chain associated with Roger Federer’s success in Tennis.  Wouldn’t be surprised to find a strategy pyramid in the offices of the top NFL teams.  But for everyday fans these would seem superfluous models and that’s my point.

Can you get in the zone?

Take your organization and re-imagine them as a dance troupe, or different departments as a basketball team who plays zone defense.

Got it?

OK, now we can begin to think about the role of parallel and coordinating actions and the interplay of strategy planning and execution.

Strategy

For whom, why, when and where does what you do matter?   If you can answer that question, then you are on your way to understanding the role of strategy in your organization.

Strategy assesses capacity and capabilities  of your internal resources and then evaluates opportunities to capture market value relevant in the time and place you choose to operate.  Identifying what is worth your time, energy and materials implies that you have already evaluated the value of those things.

Economic value emerges where needs meet resources capable of satisfying them.  There’s some mystery or error in calculating value because:

1.  Not all needs and resources are known, let alone the strength of desire to satisfy them.

2.  Not all resource or needs recombination prove mutually satisfying.  Not much demand at the moment for three handled coffee cups, or expert photography chemists who can create and develop film.

3. Time and distance not easily controlled. Produce’s value varies by the timing of its freshness.

Planning

with purpose firmly established by strategy, planning focuses on effectiveness and coordination.  Planning commits and communicates resource allocations to insure timely coordination and delivery.  Using a sufficient plan, versus identifying a necessary set of steps, can lead to different levels of performance.  Leaving some fluidity in the process insures that the inevitable error or surprises that arise don’t stop the organization cold but merely result in delay.

Adaptive organizations keep their purpose in mind and may buy insurance but also include some wiggle room.  In short, they naturally permit on the spot adjustments.  Really great organizations communicate and share the learning throughout the organization.  Keeping track of the readjustments enable downstream teams to reposition and insure proper handoff, passing or maybe even bypass.

Deployment or execution.

Readiness and a focus on efficiency means the resources are both ready and able.  Trained, incentives and motivations well aligned, materials where they need to be, and  in the condition that fit the task.  This is the stage most closely associated with process and yet as the preceding steps specify, different types of process are creating value at different stages.

Let’s go back to the metaphor of the basketball team.  The General manager and coach may have generated the strategy that resulted in the assembled team that is now playing, but they are taking note of every play and to make adjustments.  Likewise, the planning that the coach and his practice schedule and offline support crew provide leads to the readiness of the players and their ability to adapt in real-time.

One more thing

Alternatively representing functional areas as a series of coordinated teams may be hard to depict. Jonathan Cagan and Craig Vogel have done a reasonable job  presenting an integrated new product development model (see Creating Breakthrough Products). But they stop short of the assumed responsibility for parallel tasks of Strategy, planning and execution  in every functional department. The willingness of an organization to realize that problem solving skills are not strictly aligned with a particular functional role.  These skills when nurtured and developed across the organization with accountability up and downstream offer enormous benefits.

Higher value emerges when diverse perspectives interact.  Given opportunities to share their capabilities and illuminate the blind spots in each other domains can lead to breakthroughs in performance, add functionality or develop new functionality and entirely new concepts.

Ever try to picture your ideal target customer?  Finance may provide their spending attributes. Marketing may share their demographic characteristics.  Design may describe how customers use the product or service. And Engineering may demonstrate the qualities customers find distinguishing.  Suddenly, a more holistic set of tangible representations emerge that allow more consistent evaluation of cost saving opportunities, or even better, help reconfigure functionality.

Valuing innovation and creativity throughout the organization and giving cross-organization communications higher priority, new value opportunities surface. This may seem unwieldy and impractical; but, once again think of coordinated zone defense or a dance troupe.  Sure, mistakes are bound to happen. When they do, your players will be more responsive and better position to support each other, pick up the slack and  more handily facilitate success.

Should every action be susceptible to questioning and revision?  Change procedures make sense, and are an appropriate part of planning. They insure that large changes and investment decisions are well-coordinated or strategy driven. The idea is to avoid making surprising changes during execution that ripple and produce more problems later.  Having an open line down and upstream in your process AND a line into planning makes it easy to resolve the situation, and arrange if, and when,to make the change.  Deployment may be downstream from planning but its voice must be actively part of upstream assessments by both planners and strategists.

So how are you integrating your strategy, planning and execution?  How effectively integrated are your organizational functions?  I’d love to hear of your experiences and what benefits if any you experienced.

 

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Re-telling our story to see our blindspot

Aside


When we look over the reported numbers in a business, a narrative emerges.  The actions, decisions that made these results possible line up as persuasive evidence of our brilliance or frustration casts aspersions on outside forces beyond our control.

Unless you hold a marketing or sales role, the narrative may not extend to imagine what your customers thinking about your business and what it offers.  We prefer to find immediate causes for the results, and when we come up empty, we start over again.  This is especially true when the results have changed direction.

Scenario A, after struggling for weeks and months, the numbers are starting to go up.  That is revenue, where positive growth in the numbers matter. The cause and effect chain  validates  earlier decisions on investment, strategy, tactics especially efforts in marketing and sales.  All of your decisions, your process and approach are paying off.

Scenario B, after a streak of healthy profits, the numbers are deteriorating.  The supply chain costs are up and revenues are down.  You begin to second guess all of your past decisions, especially the most recent ones that affect your basic cost structure.  But what if you haven’t changed a thing?  What if there’s no cyclical Halloween effect in your business and you are in the middle of five-year contracts on everything?

In both scenarios, the internal self-examination that leads to either accolade or second guessing  doesn’t do justice to your business and its future.  This is part of the deal with metrics that matter, that are meaningful.

We look at numbers and we associate them with behavior we understand.  What we don’t always do is go the extra mile to understanding what the numbers really represent.  Because assumptions behind every reported number dictate what the measure means.

Paul Downs, a cabinet-maker has shared his experience using AdWords in the You’re’ the boss blog.  I can’t find the full story that appeared in yesterdays’ print edition entitled Mistake in a Pay-per Click Campaign, but I can share the link to his series.  Paul’s business was Scenario B and when he couldn’t find any specific thing different internally he began to complain very loosely about wider conditions and blamed them for impacting is business.  It took him months before he was willing to tackle head on the metrics problem .  I don’t want to steal his thunder but suffice to say, that sometimes you have to be sure that you fully understand how a number gets put together before you determine whether its direction means what you think.

Hopefully the Times will post in the online edition the full story, Mistake in a Pay-per Click Campaign soon.  But in the interim, here’s Paul Downs on Why I manage my own Ad Words campaign, and I’d love to hear what you think.  What might have helped him turn things around sooner? What advice would you share with other business owners or division heads?