5 things you should do to prepare yourself to lead a strategic planning session

indiana-jones imagin how boringEvery company and organization has them…or at least they should if they want to remain relevant and viable. Some conduct strategic planning sessions quarterly, others but once a year or so. There really is no “right” number. We hold them at least once a year, and for most companies that’s probably sufficient. You will need to decide when and how often would be optimal for your company or organization.

But they need to be done and they need to hold significant weight in the company culture. Don’t conduct them simply because they are on the calendar (like most employee performance appraisals – ugh). Conduct them because of their benefit to you, your associates, and to the company or organization’s culture. They keep us on track, point out what works and what doesn’t, and provoke ideas that might otherwise remain locked up in someone’s head.

There are plenty of places around the web that will offer advice about how to conduct a strategic planning session so I won’t belabor the obvious here. Instead, I want to focus on what you need to do to get yourself ready to conduct a successful strategic planning session.

First, decide how you want it to end. What outcome(s) should result that will assure you and the participants that the meeting has been worthwhile and successful? What will happen because you all took the time to meet and participate? If you don’t know that, then anything will do. All planning, all handouts, guides, supporting documents, and activities should be focused on and lead to the expected outcome. I am NOT suggesting that you decide ahead of time precisely what activities will result. The strategic planning session is not the place for you to get them to do what you want them to do. No, it is to discover what to start doing, what to stop doing, and what to continue doing…and to let others come to consensus.

Second, you are the visionary so it is your privilege to articulate, define, and celebrate the vision of your company or organization. Never neglect an opportunity to say it again. Strategic planning sessions should enable groups to avoid the trap of measuring progress by faithfulness to processes and systems. Instead, focus on product, those components that the systems are supposed to produce. I was in a meeting on Monday that provided the dynamics to discuss this critical principle. It is never enough to be busy or even fruitful. It is always important to do the right things that will produce the right results and everyone responsible needs to understand and appreciate the mandate.

Third, stand up, speak up, shut up. Prepare what you are going to say, say it, then get out of the way. A strategic planning session is not the platform for you to pontificate all day. It is the place for everyone else on the strategic team to participate and they can’t do that if you are in the way. Leaders are often in love with their own voices and gifted with immaculate perception (the belief that whatever the leader thinks of must be divine simply because he or she thought of it). This is not the day to do the talking. This is the day to guide discussion, inspire optimism and confidence, and frame the activities to engage everyone.

Fourth, ask questions but refrain from supplying answers. This is an extension of number three. Your role is to keep things on track, provide the parameters for analysis and discussion, and gather conclusions. The vision remains fixed. How your company or organization gets there is not all that precise. There is a context and a purpose for your existence. Once everyone understands the context and purpose, let them loose and leave them alone to come up with ways to realize them.

Finally, draw conclusions and enlist participation in the plan. We have all been involved in meetings where wonderful ideas were forwarded but nothing really happened. The real work of the strategic planning session happens after the session. Find participants, make specific plans, set schedules, and prepare to follow up. It is uniquely your job to equip and train, to give your people the information, equipment, and training they need to enact the plan.

Do not allow the ideas that emerged today to simply fade away. And do not take on the responsibility for developing and enacting them yourself. This is one of the most potentially productive days a leader can ever experience if they are committed to developing and releasing others.

Is doing what you do getting you what you really want?

bumpercars with notationsStart-ups are, in many ways, a lot easier than leading a seasoned company or organization. Once systems, methods, and procedures are in place they can become part of the corporate identity. Indeed, they become you and you become identified as them. If they work, okay. If they move your department, company, or organization toward your vision, fine.

But, when was the last time anyone checked to see if that was so. Forms, I mean paper forms or computer resident ones that need to be completed, can become the reason we do what we do. But there is one question that always must be asked…and answered.

Is doing what you do getting you what you really want?

And how do you know if your answer is correct?

This is where the roles of leader sharply contrast with that of manager. Yes, I know that managers lead or at least they should have at least the minimal skills for leading team workers, but by and large managers don’t lead, certainly not to the extent that leaders do. For weeks I’ve been writing about vision, about inspiration, direction, emphasis, values, and mission. It is the unique and rewarding realm of leadership to address those things, to articulate them and incarnate their presence throughout the company.

