What Are You Measuring, and Why?

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 […]

Firm Success from the Inside Out

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 […]

Choosing the Path Forward

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 […]

Running the Race and Running It Right

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 […]

Predicting and Planning for the Unexpected

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 […]

The One Thing You Really Must Have

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 […]

Strategic Business Planning Won’t Help You, If …

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 […]

Performance Perfection and the Magic of Baseball

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 […]

What’s Our Deal? – In the Fast Future Ahead

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 […]

Changeophile or Changeophobe – What’s Your Sign?

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 […]