Monday, March 17, 2014

Strategic Planning Analogy #524: Forgetting Our Spouses

Back when I was a young boy, my dad used to spend a lot of time driving across the state of Michigan to take care of things for his mother (my grandmother). Sometimes he would take the trips alone. Sometimes he’d take me and my sister along. Sometimes my mom would come along.

I remember one time when we were done visiting my grandmother. My dad was getting ready to begin the two to three hour drive back home. As he started to back down the driveway, I yelled, “STOP!”

My dad stopped the car. Then I said, “Aren’t you forgetting something?”

As my dad sat there trying to figure out what he was forgetting, my mom came out of the house and headed towards the car to go home.

If I had not been there, my dad would have gone home without my mother. And I’ll bet she would have been pretty mad about it.

Businesses can cover a lot of topics as part of their strategic planning. They can look at internal strengths and weaknesses. They can look at their industry, their competition, the economy, and so on.

But how often do they look at the spouses of their key leaders?

Businesses can be like my dad, who was so focused on getting the job done that he was going to forget his wife and leave her feeling abandoned. In the long run, you know that would not have been a good thing for their marriage. And it could curtail the number of future trips my dad made.

The same idea applies to businesses. If they shut-out the spouses and act as if they do not exist, they can create an environment where their leaders are under unnecessary additional stress and become less productive. Their spouses could even talk these leaders into leaving the company if it gets bad enough.

It’s hard enough to implement change in a company when everything else is running smoothly. But if your leaders are undergoing significant stress in the rest of their life, it will impact what they can contribute to the company.

Therefore, don’t forget the spouses as you drive the company down new roads.

The principle here is that strategies are implemented by people. And if the external lives of these people are all messed up, then they will be less effective at implementing the strategy. Therefore, do not create a strategy process which needlessly contributes to the stresses of the external lives of those implementing the strategy.

1) The Entrepreneurial Test
Two stories come to mind when I think about this principle. The first story is about a time when I was considering leaving the corporate world and buying a franchise to run. A franchise broker gave me a test. The purpose of the test was to see if I was a good candidate for running a franchise.

After taking the test, I added up my score. If I got an extremely high score, it meant that I would be such a successful entrepreneur that I would not need a franchise to succeed. If I got a score in the wide middle ground, it meant I could succeed in my own business, but only with the help of a franchise. If I got a low score, it meant that I was not cut out for business ownership and should remain an employee in the big corporate world.

One of the more important factors which helped determine your score had to do with friends and family. If you thought you would have the full support and endorsement of friends and family in your business venture, you score went up. If not, your score went down.

The point was that it can be stressful and time consuming to start up a business. If you do not have the support of the people in your lives, you probably succumb to the pressures and quit. Failure is more likely to be your outcome.

I think a similar effect can take place with leaders in a business undergoing strategic change. It is a stressful and time consuming event. If the ones doing the work are not getting support from their outside circle of influence, they will be more likely to fail in their part of implementing the strategic change.

2) Best Buy
My second thought turns to Dick Schulze, the founder of Best Buy Co. Starting by selling audio equipment out of the trunk of his car, Dick created a large and successful corporation. Dick would tell you that a large contributor to that success was the love and support of his wife Sandy.

To quote from Dick’s autobiography, “Without Sandy, and her unflagging support of me and her participation in every aspect of our operation, Best Buy would not be the company it is today.”

Two important aspects of Best Buy’s success can be seen here. First, Dick did not forget his wife as he drove the company forward. Sandy was kept in the loop so that she had an emotional attachment to the business as well. Second, Sandy supported her husband in a way that made it easier for Dick to do what it took to succeed.

For example, when Dick was about to mortgage everything he had to start his business, he went to his wife for support. Sandy responded by saying, “You’ve learned a lot already. You’ll land on your feet.” That support allowed Dick to put together the seed money to get his business started and that support got him through the long hours and stress that come with building a business. I dare say that if Dick did had not kept Sandy in the loop and gotten her support, there would not have been a Best Buy Company.

3) Implications
So how can we apply this to taking a business through strategic change? First, we need to identify ways to make sure our leader’s spouses are partners in the effort rather than enemies of the effort. We need to find ways to get them emotionally involved with what is going on…so that they have a vested interest in its success. They need to feel like partners in the car going on the journey rather than forgotten like what happened to my mom.

How much do you even know about the lives of your leaders outside the office? Are you aware of the support (or lack thereof) that they are receiving at home? Have you ever met their spouses? Have you ever personally acknowledged and rewarded the spouses for the support they gave to their spouse?

Second, we can help rectify some of the issues which can cause unnecessary stress in the lives of the employees we count on. How many company policies do you have which can help minimize life stresses and free employees to be more productive? Benefits like on-site daycare, flex-scheduling and concierge services could make a world of difference in keeping the type of life balance needed for healthy, productive employees.

You wouldn’t want to fill your factory with broken-down tools. Similarly, you wouldn’t want to fill your company with broken-down people. Help them heal. The gratitude will pay back itself many times over.

Strategic planning often has to deal with implementing major change initiatives. These efforts can be very stressful and time-consuming. If the lives of the people implementing the change have too much stress in their lives and lack the proper support at home, the change effort is likely to fail. Therefore, companies have a stake in ensuring that home life and stress levels are kept healthy. This requires an active effort to reduce stress and increase support from spouses.

An idea may look good on paper, but it really isn’t useful until successfully implemented. Pay attention to ALL the impediments of implementation, which include the emotional well-being of your employees.

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