That’s why I said in the first paragraph that start-ups are easier. When everything is new, when there are no systems in place, you and your team of associates and managers can create them. But somewhere somehow in all you are doing, you need to know if what you do is getting you where you want to go.

There is a tyranny of systems that takes over. The very presence of forms and reports bring bondage. They must be completed. Numbers must be recorded. The act of action itself becomes its own validator. We do things so often for so long that we either lose sight of what they are supposed to accomplish and find the work itself to be its own criteria for success. But leaders can…and must…evaluate the numbers they so diligently collect and process.

In my now famous diagram (below), see how it plots out. Management typically oversees the implementation of strategy. Butbasic diagram leadership monitors all three – tactics which should support the strategy which should lead to the fulfillment of vision. There is a difference between monitoring and managing. Monitoring is to oversee and evaluate. Managing is to fine tune, repair, and keep running.

The evaluation loop must run continuously. Every action, every system, every procedure must be regularly and frankly evaluated. Managers strive for efficiency. Managers make sure things are done and that they are done correctly. Leaders ensure that first and foremost the correct things are done. Making good time is of little use if you’re on the work path. Your goal as leader is to insure efficiency AND effectiveness.

jet drill team with notationsNow for the hard part. I’ll be back on Thursday with another post. Between now and then, schedule time to inspect at least two systems in your organization. Evaluate their effectiveness in implementing strategy through appropriate tactics that move the organization along toward fulfillment of its vision and let managers report to you on their measure of efficiency. Then, decide what your response should be.

7 ways to know the difference between strategies and tactics

normandyThe vision: Liberate Europe, defeat Germany and Italy, then establish a new world order

The strategy: A cross-channel invasion followed by succeeding maneuvers to push the enemy back, destroy their ability and resolve to wage war, bring about their defeat. The strategy was called Operation Overlord.

The tactics: pre-assault aerial bombardment, land troops, fight the way off the beach, capture ports, establish supply lines and methods, secure beachhead, act rather than react.

Vision ->Strategy ->Tactics or, as it works out in real life Tactics implement the strategy that was carefully planned to deliver the vision.

Operation Overlord began 70 years ago tomorrow, June 6, 1944, with Operation Neptune which was the Normandy landings. The overall strategy was logically assembled of several smaller strategies which were in turn implemented by boots on the ground, planes in the air, and ships in the water.

Sometimes used interchangeably in conversation, strategy and tactics are not the same. To make it easier to define, think of strategy as something that happens with the head while tactics happen with the hands.

Bosses think, staff act. Managers and leaders consider, ponder, and create ideas, employees and associates build, assemble, and enact.

Here’s how strategy and tactics fit together:

strategy tactics chart

The Battle of the Bulge and you, what bungled intelligence gathering means for your business

battle-bulge-500-35I watched an enlightening program yesterday on the Battle of the Bulge. After successfully breaching the “Atlantic Wall,” as the Nazi defenses were called, Allied forces had the German army on the run. By December, 1944, things were going very well for the Allies and very badly for Hitler. It was the concerted opinion of Allied commanders that the German Army was incapable of mounting any kind of major offensive and it would be a matter of days before the war ended.

Aficionados of the intelligence game like me find what happened fascinating. The Battle of the Bulge should not have surprised anyone. There was plenty of intelligence to point to a major German offensive and to locate the place along the front where it would occur. Bletchley Park, the British code breaking unit, captured plenty of coded radio traffic and decoded it. Intelligence analysts interpreted the gathered data and concluded that a major offensive was in the works.

The generals, Eisenhower included, decided that the intelligence was wrong and that the enemy was incapable of an offensive of that size.

They were wrong.

For weeks I’ve been writing about vision and strategic planning. The third element in the process, tactics, will come up soon.

Strategic planning does no good if you won’t listen to the intelligence. The people around you, the consultants you hire, the analysis you pay for, the statistics you gather are a waste of time and money if you can’t trust what they say or refuse to acknowledge that what they tell you runs counter to what you want to believe.

