Tag Archives: strategy

Wash Your Hands Again

After 9-11, the question emerged, how do we get back to work? Sure there was a lot of short term (and important) work in putting our lives (country) back together, but we soon emerged to a new normal. And we had to get back to work.

COVID-19 presents the same problem. While we are in the midst of hand-wringing, wondering what we can do short of washing our hands seven times before lunch, at some point we have to get back to work. There is no basketball, no hockey, no soccer, perhaps a three year old football game on ESPN. At some point we have to get back to work.

And, what does it look like when we get back to work. While we are thinking about washing our hands one more time, could we think about our first moves to the new normal. We have changed our routines. Handshakes become chicken wings to the toe tap to more distance greetings. Some things we have adapted will become permanent.

Those permanent adaptations will seem clumsy at first, just not the same, but permanent nonetheless. And the clumsiness will become practiced, and those among us who practice will become competent at a new way. And the new way will improve on par with the old way. And, we will wonder what took us so long to get over our resistance.

So, what are you thinking about as you wash your hands, again?

The First Strategic Question

Why and which?” Rachel repeated. Come the first week in January, Rachel had to present her 2020 plan to the rest of her management team.

“How did you approach this plan last year?” I asked.

“I’m not sure, seems like we just got the group together and set some goals for the year.”

“Interesting. And, how did that work out?”

“It’s funny,” Rachel said. Her eyes wandered to the ceiling. “We never really looked at the plan again, until last week when I started thinking about 2020.”

“Did you accomplish any of the things you set out to do?”

“We knocked a couple of things off the list, but I have to tell you, some of the stuff didn’t even matter. It was really kind of vague.”

“So, why did you create the plan?” I asked.

“Because we were supposed to,” Rachel replied.

“So, you never really asked the question –why-?”

“Maybe, you are right, that is the first question.”

What Went Wrong?

“What do you think is the most difficult, planning or execution?” I asked.

“Planning is no slouch,” Travis replied, “but execution is where things go wrong. We may have a perfect plan, but we don’t have perfect execution.”

“Travis, sometimes I look at all the things a company wants to do, process changes, re-engineering, efficiency programs. They are all good ideas, yet, most fail. Why?”

“Execution?” pondered Travis.

“So, why did the execution fail? I saw the written plans. I attended some of the meetings. I observed the training. I watched the pep rallies. I saw the teamwork posters on the wall. I know incredible amounts of money, resources and energy went in to make it happen. In the end, not much changed. So, what went wrong?”

Travis hesitated, “Execution?”

“I saw team members trying new sequences, working with new equipment, handing off projects in new ways. But in the end, it didn’t stick. A new process would get shortcut. The old way worked faster. The enthusiasm faded into push-back. The word on the floor was, if we stiff arm it long enough, the re-engineering would go away. Morale plummeted. Ultimately, the initiative was abandoned. What stopped the execution?”

Travis wasn’t sure.

“Management focused all of their attention prior to the change. Little or no thought was given to how the new behaviors would be positively reinforced. What gets reinforced gets repeated. What does not get reinforced will stop. Dead in its tracks.”

Want to Build Your Business?

This is how it starts. In the beginning, the founder has an idea. This could be a hare-brained concept or even a hobby. (Some hobbies should stay hobbies.) But, the founder, not being able to resist, transforms the hobby into a business.

Admittedly, it is a little business, and who is doing all the work? The founder, of course. Is there work left over? There is always work left over.

So, the founder hires the first employees, mostly friends and family, because no one else will work for those paltry wages. And, what do these people do? A little bit of everything. The founder organizes the work around the people, asking what each employee (friend or family member) does well. “What do you do well?”

Indeed, there is some of that work to go around, and around. The work is organized around the people (scarce resources). Is there work left over? There is always work left over.

The strategic focus for this startup organization is all about sales. Without sales, this fragile organization dies. And, in the beginning, these don’t have to be profitable sales, because in the beginning, the founder puts all the expenses on a credit card, line of credit, whatever it takes to get the company off the ground.

This is proof of concept time. Is there a customer out there, anywhere, willing to buy our product or service, at any price. Why would a customer buy? There must be an angle, something unique. Oh, it must also be cheaper.

All of this requires energy and hard work. Success depends on it. The problem is, the just dessert for hard work is – more hard work.

What Will Your Company Be Like?

So, here is something I want you to think about. As technology is integrated into your business model, what does your company look like in five years, ten years? When we can measure all kinds of things in real time, in feedback loops with algorithms that detect meaningful change (or stasis), what does work look like?

