Real Life Leadership: Strategic planning should lead to strategic action

This week's Real Life Leadership column - Strategic planning should lead to strategic action - is online.

Over the past three or four years, my approach to strategic planning has been changing.  I used to think that a comprenhesive plan was the way to go. Why? Because I believed that you could through an analytical process control all factors of your organization.  Increasingly, I found, not only with clients, but with my own business that control in that sense was sort of an illusion. Here are some additional thoughts on this.

It is like the old adage, "Life happens while you are making plans."  While you spend 10-12 months planning, do your SWOT analysis, conduct all your interiews, research, and write your planning drafts, the work of the business continues on.  The issues that you are trying to address are also developing.  Things don't stop so you can plan. They keep increasing or declining.  All of us work in a dynamic environment, yet tradtional planning assumes that you can stop and plan for five years out.

Second, most of these five year plans do not have five years of work or development in them.  I remember the first plan I did in 1989 as a board member for a local children's health organization in West Virginia.  It was a three year plan.  We completed the plan in 18 months.  I've seen this repeated over and and over.  Why the need for a three-to-five year plan?  Because the old Soviets did it?  See what happened to them.  No, I think the push to lengthen planning time is another aspect of trying to control the conditions of business.

Third,  the tradtional approach is highly analytical, very linear, and as a result misses all sorts of information that is helpful.

So, what do you do?  Simply put, you have to be a strategic thinker at all times. You have to change the way you operate so that strategic planning is a skill that is conducted every day, not every three years.  This is a change in how leaders function.  I'll write more about this soon.  But let me suggest that you look into two perspectives that I find very helpful.

1.  Henry Mintzberg's 1994 classic, The Rise and Fall of Strategic Planning.

2. Col. John Boyd's OODA Loop system.  This is a decision-making cycle that puts the leader into an ongoing strategic development perspective.

The benefit of changing your planning process?  If the issues that you look forward to addressing over the next three years can be addressed today, is that a good thing?  If it means that you are three years ahead or even three months ahead of your competitors, then of course it is.  Stay tuned, more to come.

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Observe, Orient, Decide, Act - Boyd's Strategy System

Thinking strategically is an important skill for a leader.  If you are a reactive thinker, then you are forever doomed to being dictated to by your competitors.  Or, if you are a  strategic military thinker, you will constantly be putting your troops in increasingly vulnerable situations. 

One of the great contributors to the process of strategic thinking is John Boyd. His story is told by Robert Coram, in a fascinating book of a maverick thinker who transformed the modern Air Force and the practice of miliatry strategy. Here's part of an interview that Tom Peter's had with Coram.

He did a number of things. He was the first man to codify the arcane and hitherto unwritten rules of aerial warfare. He reduced it to a mathematical formula. Then, as a student at Georgia Tech, where he went to get his second degree, he discovered Energy-Maneuverability, which forever changed aviation. Those things alone would have made him worth writing about. But his greatest contributions came after he retired, when he went into seclusion for a year or 18 months and adopted this daunting course of self study. Out of that emerged a briefing called "Patterns of Conflict. ... It made Boyd, in the eyes of many, the greatest military thinker since Sun Tzu."

Boyd's strategic system is straight-forward, but requires a kind of mental similation that is integrative, rather than linear. 

Observe, Orient, Decide, Act

Boyd's insights originated with his experience as a fighter pilot.  His purpose was to develop a system of strategic thought that could be done quickly and lead to decisive action more effectively.

From his briefing book entitled Patterns of Conflict, an historical review of the patterns of battle that point his perspective.

· Need fighter that can both lose energy and gain energy more quickly while outturning an adversary.

· In other words, suggests a fighter that can pick and choose engagement opportunities - yet has fast transient (“buttonhook”) characteristics that can be used to either force an overshoot by an attacker or stay inside a hard turning defender.

Idea Expansion:
· Idea of fast transients suggests that, in order to win, we should operate at a faster tempo or rhythm than our adversaries - or, better yet, get inside adversary’s Observation, Orientation, Decision, Action time cycle or loop.

· Why?  Such activity will make us appear ambiguous (unpredictable) thereby generate confusion and disorder among our adversaries - since our adversaries will be unable to generate mental images or pictures that agree with the menacing as well as faster transient rhythm or patterns they are competing against.

Most strategic planning is an abstract process looking at tomorrow. That is not to say it isn't a valuable process. It is to say that it does not help in dealing with change brought about by disruptive forces in an environment or industry.

Boyd's OODA loop thinking / acting process is designed to address, in particular, conflict situations where those who hold power and exercise control determine the rules of the game. Boyd's process disrupts that process by acting more quickly to disrupt a practiced process of decision-making.

Boyd's philosophy assumes that organizational decision-making is war, whose purpose is to win. The OODA Loop allows for more effective decisive judgments in the midst of high stress, pressured situations.  Most leaders of organizations that I know live daily in high stress environments where decision-making is a critical aspect of success or failure.  The OODA Loop provides a way to see both the big picture, and how that picture is constantly changing. Practiced as a learned skill it becomes second nature.

The OODA Loop also provides for a strategic advantage in being able to better anticipate what your competitors or clients are going to do.  When I began conducting strategic visioning projects over twenty years ago, they would take a long time to conclude.  The process was not about speed, but about thoroughness.  Now, speed is of the essence, and short term is long term, and long term is a fantasy.

