Archive for the ‘Strategy’ Category

The One-Page Strategic Plan

Wednesday, December 26th, 2012

I’ve read that somewhere close to 80 percent of strategic plans are never implemented. Or at a minimum, they are not fully implemented.


Because they’re usually dozens of pages long, clipped inside a binder, sitting on the bookshelf behind senior management’s desks.

If you can’t simply represent and communicate your strategic plan on one page, you don’t have a plan worth following. Go back and define it further, simplify it, clarify it, dig into it, and figure out what you really want to focus on.

I recently worked with an organization that spent a day in an executive retreat talking about and working on their strategic plan for the following year and beyond. At the end of the day I’m pretty sure there weren’t many who could have communicated what the real focus was, what the challenges and goals were, and what really needed to be done over the following 12 months.

A week later, I spent four hours on a flight across the country thinking about and writing out what had been discussed and by the time the plane was landing, I had written close to eight pages.

Over the next few days I thought a lot about what I’d written, then sat in front of the flip chart in my office and started making notes. Within an hour, I had created a picture in my mind of what this organization had to do to be successful – its goals. It then was clear to me that they needed just three strategies that would lead to achieving these goals. And from there, it was obvious what tactics were required. Well, mostly obvious. It did take a couple of conversations with others to ensure we had them all. But in the end what we had was a strategic plan – the goals, strategies and tactics – all on one page. At the top of the page we added what the real purpose of the organization is – the mission or “Why Statement” – as that cannot be over-communicated. It wasn’t quite a flow chart, but it did flow downward, was simple to understand, and was very clear.

One page. The mission, goals, strategies and tactics were there for all to see – and work on. It was something that people could post on a wall next to their desks and refer to all the time – not just management, but every employee. When a decision needed to be made, one could look at the One-Pager and see if it fit; whether it fit or not, the decision was easy to make. And everyone knew what needed to be done – they knew what the critical few things that would lead to the organization’s success were.

Do you have a one-page strategic plan?

Ultimately, I think the most valuable part of the one-page strategy document is the thought that goes into it. If you can define and refine your mission, goals, strategy and tactics to the point where they fit on one page, you’ve probably thought enough about your business to make it even more successful than it is now.

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Initiate Slowly, React Quickly

Wednesday, October 24th, 2012

Those are the words of advice I give myself and other race car drivers in tricky and challenging driving conditions, such as when it’s raining: “Initiate slowly, react quickly.”

Driving a race car on a wet and slippery track can be a daunting task, as the traction level of the tires is greatly reduced. Even more challenging, though, is the fact that the car’s tires tend to have grip… and then no grip in a fraction of a second. In other words, one can feel completely in control, and then a fraction of a second later be spinning out of control.

Sound familiar? Sounds a bit like business these days, doesn’t it? Many people claim the economy felt completely in control a few years ago. And then a day later it was spinning out of control and crashing.

When I suggest initiating slowly and reacting quickly with a race car, I’m specifically talking about the use of the steering wheel – the device you set or change the direction of the vehicle with. So, in terms of direction of a business, and handling challenging situations, one should be slow and deliberate in initiating a change in direction. And then, once the steering wheel has been turned, be prepared to make adjustments and corrections to the path you’re on – quickly.

Of course, slow is a relative term. Nothing on a race track happens very slowly. The initial turn of the steering wheel is not something a driver does too slowly. But in comparison to how quickly the driver must make a correction to control a sliding car, it is slow.

Same thing in business. I’m not suggesting that you take forever to initiate a change. In fact, often that is the main problem a business has – taking too long to make a change. But once faced with a change – a corner up ahead – make the initial change in direction relatively slowly. Ease the car into the turn; ease your staff into the change. Be smooth and deliberate. Keep the car (business) as balanced as possible.

But just like being faced with a turn in the roadway ahead, you have to make changes in direction at times. Ignoring the turn is not an option. You have to turn the steering wheel. But do it as gently and deliberately as possible.

And then, once you’ve turned into the corner, making the change in the business’ direction, be prepared to make adjustments and corrections – quickly. Catch the car’s slide before it becomes a big one, something you can’t catch. Too many people and businesses are too slow in reacting to problems. Catch it before you spin out of control.

