Monday, January 27, 2014

What will you measure in 2014?

If you can't measure it, you can't manage it.  ~Peter Drucker 
Therefore, if you measure it, you are more likely to manage it.  ~Kathryn Scanland

I don't like to admit it, but I have found it to be quite true that if I measure something I'm more likely to manage it.  Here's a personal example.  

Several years ago I participated in one of my client's wellness activities and was part of a walking team.  Teams across the organization competed for six weeks; everyone wore the same pedometer and tracked their daily number of steps.  After six weeks of being very diligent about monitoring my walking, I assumed that because I had gained a feel for 10,000 steps a day I would be able to maintain that habit well into the future.  Well, this past fall I finally admitted to myself that I had gradually slacked off and my daily walking was likely no longer close to 10,000 steps.  So I ordered a good pedometer (mine from several years ago barely lasted the six weeks) and I have been wearing it for three months and plan to continue wearing it indefinitely.  Because I realized that if I'm not measuring it, I'm not managing it.

This was confirmed recently when I learned that people who wear a pedometer walk 27% more than people who don't wear a pedometer.  Interestingly, I have discovered that my average daily routine is about 7,500 steps, but my goal is 10,000 steps, a 25% difference.  So that silly little device clipped to my clothes every day significantly increases the odds of reaching my daily goal.  

What can be dangerous about this idea is the obsession to measure everything.  That's not what I'm suggesting.  I know of organizations that have hundreds of metrics, yet employees don't know if the organization is actually on-track or doing well.  The manifestation of measurement madness is not helpful.  Knowing what is truly meaningful and understanding what needs to be measured so that it's constantly managed, however, is critical.  In my personal example, what's most important to me is whether or not I'm managing my health, not the precise number of steps I take on a daily basis.  Measuring my steps enables me to manage my health.

This might be another way to look at it.  Within your organization (or life), what are the top three things that if managed extremely well, enable you to thrive?  How are you measuring those three things? 

Keep in mind that my reframing of Drucker's quote is "if you measure it, you are more likely to manage it."  If you are more likely to manage it that means it's also something over which you have control.  We could all measure the economy, but we have no control over it.  We can control our response to it, but not its actual fluctuations. 

Since it is still January and the most popular New Year's resolution is losing weight…how many of us avoid stepping on the scale?  Why?  If we did weigh ourselves, we might have to start managing our diet and exercise.  As long as we're not measuring it, we can also easily avoid managing it.

So I'll ask again, within your organization (or life), what are the top three things in 2014 that if managed extremely well will enable you to thrive?  How are you measuring those three things?

Monday, January 20, 2014

Got faith? Like MLK?

Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.  ~Martin Luther King, Jr.

Martin Luther King, Jr. is certainly a leader who practiced what he preached.  I'm assuming that as he embarked on his journey to seek change in our nation, he couldn't see the whole staircase, but with faith, he took the first step (and then some!).

Lately I've been contemplating how we go about strategy and planning in organizations (and maybe in life).  Because so much data is now readily available, are we relying on that data too much?  Are we assuming a much longer shelf-life for that data than what now exists in our very dynamic world?  Do we need to go about our strategy and planning with a little more faith?

Here are a couple of examples of what I mean.

It's becoming a holiday tradition for me to watch the Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan movie, You've Got Mail, which was released in December 1998.  I watch it because it's a holiday movie I enjoy, but it's also become a very stark reminder of how quickly, and dramatically, things change.  Two key trending businesses were highlighted in the movie: AOL and big box bookstores like Borders and Barnes & Noble.  A few short years later that landscape was radically altered in a flurry of change.

Amazon Kindle was released in 2007.  July 2010 Amazon reported that they sold more e-books than hardcover books in the first quarter.  January 2011 Amazon sold more e-books than paperbacks.  February 2011 statistics showed e-book sales had grown by 202.3 percent compared to a year earlier.  February 2011 Borders filed for bankruptcy.  At the end of the first quarter of 2012, e-book sales in the U.S. surpassed hardcover book sales for the first time.    

Even this past December, UPS misjudged holiday demand, significantly.  I'm guessing (couldn't find actual confirmation) that they projected demand based upon historical data and analysis (i.e., statistical trending). 

In the January/February 2014 issue of HBR, Roger L. Martin wrote an article entitled The Big Lie of Strategic Planning.  He suggested a number of perspectives that I found quite intriguing.  One of those suggestions was to focus less on what we've traditionally called an environmental scan (reams of data about trends that get us to the present day), and focus more on what we believe about our customers, the evolution or our industry, our competition, and our capabilities.  What we know may need to be replaced with what we believe in order to really create strategy.

As Martin explains, creating a detailed plan filled with what we know makes us comfortable, but comfort is not strategy.  Moving forward with a strategy that's based more on what we believe requires both risk and vulnerability. 

