Mapquest for your company – the best strategic planning tool around

mapquestYesterday I had to keep an appointment at an office across town. Since I needed to know approximately how long it would take to get there, I logged in to Mapquest. After entering the address of the destination and the origin, it prepared a route map with directions, told me what I would find along the way, and calculated the time it should take.

Wouldn’t it be helpful if such sources were available for our use as leaders? We could plug in the data and an unseen someone from somewhere would tell us what to expect, how to get there, and how long it will take.

But no such devices exist.

There are three things you have to know before you embark on a journey – Where you are now, where you want to be then, and what you might encounter along the way. The vision, once it is focused and articulated, defines where you want to go. Strategic planning will help determine what you might encounter along the way and what you will do about it. But the starting point needs to be examined and defined.

You can rely on your own instincts and insight, which is probably considerable. But there are tools we can use which help organize ans systemize the process.

One of the most familiar is called SWOT – Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats. It is a method originated from research conducted at the Stanford Research Institute in the 1960’s. Funded by fortune 500 companies it looked in to the high failure rate of corporate planning. You can read more about this here but, in a nutshell, it found that corporate planning failed because it originated from too few people. True enough the strategic plan is best formulated by the CEO or one major figure. But the planning team must be much larger.

Why? Because buy in is absolutely imperative if it is ever going to work. While this seems obvious to most leaders today, it hasn’t always been so. Therefore, it bears repeating. Do not even think about running the show alone. You cannot see and know everything that you need to see and know. You are best served by the insight, understanding, knowledge, and experience of those you need to make the vision reality.

Often, the planning process is best served by hiring an outside voice. There are at least a dozen reasons why an outsider can best serve your purposes. Sorry, I won’t list them here, but the explanation will be ready in a week or so and I’ll notify you where you can download a free copy.

So, for now, let’s go back to the SWOT model. The SWOT system can be used for more than overall strategic planning (marketing, new business start-up, new product launch, and more) but I will focus here on our topic – overall strategic planning.

It looks like the accompanying illustration. You can download a free PDF copy of this form by clicking on the button. No, you won’t need to subscribe to anything or wait for a confirmation email. Just click and either view it or download it.

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swot picThe headings are deliberately broad. You can apply them wherever and however best serves your purposes. The lower two boxes are labeled “external” but that is only a sort of guideline. There are internal opportunities and threats too, and you might want to consider them.

Your homework now is to use this for your own planning. Strategic or otherwise, the guided logic of the system using data gathered from your team and your own insights help visualize the process and further your capacity to achieve buy in.

7 traits of a great planner

todoIt’s time to become small minded. Visionaries are big thinkers. Planners may make big plans but they think small. They take the grand scheme of things and turn it into smaller steps.

Planners are comprehensive thinkers whose skillset includes the ability to break things up into increments and whose experience has shown them the necessity to be rational and realistic. Fantasy thinkers will soon get themselves into big trouble here so practicality is the keyword.

I want a big thinker to formulate vision and I want that same big thinker to leave the planning process to people who can be real and realistic. Here are the 6 key traits of an effective planner:

First, an effective planner can take a project apart and divide it into realistic tasks, tasks that can be assigned a responsible party and a realistic deadline. They understand that the greatest of structures is put up one piece at a time. And they can install warning points along the way to keep things on track and on schedule.

Second, they function in the “now” and in the “then.” They think and work short-term and long-term. The use whatever tools they need to maintain progress towards the ultimate objective. Daily tasks lists are coordinated with and subordinated to annual, quarterly, monthly, and weekly calendars.

Third, they do not wait until deadlines approach to begin. They start early because experience has taught that almost nothing goes off as planned and if anything can go wrong it will.

Fourth, effective planners never work in isolation. They use the considerable skills and insights of others who could be in a position to add insight, understanding, and information.

Fifth, they are good delegators. The larger the plan, the more people needed to fulfill the objectives. Micro-managing will torpedo everything. There will be too much to do. Remember that your circle of concern is always bigger than your circle of ability.

Figure 1
Figure 1


Sixth, effective planners are tenacious but not hardheaded. They know how to focus on target and responsibly pursue it. But they are not so infatuated with their own ideas and plans that they become inflexible and rigid. Plans often need revising so “Plan B” is ready. Effective planners can think on their feet and make revisions as needed without losing sight of the objective or compromising the project.

