June 2013


ImageI think back to a course I took in college simply called “Introduction to Systems”.  With great expectations I imagined a program that would take some 5 years of field experience and round out my understanding about the topic and add some contextual perspective to my exposure.  It seems that my quote that “expectations is the road to disappointment” is quite true.  What I ended up with was a more global thinking on how various systems interplay.  My post class opinion was that it was a big waste of time, energy and value.  Some 30 years later I now understand, appreciate, apply and have drawn my own perspectives on the topic.

All activities whether involving technology, business or human existence is surround and involves systems.  Some are manual, others are fully or partially automated.  They are share one common element and that is precision (tolerable level mainstream management while succumbing to non-mainstream exclusion).  How we detect, treat, control and manage the exceptions plays a significant role in future system maturing.

What Do YOU Want?

ImageThe key word is “Requirements” but in using such a simple self-defining word we introduce risk.  We have a tendency to think in singular terms and fail to consider the multitude of other contributors to the specific “system” solution that sits on our project to-do table.  This system is often the melding of technology and manual participants.  It’s present state the culmination of years of change, some to address new opportunities and external mandates and others addressing delivery issues (often thought of as errors or bugs).

Each and everyday we are need of change.   These systems we have concocted involve various stake holders and constituents.  Many think that we have a single person, often the funding source or primary users, and that is all it takes to produce system solutions.  Far be it to consider other stakeholders who may be responsible for adjoining/interconnection systems.  Far be it that we overlook that there are solution providers, such as information technology or service contract company (aka outsourcer), who is likewise needing to be taken into consideration.  The real issue behind requirements issues include a failure to,

  • Include and address other involved parties,
  • Have sufficient regular experience (when you have this you need help),
  • Use means and models to lower omission risk,
  • Employ ‘clear thinking/green field’ approach (our rush to solutions places us asking what we had only with a bit of a face lift),
  • Think in the long term but define in the near term requirements that are impervious to change not the whipping post to common conditions,
  • Understand what is needed, what is nice to have and what is simply a big wish, and
  • Understand the importance of roles in defining what you what.

I’m NOT a Big Fan

ImageCall me different but I get turned over by thinking that one size fits all.  Whether it be a horizontal solution (usually driven by functions such as accounting, finance, procurement…) or vertical discipline (pharmaceutical, manufacturing, commerce, logistics…) you can try to make that size 10 foot fit into that size 8 shoe but it will be painful and will often require modifications that will be clearly visible.  Not to mention it will be felt throughout the life of the system solution.  We all know that we seldom see systems go away.  If anything they endure the test of time, albeit often ungracefully, and there often times that it would have far better if we cut our loses and moved on.  Some while back I wrote about the durability of applications which follow a very similar life pattern to individuals.  They progress from conception to elder years with all of the stages and characteristics of humans.  Some reach old age, into senility while the organization remains committed to keeping it on life support.  When this occurs a red flag needs to be raised because we are placing business values at risk.  These will often include customer service, efficiency, accuracy, timeliness and the all important increase in service costs.  So why do we keep the albatross afloat when its terminal?  Simply… the belief that a system is perpetual.  I can’t think of many things in life that last forever, when used, without a need for replacement.  The few often were engineered with change in mind and permitted element replacement will retaining the design.  It should be pointed out that from a general system perspective that design endures time much better than implementation (aka detail design).

Let Me Revert

ImageGetting what YOU want is a personal issue.  It makes use of your education, experience, exposure to those non-mainstream occurrences, understanding of risk and constituent systems and most importantly free/clear thinking without prejudice to the ‘how’ (unless absolutely necessary).

I’m not a big fan of written, book form, requirements.  They are difficult to use, analyze, maintain and are highly inflexible.  At the same time they will be required for a vast variety of purposes (internal control, future maintenance, training, study/analysis, etc.).  I am a big fan of facilitated story boarding.  This involves a series of facilitated free thinking sessions each geared to eek out requirements.  In complex and/or broad system situations there will be a need for multiple group meetings (culminating in a combined familiarization and closure meeting) and the use of tools such as ‘focus sessions’ and preparatory reverse engineering input.  Don’t overlook open issues as a part of these solutioning sessions, Issues point to unresolved matters and areas where complexity (sometimes ‘rightness’ comes into question).

You can achieve quality requirement generation results in 10 hours.  This is hard to believe for many since it is often a journey that is much much longer, seems to never quite settle down and becomes a nightmare to maintain.  Behavior is often linked to group debate and contention, ever changing ‘rightness’ in terms of needs and value, and the general inability to digest a substantial specification (let alone measure coherency and completeness).  The use of story boards make visible requirements, needs and thoughts.  One needs to avoid subjecting them to critical evaluation until they are considered complete enough to proceed further.  At that point discussions can take place, risk and effort can be considered, merits can be examined and delivery scheduling and be undertaken.  We want to make absolutely sure that we don’t start shooting down someone else’s ideas until we have get all of our thoughts out on the table.  Furthermore the needs are based on merit and not based on whether someone has a bigger stake or not.  What might seem trivial to you may be absolutely needed by the other party… be responsible enough to consider this factor.

