We all strive for it and it features prominently in our business cases as the hallowed ground that will be reached ‘if you just sign off on this next program…’ However, a very small number, possibly even a single digit percentage of organisations are truly agile.
Many years ago I desperately wanted to buy a house, a place to call my own. So I started looking in all of the suburbs that appealed at homes that I liked the look of or that I thought might suit (read: afford). Subsequently I was dashing off to open homes, putting in offers and time after time I was pipped at the post or came up short. I thought this house buying malarkey was easy, I had a deposit and there were plenty of homes up for grabs so why wasn’t it working out? It just didn’t compute.
I turned to a friend of mine who had a great track record in property and asked for some tips. Here’s what he told me:
Roughly two weeks after following my friends instructions (to the letter) an agent called me and told me that he had a place coming available, it wasn’t listed yet and would I like to take a look? The minute I set eyes on it I know it was the one. It ticked all my boxes, was in the right position, in the right area, I was first to it and I placed a cash offer on the spot. It was a great deal. I acted with agility because; I was very prepared, had done all my homework, research and knowledge gathering. I won – finally.
Business is exactly the same, and I mean EXACTLY. You can trundle along as a mature business making perfectly acceptable money, prominent in your arena. Great brand, good turn over and culture – but not crushing it. And here’s a tip, putting ‘agile’ into your next business case or proclaiming that you’ve sent some staff on a course and are now an ‘agile’ organisation isn’t going to cut it either. Gaining true agility, the kind that stacks the odds embarrassingly in your favour is hard work. I define it as converting from maturity to mastery. As I demonstrated above there is a distinct difference. I’d placed 14 offers so was familiar with the process as a mature buyer but the additional steps required to master my market made all the difference, allowing me to act with immediacy, agility and confidence. They didn’t stand a chance.
A lot of the time when I start working with an organisation I’m astounded how few fundamentals are in place. Many of the gaps are:
Being agile isn’t glamorous. Being agile means having your house in order (all of it) so when you are faced with a hurdle or an opportunity you can act quickly and with confidence. Agility = Mastery and the path requires hard work and humility. Most organisations have all the pieces of the puzzle but have misplaced the instructions.
If you want to be agile and wield power over your competitors bordering on being an unfair advantage then get in touch, I can help. It’s not necessarily a fast process but if you don’t start now that puzzle isn’t ever going to put itself together.
It’s about making sure you have you bulls in order;
I’ve been lucky over the years to be a party to some great and some terrible strategy in both the planning and execution. This has given me great learning experiences on both sides of the coin. There is almost always an obvious difference between the good and the bad strategist (presence of the 3 bulls). Conversely there is almost no correlation to the type of companies, leadership styles or any other factor for those who get it right other than perhaps experience and the willingness to learn and adapt from failure [surprised gasp].
The Bad. In my experience bad strategy can generally be summed up as goals and vision statements – all dressed up but nowhere to go. If your leader pauses for applause during the reading of the new strategy, then you’ve probably just been fed a vision statement. This type of goal setting is really common and has its place in developing company culture so long as there is a delivery mechanism in behind it. After all, culture is defined as: The beliefs and resulting behaviours that are expected and viewed as normal based on prior situational experience.
The Good. As mentioned above is always; tangible, measurable and there is someone accountable. The content of the strategy itself can’t be covered in a blog as its highly specific and situational. It can however be developed through an engagement with a strategy specialist – like me. The final component to good strategy is best done well in advance and that is developing a positive, collaborative and supportive company culture. That comes from good leadership and there is no shortcut.
Don’t be scared of your strategy getting a bit wordy. A ‘plan on a page’ makes for a great sound bite but you’ll likely need a few pages to articulate the value of your program, assign accountabilities and outline the measurements for success. A good structure for your strategy can be to first outline the goal you’ve set or obstacle you intend to overcome. Secondly hit us with the guiding policy. These are the guidelines for dealing with the ups and downs of going after your strategic objective. The guiding policy gives structure to your undertaking. Last comes the actual actions that contribute to the achievement of the strategy. This is where you need to assure you’ve got your bulls in line. Lets unpack them a little more now.
Tangible – Is it achievable.