Seventh, they never promise more than they can deliver. Some workers (and in some cultures) it is considered rude and uncaring to tell a superior or coworker anything except what they think the other person wants to hear. But this is a dangerous practice. Effective leaders never suffer sycophants or yes men. Never! Effective planners never engage in such foolish acts either. Never!

Now, it’s time to be honest. If you meet these 7 criteria, great! If not? Well, you know what you have to do. Find someone who does. The vision is far too precious to risk anything so get the best planner(s) you can find to help you bring it into being.

8 reasons to plan even if those plans don’t always work out

plans“My plan cannot fail because I have considered every contingency,” so said SPECTRE‘s expert planner Kronsteen who had devised a plot to steal a Lektor cryptographic device from the Soviets and sell it back to them while exacting revenge on Bond for killing their agent Dr. No. The line comes from the opening sequence in “From Russia With Love,” one of the best Bond films ever. Without spoiling the plot (although it seems likely to me that few have not seen the film), the plan did fail.

In fact, if we look around at others and at ourselves, we see a history littered with failed plans. So why bother? I mean, if plans fail then why not just plod along and let what happens happen?

Because plans don’t always fail; they only sometimes fail completely. Dwight Eisenhower said that “In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.”

You are far more likely to hit your target if you actually aim at it. True enough, some can get by with no plans at all and they might even accomplish something. But it will be accidental and it will feel incidental.

Ah, there it is. I used the “f”word – feel.

As logical and as structured as are most of us, we are at our core, feeling people. Motivation is emotional, not logical. Decisions to purchase are emotional, not logical. We live, thrive, and survive on the feeling of achievement.

When I teach these principles of vision, strategies, and tactics, I often use this graphic:some-men-die-of-shrapnel

Neglecting to plan, shirking the responsibility for planning is to doom yourself and your organization to trivialities. Yes, some good things will happen. Yes, you will accomplish something. But you could do more and accomplish more by the execution of plans. And, you’ll know it, be able to point to it, and feel good about it.

The need for significance is one of the most powerful human necessities, perhaps the most pervasive one. The planning process gives you a sense of control, an emotional boost because you have accepted responsibility and done something about it.

There is an old adage used in the motivational seminar industry but I will risk using it here anyway. It is “People don’t plan to fail, they just fail to plan.” (I saw that smirk.)

But it is true.

And it seems silly to say to a seasoned leader like yourself because you have doubtless made plans, well considered and thought out ones, only to have them either fail or face the need for serious revision. Yes, this will certainly occur. I’ve said repeatedly and all along that no plan, regardless of how thoroughly it is though out, ever survives contact with the real world without at least some alteration.

But the alternative is worse, much worse. I’d much rather go down in flames than perish inch by inch.

  1. Plans and planning imply change. They speak of doing something, making something, accomplishing something.
  2. Plans and planning eliminate another reason for procrastination. Plans do not simply list things to do, they must include who will do them, when they will do them, and how they will be done.
  3. Plans and planning build confidence in ourselves and in those we lead. They look to you for decisiveness and action. You feel better about yourself when you make decisions and take action.
  4. Plans and planning create something out of nothing, make more out of less. Ideas mean things, result in tangible differences.
  5. Plans and planning eliminate some surprises (not all…some).
  6. Plans and planning protect you and your assets (people and things) against most losses.
  7. Plans and planning expands your thinking because it forces you to explore options.
  8. Plans and planning force you to examine the future and decide on who you want to be, where you want to be, and what you want to accomplish. It determines your legacy. It does not leave legacy to chance.

You’re the person with vision. It is far too precious to abandon that vision to the fates of chance and circumstance. As John Schaar said, “The future is not some place we are going to, but one we are creating. The paths are not to be found but made, and the activity of making them changes both the maker and the destination.”