Of course, whether driving a car or running a business, where you look is where you’re going to go. Focus on the problems and you’ll get them. Focus on the solutions and you’ll get them. Look where you want to go, and you’ll naturally steer that way. To react quickly, you need to change your focus quickly.

Practice this every way you can. Practice initiating your change in direction gently and deliberately, and then reacting and adjusting quickly. Look where you want to go, and not where you don’t want to go. Focus on the solution, not the problem. The more you practice this, the more quickly and naturally you’ll act this way in other situations.

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Coaching Model? How About Coaching Approach?

Wednesday, September 5th, 2012

The other day I was talking with a friend, and the topic of coaching came up. At one point in the conversation, he asked what my approach is to coaching.

I began by talking about what my approach isn’t. It’s not a one-size-fits-all approach. While there are a number of formal and well-defined coaching models out there in use by consultants, managers and coaches, mine is very simple: I don’t use a specific model.

Okay, maybe I have a framework, or more of a philosophy, and this is it: Define what the real problem is, find a cure for the problem, and do whatever it takes to fix it. You don’t have a problem – you just want to improve? That’s okay, too. Define what improvement would look like, what it would take to improve, and do whatever it takes to help make that happen.

Notice the common theme? “Define the problem/improvement, then do whatever it takes.” That’s it. That’s my coaching “model”… or should I say, philosophy.

See, I’ve noticed something. Every person, every team or group, every organization is different. They’re unique (Well, duh!). No matter what some people tell you, there’s no way that one single model could fit every person, team, group or organization. I don’t care how flexible the model, it just doesn’t work for everyone.

When I’ve told people about my philosophy, I’ve had them reply with, “Well, that’s your model, then.” If they want to call that a model, go ahead, but to me it’s more of an approach or philosophy.

The one thing I know for sure is this: It works. Define the problem/improvement, then do whatever it takes to fix or deal with it. Simple. And feel free to use it all you want!


What’s Your Performance Strategy?

Wednesday, August 1st, 2012

Does your business have a strategic plan? Does it have a sales and marketing strategy? How about a product development strategy? A financial plan or strategy? Does it have a performance strategy?

If your answers to these questions were “Yes,” “Yes,” “Yes,” “Yes” and “What?” then you own, manage or work for the typical company. Most don’t even know what a “performance strategy” is.

So, what is a performance strategy? It’s a strategy to get the best performance out of the people working in the company. Study after study has shown that more than three-quarters of workers in America do not perform at the best. Most only do enough to get by. And many, who are more than capable of performing much better, don’t perform anywhere near average.

Most companies that say they have a performance strategy only really have an annual performance review process, and perhaps some type of program that links compensation to results (and not necessarily to performance). That is far from a performance strategy, and even further from a Performance Management Program (PMP).

A PMP helps individuals perform better by ensuring they have what they need to do so, including appropriate feedback, clear expectations, resources, training, a sense of what matters to them, appropriate goals, and much more. A PMP helps managers bring out the best in their employees. A PMP helps groups perform better as teams. A PMP helps the entire company perform better.

I’ve read that as many at 80% of strategic plans that companies spend large sums of money creating never get implemented. Could it be because the employees are not performing well enough to implement it?

If your company doesn’t have a performance strategy, then how can it expect to meet the goals and objectives outlined in the strategic plan, the sales and marketing strategy, the product strategy, and/or the financial plan/strategy? Isn’t it the people in the business that have to carry out these other things?

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Changing The Organization

Wednesday, November 3rd, 2010

Awhile back, I wrote a post about change, specifically about how individuals can change their mental programming with the use of mental imagery. But I posed the question, “How does an entire organization change – how can an entire company do mental programming?”

So, do you have the answer?

I’m waiting…

Okay, maybe I’ll take a stab at it – although I’d still like to hear your answer. You can always post a comment below.

Mental models… That’s really what we’re talking about. And that’s one of the many things that great leaders do: they paint a picture of the future, helping everyone in the organization to develop a mental model of what the changed future looks like.

Developing a mental model is really mental imagery, otherwise known as visualization. When a leader designs a picture of what the future looks like, change and all, others develop a clear mental model of that future. And, for whatever reason, our minds tend to follow the image we put in it. In other words, if you help create a mental image of what the future will look like, and I get a very strong, clear picture of it, my mind will do everything it can to ensure it happens as you’ve represented it.

