Quick Takes: Seth Godin on goals

Seth Godin has a way of saying things that cuts through the conceptual obfuscation that most us of practice. Here's something he posted today on goals.

If you don't have a goal (a corporate goal, a market share goal, a personal career goal, an athletic goal...) then you can just do your best. You can take what comes. You can reprioritize on a regular basis. If you don't have a goal, you never have to worry about missing it. If you don't have a goal you don't need nearly as many excuses, either.

What is a goal?

Is it a measure of something, like to make $1,000,000 this year. Or is it a strategy, like becoming the banker of choice by changing how your customers experience your employees?

A goal is a focal point that we concentrate our energies to reach. It can be a number of different things. As I read the blog post, I was taken back several years ago when I read several of Eliyahu Goldratt's The Goal: A Process of Ongoing Improvement.  The book is a business novel, rather than a textbook on goal setting.

The story is built around a singular idea about goal setting. The goal in Goldratt's account is "To make money now and in the future."

If this is the goal, then every other goal is a strategy to achieve that goal. Strategies are how goals are met. So, if Seth is right,

 It seems to me, though, that the people who get things done, who lead, who grow and who make an impact... those people have goals. ...

then, goal setters are strategists who figure out how that goal is to be met.

Focus, strategic connection, follow through - all essential to having goals met.

Real Life Leadership: In unpredictable economic times no set formula can bail businesses out

Today's Real Life Leadership column -In unpredictable economic times no set formula can bail businesses out - addresses the challenges that many businesses feel today about surviving this economic downturn.Transition_growth_or_decline

In reality, we aren't simply dealing with an economic downturn do to a low US dollar and high gas and commodity prices. There is a much more fundamental change taking place. Change is being thrust upon every business from multiple directions. We are in the midst of a transition economically and culturally that is greater than any of us have ever experienced. We are at a juncture between business has it has been done for generations, and business as it needs to be done in the future. We are a transition point of great change that is forces us to change as well.

Let me describe what I see in this way. There is change at the macro level. That is the level that is really beyond our control, but impacts us every day. For example, it is the rise in the cost of fuel as the demand for oil grows in developing countries.  You can cut back, but for how long. When does cutting back, begin to rob you of your ability to generate new customers and develop new revenue sources?

The micro side of change is the mind set that people who are your customers have about your business and services.  Recently, I talked with the CEO of a regional fast food chain.  He told me that his business is booming as customers shift their food purchasing dollar from more expensive restaurants to his.  He also pointed to the phenomenon of lunch-time customers at the drive-through window buying five and six different dinners, instead of one. He remarked that obviously someone is selected each day to drive to pick up lunch instead of everyone driving themselves.  He said that their emphasis on customer service has made it easy for them to accommodate these changes in his business.

While traveling in Wyoming on vacation, I spoke to the owner of resort business about how gas prices was affecting his business. He told me that the number of guests has remained steady, but their guests are spending less on the extra activities that they offer.

The agility of our businesses functions primarily at the micro level. We make changes that affect how we deal with our clients and customers today.  The problem for many businesses is that they get locked into a business model that restricts their ability to make changes. I'm surprised by the number of closed businesses that I see as I drive through town each day. I can only conclude that cash flow and debt service were the main contributing factors. Are these the outcomes of the inability to make the necessary changes to adapt to an economic downturn?

Did they not see this downturn coming?  Even if they had, what could they have done?  It is difficult to be come agile and adaptive as a business when you cash flow is suffering. You can't wait until you need to adapt to learn how to adapt.

I believe it goes to what I state in the column.

You have to understand why your customers buy from you. You have to understand what the impact is. What is the difference you make that ranks high enough that they are still willing to spend their money on your business?  If you don't know then you need to find out.

As a result, it goes to my second point, which is, you have to understand that what your values are. Values aren't some warm and fuzzy inspiring ideas that you market. No, they are the core strength of your business. They are what brings you, your employees and your customers together around a set of ideas that matter in your relationships with each other.

For example, if you say the customer comes first, but you haven't ask them how to serve them during this economic downturn, then that value is really irrelevant to your business. You are making your decisions based on the assumptions you make about your customers, not what you actually know.