Conclusion

ImageObviously there are allot of other things to consider when dealing with requirements (or needs).  Trace-ability, test-ability, segmenting epics/sagas, estimating effort, engineering a total solution (whether a piece or the whole) and maintaining control over change.  Change is our enemy if we fail to manage it but at the same time change can keep our business in the game.

A solution is the end to a vision and not the glory of accomplishment.  System solutions is about achieving goals that are important and doing so in a complete solution fashion (without one sided prejudice).

ImageI remember as a small boy that I had a personal fascination with knowledge.  Sure I had all of those childhood outlets of play and imagining various roles that one could work towards.  My earliest interest was during a TV program that was talking about books and how a person never could read every possible book created.  While it never entered my mind that it was something to be challenged it did establish a strong foothold on the need to acquire as much pertinent knowledge as possible.

Yesterday

ImagePre-historically primitive human beings resort to simple grunts to communicate.  Cave drawings immortalized events, some memorable and others were simply a chronicle about everyday life.  The appearance of the written text occurred approximate 26/27 BC and was used to tell the story behind the illustration.  Written text cause the need for reading literacy in order to be appreciative of the information being communicated.  Since that time we have been overwhelmed with the creation of text based information.  Most is accurate but there is always a bit that is based on personal conjecture and opinion.  But the skill in reading, understanding the fundamentals and discussions amongst your contemporaries will help you to develop your position (which in an of itself may or may not be factual).

I share this bit of history because if we give important consideration to whether we have come full circle in our development.  In developing nations the quest for literacy can be quite strong but barriers cause attainment to become unattainable.  Yet in nations in with a fairly normal literacy level (although in many it has been on the decline) we are finding that reading has give way to pictures, presentations (YouTube, webinars and brief snip-its on social networks).  Some would argue that this is the result is a decline in print readership as a result of information accessible via the internet.  But what we have is not about the media that the information is being delivered on but the fact that society has become attracted to what is easy, imparts quickly and may not necessarily develop the endurance to read in total on a particular subject (or topic).  Yes, there are exceptions but the viewpoints put forth are about general trends and behavior.

Stock excuses about time, effort and need for instantaneous gratification have all been voiced and used as a catalyst for present day communication outlets.  But what isn’t discussed is about the downside issues of a reliance in these channels and what they don’t provide that print (or even electronic) writing do.  For me its a bit ironic and also a bit challenging to even write about this topic since its has a strong likelihood of being read.  Maybe I should have resorted to a YouTube with a allot of attraction and entertainment value, and limit the topic to only one stimulating concept.  Possibly a webinar although I doubt that anyone would want to listen to a topic about a catalyst for learning and knowledge.  In short, imparting this information is like early humans… we need to do it with pictures.  We need to spark the interest and create the desire to go the next step (possibly with illustrating that you have just started the journey, sort of like being at level 1 in a video game).

Today

ImageKnowing that we are in a place with we have advanced yet we are reverting back toward primitive communication forms (albeit using modern technology…. the social networks becoming our cave drawings) one must ask what is causing this?  Sure we are in a very demanding, rapidly changing world that has numerous complexities.  Many of these are the direct result of our access to information, both good and bad.  But systemically our interest in all of this is dependent upon two factors; early childhood development and adult interest creation.  Families, education system and societies carry a tremendous amount of influence on the outcome of children who later become results.  They are shaped from their experiences and the way we set the stage about learning.  When given the comparison of being told vs. self-exploration almost every child will choose the latter because children are naturally curious.  Where we have gone terribly wrong is that while there is a time for principal introduction and understanding we have opted to almost totally abandoned creativity and exploration.  I suspect that possibly this is out of fear in losing control.  When you hold the key to knowledge you can control behavior, but when you share the key with others you must relinquish that control (and become a mentor and frankly many are fearful about their abilities).  Let it be know that its okay to not know, its okay not to have an answer but you can and should be capable of leading in their quest for knowledge.  It should also be made very clear that society, as a whole and inclusive of parents and community, must take an active interest in promoting learning.  All too often it is far too easy to give way to entertainment sources, thinking they need cool down time, then to build a fortitude and commitment to making learning a life long ambition.  Sure you can and should have downtime but not as the sole outlet.  When was the last time you heard of recreational reading (other than from adults)?

Immersion in Never-Never Land

ImageImagination and innovation aren’t teachable, they are virtues that demand amplification through knowledge interest.  Even without hidden virtues one can develop a level in which the interest can be explored AND enjoyed.  When was the last time you heard someone say, “I love learning?:   Yes, quite a rarity and one that when heard is often prefaced with some reason why it was being done.  Simply learning and exploring is freeing.  One doesn’t need to worry about winning, losing or achieving its simply equipping you with new things, and everyone loves new things.  Every study has shown a decline in reading for our youth as they mature, and yet an increase in adult reading.  Possibly its the message or the way in which reading and knowledge is imparted.  As for adults, we ready out of necessity to be a part of a knowledge based society and not in the dark corner of illiteracy.

