Strategy Is Not A Plan

April 13, 2014

Mach

An Italian historian, diplomat, philosopher and author, Niccolo Machiavelli was influential  during the Renaissance. He is considered the founder of modern political science and well known for The Prince, a book about unscrupulous politicians. Machiavellianism is most often associated with strategies founded on deceit and psychological manipulation. While these strategies offer many politicos inspiration, other leaders offer more positive, ethical examples.

Strategy Generates Power

Regretfully, because of overuse and ubiquitous application, the word “strategy” has lost meaning. Lawrence Freedman’s new book, Strategy: A History, suggests strategy employs whatever resources are available to achieve the best outcome in situations that are both dynamic and contested. He suggests strategy generates power. Perhaps we too often mistake strategy as a simple way to get to a clear and final result.

Instead, Freedman counsels that strategy is simply a thoughtful means to get from one stage to another. Each new stage has its own challenges, risks, assets and potential. Strategy needs to be devised, and revised as circumstances evolve. Strategy is not synonymous with a plan. Plans support forward movement and actions, but they may or may not be strategic. Even so, high-quality implementation of a strategic plan – one built on choice points that considered alternatives – can be a significant challenge.

Strategy Development

Certainly both strategic processes and strategic thinking are essential in managing and leading. Don Knauss, CEO, Clorox Company says he learned strategy development from the Marine Corps. The acronym SMEAC provides a framework: situation, mission, execution, administration and communication. These five factors  require attention and deliberation.

As a leader, trust-building is an intentional strategy in the culture he promotes. Knauss said in a recent interview that “the less you use the power you’ve been given, the more authority people will give you…It starts with integrity…You get things done much more quickly when people trust you.”

Evidence, Facts & Results

Personal lives, government, organizations and programs all need strategy. Whether you are losing weight, staying married, providing healthcare, managing a “conflict” in a foreign country or improving education – your chances at success increase if there’s a strategy. Better still if it’s evidence- and fact-based.

Winston Churchill’s insight is relevant, too. He said, “However beautiful the strategy, you should occasionally look at the results.”

-Lisa Wyatt, Ed.D. is chief strategy officer and partner in Phillips Wyatt Knowlton, Inc. PWK is a performance management resource for systems and social change with clients worldwide. Lisa has cross-sector and international experience. She is an author and W.K. Kellogg Leadership Fellow. See: www.pwkinc.com

Unreasonable Progress

March 25, 2014

kamprad

It’s a well-known brand with great appeal to a broad range of consumers. IKEA is among the world’s most successful mass-market retailers. It sells affordable Scandinavian-style home furnishings and other home goods in 33 countries.

The founder, Ingvar Kamprad, profiles an “unreasonable” man who has generated important progress.

A brilliant strategist, Kamprad realized that a large part of furniture costs were in its assembly. So, he sold unassembled furniture and shipped it cheaply to customers in flat boxes. It was a huge change and a big success. However, his industry peers were furious with this innovation. In retaliation, they launched a boycott of IKEA and the company faced ruin.

Undaunted, Kamprad looked across the Baltic Sea to Poland which had far cheaper labor and plenty of wood. Although Poland was in Communist chaos in the 1960s, he made connections and tenaciously developed the infrastructure necessary to manufacture. Despite being labeled a “traitor,” he persevered.

Considered a renegade, time has proven his vision and principles have game-changing results. IKEA’s net profits in 2012-13 were $4.5 billion. Kamprad was open to imagining new approaches and he was able to challenge common preconceptions. He was “disagreeable” – meaning he was willing to take social risks to do things that others might disapprove. He also had the discipline and persistence to implement his ideas. Kamprad was both an innovator and a revolutionary.

George Bernard Shaw captures the character of change-leaders like Kamprad well: “The reasonable person adapts himself to the world: the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable person.”

Want to get farther faster? Consider the risk and return for being “unreasonable.”