As leaders, we all want to be considered as an industry leader. If so, then you need to look into how to think as Col. John Boyd has outlined.  Read the Coram book and interview and then go here where you will not only find many of Boyd's briefings, but also strategists who are using Boyd's system to look at global issues.  It is fascinating material that requires a bit of work to provide any leader a valuable method for strategic thinking. This is not pop leadership psychology. This a revolutionary way of thinking that can change every aspect of the decision / action process.

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Making Sense about Business Plans

There are people who are insightful thinkers, but their insights are not very practical.  Then there are insightful thinkers who are able to articulate their ideas in clear, simple, accessible terms. Guy Kawasaki is the latter.  I love his blog.

Go read his posting on business plans.  As a venture capitalist, Guy reads lots of these, and his experience is clearly evidenced by his thoughts here.

Having tried to use one of those business plan software programs, I appreciate so much the simplicity of Guy's suggestions.  His posting is a keeper.

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I'm back

After all most two weeks out of action, I'm back from a continuing round of flu, cough and general fatique.  Hope everyone had a wonderful holiday with family and friends, and that your new year has started off with great optimism.

I've spent part of my day in reflection on the past year, and looking toward the next.  This is something most of us do, and often it results in New Year's Resolutions.  However, I don't resolve to be better or do better.  I resolve to change.  And figuring out what to change is the key.  It reminds me of the questions Eliyahu Goldratt raises in his Theory of Constraints methodology.  He asks simply:

“What To Change?”
“To What To Change?”
“How To Cause The Change?”

Of course, this follows the obvious question, "Why Change?"

For me, it is because I had a very good year last year, yet, I know that I did not max out on what I can do.  Hence, I need to change in order to expand my impact. 

So, here is how I approach determining the substance of change for my work.

I ask four questions:

1. During the past year, where was my impact?

2. Who did I impact?

3. What new opportunities have come because of the impact that I have had?

4.  What problems has this created for me?

As I have begun to work through these questions, what I have come to recognize is that the change we seek is often for the purpose of opening up space for new opportunities to emerge. So, as I read somewhere recently of someone who had heard Jim Collins speak in the mid-1990s speak about a "Stop-to-do" list.  What I recognize in going through this process is that in order to go forward, some things have to stop or be curtailed for a period of time. 

So, this is what is occupying a portion of my brain today. 

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Really Learning the 7 Irrefutable Laws of Small Business Growth

Link: HBS Working Knowledge: Entrepreneurship.

A review of Steven Little's The 7 Irrefutable Rules of Small Business Growth has curious comment by the author. 

Author Steven Little began his career in advertising before becoming president of three fast-growth companies. He makes it very clear to readers that he has learned more about small-business growth since he got out of the practitioner role, immersed himself in the study of entrepreneurial opportunity, and made a career of speaking and consulting on the topic.

I guess I need to read the book, but did he not learn these lessons as a practioner, and learn to articulate what he learned as a speaker and writer?

I raise the issue because my situation is the opposite. 

For ten years, I have had a consulting business in the arena of leadership development and planning.  Yet, it was six years ago when I decided to stop talking about leadership and start leading that I began to really understand the nature of leadership.  Those various leadership opportunities provided me contexts for testing my ideas about leadership and organizational development.  In fact, my thinking about leadership changed because I was a practioner.  My blog entries capture some of this understanding.

Here's the specific issue with the genre of leadership text that Little's book falls into.  One my chief interests is understanding how to narrow the chasm between ideas and practice.  That is why the leadership development side of my practice has been focused on planning and implementation.  Leadership speakers who can present eloquent presentations of ideas about leadership are everywhere. The business shelf of bookstores are full of these kinds of books. 

Little of what is said is new or innovative, most derivative of someone else's work.  That is okay, we all learn from our mentors.  It is that most of this is not really focused on how to lead, and instead on describing what it is. Having clear ideas about leadership is not the same as knowing what to do with those ideas.  What is needed in more speaker's and books is how to shorten the time span from inspiring idea to learned practice.

Let's take Little's book for example.  Here are the seven rules.

Rule 1: Establish and maintain a strong sense of purpose
Rule 2: Thoroughly understand the marketplace
Rule 3: Build an effective growth planning system
Rule 4: Develop customer-driven processes
Rule 5: Put the power of technology to work
Rule 6: Attract and keep the best and the brightest
Rule 7
: See the future more clearly

The only one of those rules I want to read about is #3 - on a growth planning system.  A system implies application, methodology, processes, and measures.  The rest is common sense, and even a bit dated common sense.  For example, businesses have moved beyond trying to be customer-driven on to creating evangelists for customer experiences of emotion, connection and remarkableness.

S.J. Johnston ends his review with this comment.

Although his seven “irrefutable” rules are not scientifically proven, he argues that they should be recognized and acknowledged because “they just make sense.” We agree.

I agree as well.  But there really is nothing note worthy in this list.  Knowing these "rules" doesn't make small business growth happen.  In fact, focusing on these 7 rules probably won't make your business grow.  For these rules do not constitute a comprehensive system for business growth.  They are common sensical aphorisms that remind people of some basic values that need to be incorported into every business.   If I want a primer on small business growth, I'd go to Michael Gerber's E-Myth system.

