How to Add Wisdom to Your Company’s Strategy

leverage, key performance indicatorsIf your company is like most, you set goals then wait to see what happens — as if merely stating the goal will bring it about.

In reality, for goals to make a real difference to your company, you need to pay more attention than that. You must pay attention to what you and your employees will do differently to move an ambitious goal forward. And this often requires infusing some wisdom into the process – wisdom that comes from using data that drives and measures progress toward a goal.

How do you gain the wisdom to get the results you want? You get it from past experience and intentional trial and error now. It is wisdom, rooted in the experimentation of science in the form of “independent variables” and “dependent variables”.

“We are drowning in information, while starving for wisdom. The world henceforth will be run by synthesizers, people able to put together the right information at the right time, think critically about it, and make important choices wisely.” – E.O. Wilson, entomologist

In science, an “independent variable” is a condition or value you change to see what effect it has on something else. That “something else” meant to be impacted is the “dependent variable”.

Think of a science fair and the ubiquitous experiments involving growing plants. Usually, kids varied one of many growing conditions to see what would support or inhibit plant growth. Some of the things they would vary included amounts of sunlight, amount of water, etc. Each condition changed was an “independent variable”. Plant growth is the “dependent variable” because it would depend (hypothetically) on what was done with the chosen independent variable.

A straightforward business example would be a desire to decrease production time for a widget by minimizing manufacturing downtime to while maintaining current quality. Manufacturing downtime is the independent variable and production time is the dependent variable.

Applied to your company goals, independent variables are called Key Performance Indicators (KPI) or “lead measures”. Thus, independent variables are to a hypothesis as KPIs are to strategic goals. They are the key to gaining real wisdom around what will allow your company to successfully achieve its goals.

To gain such wisdom regarding your goals, run the experiment by simply restating your goal in the form of a question to more easily identify relevant KPIs. For example, if the goal is to decrease production time by 10% by December 31, restate it as a question. “How can we decrease production time by 10%, by December 31, without sacrificing quality?” The answers to your business question will point you in the direction of possible KPIs. Then, you can vet further for potential impact and your ability to control them.

Unfortunately, many leaders fall short when it comes to gaining wisdom. They don’t develop and track KPIs in an intentional and deliberate way. Instead, many leave it to chance that employees will make the adjustments needed to get to the company goal. Or if they do identify the KPIs, they don’t work with their teams to design “experiments” to prove or disprove that the KPIs are affecting the goal.

How are you adding wisdom that informs your company’s strategy? Which goals and related KPIs is your team focusing on now? How are you showing a correlation or causation (or lack thereof) between those KPIs and the goal?
WANT TO USE THIS ARTICLE IN YOUR NEWSLETTER, BLOG OR WEBSITE? You can. Simply include this information with it: Beth Strathman works with business leaders who want to increase productivity and retention by shifting their focus from daily tactical work to the strategic work required to move their companies forward. Learn more about her company Firebrand Consulting LLC at: firebrandconsultingllc.com.

team work experiment

Create Better Focus by Reframing Your Approach to Achieving Goals

Based on a 2011 McKinsey study, only 10% of executives were “very satisfied” with how they spend their time. Also, 50% of executives were not allocating their work time on activities tied to company goals. Why weren’t these executives focused on the very goals they were setting for their companies? Are goals intimidating, bringing up fears of failure or success.

Not sure but maybe the way most of us approach goals needs reframing.

What if you saw those same goals more like hypotheses that allow you to set up experiments? When you approach company goals as experimenting, it seems to create a sense of taking action, giving permission to fail, and learning from mistakes. Additionally, framing your approach as experiments gives permission to take time to identify and control variables, so that you more intentionally focus your efforts. It is that focus that is key to moving your company goals forward.

So, here are some thoughts on how to do that:

1. What control do the employees in your area of responsibility have toward achieving the hypothesis / goal?

Think about (a) what’s within your employees’ control as far as achieving the goal and (2) to what degree doing those things will have an impact. Once you ferret out these variables, you and your employees can decide with which variables to experiment. Then, it’s a matter of designing work experiments and measuring the results. Implicit in this is also the ability to change the variables and the approach if desired results don’t happen.

2. Which work activities for YOUR role are “high-value” because they directly affect the chosen variables and experiments?

