The Olympian Effort and Our Work

Business Improvement, Leadership Development, Operations, Planning
Some people have no interest in the Olympics – but I'm not one of them. Instead, every four years I am again drawn into the spectacle, captured by the storylines, caught up in the competition for a fortnight. I'm not exactly sure why this is, or why I invest my attention watching sports I know (and care) nothing about. (I can't imagine planning a normal Saturday afternoon of watching the biathlon, speed-skating, or (yikes!) ice dancing. But with the Olympics, I did all of them. This week I've wondered whether this experience says anything about work – our organizations, our businesses, our careers. Mostly random thoughts, but here are a few of the possible connections: Tradition– There's something about the Olympics that connects with my history, the nostalgia of my…
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Time to Change the Game?

Business Improvement, Leadership Development, Operations, Planning
Imagine that you’re running in a race (a marathon) and doing well. You’re at least four miles ahead of your nearest competitor, and with only a half a dozen miles to go. Things look pretty good. But then (all at once) you’re passed, by someone bounding along at nearly twice your speed – on some sort of high-tech, futuristic springy shoe-thingys. And then she is gone. Or imagine the opposite: you’re running the same race, but now it's you that is more than ten miles behind, and with only a couple left. It's clear that, as long as things stay the same, you just can't win this race. You cannot go fast enough to make up the lost ground, to change the physics involved. You’re only hope is to instead…
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Firm Success from the Inside Out

Business Improvement, Leadership Development, Planning
Last week the Gallup organization released a new report on the State of the American Workplace: http://www.gallup.com/strategicconsulting/163007/state-american-workplace.aspx . According to this new survey, 70% of American workers don't like their jobs. About 50% of workers are ‘disengaged’ – they punch the clock and put in their time, but aren’t inspired by the work they do. More disturbing, 20% of workers are ‘actively disengaged’ – meaning they are gossiping at the water cooler, stirring up trouble, and even sabotaging the firm's success. This is astounding. And the fact that this new report isn’t stirring up more serious outrage is itself an indictment of the sad status quo in the American workplace. Today disengagement is the norm; positive engagement is the extraordinary outcome. Professional services firms may be worse. These organizations (architects,…
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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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Thoughts on Organization Structure in the AEC Firm

Business Improvement, Leadership Development, Leadership Transition, Operations, Planning
This spring, a couple of my clients have been working to implement new strategic plans, both involving big changes (improvements) to their organization structure. Working with these leaders has reminded me (yet again) of both the challenge and simplicity of organization design. Some highlights: 1)      Strategy before Structure – Though it always makes conceptual sense that strategy should come first, in practice it's tempting to reach for reorganization as the prescription for change per se. Resist this urge always! Instead, use strategy – the "Big S," overarching, enterprise-scale strategy which defines the firm's primary focus – to decide how best to organize. There are no perfect structures; the one you want is the one that helps most in achieving the strategic intent of the company. 2)      Boxes before Names -…
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Push-Pull, and the Physics of Organization Alignment

Business Improvement, Leadership Development, Leadership Transition, Planning
In his 1989 work Mintzberg on Management, Henry Minztberg describes professional organizations as “seemingly upside-down organizations, where the workers sometimes appear to manage the bosses.”  Mintzberg notes that he himself works in a professional organization (at McGill University in Toronto) at least partially “because it is the one place in the world where you can act as if you [are] self-employed [and] yet regularly receive a paycheck.” My work with organizations yields a similar understanding.  One of the striking attributes of professional services firms is the incredible autonomy enjoyed by practicing professionals, often alongside an apparent ’line item veto’ on almost every dimension and decision of the firm’s practice and business.  Professionals within the firm vary widely in their interest, focus, commitment, and compliance with the firm’s business.    Frankly in…
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