Fast Future! Both the Future (And the Book) are Coming Soon!

Business Improvement, Operations, Planning
This week we’ve completely finished our book Fast Future! Ten Uber-Trends Changing Everything in Business and Our World, and the final manuscript is off to the publisher (Advantage Media Group, Charleston, SC http://advantagefamily.com). I am excited and proud of this project, and hope you'll look for the book’s release in a few weeks. It's been a challenging and rewarding (and exhausting) journey. Many, many folks have asked me about the book – why I did it, how did it - and why a book about the future? This is a project now several years in the making, which grew originally out of our consulting and speaking practice, and in helping professional services firms, entrepreneurs, and middle market firm leaders to improve and grow their businesses. Along the way I’ve become…
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The Real, Extraordinary Cost of Misalignment

Business Improvement, Operations, Planning
Have you at times wondered just how much waste there is in your firm – in particular the extra costs associated with staff misunderstanding, misalignment, missed collaboration - and occasionally even open warfare? I do, because I see it each and every day in organizations both small and large, niche-focused and broadly diversified, well-run and not so well-run. Or flip to the positive and consider this: in almost all firms with sustained success, you’re going to find an extraordinarily high level of alignment around the stuff that really matters: mission, vision, values, strategy, and culture. Here in New England today we're watching an outlandish case of corporate misalignment play out in the news. Market Basket, a regional grocery chain (with 71 stores and annual revenues of $4B+) is embroiled in…
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It’s Summer – 90 Days to Firm Fitness!

Business Development, Business Improvement, Operations, Planning
This time of year the magazine racks and online health sites are chock-a-block full of advice on how you can get yourself (and your body) ready for the summer beach season. [A lifetime of bad choices can be reversed in just five minutes a day]. Yes, it’s a tired cliché. But it's also true that as the weather warms up, we soon turn our attention to the out-of-doors, and the external motivation of looking good at the pool or on the course. Similar thing with the company. Now nearly at the year’s midpoint, it's a good time to reflect on just what is going on (or not) with business performance and progress against our expectations. And it’s also the right time to make adjustments in our plans, to get the firm…
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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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A Business Plan in Your Back Pocket?

Business Improvement, Operations, Planning
How long should a business plan be to be useful, actionable, and effective?  My answer:  three pages. You’re skeptical.  After all, if your 20, 50, or (with one former client) 300 page business plan (yikes!) isn’t working, then how can a three page plan even begin to address the … right? But your business is different.  It’s more involved, convoluted, complex.  There’s really no way to simplify your planning process. You have to do it this way (as you have for years) even though it isn’t really delivering the results you want. I've been at this business planning thing for many years, and I've tried myself most of permutations – long and short, complex and simple, collaborative and authoritative. I've worked in very large organizations (90,000) and very small (five…
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What Are You Measuring, and Why?

Business Development, Business Improvement, Operations, Planning
No doubt about it, measurement is popular today. At seminars and conferences, and in the management trade press, the subject of metrics is everywhere. The idea of quantifying business performance (and managing investments in business improvement) is very attractive - especially to technical types who strive for accuracy and precision in their work.  It's a compelling objective. Moreover, measurement is also important to business focus.  There's good sense in the old truism that “what gets measured, gets done.”  (And it’s clear that the opposite is true as well: objectives desired but not measured usually don’t happen – or happen well enough). Many non-technical managers (for example in Marketing, Sales, or Human Resources) too often soft-pedal rigorous measurement.  In a business environment where proof counts more than faith, this is the…
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Choosing the Path Forward

Business Improvement, Operations, Planning
In a strategic planning retreat a few years back, we were debating the appropriate mix of client focus, between acquiring new business and growing the firm on the one hand, and internal initiatives improving the organization on the other. I sketched a picture on the whiteboard similar to the one below, and suggested there were two possible pathways around the firm's primary obstacles. We called the first of these paths “grow, then fix," and the second path "fix, then grow." Before the recession, most professional services firms rode solidly along path #1, employing the ‘grow, then fix’ strategy. Business was good in most markets, and companies invested their energies serving clients. Many firms postponed internal operational improvement initiatives, choosing instead to "make hay while the sun is shining." However, forward…
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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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