“Change comes from within.” Sounds very Zen-like, doesn’t it? But it fits organizational change. Until the people within the organization change their model of the business, nothing you do to the organization will change. Think of this change as being an inside-out approach, instead of an outside-in one. You can change procedures, you can change processes, you can even change the people in the organization, but until a majority of people have a clear mental model of what the change looks like, feels like, and sounds like, nothing will transform.

But that’s just my mental model of change. What’s yours? How do you think organizations can create change?

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Who Wants To Be A Superstar?

Wednesday, June 30th, 2010

I have point to make: I could take just about anyone and turn them into a superstar. And just to be clear, it’s not just me that could do it. You could, too. Laszlo Polgar proved it by developing three sisters into the greatest women chess players of all time.

I’m tired of hearing about athletes, musicians, artists, and business people who were apparently born with some special talent. I’m here to say it doesn’t work like that. High performers were not born that way. They developed into high performers.

Study after study in recent years, especially a series of them by Anders Ericsson, have shown that high performers in a variety of activities developed their talent through very focused, deliberate, hard work. Practice leads to talent; birth doesn’t.

From Mozart to Michael Jordan, from Steve Jobs to Roger Federer, the key to high performance was and is not what one is born with, but what one does with what they’re born with.

But it’s not just practice. It’s strategic practice that makes the difference. In a study of violinists, what separated the average from the great is that the latter practiced more. As much as eight times as much, in fact. The surprising finding of the study is what separated the greats from those who are even better – the superstars. The super-high performers practiced no more than the greats. But it was the quality of the practice that made the difference. The superstars practiced the real challenging, difficult, unpleasant stuff, and they were more strategic in how they practiced.

And that’s where I come in. I could take practically anyone, and with the right strategic practice, could turn that person into a high performer. My job is developing the right practice strategy.

The next time someone talks about natural talent, stop them. Why? Because by labeling someone as having talent, you insult them. You may even encourage the person to practice less. After all, if the person was born with natural talent, they don’t need to practice.

Instead of complimenting a person on their natural talent, compliment them on all the hard, strategic work they put into developing their skills.

High performance has more to do with the skills and talent one develops through hard work and strategic practice. And that’s why you or I could take just about anyone and turn them into a superstar. It’s all about creating the right development plan.

This also means that you’re capable of superstar performance – if you’re not quite there already.

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The Pace of Business

Wednesday, June 2nd, 2010

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the pace of business, and how it’s so different for a variety of businesses. And different people.

It seems that there is an ideal pace that suits every person. Some perform at their best when they’re hustling quickly, and some perform best when they seem almost laid back in their pace.

What’s ideal for you? Do you need to pick it up a notch or two? Would moving a little quicker help you perform even better? Or do you need to slow your pace a little, and be more analytical and methodical?

The entrepreneurial spirit has a big impact on pace. Entrepreneurs seem to move at a faster pace than people in big companies. It may seem obvious that it’s because they have more to do – most entrepreneurs seem to wear more than one hat. But I’m not sure that’s always the case. It’s almost a chicken and egg scenario: Which came first, the faster pace that led to being an entrepreneur, or that being an entrepreneur meant working at a faster pace?

More and more large companies are trying to infuse an entrepreneurial spirit in their corporate culture, and that means picking the pace up a little. It’s putting challenges in place that force their employees to work faster; it’s encouraging a fast pace.

Having come from an entrepreneurial background, I find the pace of a larger company… well, just plain slow. I’m not saying it’s wrong, or bad. Just slow. And sometimes that is bad – sometimes it’s not.

What’s important is that you be aware of your pace, and determine if it’s appropriate. The fix – either speeding up or slowing down – is relatively easy. Just be aware of what your pace is like and compare it to what you think is appropriate. Then, dial it up or down as needed. Yes, it’s a conscious choice. It’s not something deep and difficult to change. Sure, some people are just more at ease in a slower world, and some in a faster-paced world. But either way, you can adapt.

Ask yourself these questions:

  • On a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being very slow and 10 being super fast, what pace does the environment (your company, your team) currently operate at?
  • On that same scale, what pace do you currently operate at most of the time?
  • What is the ideal pace for you to operate at to perform at your best in your environment?