-Lisa Wyatt, Ed.D. is chief strategy officer and partner in Phillips Wyatt Knowlton, Inc. PWK is a performance management resource for systems and social change with clients worldwide. Lisa has cross-sector and international experience. She is an author and W.K. Kellogg Leadership Fellow. See: www.pwkinc.com

 

Slaying Goliath

March 2, 2014

goliath

David, a shepherd boy, killed Goliath with a stone slung at his exposed forehead. He won the battle against all expectations. His victory relied on great strategy and skills.

David was a slinger. His weapon was a leather pouch attached on two sides by a long length of rope. Slingers were part of ancient armies. These warriors used a rock or lead ball hurled by a sling at their enemies. Slinging required extraordinary skills honed by extensive practice.

With considerable courage, using the advantages of speed and maneuverability, David ran directly at Goliath in his attack. David hit the one point of the giant’s vulnerability, knocked him unconscious, then killed Goliath by his own sword.

The outcome of this battle challenges common assumptions about power. We assume, in error, that big and strong always wins. But, it is possible for speed and surprise coupled with passionate intent to prevail. David’s example provides a two-step recipe: the right strategies with capable execution.

  • What assumptions do we hold about the Goliath we face this week?
  • What studied attention have we given to strategy development?
  • Can we skillfully implement  optimal choices?

-Lisa Wyatt, Ed.D. is chief strategy officer and partner in Phillips Wyatt Knowlton, Inc. PWK is a performance management resource for systems and social change with clients worldwide. Lisa has cross-sector and international experience. She is an author and W.K. Kellogg Leadership Fellow. See: www.pwkinc.com

Who’s In Your Way?

February 9, 2014

shadow

Leading and managing others is a social process. Anyone “out front” faces common obstacles in creating change. To be effective with others, it’s helpful to consider what might be disabling you.

These six questions can identify potential pitfalls. Each requires conscious navigation.

1. What’s that smell?

Understanding the air you and others breathe is essential. You must be able to identify the quality of the “oxygen” around you to influence it. Establishing great culture happens by getting the right folks on board with healthy, functional norms. Root out toxic behavior. When necessary, quickly change out people. Humans have an enormous capacity for delusion, avoidance and denial – especially if self-interest is threatened. Discerning and driving air quality is foundational.

2. Are you a learner?

How you see the world and what informs it is crucial to framing problems as well as their resolution. To ensure perspective, it’s important to actively seeking new knowledge and opinions. A small circle of external advisors can offer extraordinary insights. Being blind to your blind spots is a costly limitation.  Think about your thinking. What could you be missing? Do you know what you don’t know?

3. Are you uncomfortable?

People want familiar and safe. More accurately, we seek what we perceive as comfortable. Regrettably, thinking and behaving in new ways is uncomfortable. To generate forward action, it’s essential to risk and live outside your comfort zone. This pitfall is deep and one of the most common reasons communities and organizations don’t move. Progress requires risk. It must matter more than control. And, that’s not comfortable.

4. Do you have broad shoulders?

Very little important work happens alone.  We need rivals, allies and others involved to secure the best and most progress. How much do you value diverse skills and experiences? Do you invite and engage others in important work? Involve people who think deeply – they are different than those with flip opinions. Be intentional about discovering ways to connect resources and talent that contributes.

5. Is your motive “good”?

Clarifying the underlying motivation for the process and results you seek is important. Because others are quick to judge, knowing your own intention matters a lot. Be sure your ego or “me-victory” isn’t primary. Populist rhetoric won’t sustain important efforts but authentic commitment will.

6. Are you measuring?

Collect data routinely. Simple questions can guide assessment: What’s working? What isn’t? Why? Focus on the right indicators at the right time. Recognize development occurs in stages that may not be linear. Consider the pace, progress, and implications. Then, adapt actions.

Great culture, learning, discomfort, terrific teams, authenticity and active monitoring are big factors in generating change. Take your own inventory today.

