Monday, February 11, 2013

Strategic Planning Analogy #489: Feeling the Weather


Weathermen on TV don’t seem to think it is enough to merely give us the outdoor temperature.  They don’t seem to think that ordinary temperatures accurately reflect how we FEEL. So on particularly hot days, they weathercasters talk about the “Heat Index.” The heat index temperature is usually higher than the actual temperature, because it takes into account things like the humidity, which can make it FEEL even hotter.

In a similar fashion, when it gets especially cold, the weathercasters use something call the “Wind Chill Factor” to restate the temperature as colder than the actual temperature. This is because high winds can make cold temperatures FEEL even colder.

Well, my experience is that when it gets especially hot or cold, most people seek shelter indoors where it is more comfortable. People naturally flock to the warmth of indoor heat when it is cold outside or indoor air conditioning when it is hot outside.

So, if the weathercasters are REALLY interested in giving us the temperature we FEEL on these extreme days, they should give us the room temperature…because that is where most people will be found and that will be the temperature most people will be feeling.


Weathermen are correct in noticing that the temperature reported on a thermometer does not always reflect how people feel. But I think they miss the even bigger difference in temperatures between being inside versus outside. That’s where the real difference in feelings occurs.

A similar situation takes place in the business world. Businesses have all kinds of reports and dashboards to report all kind of numbers. These reports and dashboards are like thermometers. They report the “temperature” of what is happening outside in the marketplace where business is taking place.

The problem is too many executives spend too much time indoors, inside the comfort and security of the headquarters building. These executives do not FEEL the realities of what is going on out there “in the real world.” They are protected from the intense competitive climate on the outside.  Things feel a lot better inside the headquarters where bad news is often softened and “Yes Men” make the executives feel like everything is grand.

Yes, the reports and dashboards may reflect real temperatures. But unless one can penetrate the false feelings of headquarters comfort and get the executives to really FEEL how things are going on in the real world, they will not make the right strategic decisions.


The principle here is that merely seeing the numbers of business is usually not enough.  You have to get executives to actually “feel” the numbers.

Feelings are Important
Why? First of all, business is very complex. There are so many moving parts that any single number doesn’t tell the full story. And if you have a whole stack of numbers, you are often no further ahead because it can be hard to see how all the individual numbers fit together.  It’s like having all the individual pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, but no idea of what the picture looks like when all the pieces go together. At that point, the puzzle pieces may as well all be colored black for all the insight they provide.

Our modern technology can pump out thousands upon thousands of data points every hour. But that doesn’t mean we are necessarily any smarter about what’s going on. Drowning in “big data” doesn’t make us more intelligent. True knowledge requires more than just piles of numbers. It requires context and insight.

Context and insight help us to see the big picture—to actually feel what is going on, to know what is truly important, and to see into the future—beyond the reach of measurement tools.  Unless you can feel the big picture, you cannot create the big picture strategy or make the right strategy decisions.

The second reason while feelings are important is because people are emotional beings. They make decisions based on both reason and emotion.  Our customers are emotional beings, our employees are emotional beings, our partners are emotional beings, and our competitors are emotional beings. All of their emotional feelings impact what happens outside in the marketplace.  If our leaders do not have a proper feeling for how all those emotions are playing out in the marketplace, they will make the wrong decision.

Our leaders are also emotional beings.  Their feelings affect their decisions.  If their feelings are wrongly biased by spending too much time insulated inside headquarters, their feelings will steer them in the wrong direction.

What Should We Do to Move From Numbers to Feelings
So how do we make sure that our leaders are feeling the big picture in the proper context?  I have five suggestions.

1. Elevate the Art of Interpetation.  The gathering of “big data” numbers is only relevant when those numbers can be interpreted and put into context.  We need to be able to put a heat index or wind chill factor on the numbers to get them to reflect how things really feel. 

Just having a warehouse full of paint will not get you a great painting.  You need to add the artist who can create the picture out of the paint.  Similarly, just having a data warehouse full of numbers will not let you see the big picture of what is going on in the marketplace.  You need to add the analytical “artist” who can convert the data into the beautiful picture of what is going on.

Therefore, we need to elevate the importance of interpretation of data to the same level (if not more) than that of the gathering of the data.  Ask yourself…how much time and money has gone into building you data-gathering activities?  And then compare that to how much time and money is going into the interpretation and conversion of that data into a picture that allows executives to feel the big picture of what is going on.  Is it in balance?  Are you warehousing paint or are you creating paintings?

2. Get the Executives to Go Outside.  If the weathercasters really want us to know what it feels like outside, they should just tell us to go outside and feel it.  There is often no substitute for actual first-hand experience in the elements. If you really want to know how things feel, go feel it yourself.

Have top executives go on sales calls.  Have them go to the store or website and actually have to try to buy your product.  Make them have to actually use your product in real life situations.  Then have them buy and use the competition.  Watch how real customers interact with your product or service out in real-world situations at their homes or place of business.  Eat lunch with regular employees in the regular cafeteria.  I talk more about getting out in the field here.

3. Listen to the Outside Voices.  If all your executives listen to is each other, then they will only feel the temperature inside the corporation. To feel the outside temperature, you have to listen to the people who are living outside in the real world. That includes the employees in the field, customers and other key partners.

Modern technology makes it easy to hear the voice of the field and the voice of the customer.  But how much of these voices are being heard by the top executives?  Just telling an executive sales are down is one thing.  Having them hear the rantings of the dissatisfied customers who stopped purchasing is quite another.  It provides a context for how to fix the situation.

Have executives listen in on the complaint line.  Have them read the comments spoken in twitter and other digital sources.  Have them see survey comments.

4. Tear Down the Insulation.  If you want the temperature inside the headquarters to feel more like the outside temperature, then you need to tear down the insulation which keeps the outside “truth” from reaching executives. Employees need to feel that comfortable in speaking the truth when talking to top executives.  It needs to be okay to speak up when the conventional wisdom inside the headquarters appears to be out of sync with what is happening outside.

5. Make Strategic Planning More About Painting Pictures.  Finally, I am getting more and more concerned about the fact that modern strategic planning departments are turning into data organizers rather than picture painters.  They manage budgets and deviations from plans, but are not providing the types of insights which change how an executive feels about what needs to get done. I see more job specifications in strategic planning asking for CPAs than I see requests for great storytellers.  If your strategists cannot paint pictures with compelling stories, then you are back to merely having piles of data (and wondering why budgets are not being met).


If executives are insulated from the harsh realities of the marketplace, they will have the wrong impressions of what is going on (and make the wrong decisions). Just giving them piles of data from the outside is not enough.  Strategists need to make sure context is placed around the data so that executives can actually feel what is happening in the real world. It needs to strike a chord deep within their emotions.  To help in this process, combine the context-making with plans to force executives to spend more time interacting with the real word and the people in it.


Maybe the best way to keep executives from hiding in headquarters offices is to eliminate headquarters offices.  There are many companies which do this.

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