Success is its own best validator and its own worst enemy. Generals Bradley, Montgomery, and Eisenhower all had significant and sufficient resources warning of what was coming. All of them ignored it, discounted it, and/or refused to believe it.

“Okay,” you say. “That’s all well and good, but that’s the military. I run a business.” If you’ve been reading my posts for awhile you’ll know my affinity for hiring military people to work with. They’re mission oriented and strategically trained. Those skills are imperative for business.

I have another favorite show I’ve watched often. It’s called Bar Rescue. An experienced bar business consultant responds to a bar owner’s call for help with his/her failing bar business. The bar rescue guy sends in undercover people to gather what? That’s right. Intelligence! Why? Because if you want to know what to do you have to know what is being done. Incredibly, many of those bar owners discount or dispute the evidence found by the consultant even though their businesses are failing. If you want to know what will be you must know what is. Effective leaders are not blind to intelligence nor do they blindly follow intelligence. Intelligence can be misleading or incorrect.

But not very often. You’re a smart person. If you can’t trust people you’ve hired to be smart, insightful, and honest, replace them with those who are.

Gather intelligence. Find out what’s what and who’s who.

Decode and decipher intelligence. Let your experience and education show you what the data means.

Validate intelligence. Be careful about single-source information. Check things out. Never ever listen to one side of a story, one side of an argument, or one person’s opinion. Get the facts, all the facts. Never hire a financial advisor with anything to sell. Find out if anyone who’s talking to you has an agenda.

Act on intelligence. And do so intelligently. I’ll wager Eisenhower, Bradley, and Montgomery wished they would have.

So why didn’t they? Because the better things are going for you, the less you feel you need to do those things that made you successful.

Odd isn’t it? The better off you get the worse off you think. Amazingly it isn’t an isolated condition. Too many leaders relax too soon. They get sloppy, arrogant, over-confident. In their case, the space between success and catastrophe is only a hyphen. If you’re doing well now, what skills and attitudes have brought you here? If things aren’t going so well, what do you need to do to change them? Intelligence is more than the facts one gathers, it’s also the response one should make.

5 reasons why hope is not a valid strategy

coins in fountainHope is not a strategy but it is an essential attitude.

One of the best employee associates I ever had was a retired Air Force Lt. Colonel. I have always loved working with military people. Their training firmly builds within them a “can do” mentality and a fixation on mission objectives. This one was no different. My retired officer/employee could always be depended upon to get the jobs out the door and focus on billable hours. He often said, when discussing business, that “Hope is not a valid strategy.”

Hope, when used as a strategy, dooms us to failure because it is so fuzzy. Fuzzy thinking has a place in formulating vision, but it has no place in strategic planning. That facet of the leadership process demands clear headedness and cold acceptance of reality.

But that can incline us towards pessimism. I mean, simply looking at the size of a task, the complexity of the issue, or the ingrained habits of a group can overwhelm us. Watching the news does the same thing.

Here are 5 reasons why hope cannot be a strategy. Following this list, I’ll show you the reasons why hope is, nonetheless, an essential attitude.

Why hope cannot be a strategy:

  1. It encourages sloppy thinking. Hope as a strategy rounds off the corners of life’s sharp edges. It edits the images we see so that only those “proofs” that prove our preconceived notions are seen and accepted. Look at the Susan B. Anthony dollar coin minted by the Treasury Department. Every focus group, every study, every analysis showed the coin to be too near the size of a quarter and therefore confusing to the public. But those who wanted the coin ignored the evidence and went ahead with a disastrous launch of a coin that never found acceptance by the public.
  2. It tends to ignore the past or at least minimize its lessons. This is just plain stupid. I once attended a pastor’s conference where the invocation prayer proved to be one of the best presentations of the entire event. The pastor opening the event prayed, “God, let us make new mistakes. We are tired of making the same mistakes over and over and over again.”
  3. It tends to promote delusional thinking. On a small scale, but one that demonstrates this, there is an author in my community who has written a book of her life’s story, focusing on its hardships and how she overcame them. Well, somewhat. I’ve read the book and it is badly written, sketchy at best, and desperate for the skilled eyes of an editor. The author hired one of the many “publishing” companies that has sprung up in recent years to publish and distribute her book to whom she paid a princely sum. I saw her just a few days ago and asked her how it was going. She had no idea but she “hoped” it would do well. She told me she intended to make enough from the sales of her book to live in ease and comfort. As one who’s been in the writing and publishing business for decades I can assure you she will be lucky to recover even a portion of what she paid the company to publish her book. At the risk of sounding insensitive, it really is a badly written book of no interest to anyone except her family or her generous and forgiving friends. Had she examined the market, studied what makes a successful book, learned how books are marketed these days, accepted the realities of independent publishing, and examined what the profit realities are for 99% of authors (almost none which is why most have a day job, too), her chances would be better. Not great, but better. But, delusion is a powerful force, one that has charmed her into a level of fantasy that will be either disappointing to her or one worse. That brings me to point #4.
  4. Hope, when used as a strategy, rejects facts, glosses over evidence, and believes what it wants to believe because it wants to believe so therefore it must be true. This is where we begin to distinguish between hope as an attitude and hope as a strategy. I’ll address hope as an attitude on Monday and I do indeed consider it to be a vital component in the tool chest of an effective leader. But positive thinking in and of itself is incredibly damaging. I’ve written about this on my other blog here and here so I won’t repeat it in this post. Hope, when used as a replacement for sound judgment is deadly.
  5. It inflates the positives, deflates the negatives, and therefore clouds the faculty to make intelligent decisions and take intelligent action. The result is most often discouraging, defeating, or even disastrous. We must have sound judgment supported by honest motives and our willing acceptance of the facts as they are. Strategic thinking is creative thinking at its most useful level. Creative thinking has three components, particularly when it comes to our need to creatively make strategic plans to propel our department, team, company, or organization towards its vision.
    1. Component #1 – A must equal A. A cannot equal be and must not equal whatever you want it ti. Creative thinkers discover reality and accept it as the place to begin. Those who substitute hope do not. They ignore the facts, minimize their importance, and/or rationalize away their validity. Anyone remember how I’ve defined “rationalize?” It is to tell yourself rational sounding lies and believe them regardless of the facts.
    2. Component #2 – The law of cause and effect. The decisions we make and the actions we take cause things to happen, not happen, or fall apart. The effects of those decisions and are caused by something. Hope as a strategy ignores this reality, clouds over the causes, and explains away their effects.
    3. Component #3 – The principle of influence. You are a powerful figure in your setting. You may not know this. You may not understand this. You may even be baffled by it. But I can assure you that when you talk, when you make decisions, others listen. You have influence. That is the essence of leadership, the capacity to affect what others think and do. Hope as a strategy tends to numbify others, to coin a term. Because your circle of concern is always greater than your circle of ability, and because you must have the active and intelligent cooperation of others to reach the noble and grand objectives now incarnated as vision, you need to capitalize on your influence. Hope, when used strategically, tends to dull the senses, and relax the sharp attention of others. You want to be carefully tuned to your circumstances and you need others to be so as well.

Up next? Why hope may be a bad strategic device but is a critical attitude. Stay tuned.

9 things your associates and team absolutely need to make the journey towards vision. What Lewis and Clark shows us about effective leadership and the pursuit of vision.

lewis-and-clark-paintingUndaunted Courage is one of the great stories in American history. When Merriweather Lewis and William Clark departed St. Louis in May, 1804 on what was then called the Corps of Discovery Expedition, they actually failed in their stated purpose. Commissioned by President Thomas Jefferson to find “the most direct and practicable water communication across this continent, for the purposes of commerce” their 2 year journey did not find a contiguous water route across the continent.

Nevertheless, their expedition can be regarded as successful because they did find much more and they did extend the sovereignty of the fledgling United States government over the continent. They made the trip to the Pacific Ocean and back, gathered information about the resources included in the Louisiana Purchase, and made notable contributions to science. Their skills as leaders are beyond question and their accomplishments as explorers and emissaries of the President are beyond question.