-Lisa Wyatt, Ed.D. is chief strategy officer and partner in Phillips Wyatt Knowlton, Inc. PWK is a performance management resource for systems and social change with clients worldwide. Lisa has cross-sector and international experience. She is an author and W.K. Kellogg Leadership Fellow. See: www.pwkinc.com

Foster Passion

January 12, 2014

chemistrybeekers

The work we do best is inspired, it touches or wholly embraces some passion we have. This passion provides the energy to continually make effort and progress.

Augusto Odone, a World Bank economist, provides a great example of what passion can produce.

A polyglot Italian Fulbright scholar who specialized in development economics, Odone was posted to Washington, DC with his family. His son, at six, suddenly began stumbling, mumbling, lost hearing and displayed terrible temper. Doctors said the illness was hopeless and to expect certain death. His child, Lorenzo, had a rare and terrible disease (ALD) in which a faulty chromosome let fatty acids accumulate and cripple the body.

Odone had no prior interest or training in biochemistry, only a high-school science education. However, he began scouring the library at the National Institutes of Health to understand how enzymes work. Through his own reasoning, he identified potential in olive and rapeseed oils as a combination that might inhibit the deadly acids which impaired the nervous system. Medical researchers scoffed at an amateur finding an answer that had eluded them.

Although immobile and uncommunicative, Lorenzo lived 30 years. His father’s discovery was effective in delaying additional decline. “The ALD serpent that had brought so much grief to our family had been tamed,” wrote Odone.

Vindication for a stunning accomplishment was slow in coming. A 1992 film, “Lorenzo’s Oil,” portrays this story. In 2005, a rigorous study showed Odone’s science was sound: while the oil could not reverse effects of ALD, in 75% of the cases it prevented development of the symptoms. Grudging foes acknowledged the discovery.  Lorenzo died in 2008. The charity founded in his name, the Myelin Project, now pursues gene therapy and stem-cell research.

In the face of incalculable odds, a father’s passion had yield for his son and many others worldwide.

What inspires you? What do you know about your team or colleagues that can inspire them? How do you frame challenges to capture their passion? People who love what they do get after it every day. Some, at long odds, deliver amazing results.

-Lisa Wyatt, Ed.D. is chief strategy officer and partner in Phillips Wyatt Knowlton, Inc. PWK is a performance management resource for systems and social change with clients worldwide. Lisa has cross-sector and international experience. She is an author and W.K. Kellogg Leadership Fellow. See: www.pwkinc.com

Mandela’s Virtues

December 20, 2013

mandelaface

For nearly 30 years, Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for sabotage and promoting revolution.  And, at 71 years old, in barely just ten years of activity, Mandela secured a peaceful launch of a democratic South Africa.

The long, useful life of Mandela has given us an important leadership example. Described by many as a complex man, some of his attributes certainly warrant cultivation. Here, I note three important ones:

Tenacious. Surviving nearly three decades of prison is only partial evidence of this virtue. After 20 years, the government offered Mandela freedom if he’d renounce violence. He declined.  Mandela also chose to “pivot” or modify strategies to ensure an intended outcome. Initially, a staunch believer in non-violence, he reluctantly modified this perspective to include sabotage (without bloodshed) and, eventually, guerilla warfare because it was the only option to be effective. Mandela’s determination meant he was wholly committed to planned results.

Humble. Mandela endeared his prisoner peers and the wardens by refusing privilege. Until others had the treatment he was offered, he declined. He did not expect or seek individual reward. This maturity is valuable evidence of authenticity. Mandela was embarrassed by attention. As a descendent of royalty, he used his traditional name Mandiba, but with no cult of personality. He said, “I should like to be remembered as an ordinary South African.”

Reconciler. Avoiding vengeance, Mandela chose the more powerful strategies of negotiation, mediation and compromise to assure peace. He acted as a midwife and guide for hope, democracy and a nation built on the rule of law.  Mandela understood moral authority. He used the power of enduring values to support South Africa’s rebirth.