What I have learned is that the application of ideas is not the same as collecting ideas. It requires focus, commitment and time.  When I encounter some new idea or ideas, like Seth Godin's approach to marketing, I try to become as familiar as I can with the idea itself.  I do this by trying to articulate it to other people.  At teh same time I ask "How does this work here."  I look for opportunities to put it into practice.  For example, the Confidence Cairn (See here, here, here, and here) project at the Newland Presbyterian Church grew out of a number of ideas, but it really took off as I used his Purple Cow book as a reference.  Now it is easy to get inspired by the Purple Cow.  It is another thing to actually create something remarkable.  The Confidence Cairn is remarkable within the context of the church and community in Newland.

What I have learned in the leadership development business is that most leaders already have sufficient ideas that will benefit their businesses.  What they need is to apply those ideas.  The problem is that most ideas don't come with an application methodology. As a result, most ideas are superficially understood, are more for emotional inspiration, and tend to become the flavor of the month if not applied.

Finally, for my work as a consultant, I have found that strategic planning is a very receptive context for applying new ideas.   Planning is ultimately about change, seeking impact for the organization through a better utilization of its resources and assets.  For this to happen, there is a reorientation that must occur involving purpose, goals, organizational structure and many other things.  It is here where leaders learn how to lead.  In the nitty-gritty of implementing change, leaders need fresh insight that ideas can give them. 

That is why if there is any cyncism in my voice toward leadership treatments like Little's book, it is because they fall short of their promise to make a difference.  Difference is change.  Change is impact.  Impact comes from change.  Change comes from doing things differently.  Doing things differently comes from thinking differently, and perceiving what you are to do differently, and then changing to meet that new perception. If your vision, your idea of the future, is not clear, then the ideas that guide you toward that future point of impact are either not clear, coherent, applicable or well developed.  Narrowing the chasm between idea and impact is the challenge.

* Tip of the hat to Tom Peters Wire Service for this link.

Applying the Technology Adoption Life Cyle to the implementation of new ideas

Technology_adoption_life_cycle_1Earlier, I wrote about utilizing Geoffrey Moore's Technology Adoption Life Cycle in the context of applying new ideas.  There I made the claim that ideas are like technology, and need to be applied in the same manner.

The more I have thought about this, the more I think this makes sense.  Here is how to look at this.

New ideas are created by Innovators.  Or they are advances of earlier ideas by applying them in a new context. Like the current trend toward utilizing quantum physics as an explanatory tool in organizational development.  A new perspective opens up avenues of understanding and creativity that was locked up, restricted by what was the current conventional thinking. 

A new perspective emerges like Gladwell's Tipping Point, and the Early Adopters jump on the bandwagon.

The Early Adopters identify the value of new ideas, and create expansive, immaginative visions of their impact.  Some of those Early Adopters will see the value only after figuring out their application.

Here then is the link to the Early Majority that Moore calls Pragmatists.  The value of an idea and the application of an idea are separate things. 

Early Majority people are not adopting the value of an idea, but rather the application of the idea. This is an important distinction.  That is why it is so important to test ideas, understand their fit into reality, and then systematize it.

Once the Early Majority has claimed the application as their own, and the application of an idea transcends the idea itself, then the Late Majority will pick up on it.

So, how is the transition made?

I think it begins by quantifying the impact of the value of idea. What changes or benefits occur?  What new opportunities emerge? What problems does it alleviate and/or create?  Who does it benefit?

Answer these questions and anyone can begin to understand how to apply the idea in a specific situation. 

This is one of the critical questions that thought leaders fail to both address and answer.

It is the answer that crosses the chasm.

A Conversation about Strategic Planning

First Posted May 20, 2005, updated for today.

Circle of Impact- simple

One morning in a business office.

THE LEADER – We need a plan.


THE LEADER – We are being overwhelmed by issues and problems that seem to come from nowhere. … It isn't clear what step we need to take to resolve some of the challenges..

THE ASSISTANT - Yeah! It does seem that we’ve been floundering for the past few months. Any ideas?

THE LEADER – Uh, huh. THE FRIEND recommended I talk with THE GUIDE. He led a retreat for THE FRIEND's nonprofit board. Thought he might be able to help. Here’s his phone number.

THE ASSISTANT - Ok. I’ll set up the appointment.

Next week, at a local coffee shop.

THE GUIDE - Tell me what's going on.

THE LEADER – Well…I came to talk about our need for a strategic plan. We have some problems.  Here’s a list I started the other day.

<THE LEADER - hands THE GUIDE a list>

THE GUIDE – So you think a plan will help you solve all these problems?

THE LEADER -- Yes. I hope so because I am not sure what else we can do. We are caught between processes that no longer work as well as they used to, and things that are successful without our really putting much effort into them. We know those things aren't sustainable in the long run. They really aren’t our core business either, but they bring in revenue now. We need some clarity, perspective and direction.

THE GUIDE – OK. But here’s what you need to know before embarking upon a strategic planning process with me. 

There is more to a plan than producing a document. We are talking about a change process. Unless you are prepared to do things differently, don’t begin. It will only make your situation more difficult because you are going to raise everyone’s expectations, and not be able to meet them.