Autonomous driving vehicles are tested and adopted in plain sight. The mining industry prefers autonomous machinery because accident rates have dropped to almost zero, component wear (brakes, tires) dramatically reduced, productivity dramatically increased.

What will happen to your company as you afix sensors to almost everything? Below is a little list. If you have something else you are measuring, let me know, I will add it. What will change in your business model? More importantly, what will be the new work created?

  • Physical Pressure
  • Air pressure
  • Barometric pressure (altimeter)
  • Humidity (air, surface, soil)
  • Temperature sensor
  • Fluid pressure sensor
  • Fluid flow sensor
  • Fluid position sensor – mechanical position
  • Fluid specific gravity
  • Fluid accumulation sensor (rain)
  • Vibration
  • Accelerometer
  • Photo pixel shift (movement)
  • Photo pattern recognition
  • Photo contrast (light-dark)
  • Photo color sensor
  • Bio – photo oximetry (SpO2)
  • Bio – fingerprint sensor
  • Electric current switch sensor (On-Off)
  • Electric current voltage sensor
  • Electric current resistance sensor (Ohms)
  • Electric current touch sensor
  • Proximity sensor
  • Infrared sensor (transmission – reflective)
  • Sound wave sensor (sonic, sub-sonic, ultra-sonic)
  • Smoke sensor
  • Gas sensor
  • Alcohol sensor
  • Temperature sensor
  • GPS sensor
  • Gyroscope sensor
  • Tilt sensor

Your five year thinking will be a one year tactical plan in four years? -Tom

It’s a Trap

There were twelve incredible opportunities staring at Roger, all of them saying, “Pick me!”

Once an organization gets some traction in their market, over the hump of cash flow and all that, the next biggest trap is the incredible opportunities.

As your company grew, everyone said, “You’ll never make it,” but your company did. Who is to say that your company cannot be successful at all of the other opportunities staring down at you?

Sometimes, the most important decisions that you make, are the decisions about what not to do. The growing organization needs to focus its efforts on becoming more successful at their core business. There will be plenty of time, later, to chase down that incredible restaurant deal or that mail order pharmacy company.

Disciplined focus, execution, not opportunities. Stay out of the trap.

Stop Working Harder

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

Question:
Last night, I got out of the office at 9:45p. I don’t know what it is. This has been going on for the past three weeks. On Monday, things don’t look so bad, but come Thursday and Friday, the work just seems to pile up. I worked the last three Saturdays and last week, had to come in on Sunday. Missed the football game.

If I had known ahead of time, I could delegate some of the work out and it would already be done. But I don’t know about some of this stuff until it’s too late, or don’t realize how long it is really going to take. All of sudden, the pile is stacked up and everyone has gone home. The work’s gotta get done.

Response:
I don’t believe you. If you sat down and thought about it, almost all of your work is predictable, you just don’t think about it. You don’t delegate out, because you like working under the gun. Here’s the thing. You think you will get sympathy from me for all your hard work, but the just dessert for hard work is more hard work. You have to stop working harder and start working differently. -Tom

That’s Me

“I don’t care,” Roberto insisted.

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“I don’t care if that is what the boss wants. It’s a stupid idea. And my role is not to do stupid shit.”

“Pushback?”

“Call it what you want. CEOs run fast, sometimes making a mess. That’s why I have a job, to clean up the mess they call strategy. Somebody has to execute. That’s me.”

What Has Changed Around You?

Andrew was still upset. The contract was lost and there was nothing he could do about it. He had lost his appeal with the purchasing agent, the procurement manager and the director of operations.

“We did everything by the book,” he said. “This is the way we have earned all of our major contracts. Our reputation is stellar. I can’t believe this is happening.”

“You got sucker-punched,” I observed.

“What?” Andrew replied.

“Sucker-punched,” I repeated. “We often think that our future success lies in the fact that we had one small string of successes in the past. We think that the curve in front of us continues upward without hesitation. We do not realize that, as we continue to do things the way we have always done, the world subtly changes. The nuances of the deal creep up, new players enter the game without detection, and suddenly we are on our ass.” Andrew’s face showed no emotion on the outside, but his eyes betrayed a growing realization.

“There is good news, though,” I continued. “This is not a game. This is life. In a game, there are few second chances. The final period has an ending, even overtime is sudden death.

“In life, in business, there are lots of second chances and the final period can be extended. But only if you stop thinking about your past success and start thinking about what has changed around you.”