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Are we having fun yet?

While ‘beliebers’ fret over the fate of their idol, the rest of us have more strategic matters to consider as we head to the last week of the first month of 2014.  Things like:

  • It’s election year (in New Zealand).  How active is your business in relevant associations that could influence legislation?  And should you be, or not?  (This actually applies even if it’s not election year where you are).
  • How do you think the economy is going to trend this year in countries that impact your business?  Here in New Zealand commentators are saying we have a ‘Rockstar’ economy, but what does that mean for you?  And why is unemployment remaining high, with more layoffs still occurring?  How could that affect you if you need to recruit?
  • Now that the holidays are pretty much over, have you clarified your goals for this year, or have you fallen into the New Year resolution trap, and already lost your way on your key priorities? (It’s not too late – get to and set them now, with actionable steps).
  • What are your clients’ priorities this year?  Do you know?  How can you help them achieve their goals?

Finally, arTurn new year resolutions into actionable stepse we having fun yet???  If you’re not loving your business or career, and we are only in January, it’s time to review.  Make 2014 the year you can’t wait to get out of bed in the morning and keep making a difference!

Jenni Murphy-Scanlon is the owner of Strategies Direct, and loves helping her clients find fame, fortune and future-fit in their chosen markets.  She offers you a free report ‘How to think strategically’ at http://www.strategies-direct.com

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The telling question!

I read a discussion a while back in a LinkedIn group that asked “When would projects or programs be strategically aligned?”  The question seemed so bizarre to me that I clicked through to read the full discussion.  The detail didn’t explain the question much further, but it seemed that the writer was indeed asking that question (I thought he might have missed out the word “not” after ‘programs’!!)

Talk about asking a telling question!  If any of my clients asked me this, I’d be seriously worried about firstly, how they spent their time, and secondly, whether I should be spending my time and energy working with them.  It’s very enlightening when someone asks a question that so clearly should only ever be asked in the reverse.

If he had put the ‘not’ in there after programs, that would make sense.  It would show that he understood that projects and programs should always be strategically aligned, but was wondering if there was ever a time they wouldn’t be.  In other words, ‘I understand the rule, but is there ever an exception?’  And likely there are one or two exceptions.

But he asked it the other way, as if the rule was the reverse – the rule is that projects and programs are not required to be strategically aligned, so is there ever an exception when they should be aligned?  So presumably in his organization, there is little or no link between the strategy, and the projects that are undertaken – no link between strategy and implementation.  Therefore people are busy implementing something other than strategic priorities.  Hmmmm…..

It’s often the way in which questions are asked that indicate common practice in an organization.  If culture, practices and processes do not require people to think about strategy, and align their decisions and priorities with the strategies, then that culture will not encourage strategic thinking, nor be successful in implementing strategies and achieving long term goals.

What types of questions do people in your organization ask about priorities, decisions and projects – and what does that indicate about strategic thinking in your organization’s culture?

How to achieve your long term goals – according to the cat!

I met a friend for coffee the other week and she told me an amazing, funny story. When her children were teenagers their neighbours got a cat. The cat took a liking to my friend’s daughter, but even more, to their house. Now unfortunately for Puss, my friend did not like cats so had no intention of letting the cat into her house.

The cat tried really hard to get in. He even attempted a drop-in from the skylight above, but all to no avail. My friend was not letting the cat in, no matter how much he wanted to be in. A few years on, my friend’s daughter got married and moved to the other side of town. The neighbours asked if she would like to take their cat, given he was clearly fond of her and she of him. She agreed and Puss moved to her new home. But a few months later, my friend decided to move and sold her house to her daughter and her new husband. So guess who finally got to move into the house? – yes, the cat!

The moral of the story is this. You never quite know how things are going to unfold, so that your goals are achieved. Sometimes you have to be persistent. Sometimes you have to wait a while. Sometimes it seems quite hopeless and you seem further away from your goal than ever. But hang in there – keep focused on important goals and don’t give up. Sometimes things work in very roundabout ways and suddenly – your goal is achieved!

Jenni Murphy-Scanlon is an author, consultant and trainer specialising in strategic thinking and leadership. She offers you a free report on ‘How to Think Strategically’ at her website – http://www.strategies-direct.com

Don’t GPS Your Strategy

There has been some media coverage in past months about a relatively new road hazard – GPS systems. Actually it is not the GPS systems themselves that are proving a hazard, but rather the way in which some drivers have been using them.
Apparently some drivers, often tourists, have been following their GPS so religiously, they have not actually looked at the road ahead of them. Consequently they have had accidents when the road has been altered temporarily for road works and the GPS has not had the temporary change recorded.

This seems a ridiculous thing to do, but it is how many businesses approach budgets, plans and strategies. Quite often planning sessions are held once every 12 months, and at that time, strategies, project and budgets are finalized. Everyone breathes a sigh of relief to have that done for the year, and off they go, back to ‘business as usual’.

From then on, month to month, managers monitor spending against budgets and report on progress towards any goals that are being measured. Too often there is no looking up and around, to see what is actually happening for customers, other stakeholders and in the industry generally, and therefore whether these plans and budgets are still accurate. In other words, there is little strategic thinking going on in between the 12 month planning times. As a result, organizations are sometimes missing opportunities and threats that become apparent, or if someone does identify them, they are told that it is ‘not in the budget’. That might mean being behind competitors, missing opportunities or facing greater risks that needed to be the case.