The reason?  They will see through the process as simply an avoidance of reality. Your people know what is true. They may not know the whole truth, but they know it for their piece of the puzzle which is your company. If you want them to trust the process, then you have to see this as a change process that requires honesty, transparency and integrity.

THE LEADER – Oh. I thought a plan was to help me know what I am to do.

THE GUIDE – It is. But what you have been doing may be counter productive to what is in your best interest, and the best interest of your company.



THE LEADER – So what should I do? This isn’t what I thought strategic planning was about.

THE GUIDE – Yeah. That’s the normal reaction.

THE LEADER – So, tell me this. Why do I need a strategic plan?

THE GUIDE – A plan is simply a tool - nothing more or nothing less - that helps you as the leader of your organization to focus the goodwill, energies and commitment of people upon a clearly conceived vision of impact.

Most organizations and leaders get trapped into thinking that their business is managing activities. It’s not. It’s producing results. Those activities are important because they help produce the impact you want. But they aren’t the impact. Can you tell me what the impact of your business should be?

THE LEADER – Yeah. We want to provide our clients with the best products and services in our market.

THE GUIDE – Ok. What’s the impact? What is the change you are creating?

THE LEADER – What do you mean? We want to do the best job we can serving our customers.

THE GUIDE – Serving your customers. Providing products and services are just things you do. They are activities. And you are spending your time focused on managing the activities of all your people. Right?

THE LEADER - - Yes and No. We have goals, sales projections, that we look at, in some cases on a daily basis. That’s how we measure how well we are doing. And we are a market leader here in town, so we are doing pretty well.

THE GUIDE – Uh Huh. So what’s the problem? Why did you come to me if you are goal oriented and results focused?

THE LEADER – Well … we have these prob…I’m not sure now that you mention it … There’s something missing in our business. I can’t put my finger on it. Some things are doing well and others … I guess I sense that we are not reaching our potential.

THE GUIDE – If you were to reach your potential, would you know it?

THE LEADER – Uh…that’s a good question.

THE GUIDE – Here’s the problem. You are a smart guy. You would not be the leader of your organization if you weren’t. You have the right degrees. You read books on leadership and management. You attend conferences. You stay up to date on trends in your industry. And as a result you have become very comfortable with the language of leadership and management.

The problem is – and you are like me in this way – we know more than we have experienced or have practiced. Ideas are important for helping us focus, clarify, motivate and articulate our perspective. But knowing an idea conceptually, even visualizing how it might work is not the same as having tested it to see if it does. And like most ambitious leaders you absorb new ideas all the time, but never give them the opportunity to see if they work. Let me ask you this …in the past six months, how many audio books have you listened to and how many books have you started on your Kindle?

THE LEADER – Gee, …I don’t know … maybe a dozen?

THE GUIDE – Yeah. And every time you pass through an airport, you look at the bookstand, and you buy a book because it has a compelling title and a fresh set of ideas. What was the last business book you finished?

THE LEADER – Uh…The One Minute Manager?

THE GUIDE – Yeah, exactly. Here’s what I’m driving at.  Ninety Nine percent of business leaders are doing what you are doing. They focus on activity results and the collection of ideas. And their budget serves as the only strategic plan they have.

What you should measure is change, impact, the difference you are making. And all those ideas you are collecting become a mental load. We read books to learn and grow. And we should measure their impact by the change we make.

THE LEADER – Ok. Tell me more.

THE GUIDE – Ever read any philosophy?

THE LEADER – Yeah, in college. Don’t remember much of it.

THE GUIDE – My favorite philosopher is Aristotle. Want to know why?


THE GUIDE – Because he understood how to establish the link between the idea of something and the experience or practice of it. What he said is that we should think of ourselves as artisans, craftsmen, who learn an art by practicing it. We learn by doing. And we learn by doing it over and over and over again. The same is true with leading. Reading books, listening to tapes, attending conferences, even getting advanced degrees have value, but they are not a substitute for practicing leadership skills in the real world.

THE LEADER – Ok. Let me sort this through. What you are saying is that for most leaders they are focused on the wrong things. They don’t really see it that way, but their gut tells them this is true. They do the best they can. But there is always something missing. They don’t know what it is, so they read books, go to conferences, attend lectures, and listen to tapes. They get ideas that seem helpful, get inspired to do better, but fall back into the same rut and routine because nothing has changed.

THE GUIDE – You’ve got it.

THE LEADER – So the trick is what? …practicing? That I don’t understand.

THE GUIDE – It is not the practicing. It is the process of turning ideas into experience that produces the kind of impact you desire. It comes back to impact and change.

THE LEADER – OK. So what does this have to do with my need for a strategic plan? After all, all you’ve given me are your ideas and nothing has changed.

THE GUIDE – It isn’t that nothing has changed. Your perception has changed. And if that matters then your actions can too.

THE LEADER – I do see your point. But still I am not clear about how this concerns a strategic plan for my business.

THE GUIDE – Many strategic plans are written to be documents that are checked off the activity list. They are perfunctory and for the most part merely project current reality into the future. At least that is the way many of the ones that I’ve encountered over the years. The shift in business is to a more results focus that has broader categories of measurement than just bottomline numbers. This shift affects how planning is done. And this is where we began. Let me ask you a question. Can you describe for me what you want your business to be like in 5 years?