6 benefits of strategic planning

path-trhough-years-smallI just came from my monthly SCORE meeting. In case you are unfamiliar with SCORE, it is the Service Corps Of Retired Executives, a volunteer division of the Small Business Administration. Some of us aren’t quite retired in the do little else but play golf sense, but it is made up of business men and women with many, many years of experience. In our chapter there are 27 members, each with at least 40 years of real life practice in the business world. That means over a thousand years of street smarts available to help…and we offer mentoring at no charge. (If you want or need free expert advice, check out your local SCORE office. You can find a list at

I was conducting a workshop on Social Media Marketing (which explains why I am a little late posting this blog today – Sorry!). One of the key points most of our mentors focus on is the business plan and it has prompted me that some might be confused when I am writing about planning.

A strategic plan is NOT the same as a business plan. Here are the key differences:

Business Plan

  • Prepare for a specific product or service
  • Identify specific customers for the product or service
  • Used internally and externally

Strategic Plan

  • Engage entire management team/company
  • Clarify overall purpose/mission of the company
  • Determine priorities to achieve
  • Primarily used internally

Both business plans and strategic plans have their place, but this discussion is limited to strategic planning. Here is what strategic planning will do for you:

Determine areas on which you can focus your resources. A strategic plan forces you and your leadership team(s) to think on concrete, specific terms. Because you have developed and articulated vision, you have decided who you are and what you want to be. Therefore some decisions, those things you will not do and not become, have already been made. You can then focus. And the ability to focus is primary to the ability to excel.

Develop a consensus within your management team. I wrote about this already here. Consensus does not mean that everyone accepts and embraces the vision without question. Clarifications are often necessary and it will demand your powers of persuasion and influence to bring everyone on board. Consequently, it may be necessary to eventually encourage disputing partners to find a better place to apply their efforts. Consensus is absolutely imperative. Why? Because two visions is di-vision and no organization can progress when internal struggles for per-eminence of vision drains away energy, effort, and attention that should be applied to forward progress.

Gain a sense of security with employees. An oft quoted axiom is “Where there is no vision the people just wander around.” Strategic planning makes the vision, which can seem distant and fuzzy, concrete and focused. Vision always mean changes and new emphases. A concrete strategic plan has handles on it, handles that employees can grab on to.

Set reasonable and attainable objectives – This is where the rubber hits the road. Strategic planning sessions often fail because they neglect to specify who will do what by when. If those three components are not included, your plan is nothing more than a nice idea.

Establish metrics for the company – The issue, at this point in the development of your company, is not so much getting there, it’s going there. Major American highways have mile-markers which serve as locators along the way. Metrics for the company serve the same purpose. They measure progress (or the lack of it) along the way. It is absolutely imperative that a leader knows precisely what’s going on and it cannot be done if there are no measuring devices along the way.

Gain control and fix operational problems – Even the most highly-engineered motor vehicles require on-going periodic maintenance. People need more. Operational problems always arise. Cows need to be milked in the morning…and again at night…and again the next morning…and again, well you get the idea. Strategic planning results in strategic plans which benefit you by enabling you and your management team to know when something needs attention. Then you can fix it.

In the next article, I’ll address the 6 key components of strategic planning:

  1. Mission and Vision
  2. Strengths -Weaknesses-Opportunities-Threats, also known as SWOT
  3. Objectives -Where does the company want to be in 3 years?
  4. Identify & prioritize initiatives or opportunities
  5. Establish metrics and implementation plan (Who Does What –When…)
  6. Monitor progress and hold individuals accountable for implementation

See you Thursday

The magic word – planning

Abracadabra_fullWhat’s the magic word?

The guest speaker was seated on the stage, ready to deliver his keynote address. On his right sat the coordinator of the event, the person responsible for pulling all the many strands together to create a worthwhile encounter for speakers and participants alike. On his left sat one of the other speakers, a man who was known for his mystical, creative nature.

For several minutes the guest speaker engaged in close conversation with the coordinator who, without complaining, detailed the challenges he’d faced as administrator. He listed the many decisions to be made, the many components to secure, the many people to manage. As he concluded, the keynote speaker turned to the man on his left, the mystical sort of fellow.

“Isn’t this just wonderful,” he said, “how these things just magically come together.”

Two entirely different perspectives, one from a leader and manager, the other from, well, from someone who obviously is not a manager or leader.

All who lead, all who work in the trenches, wish there was a magic word, an abracadabra sort of word we could pronounce that would take what we’ve spoken and make it a reality.