Here are two simple diagrams to illustrate what I mean. Values_1_simple

The first is what I call Values 1.0. This is the traditional approach to values. These values are ideas that are iconic. They are symbolic of some other value. If customer service is an iconic value, then it stands for a long-standing approach to customer service that has basically become irrelevant to today's customer.

Here's an example. Recently, I was at an upscale Italian restaurant, part of a regional chain, and one that I've eaten in dozens of times. I was there by myself. My server took my order. A "runner" brought my tea and salad. Then another runner brought my main course. During the salad portion of my dinner, a young woman came by, and asked if I was pleased with the salad. We talked for about 20 seconds. I then asked her what her job was there. She was not dressed as a server. She told me she assists the floor manager to do whatever he needs her to do. And she does the restaurant's books in the morning.  We had a nice chat, and she left. She stopped by two more times before my server returned to ask how I was doing, and see if I wanted dessert.  At one point, I sat there for about five minutes needing a tea refill before another server returning from her section saw my empty glass and filled it.  The restaurant had plenty of people to serve me. The problem was they were really unaware that I was there.

The values of customer service has to be more than talk and marketing speak.  It has to become an Values_2_simple_2 awareness of the situation your customer is in so you can respond to them. This is where my notion of Values 2.0 comes from.

At the restaurant, the assistant to the manager should have been aware of my tea need as she chatted with me each time. My server, obviously, should have been more attentive.  The deeper issue is that we don't talk with our customers about these issues. A response card at the door isn't a conversation with the customer. It is much easier to fall into the trap of assuming that what we are doing today for our customers will be fine tomorrow.

When we talk with our customers about what they want and desire from our busienss, we are employing our customer service values in our interactions with them. When we take seriously their ideas, and integrate them into how we service them, then we find that our values have in impact upon our business and our customers.

The inability of a business to adapt to an economic downturn is born in that business leader's assumption that he knows what his customers want and need, and more importantly will always be there.

Adapting to the macro and micro worlds of change require us to be grounded in values that transcend the situation. They are the strength that enable us to persist through difficult times, and make the hard decisions to change before our options have run out. 

I'm convinced more and more that the key to managing change is found in living the values that are the core strengths of our business. To do so requires us to change. As a result, the hardest change is personal, and what confronts each of us every single day.

If you like,here is a hard copy of today's column that you can download.

Finding Non-linear Opportunities

Nassim Taleb has opened a window on the world for me that it seems he is doing for others as well. Taleb is the author of Fooled By Randomness and The Black Swan.  Regardless of what you think you should be reading, regardless of what is sitting on your desk, filling your shelves, in your book bag or on your bedside table, Taleb's perspective is needed to understand why many of the experts that we read are not, and that we need to be more humble and circumspect about what we know to be true.

Tom Peters celebrates Taleb's take on knowledge, history, business planning and life in this post.  He was talking with Alvin Tofler of Future Shock and The Third Wave fame about Taleb's Black Swan's. A black swan is a rare event that was unpredictable, and that has enormous consequences for people. Think stock market crashes, terrorist attacks, bridge collapses, etc.  Here's what Tom Peters says.

So, "the word" for the day (any day! Every day!): non-linear.

Life is non-linear.
Progress, if indeed there be progress, is non-linear.

A very, very few black swans will break you—or make you. The "trick," then, is to be more or less prepared for the unpreparable. E.g., Rudy Giuliani reacted well to a Black Swan of the highest-lowest order, 09/11, and his instinctive response to what cannot be prepared for may garner him the White House. At the very least, his response on 09/11 demonstrated how rapidly (hours!!) one can flip from "laughable nearly has-been" (lame-duck mayor booted out of Gracie Mansion by his cheated-on wife) to "king of the largest of hills."

Thinking of yesterday's blog post, "The right plan is to have no plan," I recall Henry Mintzberg's observation (The Rise and Fall of Strategic Planning, also mentioned yesterday): "Strategic plans work wonderfully ... when you don't need them, when tomorrow unfolds as a natural extension of today. They are useless, or even detrimental, when you do need them—in discontinuous times."