THE LEADER - - Sure. I want to expand to include two other cities in our region.

THE GUIDE – Ok. That’s a goal. Now imagine that you have accomplished this goal. You are now in three cities. Describe for me what you see going on. Imagine you have put together a music video that celebrates the achievement of your goal. Tell me what you see. What music would be playing?

THE LEADER – I see my role has changed. Instead of managing my one office here, across the street there ( pointing out the window), I have a manager for each location.

THE GUIDE – So what are you doing? How does this change your activity schedule?

THE LEADER – Hmmm. I haven’t thought about that. Not sure.

THE GUIDE – This is a problem that many leaders in growing businesses face. They want to grow. And they think that what changes is that their life and work will be the same, only just at a higher activity level. What is hard to calculate are the number of changes required. Managing managers is different than managing a staff. Being the leader of a regional group of offices is different than being the manager of a single local office. The change is both professional and personal. It is more dramatic and demanding than you can imagine. You are not adding responsibilities, you are taking a quantum leap in the number and complexity of the responsibilities that you will have. It requires you to learn new skills, behaviors and approaches to leading. You and your business cannot continue to do things the same way. You will have to change.

THE LEADER – How do I know what I’ll need to know? This is bigger than I thought.

THE GUIDE – Don’t get overwhelmed . You don’t have to compress five years into 20 minutes. You have time. And you’ll be amazed at how short a time it will take, that is if you have a plan, are focused and are totally prepared to follow this path where it leads. Ok?

THE LEADER – Ok. Where do I start?

THE GUIDE – With a plan.

THE LEADER – Back to square one…

THE GUIDE – But on a different game board. You see we aren’t planning for a single local office, but for a regional group of three offices in three cities. We begin at the fulfillment of your plan.

THE LEADER – Yeah. This is different. Can we start now while this fresh?

THE GUIDE – Sure, I have another hour. We can talk project scope, process and cost later. Let’s begin by asking five questions. I want you to start writing a journal so that we have an historical record of your progress and of our interaction.

THE LEADER – OK. Can borrow some paper?

THE GUIDE – Sure. Here’s a pad. 

THE LEADER – Thanks.

THE GUIDE – OK. Now before I give the questions and get another cup of coffee, I want to say one more thing. While the success of your organization is a team effort led by you, the success of a planning / change process is totally up to you. You have to lead the effort by modeling the change. While others may have the desire for changes to be made, none are thinking like you are in terms of the development of the business. It is your role to lead them to a vision of the future that you all share and work to achieve. This becomes one of your primary responsibilities. The planning processes that I have worked on over the years that have been less than successful have ultimately been because the senior leader has not become the champion of the process or the resulting plan. You have to be your business’ champion if you want to reach your goal in five years. Ok?

THE LEADER – Yeah! Makes sense. Because I rose up through the ranks, I’ve always felt a little reticent to be too forceful in leading. You are giving me a picture of how I have to be different in the future. Wow! This is amazing.

THE GUIDE – Yes it is. Very exciting. Now let’s begin this adventure. I’d like you to write down the following questions, and while I go get us both some fresh coffee, give me your immediate response to them. They don’t have to be complete sentences or even phrases. But they have to make sense. The questions are:

1. Over the past 12 to 18 months, what has changed? How is the business in transition

2. What has been our impact? What difference have we made that matters?

3. Who have we impacted?

4. What opportunities do I have now that I didn’t a year ago?

5. What obstacles must we address? What problems have we created?

 < 10 minutes later>

THE LEADER - - Here are my responses.

THE GUIDE – Ok. No, just hang on to them. As we talk about the questions, write down other thoughts you have. The purpose behind this is help you think concretely about the changes that need to happen in order for your goal to be realized. When we are finished, your goal will have been transformed into a vision for impact. Once we have that clarified, developing your plan will be easy.

< 45 minutes later >

THE GUIDE – You have a beginning idea for what your life, work and business will be like in 5 years. I’m going to need to go, however, I want to quickly sketch out what my strategic plan looks like. Before I describe that do you have any questions?

THE LEADER – If we to follow through on this, how long will it take?

THE GUIDE – There is no waiting for the plan to be completed before you begin to implement. We have already begun to implement your plan. The skills you need you will learn and practice as we work together. You build commitment and support for your plan by the way you put your plan together. This way you learn to become a master craftsman of leadership arts. And your staff join you from the start in the adventure of growing into a regional market leader. Our teacher Aristotle would be so proud.

THE LEADER – OK. Never thought of myself as an artist. That will take some getting use to.

THE GUIDE – A typical plan consists of four parts.

There is a Vision statement. We’ve discussed that already. However, it is important to understand that it needs to be simple, concise and impact focused. From that statement are derived a few – two or three – Goals that are a restatement of the Vision. If we took your five year goal of having offices in three cities, one of the goals could be something like “to be a regional leader serving in …”.

Then we develop Strategies to fulfill each goal. Strategies are not simple action steps. Rather they are collaborative efforts that focus the work of the organization. In this case, a strategy could be establishing rapport with lenders, business leaders and potential customers to determine the right location for your business in their community. Each strategy then is divided out into specific Action Steps with an estimation of time and cost and assignment of responsibility for the initiative. The usefulness of this approach is that it helps you manage your activities so that you can maintain your focus on results. This will become clearer as we work through the process. Is this clear enough for now?