We all know there is a whole lot we could do but what should we do. So, here’s where you start. Strategy should strengthen or overcome. Activity that strengthens your unique value proposition is worth going after. A good example is a patent. It might be worth protecting your secret sauce that customers are loving, securing it through patent is a great protection mechanism and a worthy strategy. To overcome or remove an obstacle is another great way of strategically helping reach your goals. Maybe you have a particular product on the books that is only making a very small profit and it is tying up key resources, constraining your ability to grow. Looking to outsource, automate or even deprecate the product would be good strategies.
If the list is still too long, ask yourself; which of these options do we have the; skills, resources, budget and capacity to achieve – there’s your short list. Then chose from the options left that which would make the biggest impact.
Measurable - Test and improve.
I’ve not found it better outlined than in the book Black Box Thinking by Matthew Syed. Failure is inevitable, what matters most is how we learn and adapt from it. Our world revolves around dollars, numbers and percentages so its imperative that we have a framework for capturing those important markers to let us know how we are tracking. It’s common for team members to be somewhat confronted by this. Distinctly measurable success criteria can bring out the best and the worst in people. Reframing early how this is such a critical aspect to the strategic program is important. Our ability to celebrate an achievement is as important as our ability to fail fast and adapt – both outcomes should be uniquely measurable.
Accountable – Who ventures wins.
Accountability isn’t reserved for the boss, in an agile team there is joint and several responsibility combining to make the team accountable. Similarly, there are many scenarios where its important to have a named person or people accountable. Think of workplace safety legislation and the burden of accountability it has imposed upon people leaders. Invariably along the path to greatness there will be forks in the road and at times you need someone to be accountable for choosing the path. In strategy every one of the actions that combine to culminate in the achievement of the goal needs an owner. Someone to make the hard calls, drive the program and track progress. Without accountability we can slide into a state of cognitive dissonance and make excuses for why a failure isn’t a failure at all.
The psychology behind strategy and goal setting in general is fascinating and many contrasts can be drawn upon our broader lives and motivators. If you love a good business book as I do, get yourself Good Strategy / Bad Strategy by Richard Rumelt. I started with the audio book and went on to buy the hard copy and still refer to it weekly.
Strategy gets better with practice and you can use it in all aspects of your life if you set your mind to it; saving for retirement, sporting goals, academic or career aspirations. Good luck in your endeavours – take the bulls by the horns. If you need a hand, feel free to reach out to me – I’m only happy to help.
It's tough out there and getting ahead is part art, science and experience combined. I see many similar scenarios over and over again so I wanted to write a series of blogs to give you all a head start at your next planning day, strategy session or project meeting. Really this is a collection of hard earned observations and learning that hold true in almost all organisations i've either worked with or within.
From right back at its inception IT was heralded for being a force-multiplier in science, business and innovation. This heralded rapid investment and adoption and even decades on is still a significant budget item for most organisations. I often ask organisations "what isn't IT" within their organisation or to put another way, "who/which department wouldn't be affected by an outage". This simple framing is often enough to get people thinking critically about IT delivery rather than seeing it as a cost centre given how pervasive it is.
Its therefore no surprise that I term technology in business as the 'critical enabler' and absolutely necessary to get right for your survival. So why then is Digital Disruption even a thing. Aren't we doing it already by default, adapting and evolving? Well yes and no and therein lies the rub.
As I've mentioned, early technology was a force-multiplier giving you speed, agility and efficiency over and above your competitors. It was a strategic competitive advantage for early adopters and fast movers. However now days the vast majority of tech in business is table stakes. Even the latest accounting system, newest firewall, unified comms platform or other such item is far from offering a competitive advantage. At best you are just a fast follower.
To gain a competitive advantage from tech today requires thinking differently, new business models, fresh strategic approaches and true innovative thought on how to solve today's problems and opportunities.
So how do you achieve this? Well there are few key tricks i'll cover in upcoming blogs headlined:
- How to write strategy
- Achieving agility
- Embracing learning from your mistakes
It won't be waffle. It'll be stuff you can use the next time you even get near a whiteboard and you know ow w all love a good whiteboard session.
People do business with people that they know, like and trust - so it's nice to meet you. Living on Auckland's scenic west coast I have a young family, am an avid outdoors person, regularly; surfing, skiing, cycling and rock climbing.