It is their ability to handle the unknowns of the journey that concern us here. Lewis and Clark were highly competent strategic planners. A close examination of their journals and the testimony of those who accompanied them attest to that. The embarkation into the unknown, to boldly go where no one had gone before, testify of excellence in the entire team, leaders and followers.

The very word “leadership” implies going somewhere, doing something. If vision is the ultimate destination planning is the key to a successful journey. Travelers need the following 9 things.

  1. They need an idea of where they are going and that it makes sense. It must connect in some logical manner with the overall business one is in. A commission from the President helped, but that alone is inadequate. One must connect the dots, to employ a tired phrase from the vocabulary of consultants. The trip must make sense.
  2. They need a reason to make the trip with you, preferably more than one reason. “Because” is not good enough. Neither is “I said so.” This is the first step into buy-in, that intangible bot oh so real element of voluntary cooperation and energetic enthusiasm.
  3. They need to know that the journey is not a trip to fantasy land. Always deal in facts not opinions, in truth not speculation. The unknowns hiding in the future are threatening enough. The assurances found in the familiarity of past patterns and manageable surroundings are sticky. Breaking free of them demands that something desirable and real lay within reach.
  4. They need to know what to expect along the way. Even if you don’t know, they need to feel like you can handle it. Effective leaders never let on they are in the dark or without answers. Their fears will probably be bigger than real life. Fear and anxiety magnifies the unknown and you can bring it down to manageable size.
  5. They need an answer to the question “Are we there yet?” The enthusiasm found in launches of new ventures soon wears off. Celebrate incremental progress. It helps cut the journey into manageable into pieces.
  6. They need sustenance on the journey. Your input here is absolutely critical. Stay connected. Stay communicative. Stay engaged. Stay positive. Stay optimistic and expectant.
  7. They need courage and motivation to continue the trip. See #’s 5 and 6. Weariness sets in. Don’t press too hard or too much. Allow downtime and recreation which “re-creates” the initial feelings of excitement and renews enthusiasm.
  8. They need assurance that the trip is worth the effort. If you’re not sure, if you’re discouraged, and you transmit that to your team, they will be discouraged and uncertain, too. Keep the vision foremost in your thinking.
  9. They need a reasonable expectation that it will be successful. No one likes a lost cause. Participants in suicidal missions are hard to find. Everyone needs to feel significant and that the things to which they give their lives and efforts need to be worthy of their best efforts. If the objective is not, don’t even bother. Give yourself only to things which will make a great deal of significance when you succeed. Don’t ask others to do anything else.
  10. They need to know that you can handle surprises. You do this based on your history with them and, if you’re new, by pulling off wins. If you exaggerate, if you fail early on, the journey will be even more difficult, perhaps even impossible.
  11. They need to know they can meet the milestones set for the itinerary and why they are missed. Don’t be over-optimistic here. Your staff functions in the real world, or at least they should, and so must you. Use your experience to set reasonable and realistic goals remembering that if anything can go wrong, it will.

Lewis and Clark pulled it off. You can too.


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 BusinessDictionary.com 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.

7 ways to kill strategic implementation of vision before it gets off the ground

cautionIt was to be the biggest and most comprehensive realignment of health care ever. When President Obama engineered the Affordable Care Act the vision for the project was grand and promising. (NOTE: I am NOT concerned about politics here. I reference this ONLY because it is a graphic and present example of how things go wrong and what we can learn about implementing visionary changes in our own business, department, or organization. What your political beliefs are in this matter are irrelevant as are mine.)