THE LEADER – Yeah. What I like about it is that it is all integrated, linked together. I have my dream and I see how I can achieve it. Wow! I didn’t expect this to come out of this meeting. Ok, what’s next?

THE GUIDE – I’m going to prepare a set of questions that I want you, your staff and some of your clients to answer. I’m going to ask for some documents that describe how you are organized. Because with growth comes the need to address organizational structure. I need to know whether your operation is based on clear policy choices, or, are you primarily operating on the strength of your personality and character. To grow like you wish, your operating structure will have to grow as well. I’ll have those questions to you by the end of the week, along with a project proposal that will include process, timeframe and costs. Does that sound okay to you?

THE LEADER – Yes it does. Thank you very much. This is going to be great.

THE GUIDE – Yes, it is. Remember this day. It is the beginning of what could be a life-long adventure of pursuing a vision for impact that still forming in your mind. Thank you for letting me join you in this journey.

< conversation ends >


I've had many of these conversations over the past two decades. There are two sets of lessons that I've learned.

Lesson Set #1:

Strategic planning is a conversation. It takes place in relationships. It is a personal process that takes place in a business context. It is so because strategic planning is a change process. You can’t change an organization without changing the people and the relationships in it.

Strategic planning is an analytical process focused on enhancing the impact that you wish to achieve. If there is no vision, there is no reason to change or to improve. If there is no plan and no way to change, then the vision is a fantasy that is soon recalled with regret, maybe even bitterness.

Strategic planning is a tool for building an organizational community focused on individual performance experienced as the impact which is a shared vision for the future.You can not do it alone. The clearer the plan, the better the conversation, the more trusting the relationships, the more likely your vision of impact will be realized.

Lesson Set #2:

Strategic planning is less and less about long term planning, and more about providing a platform for adaptive leadership. This primarily means that a plan is a daily change process.

The Leader of an organization is now more of a facilitator of other's leadership than the sole leader who delegates. One of the major shifts in the operation of the organization is in the encouragement and equipping of individual leadership at all levels of the organization. Leadership in this sense is initiative taken to create impact. For the majority of the organization's employees this means that they become problem solvers and system adapters to change.

Measuring impact or change is more critical now than ever.  One way to get at this is look at what is called the Triple / Quadruple Bottom LIne

It is important also to understand that how we measure results is influenced by our experience of the acceleration of time. Now, a minute, an hour, a day are still the same length, but our experience has changed. We are now forcing more tasks, decisions and encounters into the same space of time as we have always had. The benefit / liability of technology is that we can do more with fewer resources, in less time for greater results. We need to recognize that measuring performance requires us to be much clearer and specific about what matters. We need to be clear about what results from our life and work actually matter. Impact or creating change or difference is how I've come to understand what we must do.

Lastly, we need more conversation that creates the conditions of collaboration. My Circle of Impact Leadership Guides are designed to foster conversation built around the Five Questions. Do this with everyone in your organization, and everyone will begin to see the big picture, within the context of their specific place within the organization. This is essential for leading change in the 21st. Century.

Best Business Books 2004 - Strategy + Business

Strategy + Business magazine has published their best books of 2004.

Here's the list.

Best Business Books 2004: Index


Confronting Reality: Doing What Matters to Get Things Right
by Larry Bossidy and Ram Charan
(Crown Business, 2004)

The Future of Competition: Co-Creating Unique Value with Customers
by C.K. Prahalad and Venkat Ramaswamy
(Harvard Business School Press, 2004)

Strategy Maps: Converting Intangible Assets into Tangible Outcomes
by Robert S. Kaplan and David P. Norton
(Harvard Business School Press, 2004)


A Bias for Action: How Effective Managers Harness Their Willpower, Achieve Results, and Stop Wasting Time
by Heike Bruch and Sumantra Ghoshal
(Harvard Business School Press, 2004)

Managers Not MBAs: A Hard Look at the Soft Practice of Managing and Management Development
by Henry Mintzberg
(Berrett-Koehler, 2004)

Predictable Surprises: The Disasters You Should Have Seen Coming, and How to Prevent Them
by Max H. Bazerman and Michael D. Watkins
(Harvard Business School Press, 2004)

The Real Thing: Truth and Power at the Coca-Cola Company
by Constance L. Hays
(Random House, 2004)

The Seven-Day Weekend: Changing the Way Work Works
by Ricardo Semler
(Portfolio, 2004)

The Toyota Way: 14 Management Principles from the World’s Greatest Manufacturer
by Jeffrey K. Liker
(McGraw-Hill, 2004)

The U.S. Army Leadership Field Manual: Battle-Tested Wisdom for Leaders in Any Organization
by the Center for Army Leadership
(McGraw-Hill, 2004)

IT & Innovation

The Business of Software: What Every Manager, Programmer, and Entrepreneur Must Know to Thrive and Survive in Good Times and Bad
by Michael A. Cusumano
(Free Press, 2004)

Does IT Matter? Information Technology and the Corrosion of Competitive Advantage
by Nicholas G. Carr
(Harvard Business School Press, 2004)