In Search of the Origin of Life

ImageAside from adults reading to be a part of a productive literate society adults read to seek answers.  Maybe its about advancement in career, learning how to resolve a failing marriage or learning about a new technology relative to your work.  We read out of necessity (and yes there are some who don’t ready and expect knowledge to be spoon fed though instantaneous channels).  My fear however is that selective reading may lead us to selective knowledge and intelligence.  We get part of the answer, possibly the most popular one, but fail to have a full enough perspective to discern the true reality.  Time and time again we have seen that as a person moves up the corporate ladder that they reading behavior changes.  It follows an all to familiar pattern of the children reading patterns.  What starts off in grade school with much zeal and interest deteriorates so by the time they graduate they are hardly putting any effort into both necessary academic reading and recreational types.

Third-Eye Challenge

ImageWith a very large social connections and an even larger viral network I offer up the challenge to prove my point.  Here is the case…

If you are in management, either by title and/or responsibility, do you read regularly about your area of expertise?

Assuming that the readership of this blog entry, via these social networks, is effective I should receive tens of thousands of acknowledgements (I will post the results in a future addendum to this posting).  I have done similar studies before in this area and have found that the readership is miserable at best.  One could argue that its the outlet, network or possibly the topic but are the retorts plausible…. I don’t think so!  I think its more the case about reading in general.  We suffer under the belief that we command an expert level of knowledge and as a result there isn’t much more we can learn.  Likewise we suffer under the misunderstanding that related topics bear any applicability to the knowledge area we are responsible for.  But more concerning is that if in fact we are these knowledge brokers why aren’t we communicating and sharing this with others?  Is it a lack of communication (writing confidence) ability or have we relied on simply thinking that we haven’t the time.  The last time I checked time remains the same but what has changed has been how we use it.  I asked my children to share how they spend their 24 hours.  This was eye opening for them when they saw how much time was spent on eating, sleeping and recreating AND how little time was spent on knowledge development.  Did it change their behavior and my tact in guiding them… absolutely.  The cats are easier to herd when there is awareness and less so when its barking out commands to go left or to go right.  Time will tell whether it will endure, become habitual and whether changes need to be made to stimulate interest (but that is my challenge and thank goodness I’m interested enough to become KNOWLEDGEABLE)!

Fundamental Change

The solution is quite easy…. Just DO IT!  Implementation is a totally different matter.  Allow me to offer some suggestions.

  1. EncouImagerage learning set in an atmosphere surround with purpose, curiosity, quest and simple enjoyment.  De-emphasize that a test or a grade is in any shape form or fashio
  2. n a measure of knowledge (it is not it measures ability to remember and often lacks in the ability to gauge application).
  3. Set and be an example.
  4. Make resources available.
  5. Set challenges and topics for mutual exploration (a project approach).
  6. As business leaders face the realization that you don’t know it all, that you shouldn’t place all of the reliance on others and that you can fool you way through your professional career by discounting what you haven’t taken the time to understand.  I apologize if you are hurt or offend my these direct comments but I am telling you for your own personal and professional benefit.  Wake up and realize that when you ready with the intent of acquiring knowledge it can be quite refreshing and freeing.
  7. Use our instantaneous sugar rush from quick outlets to supplement a knowledge base.  They seldom can be a comprehensive source even when there are a few pieces of credible topical offerings.

We should be striving for knowledge whether we are poor or rich, deprived or gifted, smart or not so smart all because its FREE and accessible.  Developing nations are spending hundreds of millions on infrastructure and outlet development to provide access (while others are trying to deprive their citizens because knowledge is a mighty sword).  Make the effort today and everyday to learn and read anything that you can put your eyes to.  Learn how to discern and to quickly scan information to build up a base to work from.  We are at no other time in global history where we need to be wiser, smarter, creative and well informed.  Without this and the deterioration of knowledge development we are destine to suffer a fate that many of us, and generations to come, will possibly not be able to endure.

Image

No strategy can ever be accomplished with specific details on HOW they will be undertaken.  As many know this is what you call tactics.  Its the tricks, approach, resources and measures taken to achieve specific strategic objective(s).  Yes, tactics can and often contribute to the benefit of multiple strategic objectives.  Crafted by experts from various segments of the business they put together a program that will in combination move the chess piece one square forward in accomplishing goals.  You would think that something produced by experts, tied to goals and supported by the most senior of management would achieve success with a high degree of certainty (even despite influences outside of your direct control).  Yet time and time again the tactics being used  have issues.  Let us explore some of these in the upcoming sections.