If there’s a difference between the answers to these three questions, imagine yourself either picking up or slowing down your pace. Imagine it, and then consciously dial it up or down. Performance and pace go hand and hand.

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Forget Planning? Plan For Opportunities?

Wednesday, May 19th, 2010

“The only thing we know for certain about your plan is that the numbers in it are wrong,” said Peter Zaballos, who was in the venture capital business at the time. But anyone who has ever developed a budget for anything, let alone started a business, knows that all too well. So why bother? Why bother planning or budgeting?

In the book, Reworked, authors Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson said, “Unless you’re a fortune-teller, long-term business planning is a fantasy. There are just too many factors that are out of your hands: market conditions, competitors, customers, the economy, etc. Writing a plan makes you feel in control of things you can’t actually control… Why don’t we just call plans what they really are: guesses.”

Great! One less thing to do. Eliminate all planning, all budgeting. Yippee! Less work.

While I agree one hundred percent with Peter’s comment about all numbers being wrong, I think the most important part of planning is not the end product – not the plan itself. No, the value comes from the process of planning. It’s the thinking that goes into the planning. It’s identifying the critical metrics, the things that make the biggest differences to your business. Without thinking through the plan, it’s likely you won’t identify them until it’s too late.

Ahhh, but Fried and Hansson do hit on a key point: “Plans are inconsistent with improvisation… And you have to be able to improvise. You have to be able to pick up opportunities that come along.”

Have you seen the Facebook and Twitter page, Sh*t My Dad Says? Just one year ago, the author of this page, Justin Halpern, was nowhere. He had a job, but his girlfriend had just dumped him, he moved in with his parents, and the future didn’t sound too bright. Within a month or so he started tweeting “Sh*t” his dad had and was saying, and within a couple of months of that he had over a million fans of the page. The agents started calling, he’s released a book, and work has begun on a sitcom based on it. To say his life has changed in the past year is an understatement. Oh, and the “Sh*t” Halpern senior says is pretty funny.

Did Halpern have a business plan? I don’t think so! I think he “picked up opportunities that come along.” I’m pretty sure Halpern is the exception to the rule, though. I don’t think this type of experience happens that often.

Something I’ve noticed is that opportunities seem to come to those who do put it out there – they plan for big things, they stretch, they think outside the box. So, planning shouldn’t box you in, it shouldn’t limit your thinking. It should make you think deeply about you want to do, but you then need to be open to opportunities. I think I’m on my seventh or eighth career right now, all because I had a plan, and then have been open to opportunities. Fun stuff – the planning, and the opportunities.

Destroying a Company’s Culture

Wednesday, March 17th, 2010

Former IBM CEO, Lou Gerstner, said, “I came to see, in my time at IBM, that culture isn’t just one aspect of the game – it is the game.”

Let’s take a look at company culture. We could look at how you build it, but since I’ve done that – including a list of steps – in a previous blog post (Corporate Values & Culture), I want to look at how you destroy it (for entertainment value only!).

You destroy company culture by not protecting it. You destroy it by not reinforcing it. You destroy it by not communicating it. You destroy it by hiring people that don’t fit.

Imagine that you start a business making widgets, say, Acme Widget Company. Almost immediately you hire three people – an office manager, a sales person, and someone to head up operations. You all get along great, the business is growing, you’re getting new customers, and production is kicking in. So, your Operations Manager starts hiring staff to run the widget-making machines. Wow, you’re really in business, now.

From the beginning, it was important to you to do things right, and your attitude toward the business was “We don’t need to be the biggest widget-maker in the world, but we do need to be the best.” You also felt that taking care of employees and working as a team – no, a family – was important. You wanted a business that was professional, but had a bit of a mom & pop feel about it.

Moving into your second year of business, as you walk around and talk to your staff, you get a great feeling: Everyone enjoys their job; they feel they’re making the world a better place because of the high-quality widgets you’re making; there’s lots of collaboration in the workplace; formal and informal communication is clear and plentiful; and everyone is performing well. No, better than well. The company is already turning a profit. You couldn’t be happier.