The etymology of “abracadabra” is by no means precise, but in the Hebrew rendition of the word, it means “it came to pass as it was spoken.” The Aramaic root is quite similar. So, for the purposes of the topic under discussion today, something in that general meaning will do.

I’ve been writing and emphasizing the leader’s role in defining and articulating vision for the group. It is incumbent upon the person in charge to speak forth what the future will be like. This is the very incarnation of “vision.”

But there is no magic work to suddenly and effortlessly make it “come to pass as it is spoken.”


But there is a magic word to make it happen; one word that will indeed make your vision a reality.

That word is “planning.”

The first in the POTCC mantra – Plan, Organize, Train, Control, Coordinate – planning is the one thing that keeps a vision from being nothing more than a fantasy.

I could compose my own definition of the word, but the one offered by the works very well.

“A basic management function involving formulation of one or more detailed plans to achieve optimum balance of needs or demands with the available resources. The planning process (1) identifies the goals or objectives to be achieved, (2) formulates strategies to achieve them, (3) arranges or creates the means required, and (4) implements, directs, and monitors all steps in their proper sequence.”

Remember this illustration?basic diagram management highlighted

See how the role of leadership takes on the requirements of management in the implementation of strategies and their supporting tactics in order to reach the vision. So it is with your job. Leaders lead but they manage too.

To believe that “these things just magically come together” is to lapse into the world of illusion, delusion, fantasy, and to be negligent of your duty and responsibility to yourself, your company, its customers and constituents. It won’t just magically occur because you say so.

But it will magically occur because you do so.

I once told my son that consultants and coaches are often regarded as wizards because they know things that mere mortals don’t. Often we look for magic formulas or shortcuts but in truth the “secrets” are as old as life itself. So, what are they? What do I need to do to make my vision a reality?

Those secrets come on my next post. Okay, maybe those secrets are not so secret, but they are processes most successful leaders do intuitively. I’ll list, define, explain, and review them next. See you Monday.

5 phases of your role as leader

Illus 1
Illus 1

The expectation that leadership can be a singular role is unrealistic. We wear a lot of hats. We manage, we motivate, we correct, we monitor, we inspire, we facilitate, we coordinate, we focus, we bark, we growl, we whisper, we articulate, we define, and we execute.

A couple of posts ago I wrote about our position of responsibility at the top of the organizational system. Then I wrote about our place out front, the visionary whose outsight provides direction and focus to the energy and the efforts of the team, department, business, organization, or company.

Earlier in this series I’ve written about strategies to implement the vision and the tactics that provide tasks lists and daily objectives for everyone. This is where the majority of our work will take place.

Check out illustration #1 again. Your oversight takes on two dimensions. The inspirational and motivational side of your work depends upon the capacity of those who work with you, your associates and employees, to grasp the purposes of your business or organization. If they had the vantage point you have and the understanding you possess, your job would be simpler and easier.

But they don’t.

And they shouldn’t. Indeed, they can’t.

Your position at the top and out front equips you for your role at the bottom. Yes, you do have the enviable place of prestige and visibility as the “head” of your department, company, or organization. Yes, you do have the visibility that comes from being the point man (of course, I know that you very well might be female but the term point person seems unwieldy so permit me the non-sexist use of the humanitarian “man.” If point person makes this more palatable, then please read it as such.)

But I can tell you from experience that most of your time will spent in the execution of the strategic plans at the tactical level. And therefore much of your roletriangle leader function version 2 as leader may indeed be consumed by managing the people and the things they do, the things they should do, and the things they do that you don’t want them to do. Who would of thought that your climb to the top places you most often at the bottom?

The principle at play here is:

“To get what you EXPECT you must be faithful and diligent to INSPECT.”

How that is done is the subject of much we talk about in leadership circles and the next topic on the horizon here at The Practical Leader. This diagram illustrates where your role works itself out in real life.

Yes, you and those who serve in management do indeed need to control process, contain expenses, and monitor progress. Yes, you do need to engage your top-level people and focus on the producers within your organization. But because your circle of concern is always greater than your circle of ability (what you want to see completed is more than you can do yourself) you must employ others both in the “Let’s hire some people” sense and in the “I’m overwhelmed and need to learn how to delegate better” sense.