To dismiss the myth of continuity and acknowledge the absolute ubiquity of non-linearity, black swans and the like—i.e., their centrality on the scorecard of your life's record as parent, spouse, professional—means that you will never again look at the world the same way again.

I began to read Taleb in June, and here it is the first of August, and I'm still slogging through his work.  It isn't that he's hard to read, but rather, what he has to say is provocative, and worth savoring, reflecting on and testing to see how it really fits into our perceptions of reality.

I've come to realize that for the past ten years, that unconsciously, I've operated with an increasing awareness of this non-linearity.  I began as a traditional strategic planner, and now have move to be a person who values planned opportunism. 

This doesn't mean that you don't work hard, plan and execute.  It means that you work hard, plan, execute and look for incongruities.  You know how first said this for my generation. Peter Drucker in Innovation and Entrepreneurship.

The Seven Sources of Innovative Opportunity

1. The unexpected – the unexpected success, the unexpected failure, the unexpected outside event;

2. The incongruity – between reality as it actually is and reality as it is assumed to be or as it “ought to be”;

3. Innovation based on process need;

4. Changes in industry structure or market structure that catch everyone unawares

5. Demographics (population changes)

6. Changes in perception, mood, and meaning;

7. New knowledge, both scientific and nonscientific.

If you haven't read Taleb's books or Drucker's,  then I suggest you get started.  As the complexity of society grows, those who are able to respond to the incongruous, non-linear opportunities that are presented to them will be the ones who survive to thrive.

My experience over the past decade is testimony to me that these men are right on the money.

In Addition:  One more Tom Peter's from a different posting.


Real Life Leadership: Board members need to be more than cheerleaders in today’s business world

My latest Real Life Leadership column - Board members need to be more than cheerleaders in today’s business world - is online.

I need more than two hands to list the organizations that I know that need to dramatically change their boards. The ineffectual nature of these boards is impressive, and actually raises the question as to whether these organizations actually need them.  Their inadequacies fall into the categories of non-givers, risk-averse gatekeepers, keepers of a dead, long-gone mission, club managers and power-hungry micro-managers.  I've stood in front of some of these boards with their sullen, stone-cold expressions, knowing that whatever I was saying was not addressing any experience that they had ever had.  They were polite, passive-aggressive, and more concerned about face-saving than what was in the real interest of their organizations. 

I know these are hard words.  But too many boards have failed to address the real needs of their organizations.  It is partly a product of temperament, but mostly the result of weak leadership.  Either they are a club of supporters for the executive director, or they are a collection of individuals who have never formed themselves into a working team. 


I'm the kind of person who believes in the potential of people. And believe that most people live lives of unrealized potential, and this applies to boards of directors.  It is akin to the kind of strategic planning that they were taught earlier in their professional careers that focused on projecting current realities into the future.  I used to be there.  Now, I see planning and board leadership as a far more flexible, adaptive process that quickly responds to changing circumstances by seeing the opportunity for making an impact.

So, if you are with an organization that has an ineffectual board, then you need to help them come to understand that the past is no prelude to the future, and that everything they know may be their greatest liability as a board member.  In the future, board governance will depend of having people who know how learn from the complexities of organizational life. 

Is business planning obsolete?

Guy Kawasaki writes about a WSJ article about the current use of business plans.  He is absolutely correct that a business plan will never be 100% correct. But of course, what is.

I've been in the planning business for a dozen years, and my attitude and approach has changed over time. I used to think more conventionally. Put a strategic plan together and work your plan. 

Now, I think that planning's purpose is to develop intellectual discipline so that leaders can more easily adapt to changing circumstances. Change is happening in larger ways, more quickly and more chaotically.  A formal, rigid plan is a constraint upon flexibility.

So, what do you need if the traditional plan is antiquated?

1. You need to a set clear values that serve as a filtering device for decision making.
Not every opportunity is worth pursuing. And just  because it has a nice financial payout doesn't mean that you should pursue it.

2. You need to broaden your input of relevant information in order to see a large picture. This is why you need appropriate filters to categorize what you are seeing.