Evil Tactics

ImageBusiness is both externally as well as internally competitive.  I once made the comment to a Fortune 50 company that his competition wasn’t really the guy across the street but the internal turmoil that was within the company itself.  People vieing for stature, stability, upward mobility will go to great lengths to achieve their goals, often at the expense of others.  This is quite dismissed as the normal course of business.  But should it be tolerated or should a change in the direction of cohesiveness occur?  I’m sure we have all seen the destructive nature of this behavior where back office support is dismissed as a contributor and the front line marketing publicity efforts are considered the savior of all.  The fact…. you need a complete cohesive solution and not worry or measure contributory value.  The mouth and the brain will fail to be of value, although they are the most prominent, if something as simple as the pancreas fails to produce enzymes.

In similar ways tactical plans and programs suffer from an affliction like strategies, the are too dependent upon form and lack in sufficient content.  But in addition tactics tend to have the potential for misunderstanding what the strategic goals are.  So imagine, if you will, a goal of building a viral social following and having a tactical plan that depends only on social networks.  Yet the social following that is being sought does not use social networks as the medium for connecting with your business.  While it achieved its own tactical purpose it failed to fulfill the ambitions of the strategy.  Also as mentioned earlier tactics have the potential of serving multiple strategic goals but this can also be a problem.  This is especially true when clarity, consistency and stakeholder cohesion is not taking place.  A great tactic, with the right timing and supported with proper resources can fail despite having sufficient capabilities.

The Skinny

ImageLike Russian nesting dolls there may be many levels of tactical details.  Each reaching out to another level of the organization in order to create the machinery necessary to achieve goals.  Tactics involve operations, administrative and promotional segments of the business  and must be coordinated and actively monitored for cohesion.  Just like a well oiled machine how well these mesh together will determine both durability and efficiency.  Beware however that some believe that tactical plans are something that you implement on top of your business and not embed into it.  This is wrong, should be avoided and will result in more costs and higher risks.  In large part this is the result of creating a vaneer of tactic focused behavior on top of a business which is already operating with a modest amount of efficiency.  An example that is quite similar is the addition of new taxes which then have to be either embedded on top of existing tax handling mechanics or a separate process be implemented to address the new additional tax.

Tactical plans often align with the various structures of the business.  Marketing, sales, operations, administration, procurement and so forth. Its easier that way because governance ownership is much easier to implement.  But its also easier to provide oversight monitoring and make appropriate alterations to the tactics then to be bound to ones in which a legion of cross business sections need to give their blessing to.  So in lies yet another issue to be aware of, despite tactical plan independence one must coordinate changes and observations to their fellow tactical administrators.  If you observe a difference in customer behavior then it should be communicated across the organization.  Barriers should be removed as much as practical and possible to foster the free flow of information.

Tactical plans involve resources, funding, measures (aka metrics) and contributory connection.  No tactic is and of itself an island, it must be of business value AND must without exception coordinate with two or more other tactical plans.

In most organizations the process of tactical planning isn’t all that new.  In fact we have seen a consistent and continued improvement in the development of tactics of businesses (both big and small).  What we have not seen is tactics that are aggressively monitored, pre-tested (or at minimum reviewed impartially), barriers that remain in place and a bit of confusion about its connected

Vogue Authentication

ImageAs mentioned previously almost all organizations have some rudimentary experience in crafting tactical plans.  In doing so there is a temptation to employ vogue technologies and while they may be beneficial there is also the strong possibility that they be ill times, not applicable and possible introduce failure risk potential because we lack experience in utilizing them.  Some present day examples include cloud computing, social network engineering, big data analysis repositories, advance logistics handling and statistical quality control measures.  These are all valid, appropriate and potentially useful but like any technology tools they must be applied as a controllable solution and not an adoption based on popularity.  It a bit of a no brainer but if it was that straight forward companies would not be gambling the attainment of strategic goals in favor of being one of the early adopters into an environment that hasn’t the capacity to properly administer them.  Lets consider that we plan to take the leap of faith we must be prepared with capabilities and capacity to carry out the tactics and support these elements.  While one can always go outside the company to utilize skilled talent we need, as a secondary measure, to be able to carry the baton for ourselves.  It is of no value to lay blame on a contractor who fails when it was, and always is, our decision on how matters will be carried out.  Dependency based tactics with a heavy reliance on external services is dangerous.  The number of risks goes up considerably and despite the blame being placed on the contractor the fact remains… the tactic has failed and so has the potential for the strategic goals to fail as well.  Failure isn’t an option that we can accept if measures can be taken to avoid them in the first place by using appropriate measures of precaution.

It would be remiss to not mention internal controls, those checks and balances, used to foster operational integrity.  Whether its for coordination of efforts or the management of reporting internal controls are essential BUT they come at a cost in terms of operational efficiency and monetarily.