The director of one organization I worked for followed his mantra of POTC – Plan, Organize, Train, Control. It worked for him, somewhat at least, but he was highly suspicious of the competence of anyone and everyone he’d hired so he spent most of his time and energy controlling. The work suffered because he simply could not leave anyone alone and it bottlenecked at him who had to assign, monitor, and approve almost everything.

But control is necessary to an extent and only to an extent. If you are a control freak I can predict that your organization will stifle and suffer. I want to add two more letters to the POTC mantra…another C and an F.

POTCC – Plan, Organize, Train, Control, Coordinate and Facilitate.

Effective leaders know very well how to coordinate and facilitate the efforts of those who work with and for them. They know how to light a fire under almost anyone without getting burned (BTW that is the subject of my next book due out later this year).

Those five letters P –O –T –C –F outline the next several posts. Planning is up on Thursday. See you then.

7 Steps You Need to Take to Develop a Strategic Plan…And You’ve Already Done One of Them

7stepsI had been hired by the tourism department of a large Native American Tribal government to help them develop a strategic plan. They had a largish budget and had raised the visibility of tribal lands and attractions but there was no rhyme or reason. They engaged public relations firms and bought airtimes and ads on whims.

So we met and for the period of two days we worked through the process of developing some systematic strategy for reaching the department’s objectives, for marching toward the vision. As the intervention concluded, a follow up meeting was scheduled. The participants then retreated to their respective offices.

At the follow-up meeting I discovered that no one had retreated to their office or cubicle to work on plans or schedules to implement the strategic plan. No, indeed. They had retreated there to write a report on our meeting. The scheduled follow-up meeting was the occasion to discuss the reports written about the previous meeting. Their forward movement had become a backward look. I wish I could report that the follow-up rehashing of the previous meeting was a one-off event, but it wasn’t. It seems they preferred reports over action, a paralysis that afflicts many organizations.

Strategic plans are a bit like vision statements. They tend to get momentary hype and visibility then die a slow death in someone’s file cabinet. Look at W.T. Grant, Minnie Pearl’s Fried Chicken, or Branff Airlines. All three companies are gone and, at the time of their demise, all three had 3 common factors – they didn’t manage the company strategy, the corporate organizational policy did not function, and they perpetuated failure until it was completely fatal.

Contrast that with IBM which has undergone considerable transformation since its beginning as a business machines company. General Electric, Xerox, Mazda, and IBM all share the opposite 3 factors – effectively managed strategic planning, a corporate organizational policy that works, and success.

There are 7 steps for developing your strategic plan…and you’ve already done the first one (or at least you should have by now).

  1. Develop your vision statement.
  2. Develop and define your values.
  3. Examine and assess your situation.
  4. Develop and define goals.
  5. Develop, define, and schedule objectives (they are not the same as goals as I will explain).
  6. Develop the devices, systems, processes, and methods for achieving objectives and reaching goals.
  7. Develop and implement a feedback loop to systematically  evaluate progress, highlight problems, and implement solutions

See there, nothing exotic or excruciating. You’ve already done the first one because I’ve been discussing it for several days. I’ll begin with Step #2 on Thursday.

Think strategically, act deliberately



The vision you and/or your company or organization have articulated sets up the target. How you get there is up to those in positions of leadership and management. However, it is not entirely up to you. It requires the agreement, cooperation, and participation of everyone.

The vision will not create itself. What is done today directly impacts what happens later.

-Colonel Bruce B.G. Clarke, in his paper “Strategic Vision,” delivered at the Carlisle Barracks: U.S. Army War College, 1994, wrote that:

“Strategic Vision is a mental image of what the future world ought to be like. (The prophet’s view). Development of a strategic vision is preceded by forecasting the actual, matter of fact, realistic and pragmatic future to create an estimate of what the future is likely to be. In doing this, the strategist looks at history, the current situation, and trends. Strategy is the crossover mechanism for moving from the world as forecasted to the world of our vision. Strategic vision provides direction to both the formulation and execution of strategy. It makes strategy proactive, rather than reactive, about the future.”

 Note the last sentence. “It makes strategy proactive, rather than reactive, about the future.” It is not a wait and see what happens approach. Not at all! It demands that we as leaders take the initiative and develop over-arching plans that will move us, the company, and/or our department toward that vision we’ve so carefully articulated and so fervently embrace.