Free Culture: How Big Media Uses Technology and the Law to Lock Down Culture and Control Creativity
by Lawrence Lessig
(Penguin Press, 2004)

The Keystone Advantage: What the New Dynamics of Business Ecosystems Mean for Strategy, Innovation, and Sustainability
by Marco Iansiti and Roy Levien
(Harvard Business School Press, 2004)


Alexander Hamilton

by Ron Chernow
(Penguin Press, 2004)

Authentic Leadership: Rediscovering the Secrets to Creating Lasting Value
by Bill George
(Jossey-Bass, 2003)

The Price of Loyalty: George W. Bush, the White House, and the Education of Paul O’Neill
by Ron Suskind
(Simon & Schuster, 2004)

Ready to Lead? A Story for Leaders and Their Mentors
by Alan Price
(Jossey-Bass, 2004)

Testosterone Inc.: Tales of CEOs Gone Wild
by Christopher Byron
(John Wiley & Sons, 2004)

Why CEOs Fail: The 11 Behaviors That Can Derail Your Climb to the Top — and How to Manage Them
by David L. Dotlich and Peter C. Cairo
(Jossey-Bass, 2003)

Authentic Leadership: Rediscovering the Secrets to Creating Lasting Value
by Bill George
(Jossey-Bass, 2003)

Back to the Drawing Board: Designing Corporate Boards for a Complex World
by Colin B. Carter and Jay W. Lorsch
(Harvard Business School Press, 2004)

Corporate Governance and Chairmanship: A Personal View
by Adrian Cadbury
(Oxford University Press, 2002)

The Naked Corporation: How the Age of Transparency Will Revolutionize Business
by Don Tapscott and David Ticoll
(Free Press, 2003)

The Recurrent Crisis in Corporate Governance
by Paul W. MacAvoy and Ira M. Millstein
(Palgrave MacMillan, 2003)

Change Management
Building the Bridge as You Walk on It: A Guide for Leading Change
by Robert E. Quinn
(Jossey-Bass, 2004)

Change Without Pain: How Managers Can Overcome Initiative Overload, Organizational Chaos, and Employee Burnout
by Eric Abrahamson
(Harvard Business School Press, 2004)

Changing Minds: The Art and Science of Changing Our Own and Other People’s Minds
by Howard Gardner
(Harvard Business School Press, 2004)

The Bubble Origins of the Crash: The Great Bubble and Its Undoing
by Roger Lowenstein
(Penguin Press, 2004)

Rational Exuberance: Silencing the Enemies of Growth and Why the Future Is Better Than You Think
by Michael J. Mandel
(HarperBusiness, 2004)

Behavioral Economics

The Company of Strangers: A Natural History of Economic Life
by Paul Seabright
(Princeton University Press, 2004)

The Economy of Esteem: An Essay on Civil and Political Society
by Geoffrey Brennan and Philip Pettit
(Oxford University Press, 2004)

The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less
by Barry Schwartz
(Ecco, 2004)

The New Consumer
Call of the Mall: The Geography of Shopping
by Paco Underhill
(Simon & Schuster, 2004)

On Paradise Drive: How We Live Now (And Always Have) in the Future Tense
by David Brooks
(Simon & Schuster, 2004)

The Substance of Style: How the Rise of Aesthetic Value Is Remaking Commerce, Culture, and Consciousness
by Virginia Postrel
(HarperCollins, 2003)

Confusing Roles: Board member or Consultant?

Frequently, when I talk with people about a project, they say they have someone on their board who can serve as their consultant. Is this a good idea?

The first planning project I conducted I did so as a board member of a local community organization. While the limited scope of the project made it much easier to reach a successful result, our lack of experience meant that we did not fully benefit from the wealth of opportunity that comes from these organizational initiatives. When an organization chooses to use a board member to conduct a planning process rather than a consultant is not because they believe they will gain a better result, but rather because of cost.

When a board member steps forward to offer what is essentially a consulting service, he is blurring the lines between his responsibility as board member and as a consultant. He or she cannot simultaneously both hold the consultant accountable for the project and be accountable for the project. This is different when a board member provides a product or service in agreement with the CEO, whose decision and actions are accountable to the board. The health of an organization is dependent on maintaining clear lines of responsibility and accountability between the executive and the board.

When you hire a consultant to lead a planning process, you are establishing a relationship of accountability. That person brings experience, tested skills, and a proven methodology. While your consultant should believe in your mission as an organization, his or her effectiveness is dependent upon them maintaining their objectivity throughout the project.

When I work with a group, I come in as an intimate outsider. I ask lots of questions so that I can understand what is happening. As much as possible, I want my presence to be virtually invisible to the vast majority of people involved with the organization. This enables me to maintain a relationship of integrity to the leader and the organization. I am very conscious of not crossing the line where I lose my objectivity and begin to push a personal agenda that is neither the organization’s vision nor one appropriate for it.

My interest is to help leaders develop the conceptual framework that provides them direction and insight about how to develop their organization. So, I work hard to establish a relationship of trust and open communication. The effectiveness of my work is built first on this trust, and second on my experience of working with leaders in a variety of organizational settings.