Vertical Tactics

ImageWhen we think of tactics we must give consideration to their cycle of change.  While revisited on a regular ongoing basis they often have overall durability in the neighborhood of 12-18 months.  The consistency of tactical plans strongly encourages a 12 month rolling cycle in order that we don’t have that bit of jerky stop-and-start taking place.  I think most would agree that in the context of the present day business cycle that would be just about as long as one might tolerate before a reshaping needs to occur.  It will be more often the case that tactical adjustment will be imposed not through self-awareness but as a result of strategic adjustments coming from above.  But should the tactic require change it must be communicated horizontally across the other tactical participants and vertically to those governing the company’s strategy.

The complexity of tactical planning should not be underestimated.  Factors involving,

  • cultural silos,
  • cross organizational structure,
  • international divisions,
  • product/service line integration and
  • turf governance

are all major substantial influences on the development, delivery, implementation, monitoring and adjustment to tactical plans (along with modifications made to the tapestry of strategic goals).

Conclusion

ImageMuch more can be said about tactical planning.  Some that is directly related to innovative tactical development while others that are more driven my external influences coming from the market (and possibly regulatory bodies).  It is my hope that this has provided a foundational starting point and that further discussions will help increase ones awareness that tactical plans are essential for strategic business success.

ImageI have had a number of my clients ask, “what is my captivation with strategies?”.  What sparks my interest is the sheer power of strategies.  Apply the right mix of experience, study and goal setting and you have magic.  Make it an exercise driven by ego, historical opinion and convoluted expectations the results will speak for themselves.

Nearly three decades ago, and four successful startups, I base what I am about to say on the results that I have personally felt.  Whether the enterprise was acquired, parted out (sold in pieces of intellectual property) or served as a catalyst of change the strategy was my God send time and time again.  I also learned that a man is not an island to have a strategy that has even the slightest chance for success requires many external inputs.  Whether these come from people or from studies or from even simple legitimacy tests it is an essential part of developing sound strategic thinking.

The Wall of Resistance

ImageThere are allot of reasons why barriers get created.  In the context of strategic thinking its the general impression that they have to be closely guarded secrets.  Normally this is the result of having shallow expectations.  Evidence of this is carried out when your competition operates with the opinion that they command the market and that your presence is inconsequential.  What they maybe don’t know is that your strategic positioning is exactly why you have chosen an approach which creates separation.  Separation is important to avoid comparison and to generate curiosity.  So while they go about thumping their chest and expounding on their invaluable virtues you are rapidly capturing market.  How can this happen?  Think about the cycle of inquiries from would-be clients.  They start out talking to the brand leaders (yes, some stop here because they only want to relate on the basis of brand equality of them vs. you) but soon discover that the fit may not be exactly right, the price may be a bit more than you view the value to be and honestly you are still left with far too many questions.

Strategy Value

ImageA strategy forces us to think, writing it down demands more questions and opportunities to be revealed.  The real objective behind a strategy is to achieve a goal and for most businesses that about revenue generation (benevolent institutions measure it slightly different with it based on social impact).  Temptation will want us to start talking about “how” we think this can be done before we have determined “what” we want to have happen.

The GIVEN

ImageIt is partial correct in thinking that history will shape the strategy illustration.  We can overlook past history, successes, failures and the key elements that precipitated the behavior.  HOWEVER, strategies are naturally flawed by human behavior.  The strategic team is high powered, ego driven, experienced and at times quite self-righteous.  You can’t and should not think that this can be abolished…. I assure you it can’t.  So what needs to be done is to channel this energy in such a way that it will produce excellence in results.  Some have tried to relate the strategy to outcome rewards and unfortunately a chaotic self-defeating environment gets created.  This energy needs to be directed, it needs a means by which that plausible consideration is generated and a means to reduce the over use of old policy to generate new outcomes.  Albert Einstein said that the definition of insanity was “doing the same thing over again and expecting different results” yet this has become a false belief that we in business make time and time again.

A Hammer Is Not A Screwdriver

ImageMy dad was a great man.  He taught me allot in many unknowing ways.  His love for tools and carpentry was beyond description but unfortunately his mastery was rudimentary at best.  What made his crude works so wonderful was the passion and ability to produce an outcome.  He learned from his mistakes, understood his limitations and was committed to producing despite his inability to achieve excellence.  Some might say he should have given up, others might suggest skill training and very few suggested that he should continue to enjoy his hobby.  I always think of my dad when he would say that any screw can be put into a piece of wood using a hammer but it unlikely that it can be removed with one.

Strategies have become allot like a hammer.  We bash objectives into the organization and force them into compliant submission.  Yet our ability to adjust and adapt to changing conditions sets us on a path that creates governance, compliance and achievement.

As mentioned earlier a strategy in the simplest sense is about achieve financial (or benevolence) performance.  Everything that the strategy involves works towards this overarching goal.  So what are the drivers that a strategy has.   Here is the secret sauce behind achieving this lead goal.