 Proactivity reigns over reactivity. The military often admonishes that “hope is not a valid strategy.”

 So what is?

 Think strategically but act deliberately.

 Jack Welch, former head of General Electric said that,  A strategy is something like, an innovative new product; globalization, taking your products around the world; be the low-cost producer. A strategy is something you can touch; you can motivate people with; be number one and number two in every business. You can energize people around the message.

 If you haven’t done so already, begin to see your role from a military perspective. You have an objective of what your world will be like when you win the war. Now, how are you going to win it?

 Simply lobbing shells out there somewhere or throwing soldiers at the public is not nearly enough. Neither will positive thinking slogans work. To do so is to substitute hope for strategy.

 It takes far more careful consideration of how to win the battle which should be done…and redone…and redone as time passes. But no action should be initiated nor should it be maintained in the “hope” that somehow someway it will get you to the goal.

 Leadership is a proactive responsibility. I am going to guess that too many who read this are, when they examine their daily tasks, reactive. They go from one problem to another, solving one crisis after another, and putting out fires. The question is, does it make sense? Does it mesh with the overall strategies you’ve enacted? Solving problems can be good if those problems have arisen in the hand to hand combat of daily implementation of your strategic plan. But solving problems can be bad if those problems have not arisen from the tasks (Tactics) used to implement a strategy. If that’s the case, you’re living in the fantasy world of hope. Short-terms thinkers think and work by what rises and falls each day. Long-term strategizers deal with incidents as they arise but they maintain perspective. They know which targets to shoot at and which to leave alone.

 Think strategically. Act deliberately.

Keepers – Trait #6 – Organization

lumber storageA woodshop in the Caribbean uses a lot of mahogany. Lots and lots of it. In my business, Dunigan Designs, (I sold the business a few years ago but you can check out the website here). Since we made doors, windows, custom furniture, closets, kitchens, and molding, we accumulated a lot of cut-off pieces called shorts that could be used in other projects.

Often there are several small pieces in a project so using a cut-off that would have been waste means a slightly higher profit margin. Over time those pieces piled up here and there around the shop. They needed organization.

So I asked one of my employees to find a way to recover the assets lying on the floor. 4 hours later he had built a rack, sorted all the wood lying around, and stored it by size. Now, when gathering resources for a project we could readily see what we had available that would have been scrap.

This is what organization does:

  1. It creates more out of less.
  2. It creates something out of nothing.
  3. It recovers resources and adds digits to your bottom line.
  4. It puts first things first, second things second, and establishes the logically ordered flow of work.
  5. It pulls reason out of chaos.
  6. It adds efficiency and economy of effort and resources.

Not everyone has the ability. At the same time, I had another employee who was patently disorganized. His workbench was always cluttered and piled high with tools, scraps, papers, and projects in process. When his bench was full, he would proceed to clutter up any available bench space and ended up too often working on the floor. I had to regularly stop him from working and make him clean things up.

Organizers are keepers because they do nothing but make life and work better, faster, easier. Organizers facilitate plans and planning. They create budgets and find the means to stick to them. They think ahead, a subject I cover later in this series.

Keeper trait #7 is diligence. See you Monday.

Management 101 – Part 4 – Control

steeringThe first three installments in this series covering management’s most basic principles addresses Planning, Organizing, and Training. Once those have been done, or more realistically, once those are being done, the final principle is that of controlling action.

If nothing is moving, the first challenge is to get things moving in an orderly manner. One that happens, the next logical addition is to control what is moving; minimize waste, maximize efficiency, and focus efforts.

Control happens when movements are contained within certain parameters. In engineering those parameters would be called “tolerances” because a certain degree of latitude is allowed. In retail businesses, they control inventory by budgeting for shrinkage, which is the loss of inventory, through breakage and theft. In manufacturing, control is exercised by managing time, predicting and planning for the supply of component parts, and monitoring specifications.

In all applications of control, there has to exist a standard from which all variance is measured. Here it might be helpful to borrow a term and concept from surveying. When new territory is being plotted, surveyors lay a base line, a straight line running a fixed length along which all other measurements are to be made. When the original settlers of the San Bernardino valley laid out the city their base line, now a busy street, ran for many miles. All other streets and the plots of land that would be parceled out to settlers were measured from that on line.