One can expect tributes, analyses and editorials about Nelson Mandela for months, indeed years, to come. His heroic example has delivered vital changes. It is a sharp contrast to the common plays of corruption, infighting and partisanship. One principled person made a great difference.

As 2014 starts, consider what could be in the new year? Not long ago, many loathed Mandela. Most had interests to protect and only a few could see the vision he offered. As the world honors him, it’s a reminder that we need champions for change with worthy attributes.

-Lisa Wyatt, Ed.D. is chief strategy officer and partner in Phillips Wyatt Knowlton, Inc. PWK is a performance management resource for systems and social change with clients worldwide. Lisa has cross-sector and international experience. She is an author and W.K. Kellogg Leadership Fellow. See: www.pwkinc.com

Growing Leaders

November 24, 2013

plant

We live in a world where leadership is essential but in short supply. And, says Gary Hamel, once named the “world’s most influential business thinker” and a professor at the London Business School,  hierarchies get in the way.Regrettably, organizations and communities are not well served by pyramids. It’s because there is a lot of energy and competition spent managing up rather than collaborating.

Stalls & Lags Are Costly

In our complex world, change is constant and competition is ferocious. But, Hamel says, progress is often belated, infrequent, stalled or convulsive. Structures and cultures that rely on just a few individuals in a hierarchy take a long time to recognize both problems and opportunities. The scale of those problems and opportunities has to become huge before they secure any attention. Unfortunately, too late is often the same as failing. Concentrating lots of authority in a top few is problematic.

Structural Constipation

What minimizes the structural constipation? Build a culture that that supports those who add value, not competition for a “top spot.” In other words, create and incent a culture that rewards merit, competence, and accountability. These are fundamental features of a performance system in contrast to a political system. A performance system seeks progress; a political system seeks control.   Intentionally pushing authority and responsibility down can distribute it more broadly.

Hamel counsels:

  • Give people leadership skills that let them get things done – even when they don’t have formal, positional authority.
  • Train people to make the right kind of choices and hold them accountable for their choices.
  • Shorten the feedback cycle between decisions and rewards.
  • Seek peer-based feedback on what people really know and do.

These actions can grow our leadership capital. As challenges grow and persist, our organizations and communities desperately need more, better leaders – fast.

-Lisa Wyatt, Ed.D. is chief strategy officer and partner in Phillips Wyatt Knowlton, Inc. PWK is a performance management resource for systems and social change with clients worldwide. Lisa has cross-sector and international experience. She is an author and W.K. Kellogg Leadership Fellow. See: www.pwkinc.com

Truth Telling

November 17, 2013

Nicholson

When intentionally seeking candor, people often invite commentary with: “Don’t sugarcoat it.”

While you consider the risk of a reply, your mind recalls Jack Nicholson in A Few Good Men. His raging declaration was:“You can’t handle the truth.”

Try Truth: Kill Politics

Val DiFebo, CEO of Deutsch NY, believes we can all be more effective with a little more honesty. She says the lack of politics at her current employer was a huge attraction. This translates to a practice she calls “front-stabbing.” It is a refreshing contrast to back-stabbing.  DiFebo says the culture she tries to foster is transparent: “When you have a problem with someone you just say: Look, this is the issue I have. I can get past it but what are you going to do to get past it? It just puts everything on the table and makes it so much easier to get your work done.”

Quality Reflection

Importantly, negative feedback doesn’t need to be a judgment on your skills or intellect. Simply, it can be a reaction to the quality of work. None of us does perfect work all the time. Most of us learners   want to make contributions and do better. Leaders and managers have a responsibility to provide quality reflection to peers, colleagues, and those they supervise. It helps people grow. It helps organizations perform.

