Flexibility is not strategy (part 2)

29 04 2009

I mentioned that by remaining open to everything, you risk accomplishing nothing.  The resulting dispersion of resources and effort can cause paralysis (or perceived stasis in your customer base).

So, what if you decide, like Hamlet eventually did after Act 3, Scene 1, to take arms against a sea of troubles, and by opposing, end them?

Come together, check your weapons at the door

First off, nobody is too busy to participate.  This isn’t a one hour lunch time meeting where you order pizza and get through it before your next big conference call.

It is a time for commitment, honesty, speaking truth to power, and putting all the assumptions or corporate mythos into play.

You are in the “cone of silence” and the “truth circle”.  If you don’t trust your players, the process will be undermined and fail.

It has to be a safe environment to air legitimate concerns and defuse feuds between leadership or divisions.  Inside these sessions, you need to show your work and shred a lot of rough drafts.

Sensitive topics will be broached and in the process of tackling these perceptions (real or otherwise) is ugly.  The process is transient and understandings will forged and dismantled many times over.

The objective is to neutralize or plot a solution to counteract threats or weaknesses.  The words and work that are said during these sessions can potentially be used (in or out of context) as weapons that could decimate morale at large.

Mind you, being iconoclastic and cavalier about other people’s beliefs isn’t the same as being objective.  Like any relationship, there may be a role for a neutral third party to arbitrate pointed issues, take down all that is said, and offer guidance to becoming “unstuck” when the topics “rathole” into minutiae.

Bring your “A” game

Acknowledging that there is a problem, and then taking it seriously is a huge, and necessary step.  It may be the hardest step in the process.  It requires a very particular resource: your best people.

That literally means taking your best people off of their projects and putting them on the strategy development 100% of the time.  If this is a serious problem, why would dedicate anyone less than the best?

Other objectives may temporarily suffer, but are those objectives core to your strategy in the first place?  You have to place your trust in this team, and you also have to expect to be challenged by what they find.

The composition of the team can be multidisciplinary, but should be kept small.  The team must bring in experts from other departments via phone or in person in order to clarify issues or gain a ground-level understanding.  Each team member must also do homework between each meeting session to contribute independent analysis to the meeting.

The executive team should get regular, unvarnished briefings about progress, notable issues and the supporting evidence for suggested directions.

Report on progress, be transparent about the results

Obviously everyone else will be curious about what’s going on behind closed doors.  Communicating more than the Vatican’s papal election (white or black smoke), but less than a Twitter barrage is a fine line to walk.

When I engaged in this type of process, we did not communicate enough for a number of reasons.  Our results were extremely open (published in an internal wiki and blog).  But that “new blog thing” wasn’t intuitive in the corporate culture yet.  So questions and answers, feedback, and engagement was limited.  That limited buy-in, which is the true metric of success or failure.

Additionally, though we were selected for the task, we were not dedicated to it 100% of our time and did not always accomplish distinct objectives after each meeting.

The objective of the process is to bring about a tangible strategy and a set of tactics, not airing dirty laundry for all to see.  This is similar to how the US Constitution was drafted.  See this clip from The Daily Show about Richard Beeman’s new book to get the idea.

This strategy is your “company’s constitution”.  In the end, if you present an honest, comprehensive strategy to your company, it will constructively highlight trouble spots while indicating some sort of resolution or path forward.  Ultimately, a new strategy will lead to change.

Remember that change is scary and disruptive.  We’ll discuss change and buy-in issues in a forthcoming post.



2 responses

7 05 2009
Tom H

This is a heady post. I read and re-read this several times. As one of the people who was waiting for the “papal smoke” it was interesting to try and interpret the interim results. At the end of the process, the results seemed immediately underwhelming.

Finding a team that can be transparent, truthful and trustworthy is a challenge in todays business environment.

Much like the constitution, the fruits of these labors may not be recognized until many years later. The resulting document that you are referring to has created a positive and lasting impact on the organization. It continues to be the point of reference for our corporate vision.

22 05 2009
Flexibility is not strategy (part 3) « Spackle

[…] sticking to your knitting right for your company?  Only an honest evaluation and market intelligence can really help you determine that.  Certainty isn’t a luxury anyone […]

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