3. You need to focus and decide what your real business is.
Don't copy someone else, or just follow what the industry is doing. Determine what your value is to your customers right now, and then determine how to develop its strengths.  In so doing, determine also what you want do or what you can outsource to someone else. 

If you do these three things, then you'll begin to live a simple plan that allows for you to adapt to change, and begin to see how the life of your business is really a long protracted period of transition from what it once was to what it can be in the future.

The Saga of a Recovering Planner

Tom Peter's excellent post on Henry Mintzberg clarified some things for me. It's a long post. Make sure you read the whole thing, and read the PowerPoint that accompanies it.  Here's my story.

Planning Change
Over a decade ago, I went into business as a strategic planner and leadership developer.  My approach has changed over the years, partly because I kept looking for a way to do it better, and because I personally changed.

The planning process changed because I found that you could not sell a plan to people who had not had a role in its development. So, I shifted to a more conversational approach, and found that instead of needing a plan, they needed the relationships that allowed them to daily adapt to changing circumstances.  Let me say it as directly as I can. Plans are too often used as a way to avoid the human dimension of leadership and planning.  It's an obstacle to work, not a way to help make organizational relationships healthier and more productive.

Example: I have a client that needs some planning help.  However, if they had done a plan like I used to do ten years ago, it would have been a waste of money.  Their most exciting opportunity would never have appeared in their plan.  Worse, they would have been organized just well enough to avoid the deeper issues of partnership relationships that they cannot now avoid.

So, instead of drafting some long term plan, I help the community of the organization form so that together they can move collaboratively together into the future.  It is sort of Management by the Wisdom of Crowds.  I'm still in the early stages of this approach, however, I can say that there is nothing like seeing a large group of people find that they care about each other and want to achieve great things together.

The personal change is really why all the other changes are happening. The story is simple, and if you read Tom Peter's PowerPoint, you'll understand. Here's the story ...

Leading Change
Summer of 1999, Jackson Hole, Wyoming. I'm on horseback with my family. We are riding in the highlands across the valley from the Grand Tetons.  It was afternoon. We had been climbing for about an hour, when we rounded a corner and there were the Tetons. The banner picture above is of the spot, except at dawn. As the mountains came into full view, I heard a voice. "It is time to stop talking about leadership and lead."  A clear, unambiguous message about personal change.

In the seven years since that moment, I'm much more a person of action, a non-linear leader in Peters and Mintzberg's terms. I haven't arrived yet, but I'm moving forward. The problem with the old version was that I was content to talk, to think, to philosophize.  When we simply live in our heads, and do not translate our thoughts into actions, we run the risk of losing perspective.  Of course there is a balance to be found.  All action with out thought is chaotic. Action needs to be grounded in some perspective that makes it possible to interpret what is happening. We need both reflection and action, to be whole brained as Daniel Pink suggests in A Whole New Mind.

Linearity breeds detachment. Linear leaders will be more aloof, more reflective, more calculated.  Non-linear leaders will express an urgency that requires action now.  This is what the Arbinger Institute's Leadership and Self-Deception leads to, but doesn't say.  In their vernacular, linearity leads to being in the box, and non-linearity gets you out of the box.

How this change has impacted my work

I understand now that my work is about change, helping leaders and their organizations deal with it and find the benefit in it.  There are a lot of change consultants who still see change from a linear perspective.  In so doing, change must be viewed as a threat to the plan.  I see change as the great opportunity to differentiate yourself from the pack. 

Change is a gift that requires personal change on the part of leaders. It is this dimension that I desired to do twenty years ago.  The benefit to leaders is that they find peace, freedom, fulfillment and adventure.  The joy of leading returns and the find that they can be more effective in their role than they ever dreamed they could be.  It's not a easy change, but it is a good change.

The Great Planning Myths

First Posted August 24, 2006, updated for today.

 Myth # 1: I'm in control.

Trust me.  I am. I know what I'm doing. Trust me. In other words, leave me along while I try to figure out how to get out of this mess.

Myth #2: A Strategic Plan will save us.

It will.  Trust me. I read it in a book.See all we need to do is a SWOT analysis and we'll be okay.Trust me.   I hired a consultant.

Myth #3: Change is temporary.

We are just in a rough spot.  We'll get out of it soon. We always have. Trust me.