  1. Offerings
  2. Markets
  3. Customer Care (loyalty management)
  4. Infrastructure (supporting strategic initiatives)
  5. Social Contribution

Each thing we decide upon must address these five fundamental conditions.  If we decide on introducing an offering we must address the other four conditions.  If we focus on creating a relationship with a specific segment of the consumer society we need to invoke the other aspects as well, and so on.  To add reality to each of these five areas is where the elements of experience, opinion, analysis and even debate come into play.  Sequestered strategy development may be productive but is often challenged by the lack of objectivity.  Whether this be the result of egos, position dominance or simply being too close to everyday business dealings an objective and unbiased sounding board should not be overlooked.  No, this isn’t about pitching business this is about creating value benefit.  I learned all too well that great ideas in your mind aren’t necessarily the will of the market.  Thus the ability to generate revenues will fall short of expectations, even with a wonderful offering.

We mustn’t overlook risks, outside influences and inhibitors as we contemplate and develop strategies.  These will profoundly influence what gets moved into our goals and what remain back on the bucket list of potential future goal setting ideas.  For example, a specific offering might be ideal for a particular market but present regulations (or public sentiment about your company) may make the timing less than ideal.  While it might be viewed as ‘dead’ at this juncture it may be an area for future consideration (possibly after an aggressive publicity campaign) or simply the approach that is borne out in a tactic may be a safer albeit longer route that needs to be followed.

Not For Everyone?

ImageOver the last four decades I have deal with numerous companies in all shapes, sizes, and with varying global footprints.  Some are into the whole strategy development and ongoing evaluation modeling (some even using us to monitor both the strategy and changing conditions so they can focus on operational delivery) while others feel that the strategy simply means selling.  Unfortunately without vision, without a modest amount of formalization a simplistic vision may never be realized.  Should it become so, if by chance, then the lack of vision inhibits the development of the business.  Some write this off to growing pains and mid-life crisis, its really because of a lack of strategic visioning.  Every enterprise that is serious about what they do, what they simplistically wish to achieve needs to debate the question about strategy and do so in a formal, determined and pragmatic fashion.

Why oh Why???

ImageSo as you read these points we ask ourselves the question as to why strategic thinking and development is apt to change?  I attribute it to the participants.  Because of position, experience and success record there is a pervasive belief that its not required for them.  They believe that their personal virtues will carry them through and this makes them business leaders.  In all fairness they are partially correct, they can and will be the catalyst behind results.  At the sametime they are also have to respect that they are the benefactors for failures and oversights that occur as a result not being fully equipped for the task of strategy development.  Let’s face it a strategy is not done everyday and therefore the ability to take the task and make it a craft becomes a problem.  The problem is however affordably solvable based on one simple premise, “Right strategic thinking afford the greatest potential for success”.

Image

ImageI have become somewhat fascinated by the game of Texas Holdem, not because of the winning or losing but the betting, gambling and general human response to the game.  Even a fairly good winning hand is no match to a bully with lots of chips that can out bid you.  In doing so they never lose it all but may give way to a mere token of benevolence for the pure sake of the game.  At the same time there are numerous players coming and going.  Each taking their turn to throw it all in to give chance to Lady Luck.

Businesses, despite serious disbelief, is allot like Texas Holdem.  Being a company with a small footprint, even with a winning hand, can be subjected to betting ridicule.  Sometimes to test the intestinal endurance of the business while at other times to get a gauge on your virtues.  Once final measured, and a bit of dynamic change, the dominant players go for blood.  It is then your turn to see if you wish to go all in, possible through a head-to-end competition (meaning you play conservative but definitively or you throw all in with the acceptance of a buyout).  Keep in mind that as you strategize and mature your business play that it is equally important to get a gauge on your fellow card playing competitions.  They aren’t without faults, habits, quirks and similar behavioral traits that make them vulnerable.  No single person, even Jimmy the Greek, was immune from fate and failure.

ImageEndurance is important, effort is essential and confidence in your mission is without question.  You may loose, you may find your resources diminished but having a focused strategy will provide the necessary fuel to recover.  After countless hours of observation, testing the concepts and seeing the reaction you will discover that there are limits to success.  Sometimes it is in the capacity that your have (or in cards the pot that you have), other times it focus without distractions and often our enemy is the ability to see all of the possible winning hands that we have not considered.  It’s like focusing on your winning full house (comprise of three/two combinations of similar cards) and failing to acknowledge that your competition is holding a better hand (possible four of one kind).  Sometimes you can get telltale hints from the behavior of the competition, sometimes you have to observe their customary behavior over a much larger timeframe.

When I hear…

Strategy development is not just a matter of creating a list of goals.  Its all about a program that will achieving success (or winning in the case of cards).  You should expect a period that involves observation, study and behavioral reaction.  It will also include the commitment to an approach, the monitoring of that approach and a willingness to make changes when it appears that things are not transpiring as we might have expected.