Leaders Create Safe Space

So, why not foster more truth telling? It’s vital that work spaces are safe enough for candor. Leaders assure safety. It is the first step. Because denial and avoidance can be big coping strategies for us all, an environment that values facts and candor is key. Step two: try it. The truth can, indeed, set us free to help our people and organizations soar.

-Lisa Wyatt, Ed.D. is chief strategy officer and partner in Phillips Wyatt Knowlton, Inc. PWK is a performance management resource for systems and social change with clients worldwide. Lisa has cross-sector and international experience. She is an author and W.K. Kellogg Leadership Fellow. See: www.pwkinc.com

Climb The Ladder

November 11, 2013

skyladder

Don’t do or say anything that you’re not willing to see on the front page. It’s a dated maxim since few people read newspapers. Mostly, people read screens instead. But the  warning remains a current imperative for performance: accountability.

Years ago, I saw a model that work-culture experts used in their training. My version of it appears here. In your mind, picture personal accountability as a ladder with rungs on it. Those on the upper rungs show accountable behaviors. Those avoiding it are on the bottom rungs.

Acctarrow

A few questions can get you and colleagues engaged in important reflection. Which part of the ladder do you spend most of your time? Where do you often see others? Why are there patterns of behavior? What would encourage a higher rung for yourself? For staff, for senior executives and others?

Responsible people make hard choices every day. When faced with a tough one: think about your behavior showing up in high definition on the screen of those who most matter to your work and your life. Professionals embrace accountability. It is a huge factor in any organizations’ success. Step up to the top rungs of the ladder every day!

-Lisa Wyatt, Ed.D. is chief strategy officer and partner in Phillips Wyatt Knowlton, Inc. PWK is a performance management resource for systems and social change with clients worldwide. Lisa has cross-sector and international experience. She is an author and W.K. Kellogg Leadership Fellow. See: www.pwkinc.com

Behave Magnificently

November 5, 2013

 zinn

Howard Zinn was an impressive person. He was an academic historian, author and social activist. He is well known for his best-selling  book: A People’s History of the United States. The People’s History is distinct because it offers a brilliant alternate perspective – from those oppressed.

Although his parents were Jewish immigrants and factory workers with limited education, Zinn earned a doctorate from Columbia. He authored more than 20 important books and was a professor at Boston University for decades. I recently discovered a tiny slice of Zinn’s life that’s instructive.

As a tenured professor At Spelman College, Zinn was fired in 1963 for siding with students in the struggle against segregation. More than 40 years later, that same College awarded him an honorary doctorate. Zinn gave Spelman’s commencement speech in 2005, titled “Against Discouragement.” In that speech, he shared: “The lesson of history is that you must not despair, that if you are right, and you persist, things will change. The government may try to deceive the people, and the newspapers and television may do the same, but the truth has a way of coming out. The truth has a power greater than a hundred lies.”

A reflective historian, Zinn provided a panoramic view of people and their actions. He also wrote: “To be hopeful in bad times is not just foolishly romantic. It is based on the fact that human history is a history not only of cruelty, but also of compassion, sacrifice, courage, and kindness. What we choose to emphasize in this complex history will determine our lives. If we see only the worst, it destroys our capacity to do something. If we remember those times and places—and there are so many—where people have behaved magnificently, this gives us the energy to act.”

Undeterred by prevailing culture,  Zinn died in 2010. He was a leader who has made enduring contributions. He cultivated authenticity, resilience and meaningful work. Zinn once noted, “Historically, the most terrible things – war, genocide, slavery – have resulted not from disobedience but from obedience.” His example encourages us to intentionally challenge the status quo. Leadership has very little to do with maintaining it.

-Lisa Wyatt, Ed.D. is chief strategy officer and partner in Phillips Wyatt Knowlton, Inc. PWK is a performance management resource for systems and social change with clients worldwide. Lisa has cross-sector and international experience. She is an author and W.K. Kellogg Leadership Fellow. See: www.pwkinc.com


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