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Running the Race and Running It Right

Business Improvement, Planning, Risk Management
A week ago Monday, I was in Boston’s Back Bay neighborhood with my family and thousands of others, there to watch and celebrate as my son John completed his sixth Boston Marathon. It was a beautiful New England spring day, and we’d just sat down for lunch at a local restaurant when everything changed. We heard the first explosion and felt the second (later learning that it was just 700 feet away). Almost immediately we saw the crowds, walking and then running from the area. Their expressions reminded me of 9/11. Through the window someone mouthed the word "bomb". It was time to leave. We moved briskly to the car, and left the city as quickly as we could. Along the way we were passed by scores of police, ambulance,…
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Predicting and Planning for the Unexpected

Business Improvement, Operations, Planning, Risk Management
In our business (and our life), we often mistake those events unplanned but not improbable, with those truly unexpected. For example, it’s certainly not unexpected that we’ll have snow each winter in New England, especially here in the hills of central Massachusetts. And yet, I’ve heard many times over the years some version of “we weren’t able to make our plan in the first quarter because of all the snow we had in the northeast.”  It rarely sounds convincing. That said, most of us don’t plan for snow days in our business, like they do at the local school.  We get caught, and behind schedule, by a predictable event.  This happened to me recently when we woke to 22 inches of new white powder (good on the slopes, not so…
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The One Thing You Really Must Have

Business Improvement, Leadership Development, Operations, Planning
Success in business (and in life) is a function of many things, but short of luck, there is one ingredient we all must have.  Growth, profit and success - for individuals and for organizations - requires a plan. This isn't news. We all know and understand that a script is necessary for clarifying objectives (mission, vision, strategy) and for detailing the action agenda. We've learned and used this before, and pundits and advisors (like me) are constantly reminding us of the importance of the business plan, marketing plan, weight loss plan, and such. So, if planning is so critical, and central to success, then why is it that so many don’t do it, or don't do it well? In my experience the main impediments are these: Important, but not today…
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Strategic Business Planning Won’t Help You, If …

Business Improvement, Leadership Development, Planning
Over the years I've worked with scores of companies on strategic business planning. Some firms were really in to it. Others it seemed were just moving through the motions – as though strategic planning were something they simply had to do, to check off a list. Today I'm frankly more choosy about whom I work with. There's no point in investing the time, money, and other resources necessary for long view planning – unless senior leaders are truly invested, and all in. Successful strategic planning requires two parts: first, crafting a compelling and energizing future vision for the organization; and second developing and executing a detailed action plan.  My chart below outlines the relationship – both factors are necessary for real success. Strategic Planning Success Grid In my experience about…
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Performance Perfection and the Magic of Baseball

Business Improvement, Leadership Development, Operations, Planning, Risk Management
Many professionals are perfectionists, always striving for an elusive measure of quality and beauty in their work.  For them, there’s a right way and wrong way for achieving all results.  A little more time, a little more effort, and the final product will be better – closer to perfect. At times, this desire for perfection makes sense. In designing and building structures for instance, there is often a right and wrong way to proceed.  There are visible examples of projects gone wrong. Engineers know well that done poorly, foundations will crack, roads buckle, and bridges fall down. Scientists who subvert the sound methodologies of experimental analysis achieve results that aren't verifiable or repeatable – and thus aren’t worth much. Business consultants who shortchange their assessment efforts often then jump too…
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What’s Our Deal? – In the Fast Future Ahead

Business Improvement, Leadership Development, Operations, Planning
Years ago a friend named Pete offered me some unsolicited advice about dating.  He said “John, sooner or later every woman is going to ask you the question: ‘What’s our deal?’  At that moment, unless you’re ready to tie the knot, that relationship will be over.” Now Pete was a smooth operator (perhaps not as smooth as he thought), and a real gift to the ladies (he certainly thought so) – but really, he was right. All of us – both women and men – want to know the deal – what the game is, where we’re headed, how we’ll get there. It’s important stuff for individuals and for organizations, and too many firms do a poor job of building, telling, and selling their story. Of course organizations are even…
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Changeophile or Changeophobe – What’s Your Sign?

Business Improvement, Leadership Development, Operations, Planning
How do you see change?  Is change basically good, not so good, or depend on context?  Are you a changeophile or changeophobe?  Be honest.  What’s your sign? In the big picture and over time, it's seems clear that much of change has been good - resulting in significant improvements for societies, cultures, and peoples around the world.  Innovation, change, and development is itself I think subject to ‘survival of the fittest’ pressure, so that useful change is embraced, while new ideas and actions that provide little utility are not sustained. Of course the value of some change is debatable.  For example, evolution in military strategy and weapons technology has benefited some societies, but often at the expense of others. In fact, much of change is this way –producing both winners…
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Content and Promotion – Today’s Recipe for Professional Business Success

Business Development, Business Improvement, Planning
In my view there are two main ingredients to professional services success. If I label these two as "technical competency" and "client relationships" few would disagree. These are terms that professionals commonly use and are comfortable with.  But both of these descriptors are passive, referring mainly to achievements already attained. Of course technical competency is important to business (try succeeding without it)! But isn't competency something that you and the firm already have? And client relationships? All will agree with the high value of existing client relationships, but these are also (by definition) already achieved. Even the most talented of business developers appreciate unsolicited, inbound calls from satisfied customers. Suppose instead I use different descriptors for the two ingredients, namely "expertise" on the one hand, and "marketing" on the other.…
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Fast Future: Big Changes, Just Around the Corner

Business Improvement, Planning
Over the last year I've been delivering around the country a new seminar entitled "Fast Future! Fifteen Uber-Trends that Will Rock Our World, and What Professional Firms and Leaders Must Do to Survive and Thrive on the Road Ahead." Of the fifteen uber trends I've identified (all important and often intertwined and interconnected) I highlight five:  technology, information, globalization, meritocracy, and change – as the "Big Five," the uber among uber forces driving a profound transformation of society and humanity - right before our eyes. We know these trends, because we’re all a part of (and affected by) these seismic shifts in the world today. Still, as I share in the seminar, unless you’re paying very, very close attention to the transformation afoot (and the details of these uber trends)…
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Your Competition – Is Who?

Business Development, Business Improvement, Operations, Planning
Can you (and others in your firm) accurately identify and describe your competition? In my experience (with hundreds of organizations and thousands of professionals) the common answer is no. Truth is, most professionals don't spend enough time focusing on the competitive context of their business. Competitors they do know (the handful of firms seen at pre-bid meetings, conference sessions, or discussed in client conversations) represent only a small part of the story. Still, properly assessing the full range of competitive threats is a must to fully appreciate the market, and to plan for a purposeful and distinctive response.  Here are four main sources of competitive threat: Known Competitors – While most professionals can name a few of their more obvious direct competitors, they often misunderstand these organizations and their strength…
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