Many companies are completely satisfied with a safe hand (usually two pair) and fail to realize that there are at least seven other winning possibilities out of a total of ten possible winning hands.  I dare say that playing things conservatively can not only get you lulled into a sense of false security but it can also make you a bit reckless when it comes to betting the future of the business.  Again I reiterate that business is about a gamble, it involves capitalization, strategy, gamesmanship, vigilant student of changing conditions and a willingness to take some risks when the odds are definitely in your favor.

Looking about the landscape of business tough economic times brings out the good and bad in people.  Most opt to only bet on what is perceived as winning hands and fail to cease the opportunities that are before them (even when they are strong odds in their favor).  Others will throw caution to the wind, often looking for pat answers, only to realize that if these were in fact available that all of the astute would be employing them for immediate success.

Achieving that pot of gold will take time.  Don’t expect that a mere sprinkling of a few chips on the business game table will produce immediate success.  If left to Lady Luck we might even fall prone to making reckless decisions that can result in bankruptcy.  Those that do this have lay to waste effort that could have been converted but now face the more humiliating liquidiation.

Image

Yes, Business is allot like cards in capitalization, strategy, risk and human behavior.  I wonder…. has our business leaders been playing the game but failing to understand what it takes to win?

ImageThe ‘A-Team’ (no not the TV  of the 1980s) is the envy of most kids in school.  They are the ones who are the sports heros, cheerleaders and generally popular segment.  While the ‘A -Team’ is in the limelight the rest of the school community moves on with surviving.  Whether this means not being on the receiving end of bullying or simply carving out their own unique sub-culture (like the Nerds) it is nonetheless individuals striving to survive.  Its not easy for a young person to shift focus from being a part or not necessarily having outward traits that make them popular to one where its coming more from the soul.  We have all seen many who resort to outlandish behavior like being the ‘class clown’ to those achieving ‘academic excellence’.  But given that both of these require a certain level of talent it still leaves us with a relatively large group still struggling to just survive.

Fast Forward

ImageGraduation is a welcome relief for many.  No longer beset with possibly years of peer pressure we have the opportunity to start anew.  Those on the ‘A-team’ start to appreciate that becoming a member of society won’t bring them the accolades that had and now seek. Some will move on and flourish in their own small circle of self-acclaimed club.  Often members will feed off the success of others because their have yet to develop the sense of survival, creativity and humility necessary to become effective contributors to society.  Those that are successful realize that bring along the troupe is excess baggage.  Others who have overcome personal hardship, despite their popularity, quickly adapt because the are able to respond humbly and develop an understanding for the rest of society.  The others will struggle with depression, confusion, indecision, wanderlust and even more damaging solutions that destroy not only themselves but those around them.

Business Bullies

ImageProbably the most dangerous beasts on the earth are the ‘business bully’.  Members of the ‘A-Team’ who are there, possibly with money, are privileged to named universities and contacts that are often outside of the reach for the rest of us.  The parents may have even been ‘A-Teamers’ who are passing the behavior on to the offspring.  Leaving university they are given channels of opportunity those this privileged network and their careers are on the way.  Yet they are immature in their understanding of real survival, innovation, compassion, humility and drive for the benefit of those (other than themselves.  If you have ever been in meetings with these individuals they use their power like a knife.  The swing it around the room looking to show their strength, power and flaccid ignorance.  Our first reaction to revert back to our early year behavior… retract and accept.  But is that the right thing to do?  It does provide us with breathing room to contemplate an approach in dealing with these sorts of individuals.  Remember allot of the ‘A-Team’ has to do with ego, so we need to feed but not encourage this.  We need to quickly establish HOW we can help continue with their success but also make them clearly understand without you this cannot take place in a definitively certain way.  Sure there may be others who can help to bolster their facade, just like the class clowns, but this program of success can continue for a certain amount of time.  There are numerous stories of rise to fail examples in which the ‘A Team’ become non-existent.  For example, numerous times parents who have built successful businesses that are then passed on to their children find them driving it into the ground.  Its no longer a case of popularity its a case of understanding those core principals that everyone else has had to rely upon (survival, creativity, innovation, knowledge, sensitivity).

Parenthetically, planning often follows a quite similar pattern in terms of durable and achievable success.  As we all know, mission critical planning commands the need for a backup plan (called ‘Plan B’ and our primary one ‘Plan A’.  We often encounter that our primary plan needs to shift to our ‘Plan B’, but why?  They suffer from a lack of reality, a lack of universal endorsement and in general allot about form but not about substance.  ‘Plan B’ because it is the safety net focuses on the depth of content and the appreciation of  the unknowns.

The Hidden Society

ImageLet us be careful to realize that there are people within the ‘non-A Team’ that can be afflicted with the ‘want to be disease’.  We have all had it, we seek and relish the endearment of the ‘A-Team’.  Even the slightest entry opportunity becomes an ambition to do most anything to become a part of this elite group.  We all learn much later that this is a bit ridiculous and that we should simply be ourselves and that our true values are etched in our heart and not in the acclaim of others.