When an organization uses an internal staff member or board member to conduct these kinds of processes, it creates a conflict that should be avoided. Maintaining clear role definition is the best, most efficient and ultimately most effective way to conduct these planning processes.

There is more about my approach to planning and leadership development here.

Compelling Visions Planning Processes

Compelling Visions Planning Processes

Over the years, I’ve learned that every organization has different planning needs. The following programs provide a variety of options for every organization.

There are two approaches.

Leadership Team Strategic Planning Processes
Leadership teams need to have a clear understanding of no only what their mission is, but its impact. In order to fulfill their organizational mission, a leadership team must think strategically. That is they must be able to link the approaches and processes of their operation to the results or impact they desire. Often leadership teams lose this strategic perspective as they seek to be efficient.

A Leadership Team Strategic Planning Process provides a simple, direct method for assisting a leadership team to focus on organizational results, and how to achieve them. The process is conducted through survey research, interviews and facilitated discussions with the leadership team to achieve clarity about how to fulfill the organization’s mission.

This approach is particularly effective for
* New teams that have a wide diversity of experiences and perspectives, and need to discover the core values and shared vision that is essential for their performance as a team.

* Organizations that are in a leadership transition. This program assists those charged with leadership to focus on the essential needs of an interim period, so that new leadership may enter a healthy, well-performing operation.

Compelling Visions Visioning Process
Many organizations today make the mistake of believing that strategic plans can be “sold” to members, stakeholders and constituents. Increasingly, organizations must establish a strategic vision that incorporates the values and goals of those who are most important for the plan’s success. This planning program is designed to build support and commitment for the future of an organization from the beginning of the planning process rather at the conclusion.

A strategic vision is identified through a facilitated conversation with the members, stakeholders and constituents of the organization. This approach is especially suited to a religious congregation that is experiencing growth pains or is in a leadership transition. A prospectus for congregational visioning is also available.

There are three elements to this process. A visioning committee acts as servant leaders to listen to the organization’s community. This listening is conducted through a facilitated process of small groups using a set of survey questions written specifically for the organization by the visioning committee. After the conversation process is completed, the visioning committee interprets what they have heard in the form of a vision document that explicitly describes action initiatives the organization must take to fulfill the expressed vision of the organization’s community.

Process/ Timeframe
The process of the comprehensive visioning process involves various options like survey research, interviews, planning retreats, and small group facilitated conversations. Ordinarily, a special task force is established to manage the project. The timeframe is six to ten months depending on the design of the process and time of year when the project is initiated.


This is a one day, intensive planning process focused on immediate needs. The resulting plan is a short-term, strategic vision for the next two to six months. Longer than six months, then a modified version of the Comprehensive plan should be conducted.

1. I spend the afternoon and evening of one day with you, your
leadership team, and the Board. I ask questions. Lots of questions. Questions open up avenues of understanding. Every answer leads to another question, that leads to greater clarity. Clarity of purpose, with the right approach,
produces the kind of results that build greater enthusiasm and unity within an organization.

Organizations are like giant puzzles. Questions help me to put together
a coherent perspective of the organization and its needs in a very short

2. I review written planning, organizational and communication documents- strategic plans, mission statements, organizational structure charts, newsletters, marketing materials, website content, and any other written materials that articulate the mission and goals of the organization. This can be performed
that day, or for an additional fee, prior to my arrival.

I look at them for clarity about your vision, how it is expressed through your programs and products and how you communicate with your members, stakeholders and community. Without clarity, ambiguity sets in, and
consequently indecisiveness and passivity. As a result, I ask more

3. I then meet with the leadership team to discuss what I am initially discovering. I ask more questions.

4. Then, I meet with the Board for a 90 minute. The first 30 minutes, ask questions about your plans, methods and approaches in the context of the issues that I have identified during the previous sessions.

I have learned over the years that unless you can state the impact that you desire to achieve, you have not reached the level of clarity needed to realize the full potential of your plans and programs.

The next 30 minutes, we clarify what we have discussed. This perspective is sort of a vision. It is a visionary in that it is a clear perspective of what you need to do in the immediate future. Whatever we see, we then spend the remainder of our time developing an action plan that can be implemented immediately, and consequently produce desired results within a two to six month timeframe.

This process isn't about drafting a comprehensive, long-range, strategic
plan. It is for dealing directly with immediate needs of the organization in an effective, timely manner.

This program provides your organization's leadership team a clear action
plan. The focus is on the next two to six months. Nothing more. If there are issues that have a longer timeframe, then we can schedule another session to
address them, or, negotiate a more comprehensive planning process.

After we have completed the day, I will send you a letter outlining our
conversation and action plan, and my recommendations for how you can build
upon the work we did.

Vision Plan/ Communication Audit
With this program, I conduct an assessment of the documents and communication tools that you use for planning, decision-making, program coordination and communication within the organization and for your stakeholders.

Process/ Timeframe
The process is simple. You send me everything you use on a regular basis to communicate direction and progress to the people involved in executing and support the work of the organization. I review the documents. We have a one hour telephone conference where I ask follow up questions based on my assessment of the materials you send me. Then I prepare a report that provides recommendations for improvement. The goal of this program is clarity so you can more effectively communicate and coordinate with people.

Once we have had our telephone interview, I will have a report back to you within two weeks.

Information on fees are available upon request.