Based on the experiments you and your employees have selected, determine ways you can ensure the experiments occur, the variables are tracked, and results are interpreted for successful outcomes and possible adjustments. Maybe there are things you already do. Maybe they are things you should start doing. Either way, these activities have “high-value” for your leadership role. And you don’t have to go overboard re-tooling your weekly calendar: using the 80/20 Pareto Principle, you should consider spending only about 20% of your working time on them.

Include meetings, reviewing data, celebrating success, following up with direct reports, mentoring your employees, your own professional development, and activities that build and nurture relationships that are important for achieving the goal.

3. Commit to making goal activities happen.

One of the best ways to make sure you do your “high-value” work activities is to commit to them by scheduling them on your calendar with the right frequency and duration. Once they are on your calendar, you have carved out space to dedicate to them. What do you do if something else comes along for a particular time slot? You have to decide what’s more important or can be done at a different time. If you displace a scheduled high-value activity, make sure to re-schedule it or have it covered by someone else.

If goals are important enough to set, they are important enough to work towards. Make it more palatable to work towards goals by changing your mindset about them, then focus on what you can do to make them happen, and keep the commitments you make.

 

WANT TO USE THIS ARTICLE IN YOUR NEWSLETTER, BLOG OR WEBSITE?

You can, as long as you include this information with it: Beth Strathman works with business leaders who want to increase productivity and retention by creating high-performance teams. Learn more at: firebrandconsultingllc.com.

5 Leadership Qualities Critical to Achieving Company Goals

goal, executionWouldn’t it be great if you could simply share your latest company goals with employees and rest assured they would automatically achieve them without further ado?

Most of the time that doesn’t happen, though. Yes, your leadership does come in handy. But you have to know what you must bring to the table to catalyze employees to achieve those company goals. In fact, you must draw on 5 qualities to move your company goals forward:

1. Clear Intention

Clear intention is the ability to hone in on what you are really seeking to accomplish. By doing so, you create an unambiguous target for your company to shoot for. You can use the SMART Goals technique or some other goal-setting methodology. In any case, it’s your job as leader to ensure the goal is distinctive and well-defined. This allows anyone to easily recognize when the goal has been achieved.

2. Clear Communication

Research shows that 60% of employees don’t know about their companies’ strategic plan, including current goals. To counter this, once a goal is set, it’s your leadership responsibility to ensure it is disseminated and discussed throughout the company, so everyone can contribute to achieving it. Goals don’t achieve themselves; employees must act to make them come to fruition. So, make sure all employees know current goals and progress made along the way. Additionally, work with department heads to translate company-wide goals into meaningful and related sub-goals for each company area.

3. Inclusion

The employees who do the work know a lot about what works and what doesn’t. That’s why it’s imperative to be inclusive. Inclusion means you readily and willingly tap a variety of perspectives regarding what it will take to achieve the goal, including the employees who perform the work. When you tap into the perspectives of direct reports, they can suggest which work activities to leverage to affect the desired goal outcomes.

4. Unwavering Focus

It is said, “What is expected must be inspected.” In other words, keep the goal and related activities in front of employees. Make sure you do so with your direct reports, so this focus cascades to the front lines in your area of responsibility. You might hold a short weekly meeting focused on goal-related work activities and projects to check progress. Regularly display and discuss graphs tracking progress of related activities, sub-goals, and the overall goal. Whatever you do, keep employees focused on what they must do to achieve the goal and the progress being made. This allows adjustments to be made timely, as needed.

5. Recognition & Appreciation

If you’re like me you are probably used to a “no news is good news” approach in life. What we’ve learned, however, is that acknowledgement and appreciation go a long way with employees. Remember to recognize and appreciate individual effort, contributions, and progress toward sub-goals and the overall goal to keep employees engaged in the effort. Employees need to know you see their efforts.

If you’re like most leaders, you are distracted by a thousand different things that vie for your attention. It’s good to remember the simple leadership qualities that you must demonstrate to achieve your company goals. An intentional, inclusive focus on your goals, bolstered by clear communication and recognition of effort and progress is the basic job of any leader.

WANT TO USE THIS ARTICLE IN YOUR NEWSLETTER, BLOG OR WEBSITE? You can, as long as you include this information with it: Beth Strathman works with women in leadership who want to have more positive impact within their organizations by gaining great focus, self-awareness, and influence with their teams. Learn more at: firebrandconsultingllc.com.

Converting an Abstract Vision Statement Into Concrete Reality

vision-achieve-goals-high-performanceI once worked for an organization where, even with an inspiring mission, its inability to convert its vision for the future into concrete reality made going working lackluster and frustrating. The employees had no clear direction for how to bring the vision (and consequently its mission) to life despite knowing their work was important.