What Martin Luther King, Jr. did was risky and put him in a position of tremendous vulnerability.  Maybe our strategic planning in 2014 should embrace the faith of MLK from the 1960s, and we should take the first step even when we don't see the whole staircase.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Suffering from organizational ADD?

Today's scarcest resource and the secret to high performance and fulfillment: attention.  ~ Daniel Goleman

Last week while I was talking with a client, I made the comment that I thought they might be suffering from organizational ADD (OADD).  I assumed that I probably wasn't the first person to use that term so I did a quick internet search and sure enough, others have used the same terminology.  I especially liked a Slideshare by Dr. Jim Bohn of Pro/Axios in Minneapolis and I've borrowed from his work in the bullet points to follow.  I would add, however, I believe this can apply equally to an organization of thousands and an organization of one, a for-profit and a not-for-profit.

What are the symptoms of OADD?  Dr. Bohn suggests several outcomes or symptoms of OADD and I added some examples of what I've seen in organizations.
  • Incomplete projects.  Projects or initiatives are started, but not seen through to completion.  Maybe other opportunities come along that appear more attractive; or results aren't happening fast enough, so we think, and we throw in the towel.
  • Inefficiencies.  Because so much change is being attempted simultaneously, many things are being done poorly and nothing is being done really well because no one knows the real priorities.
  • Halted growth.  There may have been historical growth but it's stalled or halted.  This is likely a result of the other outcomes/symptoms like incomplete projects and inefficiencies.
  • Employee frustrations.  Employees are putting in extra effort but seeing only minimal rewards because they are more focused on keeping all the balls in the air than on doing quality work.
  • Loss of market share.  It would be difficult to gain market share if projects or new initiatives aren't getting completed.  And it might be difficult to even maintain market share if you have frustrated employees who are exerting all of their effort inefficiently on too many projects.

What causes OADD?  
  • Uncertainty about organizational direction
  • Disconnected organizational initiatives 
  • Too much change happening at the same time 

Consequently, what employees see is a lot of uncoordinated activities from multiple directions, confusion about decisions, and everything is priority #1

What's the prescription for leaders to resolve OADD?

Leaders must truly understand
  • critical organizational priorities
  • the capacity of their people
  • the true workload of their team

Leaders must be disciplined to
  • provide maximum goal clarity
  • manage priorities
  • maintain focus for their team
  • stay the course to get the job done

I could not agree more with Dr. Bohn's analysis and recommendations.  I've seen this very scenario play out at multiple organizations, both large and small.  Maybe your organization doesn't have a severe case of OADD but maybe you do sense your organization creeping toward some of the symptoms.  Whatever your scenario, the prescription to resolve OADD is an excellent checklist for any organization to maintain good organizational behavioral health.

Monday, January 6, 2014

The weather outside is frightful...

When everyone and everything is spinning and whirling in the wind, leaders go out to meet the storm.  Leaders embrace the wind and pass out kites.  ~Leonard Sweet

When I came across this quote, knowing that most of us would be enduring incredible winds and subzero temperatures caused by the polar vortex, I couldn't resist.  But I also believe there's a great deal of truth in what Leonard Sweet suggests. 

I realize that I'm just one very tiny speck in the grand picture of health care in our nation, but my experience made me much more sympathetic toward those in leadership who are trying to battle the storm of health care insurance and services.  Because I'm self-employed I received notice this fall that my current policy would no longer exist and I would need to select a new policy from the various bronze, silver, gold, and platinum options.  I waited just a bit, hoping that some of the chaos would subside before I attempted to make my selection and switch to a new policy.  Then before I even made the change, requirements were altered yet again and I was able to maintain my current policy for one more year.  Of course the premium increased so I modified the benefits to keep the premium closer to the current cost. 

When I called my provider to make the changes, they really were extremely helpful.  As I talked with the representative on the phone, I was imagining myself multiplied by tens of thousands of other individuals.  I'd say that's a pretty good example of everything spinning and whirling in the wind.  But what else can those in health care do, but go out to meet the storm, embrace the wind, and pass out kites?

Many of us aren't in health care, but that doesn't mean we aren't experiencing a storm brought on by other external challenges: industry changes at breakneck speed, global competition, economic fluctuations, increased consumer expectations, etc.    

Someone recently told me that their organization was "flailing."  Synonyms for flail are thrash, whirl, flap, and flounder.  If you find yourself in a similar predicament (i.e., storm), ask yourself a few questions. 

  • What would it look like if we went out to meet the storm instead of trying to shelter ourselves from the storm?
  • What would we be doing differently if we were embracing the wind?
  • How would our employees react if we passed out kites so they could use the wind to their advantage and benefit from the storm?
  • What would those kites actually be?

Artist Vincent Van Gogh said, "The fishermen know that the sea is dangerous and the storm terrible, but they have never found these dangers sufficient reason for remaining ashore."  Storms will come, so let's go out to meet the storm, embrace the wind, and pass out kites!