Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Strategic Planning Analogy #383: Showing Up (Part 2)

In the last blog, we began a discussion around strategic success. We said that strategic success requires more than just having a great vision and a great plan. One also needs to have employees united around making that plan a reality.

Unfortunately, people do not always naturally unite around a plan. Due to different thoughts and agendas, there can be differences of opinion. People may not see a reason to fight for plan. In fact, some may want to sabotage the plan.

Strategies typically involve change. Not everyone sees the benefit in change. Many will resist change.

Unless you deal with these roadblocks of resistance, your strategy will die before you have a chance to implement it. Therefore, a key part of the strategic process is working to get everyone on board, to show up and be committed to the plan.

In the last blog, we looked at three areas where roadblocks can occur (Motivation, Beliefs, and Perspective). In this blog we will look at four more.


4. Goals
In a race, people run towards the goal. If there is a disagreement about what the goal is (or should be), then everyone will be running in different directions. For a united effort in a singular direction, you need an agreement on what the goal should be. So what should that goal be?

One way to choose a goal is to say “We should do what is right.” Although this sounds good, it is actually a terrible goal. The problem is that it assumes there is only one right thing and that everything else is wrong. This causes people in a discussion to focus on trying to prove that everyone else is wrong. And of course, nobody wants to be proven wrong, so they fight back to prove you are wrong. This leads to discord rather than unity. In the end, nobody wins.

Worse yet, this assumption just isn’t true. There are a lot of divergent points of view which are all “right.” It is right that a company focus on the crisis of today. It is also right that a company focus on tomorrow. It is right that individual departments need to fight for their needs. It is also right that sometimes departments need to give up something for the good of the whole company. It is right for a company to provide financial returns today for its stakeholders. It is also right for a company to invest money for the future. And the list goes on and on.

Therefore, instead of fighting for what is right (and what is wrong), a better goal is to “do what is best.” This way, everyone can save face in the discussion, since their positions are not necessarily viewed as wrong. They are still right—but just not the best right thing to focus on at this time. Instead of attacking, people are comparing.

So how do you determine what is “best”? As I mentioned in the last blog, I am adapting many of my thoughts from the writings of Chris McGoff. McGoff suggests that groups choose between three methodologies:

a) Ends-Based: Best = What Does the Greatest Good for the Most People.
b) Rule-Based: Best = The Best Universal Standard
c) Care-Based: Best = Best Outcome for the One Most Impacted by the Decision

After choosing a methodology, the best goal tends to be rather apparent to most people.

At this point, another roadblock can appear. That is the roadblock of then assuming that you need 100% agreement on this decision (or any other decision) before moving on. An old friend of mine who used to do consumer research liked to say that if you survey a large enough population, you will always find 5% who will believe almost anything. His point was that there will always be a fringe group holding divergent views. They will never be swayed to change their mind. If you wait for 100% agreement, you will be waiting forever. That is not the path to winning in the marketplace.

Therefore, instead of having a goal of 100% agreement, strive for a goal of having 100% willing to live with and commit to the decision. If you want people willing live with and commit to a decision, McGoff suggests two principles:

a) Have a process which people agree was explicit, rational and fair.

b) Make sure everyone in the discussion was treated honorably and that their points were heard and considered. The good news is that switching the orientation from “right” to “best” tends to help with this principle.

5. Balance and Separation
As we noted above, there can be multiple truths in an organization. Many of these multiple truths appear to be bi-polar opposites:

a) Individual/Department Needs Vs. Corporate Needs
b) Near-term Concerns Vs. Long-term Concerns
c) Improving the Current Business Model Vs. Transforming to a New Business Model
d) Analysis Vs. Action

The goal is not to only do one pole and not the other. Instead, the goal is twofold:

a) Find a balance of time between the two poles. Both need an adequate share of your time. For example, if all your time is spent on Analysis, you will never get anything done (paralysis of analysis). Conversely, if you only spend time on Action, you will likely do the wrong things because there was no prior analysis.

b) Make a separation of time between the two poles. Don’t try to work on both of them at the same time. The conflicting objectives will create chaos.

If a discussion hits a roadblock, it can often be because the balance or separation is not working. Either one of the poles has been ignored for too long or the discussion is confused because both poles are being worked on at the same time. Check to make sure that the principles of balance and separation are not violated.

6. Focus
Not everything is bi-polar. There are some things which deserve far more time than others. For example:

a) Focus on what you can control (Empowerment) instead of what you cannot control (Victimization)

b) Focus on The Future (What we can do to improve) rather than The Past (Where we can place blame)

c) Focus on that which impacts our stakeholders rather than that which is just internal bureaucracy.

d) Focus on what advances the Vision.

e) Focus on Results.

Perhaps your roadblock can be fixed by getting more on focus.

7. Culture
What you tolerate becomes your culture. If you tolerate bad behavior, you will get bad behavior. The bad behavior will take over your culture. However, if bad behavior is not tolerated, then it is less likely to dominate your culture.

It is harder to reach unified commitment if people do not trust each other and there is no respect for each other. Toleration of gossiping, back-stabbing, lying, slander, and irresponsibility are a poison to any strategic discussion. You cannot discuss in good faith when you have no faith that there is any good.

If discussions are bogged down, perhaps it is because a poisonous culture has gripped your company. Remember, culture is determined by what is tolerated, not by what is on a piece of paper. Enron had a great culture on paper, but it tolerated poisonous behavior. To eliminate a poisonous culture, you need to have severe negative consequences for bad behavior (including termination). This roadblock can take awhile to fix.

To be a success, you need more than just a great strategic vision and a great plan to achieve it. You also need to have your employees united around making it a reality. If the employees don’t show up with enthusiasm to achieve this common purpose, the rest of the work is a waste of time. There are seven roadblocks to achieving this employee commitment to the plan. In today’s blog, we looked at four of them:

Goals – Seek what is Best rather than what is Right; Seek what people can live with rather than 100% agreement.

Balance & Separation – Balance significant time between both bi-polar truths; Focus on each pole separately (at different times).

Focus – Focus on what you can control, the future, what advances the vision, what impacts stakeholder, and results.

Culture – Don’t tolerate poisonous behavior.

It’s hard enough to compete in the marketplace when all your resources are put into the battle. Don’t make it worse by handcuffing your people with unnecessary roadblocks.


  1. Gerald Nanninga,

    Your post raises two important issues
    1- I start by quoting you "And of course, nobody wants to be proven wrong, so they fight back to prove you are wrong. This leads to discord rather than unity. In the end, nobody wins". Paradoxically, strategists have to think of different scenarios and possibilities; yet these strategist starts too early on selecting one path. The more people indulge in “prove-others-wrong" approach, the less likely they would see alternatives.
    2- The final thoughts section you mentioned “It’s hard enough to compete in the marketplace when all your resources are put into the battle. Don’t make it worse by handcuffing your people with unnecessary roadblocks”. I think this point is a remarkable example of strategists putting themselves in the Red Ocean” willingly. If that is the case, then this furnishes added evidence that the outcome is a losing strategy because it lacks any element of creativity.

  2. Nice post, thanks for sharing this wonderful and useful information with us.