1.     Fail to secure the cooperation and support of the ENTIRE executive team. Don’t even think about trying to bring the senior leadership on board by mandate. Simply issuing a directive that the new vision is here and you expect their cooperation is really short-sighted. Why? Because the objective is not the start of the project. The objective is its implementation and completion. When you try to bypass this and simply get it passed by a simple majority you risk giving fuel to opposition.  The more sweeping the vision the more critical the need to get everyone on board. You cannot lead, support, follow-up, and live the results of the strategic planning process by yourself. You can’t even do it when a large portion of the support staff are either unenthusiastic and ambivalent or outright hostile. True enough, in politics one will almost never secure the complete and utter compliance of everyone but to not even try is a serious error in judgment. When something goes wrong, and it always does, you will need the help, advice, and validation of others to recover and get back on track. Without it you’ve made enemies when you could have had friends and you’ve made things that much harder for yourself. Visionaries are supposed to be inspirational so that others are enthused about the vision not conscripted. Do not say things like “Well, I’m the boss (CEO,CFO, Director, just fill in the blank with whatever your title is) so you have to go along. Make it easier for even the naysayers to give the benefit of the doubt.

2.   Spin the facts. Spinmeisters always come off as deceptive and conniving. Always. Doesn’t matter which side of the issue, don’t spin the facts. Like a spider, those who spin the facts often get caught in their own web. Be frank, open, honest, and objective. You’ll get much farther than trying to baffle someone with BS.

3.   Delegate all your responsibility. You have articulated the vision, don’t try to pass it off onto others. I think the President erred in letting others write his signature legislation. He apparently wants it to be his legacy so why would one pass it off to someone else. It is, ultimately, the leader’s responsibility. Make sure those to whom you engage for implementation share your sense of responsibility for it. I wrote about responsibility and accountability but it’s been a few months ago in this blog so it’s good to review it now. Yes, you need others. No, you can’t divorce yourself from the process. The more comprehensive the vision, the more engaged you must be along the way. You absolutely do not want to get to the day of unveiling and have things go catastrophically wrong. Even if you recover, it damages your image as a star thrower. Nothing succeeds like success and nothing stains like the tinge of failure. Lowe’s tried to re-orient the company into a new reliance upon and use of technology. The last I checked it still was not functional even two years after the announced date of implementation. Which brings me to my next point.

4.   Carelessly manage delay or outright failure along the way, it result in a rising tide of cynicism, negativity, and declining employee morale. Refer back to #3. You just can’t turn the key, flip the switch, and expect things to manage themselves. Leadership and management overlap (check out illustration #1). Encourage, admonish, exhort, correct, engage, stay connected.

5.    Don’t walk the talk. This must not become a we vs them situation. You are the visionary head and leading from behind is impossible. Leaders lead.

Illus 1
Illus 1

Eloquence is not enough. There comes a time when you must demonstrate with your life what you’ve said with your mouth.

6.   Don’t change measurement systems. Quantitative measures may not tell everything. Measurement systems benefit your associates and employees and they benefit you, too. Don’t spin numbers and don’t celebrate numbers that have little to do with the changes you want to bring about. Reward and recognize progress towards the vision.

7.    Ignore the challenge of change. Some people react well to change, most don’t. Some are change junkies, they like change all the time and get bored with routine. Most don’t. Expect the challenge of change and deal with it. Don’t even think about trying to squelch it. Suppressing the anxiety, doubt, and dismay of team members does nothing to fix it.

You’re the leader, so lead. It is never a one and done proposition. All day every day, your role varies in three ways. What are they? Check back in on Thursday.

Leadership’s happy family – Vision, strategy, & tactics

basic diagramOne non-profit agency operating in Africa opened restaurants as part of its fund-raising strategy. A charitable organization working on the African continent developed a focused vision and successfully imprinted it upon those who worked in the organization both in the US and in Africa. The board and the organization’s director turned their attention to the pursuit of that vision. They developed comprehensive strategies for pursuing the vision and for funding the project.

Part of the fundraising strategy included operating businesses in the country within which they pursued their charitable work. Some of the businesses they opened are restaurants. The restaurants provided jobs for local residents and profits from them funded the administrative costs of the organization. More than one local business advisor suggested that the restaurants would produce higher revenues if they were less family-oriented (this means that “girls” would be hired to shill for drinks). Since the charity had already defined its values as being wholesome and family-focused, the suggestion was never even considered. It simply did not fit in any way so their response was an easy and simple no.