We'll be okay.  Don’t worry. We aren’t changing anything. We’ll be fine.

Myth #4: All we need to do is get buy-in from our key contributors.

Trust me.

We’ll be okay.

I know. I talked with them last week. They are on-board.

Once we get the plan done. They’ll make their commitment.

Myth #5: We’ve brought in some experts to write our plan. They’ll find the new money we are looking for.

Don’t worry. We are going to be fine. With the money the consultants will get us, we’ll make our financial goals for the year.

This planning process is really going to energize everyone. They’ll love the plan when we give it to them.

Once we see that these five myths are not going to help us, we realize that we still need to do something. Let's start by asking questions that clarify our situation.

The Five Questions We Need To Ask.

1. What has changed? How are we in transition?

2.  What is our impact?

3. Who are we impacting?

4. What opportunities do we have based on the impact we are having?

5. What obstacles stand in our way?  What problems have we created?

Circle of Impact -5 Qs Retreat Handout-Landscape
Okay, now that you've answered the Five Questions, answer this one.

Are your best years behind you or ahead of you?

If they are behind, then you may have made a commitment to irrelevance and decline. If they are ahead of you, then ask yourselves, "What is the impact we'd like to make in the future?" 

Then ask, "What is the transition we need to make to achieve that impact?"

Down deep in the dark recesses of your heart and mind is the realization that your life and work is meant to be more than spinning the great myths of planning. As a colleague recently told me of a friend’s comment to his grandson as they were playing golf, “It’s easy to be average. It takes courage to excel.”

What does it mean to excel?

To excel is to be honest, transparent and vulnerable about the challenges that change requires to achieve our goals. 

To excel is to admit that you can't do it by yourself, that you can't fool anyone, and that success comes from both hard work and the willingness to change.

A good planning consultant can help you reposition your business and leadership approach in order to achieve your vision of impact. 

Do this and you’ll learn to not only to adapt to change, but learn how to anticipate it as opportunities to excel.

It takes courage and humility to admit that most of what you have done in the past doesn’t work any longer, and change is necessary.

Planning for the future, therefore, is a change process.

All change processes, consequently, are learning ones.

As you look to the future, imagine all that you'll learn, and how much that learning will bring change that will enhance you and your group's ability to excel in the work of creating impact.

Is your planning process stuck In "P" or "I" mode?

Kathy Sierra takes off from her experience of dealing with a digital SLR camera to seeing how people get stuck in the wrong mental mode. For Kathy, this means getting stuck in the Program mode, focusing too much on the technology of the product or process, rather than the purpose of it.

1) Are we focusing too much on the tool (e.g. camera) rather than the thing our users are trying to do with the tool (e.g. photography)?

2) Is the product just too damn hard to use even if a user does know what they want to do with it?

3) Do we encourage/support a user community
that emphasizes mastery of the thing the tool is for? In other words, does your product/service have the equivalent of a FlickR community... to help give users the motivation for pushing past the "P"?

4) Do we train our users to become better at the thing they use the tool for
, in a way that helps make the need for all those other features seem obvious?

These are great questions for planners.

It is easy to get stuck in the process, to get lost in the details of individual opinions and research numbers. 

It is easy to think that the perfect plan covers every contingency.

The reality is that a plan is ...

  • not just an analysis of where you are and where you are      going. 
  • It is not just a judgment about the future. 
  • It is more than a list of priorities and action      items. 
  • It is more than just a rationale for the future      development of the organization.     

If this is all it is, then you are stuck in "process" mode, and you don't see the big picture.

OK. Let's say you commit to conducting a strategic plan.  You commit to spending $10, $15, or even $20,000 on the process.  What should you get for your money?  Process?  Data? A Strategic Plan?

What should be the impact of a planning process?  Process? Data?  A Strategic Plan?

What should be the IMPACT of a strategic planning process?  I've met very few people who can answer this.  Most fall back on the standard boilierplate planning rationale that worked for your grandpa's business.

The IMPACT of a planning process is change in three principal areas.

Change in perspective, vision and clarity of purpose and process.