So why bother doing the plan? Maybe you shouldn’t!! However there are some benefits to an executive team spending time on the process of planning. For starters, it ought to encourage strategic thinking at that time. It forces executives to take time away from business as usual to think about the operating environment, key stakeholders and other strategic issues. By doing this together, they build ideas and strategies that all parts of the organization can understand and support.
Having planned though, everyone needs to look out the window and see what might now be coming towards you and prepare. By the time you’ve finished the plan, it may need to change. That’s the process of on-going strategic thinking!

History Always Repeats…..

My Strategic Management lecturer in College insisted that very little in business, economic and weather cycles is completely unpredictable and businesses ought to be able to plan for most eventualities, no matter how rare.  I have recently been thinking how right he was and how poorly many businesses manage that.  For instance, I have been working with a company that has had to lay off a large number of staff due to a drop in commodity prices internationally.  One of the senior managers was mortified that he had recently employed a number of recruits, leading them to believe that they had a job for many years.  That’s what the company were telling us, he told me.  And yet, when I questioned him about his experiences of the industry, he could cite at least three previous international commodity price drops that had resulted in large-scale layoffs.  So the present issues were in fact, not surprising, to anyone with industry experience.

A similar thing happened five years ago when the area I live in experienced a long dry summer and a resulting drought for a couple of months.  Many farmers were caught without enough feed for their stock and forced to sell at low prices.  There was a call from some for Central Government to offer subsidies for this ‘unpredictable’ event.  And yet, I could remember many similar summers a number of years previously (I’ve lived around this area on and off, most of my life).  Sure enough, a local agricultural paper ran a story afterwards about how farmers had, in past times, grown extra produce over early summer to tide them through the following drought, but most had stopped bothering in recent years as the weather pattern had changed!

So how do experienced managers get caught up in the belief that things have changed so significantly that external forces will not repeat?  Perhaps it’s a human condition that we want to believe good news, or perhaps we just get excited by leadership vision or good times, and forget the past too quickly.  Thinking strategically requires broad consideration of external factors, and past events and trends can help us predict more accurately possible future scenarios.  The people who can remember and relay some of those stories have a valuable role to play.  A bit of research doesn’t hurt either.

A free report showing you how to think strategically is available for you at http://www.strategies-direct.com

What 2011 might hold…

December 21, 2010 1 comment
We can never be entirely sure of what the future holds, and to be a strategic thinker, it is vital to apply some thought and energy to possible scenarios.  Here a ten of my predictions for the next year or two:
 
  1. Strategic thinking will be a sought-after skill as organizations struggle to survive the recession and find opportunities to grow.
  2. Property prices will remain flat and as a result fewer people will choose to retire from the workforce.  This will have implications for how older workers are managed, and for unemployment figures.
  3. To find the skills they need, more companies will source globally and employ virtual teams where members may live in a range of geographic locations around the world.
  4. An emphasis within organizations on succession planning and management to ‘grow your own’ leaders and specialist expertise will continue and grow.
  5.  It will become more common for professional bodies to agree on international qualification standards to facilitate the movement of professionals around the world
  6.  A backlash against the public way in which young people are growing up due to social networking and other technologies will develop.  Politicians will come under increasing pressure to legislate to ensure individuals can control images and information about themselves.
  7.  Domestic robots for a greater range of household tasks will become available and increasingly affordable.  Approximately 5% of homes in first world economies will use domestic robots by the end of 2012
  8.  There will continue to be growth in home-based care for pre-school children and the use of nannies by working parents in preference to daycare centres and after school care programs
  9.  More mothers will choose to stay at home until their children begin school.  Businesses will need to adapt their parental leave provisions and re-integration processes to attract talented staff back.
  10.  There will be an increasing swing back to values like character, integrity and social conscience in a search for greater meaning, well-being and happiness

I’d love to hear your ideas.  There’s no right or wrong so add your thoughts!

Categories: Strategical Savvy

Are you strategic enough?

Most professionals and operational experts have been rewarded throughout their study and experience on the job for their critical analysis skills and the ability to assess risk and offer expert advice.  The more competent the person, the more likely it is they can quickly judge ideas from an implementation perspective.  However, these very skills that have lead to a certain level within their career can begin to fail them as they seek more strategic roles.  Their expert risk analysis and sometimes detailed questions frustrate some others, who can perceive them as negative and too low level.  And yet, some manage to have technical competence and also be deemed strategic thinkers by others.  In over a decade of responsibility for developing future leaders in corporate settings, I began to identify the characteristics that lead senior managers to predict certain people as having the ability to move into strategic roles.  I call this attribute Strategical Savvy.

Strategical Savvy differs from Political Savvy, in that Political Savvy is the ability to connect with the ‘right’ people in an organisation, get involved with high profile projects and events, and be able to say and do the right things to make a positive impression.  Strategical Savvy is more specifically about hearing an idea or suggestion and responding in a way that others can recognise as strategic rather than operational.

To develop Strategical Savvy, you must:

  • Have some knowledge of the trends in business generally and in your industry in particular
  • ask questions that explore how the idea presented might align with key strategies and how they might impact across the whole organisation and its various parts
  • understand how an idea could be implemented in a particular role or task
  • have the personal discipline to refrain from voicing any initial view of the idea too soon
  • respond in a way that indicates that you have heard and understood the strategic implications before considering the specific impacts.

Handling strategic conversations effectively can avoid you being perceived as ‘not strategic’, even when disagreeing with the idea or exploring negative consequences.

 Strategical Savvy can be learnt, just like any other behavioural competency.  Even highly detailed experts can learn to relate to strategic ideas and concepts in ways that allow them to contribute from their area of expertise and still present themselves to others as positive and strategic.

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