A defined and articulated vision builds the fences within which your company or organization can range.  Once the vision is in place…and not a moment before it is in place…strategies can be devised and tactics can be implemented.

The qualifier is NOT that it works. The qualifier is that it fits within your strategic plan’s criteria and that it should work.

But it might not. Do not allow you and your company or organization to become inextricably wedded to a tactic. They come and go, work then don’t. The vision is the only constant. Everything else is not.

Churches continually struggle with this but companies do too. We as leaders and managers are always in tension between the forms we’ve inherited and their present viability.

That’s why we need a continuously operating EVALUATION LOOP. See the accompanying diagram. This clearly illustrates the major distinction between leadership and management.

Leaders are primarily (but not exclusively) concerned with the overall direction of the nature of their business. Managers are primarily concerned with the implementation of the strategies and tactics. The best managers are also competent leaders in their own right because they know how to keep people enthused about the job and make productive corrections when they aren’t. The more effectively leaders can imprint vision upon their associates and employees, the more efficiently managers can implement strategies and tactics. Why? Because it makes sense.

The logical connection between all three – vision, strategies, and tactics – builds confidence within those you work with because they come to really believe that you know what you’re doing and you know how to make things happen. No one and I mean no one, responds well to confusion or disconnect between what you say and what you do.

So…don’t allow confusion to enter. Marry the vision to the strategy and raise the children (tactics) in a happy harmonious home.

Step 5 – develop and define tactics

basic diagram strategy tacticsBy now your vision should be defined, focused, and articulated. You should have enough confidence in it that you are able to promote it enthusiastically and unequivocally. Plus, your strategic plan should be taking shape. Based on the vision, your personal and corporate values, and shaped by the marketplace and your constituents, you will have developed an overall plan for reaching the vision.

But how does that happen in real life? What are you going to do today? Most of us have a slate of activities already. We will have inherited forms, systems, procedures, methodology, and products. we should also have inherited the founder’s sense of entrepreneurial adventure.

Sadly, as an organization ages, that sense of adaptability, innovation, and adventure is one of the first things to drop off. The vision first articulated by the founder(s) gave birth to a strategic plan which in turn spawned forms, systems, procedures, methodology, and products. Somewhere over time and somehow in our thinking, those forms, systems, procedures, methodology, and products grew in stature to become who we are as a company.

This is terribly wrong.

Tactics – forms, systems, procedures, methodology, and products – are a means to the end. They are not the purpose for which we exist…although too often we have made them thus. Tactics are:

The means by which a strategy is carried out; planned and ad hoc activities meant to deal with the demands of the moment, and to move from one milestone to other in pursuit of the overall goal(s). In an organization, strategy is decided by the board of directors, and tactics by the department heads for implementation by the junior officers and employees. http://www.businessdictionary.com/definition/tactics.html#ixzz2wDnqP5H4

Tactics take advantage of PRESENT circumstances, exploit present conditions, and pursue opportunity. Sadly, here are five results that are too often realized:

First, because tactics are activities performed almost daily, we tend to measure progress in terms of the amounts of activities we’ve performed and efficiency with which we do them.

Second, they cloud the lack of real progress because we stay busy.

Third, they usually lose their effectiveness over time. Check out Geico’s “15 minutes or less” commercials and notice how they’ve changed them. They now acknowledge that “everybody knows that” and inject a humorous side to the conversation. Keeping things fresh is one of the biggest challenges.

Fourth, tactics can be worshipped aver everything else. We do them every day, we count them, report on them, laud them, track them, eulogize them, focus almost entirely upon them. They become the focal point of our existence. Notice my use of the expression “focal point.” What should be the focal point of our company or organization?

That’s right. The vision!

Instead it’s the tasks that fill the day which intrude upon the conscience and become objects of adulation and esteem.

Fifth, we can literally love them to death. We can be so enamored with our efficiency and quantitative measures that we neglect to determine if they are really getting us where we need to go. Read results one through four again.

So, what do we need to do? How do we need to respond? I’ll tell you on Thursday (and fill on those blank spots in the diagram).