Change in organizational structure.  Yes, if you are going to enter into a planning process, you must realize that it will reveal all sorts of skeletons in the closet and dirty laundry under the bed.  If it is not your intention to streamline your process, reduce the cost of time that for most organizations is your most costly inventory apart from personnel, then you are going to be disappointed with the results. By the way, I have never conducted a plan where organizational change was not necessary as a result. So, let’s be clear about this up front.

Change in the social/communal environment of the organization.  If you do not enter a process with the commitment to transform the way your organization is in relationship with its constituents, then you will not find the outcome of the process satisfactory.

Let's look at it another way.

The majority of people, who come to me to begin a conversation about planning, state one of two reasons. 

One is that they are in a leadership or market transition, and they need to know how to get through it. They sense that they need to make some changes, but they are just not sure what. 

Two is that they are looking for clarity about their current situation and the future. 

The reality is that very few people enter into a planning process with the intent to change their organization.  Rather, they are looking for ways to keep it the same.  They don't want to change.  They want to do better without changing.  As Albert Einstein once said, "Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, expecting different results."

What this approach pushes us toward is looking for the lowest common denominator as your future direction.  This happens because leaders don't see the process as engagement with their constituents, but rather data collection so that some committee can decide the organization's future direction.  It becomes a lowest common denominator process because you have sell it to a wide diversity of people. And by assumption, they don’t agree on anything.

This inevitably places the leadership in a sell mode.  They have to sell a plan.  A generation ago this worked, because people lacked the access to information, and had fewer choices.  Today, every aspect of your organization is a commodity that is being bought, sold and traded by your constituents. The organizational chart has flipped, and as the leader, you are now the follower of your constituents.  Of course, you don't like it. As leaders, it requires us to change.

As a result, you don't draft a plan and pass it around to see whether people will support it.  You start by asking questions in a conversational mode.  Give them time to interact.  Let them tell you what they are looking for from your organization.  Then give them what they are looking for.

Do your constituents actually know what they want?  They probably do not to any degree of specificity. That is why you have to engage them in a conversation that no only raises their awareness of your organization, but helps them learn to articulate what they feel. 

Plans that are just rational statements of the obvious have to be sold on an emotional level.  It is, therefore, better to start with the emotions and build commitment to a plan that they support from the start.

This is a different approach.  It is an approach that can give you all the data you need. But the reality is that because of the changes happening in organizations, your plan has to be flexible and adaptable to changing circumstances. So, unless you are going to build a building or are in a long product development process, your plan has to have a short time frame and has to constantly be updated in order to stay current.  This means that you have to stay current with your constituents.  Planning is primarily a communication process.  It is important not to forget that.

So, if you want to enter into a planning process remember that it is about the three points on the Circle of Impact.

It is about the ideas you use to communicate who you are and the benefits of your organization. 

It is about how you structure your organization’s programs, products and services.  And it is how you develop relationships of trust, communication and mutual support with all those people who are impacted by your organization. 

Let them help you define what the impact of your organization needs to be, and you'll then find that writing your plan will come relatively easy.

Real Life Leadership: Nonprofits can get tips on mission strategy, teamwork from military, for-profits

My latest Real Life Leadership column - Nonprofits can get tips on mission strategy, teamwork from military, for-profits - is online .

There is a convergence of sorts occuring. For profit businesses are identifying their mission beyond the bottomline.  Nonprofits are addressing the issue of their financial bottomline in ways more similar to for-profits.  And the military services lead the way in terms of understanding the nature of team work and mission outcomes.

It pays to know as much as you can about all three.

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Go Big at GE

Some corporate annual reports are worth reading for more than the numbers.   I enjoy seeing how businesses articulate their mission and strategic aims to investors.  Often it is just so much yada, yada, yada. But GE's often is not.

Here's General Electric's annual report.   It is entitled "go BIG".

Open the report, and you find this statement.

"Even as the world seems to grow smaller, the challenges - and opportunities - of a global economy are bigger than ever.
And that's good news for GE.
In a more complex world, GE's size is an advantage.  GE dreams big ideas, tackles big problems and anticipates big growth now and in the years to come"

OK.  Good.  I'm for it.  Let's look deeper.

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