As your business grows, you focus on hiring. You need more widget-makers, more people to run the widget-making machines, and supervisors for these people. You empower your Operations Manager to hire – it’s part of your plan to delegate, and to give your people the responsibility to grow the business.

Your Operations Manager hires a Shop Supervisor based on his skills, knowledge and experience in the business. The new hire is GOOD. He knows his stuff. And he, then, hires more staff, more widget-makers.

Six months later, as you walk the floors of the business, you suddenly notice something. The feeling of the business has changed. You can’t quite put your finger on it, but you know something’s not right.

Here’s what’s not right: The Shop Supervisor was hired for his skills, knowledge and experience, but not for cultural fit. The Shop Supervisor does not care about the warm and fuzzy feeling of a business. He’s all about numbers. How many widgets did you produce today? He doesn’t care about communication, or collaboration. Just do your job! And he’s hired people that fit that kind of culture – more people like him.

Within a short period of time – just a couple of months – the culture of your business has begun to change. The critical mass of the business has shifted – there are more people who think like the Shop Supervisor than think like you. It’s building momentum, like a snowball rolling down a hill getting bigger and bigger and eventually knocking down everything in its path. Culture is like that.

I’m not saying that one culture is better than another – some could argue that the culture of your business was too touchy-feely, and it needed some focus on the bottom-line. But if the current culture is not what you wanted, who’s at fault?

It could be your Operations Manager for not protecting it, for hiring for skills, knowledge, and experience and not for cultural fit. It could be you for not clarifying, communicating, reinforcing, and protecting it. It could be not having a formal process or strategy for promoting and protecting the culture. If left to chance, who knows where your company’s culture will end up?

By the way, this doesn’t just apply to small startups, or even small businesses. Divisions of companies have cultures. Departments have cultures. Large corporations have cultures. Non-profits have cultures.

IBM’s Gerstner said, “I always viewed culture as one of those things you talked about, like marketing and advertising. It was one of the tools that a manager had at his or her disposal when you think about an enterprise. The thing I have learned at IBM is that culture is everything.”

What are you doing to build and protect the culture you want? Are you leaving it to chance?

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When The Levee Breaks

Wednesday, December 9th, 2009

levyStop for a moment and picture this: It’s sometime in the next year or so, and the economy really starts rolling again (okay, it could happen). The company you work for, while not back to where it once was, is doing well. Sales have picked up, and everywhere you look things are looking like a near-full recovery is imminent. The hiring freeze is no longer; you’re looking at hiring new people. Pay raises are even back.

Big problem.

What? Where’s the problem?

The problem is the employees who stayed with your company through the tough times. Why? Because, even though your company kept them employed, it took advantage of the situation. Your company took the attitude, “Hey, you’re lucky to have a job. No incentives, no bonuses, no nothing. Just buckle down and get to work.” Fortunately for your company, at the time these employees had no alternatives. But the times have changed, or will change. And when they do, your employees may change too – to another company.

Employees who feel they have been taken advantage of – in even the most minute, slight way – will some day retaliate. They won’t forget. And when they get a chance, they will move on. It could cause a flood.

If too many of them move on at one time, that could cause big problems. Sure, there will be many people looking for work when the economy recovers. The problem is that the ones who are first in line are the ones that have been unemployed. They are not the high performers. No, the high performers are the employees your company and others kept on board through the tough times. And if they leave, and your company replaces them with the ones who weren’t kept on board somewhere, that could lower the overall performance of your company.

According to a recent study (Facing the Challenges of a Changing Workplace), almost half of Gen Y workers and 35 percent of Gen Xers and Baby Boomers have updated their resume in the last six months. What does that tell us? It tells us that many employees are either looking already, or are preparing to look for new jobs. In fact, twenty five percent of the youngest workers in the study have already sent out their resume.

Oh, and it’s one thing for employees to be there – to be in your workplace – and it’s a completely other thing for them to be engaged in their work. In other words, an employee can physically be there, and yet not be there mentally. So, when you sit back and think, “Everything is okay. Look, everyone is here and working,” consider whether they are really there. It’s been said that it’s one thing to have your employees’ bodies at work, and it’s another to have their brains at work. And I’d like to add that it’s another still to have their heart in it.

The time to deal with this is… now! Now’s the time to ensure employees will stay loyal when the economy picks up and they have options.

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