Everyone should have aspirations, they drive our efforts.  In doing so we have to channel our energies towards their goals but realize that 80% rests in your hands and 20% rests, not with people, but with the nobility of the effort.  If its all about you ongoing success and mental contentment will not be achieved… this is FACT and not conjecture.  You may get that job promotion but are your really ready for it or have you just painted yourself into a situation that will either require more work or is doomed for failure?

Epilog

ImageOn a personal note I always wanted to be an ‘A-Team’ member.  Connection and endearment would have been automatic, and all of this would have created a perceived level of endowed opportunity.  But this wasn’t the case… I was a ‘B-Teamer’.  I came to realize this and I later learned to really appreciate my achievements but also better understand my shortcomings.  It permitted me to have determination, commitment, humility, innovative thinking and drive in achieving solution results.   I think as parents we also are able to help our offspring to understand real values vs. artificial (often instantaneous gratification) ones.  As business owners, entrepreneurs, serial innovators and employees the ‘B-Team’ is the backbone of the corporate movement.  Sure we may find those ‘A-Team’ individuals still basking in the glories of years past, wielding the sword of supremacy, but our shield is within us.  Reality TV feeds off the ‘A-Team’, you hear people expound on what they will do, how they will win and bash everyone around them.  Often the case they are the ones who are looked upon as the fools when the ‘B-Team’ person achieves the prized goal.  So in closing just simply be yourself and work hard to develop what really matters on the inside and not on the outside.

ImageTradition and common practice don’t always get revisited often enough.  The purchase of services, especially outside of our home nation, introduces risks.  Most of the time we evaluate suppliers based on their abilities and at the same time may give some consideration to risks involving the nation (IPR, Legal System, Corruption Index, Social Strife/Stability and Environmental).  Consistent and comprehensive pragmatic evaluation is important to elevating our understanding of risk, deciphering the impact and taking proper precautions to reduce the impact that the risk might present.

2013 we live in a world of turmoil, social flareups that can occur at a moments notice and the never ending conflict between nations whether on the basis of territorial boundaries or religious beliefs.  What can keep committed conflict from rising up is military strength.  The Military Factory Network produces a list of 68 countries and their military strength http://www.globalfirepower.com/countries-listing.asp).   This list can be extremely useful in understanding where your sourcing destination ranks, what nations are above you (and which are your neighbors) and what kinds of relationship status do you have with them.  When we place this information in the context of present day events we can see quickly put your serviced operation or captive at risk.  Its important that outside of Europe and the U.S. which enjoy relative social stability and good relationships with their neighbor the rest of the world is bit less stable.  The risk is real, it is evident in spats between regional nations (diplomatically and in small episodes) and the level of engagement is predicated on general sentiment.

By Example

Let’s take a look at some of the nation rankings of military strength within the Asia Region.Image

The table brings up some interesting considerations.  Take for example Singapore which is the lowest amongst all ASEAN countries and yet there is significant capital investment in Singapore (captive operations).  The Philippines has conflicts over the Spratly Island and  Scarborough Shoal with China, Sulu fighting in Southern Malaysia and the most recent shooting of a Taiwanese fishermen over territorial water dispute and

Image

yet they are a dominant BPO player with a ranking of 31 (with only Malaysia and Singapore with lower military strength).  It raises the question of potential conflict between neighboring nations, who possibly often have a history of disputes and whether the potential increases as commerce becomes the prize?  Especially in Asia honor and face is very important, and uprising occur because of it.

What’s At Stake?

As a consumer you are caught in the crosshairs.  There are reasons when you don’t need to be too concerned.  When the,

  • service is non-critical,
  • relationship engagement is short term or a single event, or
  • service is easily shifted to alternate suppliers with a minimum of effort.

Aside from these three (3) situations your relationship has risk consequences as it pertains to military strength, regional stability and the harmony of the nation with its neighbors.  I bring these matters up as a matter of awareness and not to create hysteria.  But as we have seen in the last 5 years harmony can easily be shattered with a single act which then ignites a full on conflict.  The opinions of the Global community greatly influence the suppression of conflict, but it goes without saying that Western diplomacy has become less and less effective due in large part to regional awareness.

The more deeply vested you are in a country or a region the more that is risk to loss or significant disruption.  Chains of communication, commerce and utilities are always the first order of attack.  It bring paralysis to fighting forces, to civilian populations and also to your front line work that you have placed in these nations.  There is also the potential for the loss of information that is harbored in these locations, a disruption to service to you and your customers, and possible could pose a breach in security over sensitive information.  In short… even the most casual relationship can be in harms way and you didn’t even realize it because all was good in the social climate and we failed to recognized the importance of military strength.

ImageMissing something is understandable but dismissing possible risk, and everything is possible today, will result in sever3 impact to your business.

Next Page »