Management and leadership uses the same principle. A standard is established which becomes the target for measuring performance and therefore a basis for controlling action. Corporate run restaurants establish the target number of diners and their average purchase amount and they control costs by carefully controlling portions in both recipes and servings.

Corporate run casinos know how much money the average gambler will lose at a blackjack table per hand that is dealt. They also set the standard for how many hands the dealer should deal per hour and thus can predict with reasonable accuracy how much the table should earn. They then monitor the take from that table and can see where it deviates from the base line. If a regular pattern emerges, say one particular dealer is earning less than those who precede of follow him, the house begins to look for the reason why.

Base line control works just about everywhere. It was Peter Drucker who said that “if you cannot count it you cannot control it.” So the concept and practice of control is a counting action. Leaders do not do so well at this because the nature of leadership is less specific and more inspirational. However, if inspirational and motivational influence does not somewhere and somehow translate to measurable advances, leadership is relegated to platitudes and concepts. They’re pleasant but produce little in the way of lasting effect.

Control is a concept many people are uncomfortable with because it requires them to hold people accountable for results. We live in an age of fuzziness where we confuse feelings and attitudes with genuine advancement and progress. HR people and social scientists have proposed that we focus on the feeling side of work which can have a counterproductive effect if not balanced with real control targets. Your role as manager is to place the right people in the right positions so they can do the right job at the right time and produce the right results. Feeling good, loved, accepted, and fulfilled has value as long as that focus does not override the objective – to produce results.

On the other hand, too much control can result in friction (see my post here about that subject). If things are functioning smoothly and on track, a different kind of control is called for. MacGregor’s X and Y management styles addresses this and I will too in future posts (this is also the subject of my next book “How To Light A Fire Under Almost Anyone Without Getting Burned”) so be informed that that this subject is by no means exhausted here.

In summary, here are the 7 key components of the principle of control:

  1. Management is a game won or lost by numbers. To be able to control is to be able to count.
  2. A base line needs to be determined and laid out so EVERYONE who is accountable to it understands it and what it means. It is unfair to hold people to standards they are not aware of.
  3. Ineffective managers keep moving the base line. This inevitably causes confusion and resentment. If you arbitrarily move the baseline to put more money in your pocket while taking money OUT of the pockets of the people who work for you, count on your best and most productive people moving on.
  4. Ineffective managers have no baseline going in or they refuse to reveal it to their associates. People respond best when they know what is expected of them. If you are going to hold people accountable for numbers make very sure they know what those numbers are.
  5. Monitor deviation from base line numbers and find out why before jumping to a conclusion. There can be more than one reason why numbers are not met or exceeded.
  6. If you move numbers higher because of better than expected results make sure it is a joint effort and a reasonable one.
  7. To control results you’ll need to coordinate efforts. Until you have clear evidence otherwise, you may assume that most people want to do well in their jobs and will continue to do so if given the right tools and competent management. Demanding more with less will doubtless provoke resentment, grumbling, and plots of rebellion (just ask an ancient Pharoah when he demanded his guest workers, the Israelites, to make more bricks with less straw).  It takes lots of fuel and gear grinding to get a vehicle moving, but once it is on the road, a different type of control is necessary. You can let the machine do what it was designed to do and simply keep a supply of fuel, lubrication, and guidance to keep it on the road an on the way.

The first three installments of Management 101 are available here:

Part 1 – Plan

Part 2 – Organize

Part 3 – Train

I am yet in Uganda, East Africa. I spent the last two days on the road travelling up-country arriving back in Entebbe last night to discover that my internet access was no longer functioning. As of mid-day today it is still out. I have a wireless modem used here through the mobile phone providers but it is so slow I hesitate to use it. Nonetheless I have. Even getting airtime is fun. A trip downtown to the currency exchange office to but more shillings, then a walk down the street to the mobile phone office, a wait in line, then it’s my turn. Select the number of gb’s I want for a month and pay the fee while the tech retrieves the SIM card registration, gets the airtime and downloads it onto the stick. I am using the stick modem now. Thanks for your patience.