Your company might have an aspirational 10-year vision statement. But are you really using it to propel your company forward? Do you have the courage of your convictions to turn that inspiring but abstract collection of words into concrete reality?

Many leaders stumble when it comes to turning any idea into tangible results, and it’s no different with a vision statement. It does take thoughtful intention and attention to bring an idea into physical form. Here are some ways you can do just that:

1. Chunk it down.

Your grand vision might be a 10-year projection, which makes it seem too large and too remote. Make this distant dream easily digestible and immediately relevant to employees by focusing on what you want to do in only the next 2-3 years. Thus, create a shorter-term vision for your current company goals (which tend to go out 18-36 months). By aligning the stepping stones of your overall vision with company goals meant to measure progress toward the vision, you start to connect the dots that allow employees to see how the longer-term vision is becoming reality incrementally.

2. Talk about the vision in all employee gatherings.

Give weight to the long-term vision by referring to it frequently. Whether there are 2 or 2000 employees gathered together, use the company’s long-term vision to remind employees why the topic at hand is relevant or important. This works in weekly meetings, project launches, employee performance review sessions, milestone achievement celebrations, employee recognition gatherings, etc. Referencing the vision when discussing, planning, or reflecting on what has been done helps others to see how the vision influenced and continues to influence decisions, conversations, and physical outcomes.

3. Tell stories.

Tap into our innate love of stories to illustrate ideals, concepts, or principles related to the vision. The stories you use can be timeless parables, “legends” from your company, or actual experiences that have happened to you or other noteworthy individuals and companies. You will find you often can convey an idea better with a story than with a mound of data.

4. Walk Your Talk.

Not much to elaborate on here. Based on the vision (and corresponding goals), start bringing that vision to life by acting on it. Use it to structure how you spend your time and attention. When employees see you altering your actions and attention based on the vision, they see you mean it and are more likely to do so themselves.

5. End interactions with a call to action.

Ask employees to take specific, vision-related action before ending any interaction. You might think that employees should be able to figure this out on their own. Some can. But don’t leave it to chance. Overtly ask employees for what you want them to do next to move the vision forward. And even better – hold them accountable to do so.

Nothing happens just because you think it. That goes for your vision statement, too. To bring your abstract vision to life, you must drop a bread crumb trail from the abstract to the physical for your employees to know how to breathe life into it.

 

WANT TO USE THIS ARTICLE IN YOUR NEWSLETTER, BLOG OR WEBSITE?

You can, as long as you include this information with it: Beth Strathman shows business leaders how to increase productivity and retention with their employees focused on the daily tactical work, so they can focus on the strategic work required to move their businesses forward. Learn more about her company Firebrand Consulting LLC at: firebrandconsultingllc.com.

3 Things Leaders Must Do to Bring Company Missions To Life

maze strategyWithin months of the June 2016 investigation into a Tesla vehicle crash due to malfunctioning autopilot, CEO Elon Musk showed his commitment to Tesla Motors’ mission to “accelerate the world’s transition to sustainable energy”. He broke ground on a battery plant in Nevada and announced a bid and recently acquired a solar products company that has a similar commitment to sustainable energy.

What kept Musk going after this crash setback? He (and by extension his company, Tesla Motors) has a compelling mission that he lives and breathes.

This same commitment to accelerating the transition to sustainable energy drives Tesla Motors’ Patent policy, which states the company will not . . .

initiate patent lawsuits against anyone who, in good faith, wants to use its technology. Tesla was created to accelerate the advent of sustainable transport, and this policy is intended to encourage the advancement of a common, rapidly-evolving platform for electric vehicles, thereby benefiting Tesla, other companies making electric vehicles, and the world.

Allowing your competitors to compete against you using your own proprietary information? THAT’s living your company’s mission!

Make Your Mission Statement Mean Something

Some have opined that mission statements don’t really matter but that companies create them anyway because, well, that’s what you do. Yet, just because some companies are not good at creating compelling mission statements and actually using them doesn’t mean that mission statements are “dead”. To the contrary, they are a necessary and valuable component of a well-run corporate strategy.

61% of employees in North America don’t know their company’s mission. – Achievers Survey, September 2015

In fact, your company’s mission statement is part of the guidance system that focuses you on what you are here to do. It keeps your company on track, so you remain focused in a general direction and are less subject to the distraction of every bright, shiny opportunity in the world. Used effectively, your mission should inform your vision, your values, and corporate goals.

To what degree is your mission statement a vital and compelling guide for your business? Here are 3 critical ways to make sure you and your employees are living your company’s mission:

1. Assess How Well the Mission is Resonating

According to a recent survey by achievers.com, 61% of employees don’t know their company’s mission statement. Whether you do a formal or informal survey, find out if your employees know your company’s mission and how much passion there is for it. On a scale from 1-10, where are you? Where is the executive team?

The level of awareness of and passion for your mission is not only an indicator of how well you’ve built the mission into all aspects of the business, but it might also indicate whether you need to punch it up to make it more compelling. Also, take stock of what’s working and what’s not working with respect to how your mission is showing up in your company daily.

2. You Go First

To make your mission statement come alive, you of all people must embody it. How are you and the rest of the executive team helping it come alive or hindering it from doing so? Do you mention the mission statement often? What do you convey to others that shows you used the mission when making a decision? creating a vision for the foreseeable future? or setting a goal? In short, you must intentionally and consistently make others aware that the mission is embedded in all that you do and say.

3. Build the Mission Into Every Aspect of Your Business

In addition, you can ensure employees see the mission in action by using it as the foundation for all work practices, policies, processes and standards of conduct. Here are some ways to do that:

  • Make your mission explicit in policies, processes, team charters, etc.
  • Ensure each employee knows how their job furthers the mission.
  • State it regularly in meetings to set the tone and work it in to every project and assignment.
  • Ask employees how their current work furthers the mission.
  • Incorporate it in all decision-making regarding products, services, customer service, employees, community relations, etc.
  • Be explicit about how new goals, a new vision, new policies, new products, etc. align with the mission.
  • Reflect regularly on how well you live it.
  • Recognize and adjust obvious practices that are contrary to it.
  • When giving feedback, acknowledge the employee’s actions were consistent or inconsistent with the mission.

Your mission serves to keep you on the right track. It is the foundation of the alignment of everything in your company. Make sure you’re getting the most out of it.

 

WANT TO USE THIS ARTICLE IN YOUR NEWSLETTER, BLOG OR WEBSITE?

You can, as long as you include this information with it: Beth Strathman works with women in leadership who want to have more positive impact within their organizations by gaining greater focus, self-awareness, and influence with their teams. Learn more at: firebrandconsultingllc.com.

5 Ways to Hone Your Executive Thinking Skills

decision-makingWe are educated. We are modern human beings. We make decisions every day. How inaccurate and incomplete can our thinking be?

I always thought I was a good at logical thinking. Then I went to law school. Law school taught me how to think through an issue more effectively by applying a disciplined structure to analyze facts, to make arguments, and to create consistency in the decisions made.

Your personality type influences how you think. You might shoot from the hip for a fast resolution and clean up any mess later (“ready-fire-aim”); or maybe you delay making decisions or solving problems due to “analysis paralysis” or because you don’t want to upset others; or maybe you make decisions to please others without really addressing or resolving the core issue.

Research now shows that emotions are integral in the decision-making process, but it is still important to be able to analyze and reflect on data, information, and experience to choose the best solution or decision possible and to think about your own thinking. To that end, use these basic decision-making and problem-solving tools to collect, analyze, and play with data to make better decisions.

1. Pro/Con List

Ben Franklin famously wrote about his use of a Pro/Con List. His method involved making 2 lists: pros of an issue on the left and the cons on the right. Next, give weight to each item on the list, maybe using a scale of 1 to 3. Next, Franklin described cancelling out single or multiple items on either side of equal weight (e.g., 2 pros each with a weight of 1 (totaling 2) can be cancelled by 1 con with a weight of 2). Then, see if either side ends up with more items remaining. An interesting comment by Franklin shows that once he went through his analysis, he gave himself another day or so to see if anything else can to mind that he should consider before moving forward.

“Too many problem solving sessions become a battlegrounds where decisions are made based on power rather than intelligence.”–Meg Wheatley


2. SWOT or SOAR

Either a SWOT or SOAR grid is designed to collect and evaluate information about a current situation. SWOT stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats. Or you can use SOAR from Appreciative Inquiry which stands for Strengths, Opportunities, Aspirations, and Results. Collecting the data in either of these formats will aid analysis and tee you up to form an action plan.SWOT

3. Pareto Analysis

Also known as the 80/20 rule, Pareto principle holds that 20% of “inputs” is producing 80% of the desired or undesired outputs. For example: Which products or services are producing 80% of company revenue? Once you collect basic data, this video shows you how to set up a Pareto chart in a spreadsheet.

4. Impact vs. Probability Risk Assessment

This tool is used to assess the possible risks you face. First list all possible threats. Next, using a numeric scale (say, 1 to 10), assess the probability that the threat will occur. Then, assign a value for how great the impact will be if the threat occurs. (Cost is a frequently used measure for impact.) Finally, multiply the probability and the impact numbers to get the “risk” number.

5. Fishbone Diagram

Allows you to determine the root cause of a particular effect. You can use other areas to explore in addition to the ones listed below. For each “cause”, ask what might be contributing to the effect. Then, use the “5 Whys” process get to secondary, tertiary, etc. causes.

Fishbone Diagram

Honing your ability to collect and analyze data helps you choose the best framework for your thought process when making big decisions and solving problems for your company. Don’t forget to use these tried and true models to explore situations in your business.

Other tools to explore:

Six Thinking Hats
Pugh Matrix
Process Maps
Polarity Diagram
Scientific Method

WANT TO USE THIS ARTICLE IN YOUR NEWSLETTER, BLOG OR WEBSITE? You can, as long as you include this information with it: Beth Strathman works with women in leadership who want to have more positive impact within their organizations, by gaining greater focus, self-awareness, and influence with their teams. Learn more at: firebrandconsultingllc.com.

Feeling Overwhelmed is Your Own Fault: 8 Tips to Stop It

calendarThe world moves so quickly these days, it feels hard to keep up. With the proliferation of available information, you can trick yourself into believing that you need to keep up with all information and happenings. However, it isn’t simply paying attention to everything that’s going on that makes you productive and valuable; it’s staying intentionally attuned to the things you’ve identified as important and relevant to your business that keeps you productive and on target.

In short, you’ll stop feeling overwhelmed when you learn to say “no” to everything that is not fundamentally important to achieving your current goals.

Here are eight tips for reducing feelings of overwhelm and keeping yourself on track with the things you’ve identified as important:

  1. Get comfortable with the fact that most information is just noise. Just because information is accessible doesn’t mean it’s relevant to you.
  2. Determine what’s fundamentally important to maximize your business and yourself. The really important things for business tend to be the basics: mission, vision, values, current goals, key performance indicators (KPIs), key relationships, and professional development for you and your staff.
  3. Base your everyday tasks and activities what’s fundamentally important. Look at your calendar. Do your day-to-day appointments and scheduled blocks for projects etc. reflect the fundamentals as they relate to your position? Whether you’re the CEO or the VP of Human Resources, there are things you ought to be doing to further the company’s current goals. Are you? If you find items that have low value related to the company’s goals, figure out what to do about them, including delegating them to others who have the capability and could grow from the opportunity.
  4. Reduce your connection to irrelevant information. Doing simple things to decrease distraction can reduce feelings of overwhelm, like turning off pop-up email notifications, creating email rules that dispense with low priority email messages, and unsubscribing from email lists that you rarely find helpful.
  5. Train your staff about your response priorities. Which topics are front-burner for you? What counts as an “emergency” when they should definitely interrupt you? What’s your response time for texts versus email versus phone calls and when should they use each method of communication?
  6. Build time into your schedule when you are intentionally available for drop-in conversations. This presumes that you set aside “do not disturb” time when you are focused on strategic and project work. Having “office hours” when you’re readily available encourages others to access you on your terms, not theirs.
  7. Find root causes to other disruptions or time wasters. “Fires” usually occur when they wasn’t a good process in place for handling a situation. Look at ways to create or refine processes for handling most things that are likely to challenge your staff, so they learn to do things without you.
  8. Question whether you really need to have or attend the meetings on your calendar. Maybe you do, but it’s good to review whether a particular meeting is really a good use of your time.

Practice seeing through the “charms” and “alarms” of life to keep your center. Knowing what’s important and saying “no” to the rest is the key to reducing feelings of overwhelm.

 

WANT TO USE THIS ARTICLE IN YOUR NEWSLETTER, BLOG OR WEBSITE? You can, as long as you include this information with it: Beth Strathman works with women in leadership who want to have more positive impact within their organizations by gaining greater focus, self-awareness, and influence with their teams.  Learn more at: firebrandconsultingllc.com.