Strategic Planning

There are parallels, sure, but this post isn’t directly related to current world state.

My strengths focus on strategic planning.  Which is a fancy buzz word to say “I am good at pointing to things, explaining why those things are good, building a road to those things, and convincing people to come with me.”  A lot of people think they are good at the first 2 parts.  There are people who are great at the last 2 parts.  There aren’t a whole lot who can do all 4.

A job change in the fall was meant to have me focus on this particular skill set, and I was really stoked to get going.  The original goal was to look at the service offerings to clients and then help refocus them.  What ended up happening for the first 6 months was putting out internal fires and (re)building a new work culture.  The reasoning is simple, you can’t run shop if your house is on fire.  And whooboy, was the house on fire.

There were 3 main streams of effort – human resources (people), finances (money), and leadership (people).  I won’t bore on the details, but the general steps include:

  • identify the problem
  • consult internally and externally to get perspective on the problem and potential solutions
  • determine a realistic goal, but it has to be a goal that’s worth celebrating, not one that no one knows you’ve reached
  • break it down into chunks that can be measured with SMART metrics (specific, measurable, assignable, realistic, time-based)
  • find the culture enablers (the heart of a team) and the workhorses (the blood) and break it down into smaller pieces that can be communicated
  • plow the road of obstacles, manage the escalations, and provide a stable point of reference
  • publicize everything.  Platitudes are window dressing.  Results are what motivate people, build tr
  • measure progress regularly and modify the plan as needed
  • recognize the achievements for the various chunks

After 6 months, the HR request went from 2 hour meetings and 80% rejections to 20 minute meetings and 90% acceptance.  The finances have automation and logics rules applied, and forecasts are more aligned to actuals.  And the leadership teams have been moved from temporary folks to permanent appointments.

Looking back, I have some pride in the progress.  Some big foundational items have been set up to make life easier for everyone.  We’re saving a ton of time not arguing, just working together.

I’d like to say that the next step is the service offering change – and that is certainly one of the items I’m working on.  COVID has pushed a massive change on my services and my clients.  We already had plans to do some transformation, but this event has put that into overdrive.  What would have been done in 2 years now needs to be done in 6 months.  People are freaking out – rightfully so.   Same process as above, each of my direct reports has to articulate their personal vision and achievable plans, then we work together to mesh it all up, and publicize it.  In this paragraph, I have grossly understated the effort and impact – it’s a year’s worth of work, impacting nearly 800 people.

The other change going on at the same time is an internal restructuring to manage the load.  While I fixed part of the house on fire, I’ve been unable to replace the front door.  People keep walking in and asking for work to anyone they see, and people stop work to help them out.  The intake process is non-existent, and the people delivering the work are currently managing client expectations.  You ever tried doing something important, yet kept getting interrupted?  Takes you 10x as long to do the work if they left you alone.  That’s what I’m trying to fix.

‘Course, people have built up their own domains and claimed kingship over them.  There are verticals everywhere, with people who don’t want to talk to others.  My job now is to break all of that down, rebuild it functionally, and establish a sense of trust between the leaders of those teams that working together is going to be more effective.  Convincing someone that they need to let something go and trust that someone else will keep their interests at heart…that is a really tough ask.  It takes years to build trust and minutes to lose it all.

It’s a much easier conversation handing someone a $5m invoice for peaks in consumption or scope creep than it is to change a broken culture.  There are a few key aspects that I’ve found very useful.

  • Find the enablers.  These are the positive social glue.  The ones that instigate a watercooler conversation.  Get them into the plan early.  They are the health and pulse of the work.
  • Find the disablers.  These look near identical to enablers, but they actively work against change.  It’s possible (and ideal) to covert them to enablers if they help build the plan.  If you don’t, then these people will derail you.
  • Find the workhorses.  In most organizations, 10% of the workforce does 80% of the work.  I don’t mean the day to day stuff, I mean the above and beyond stuff.
  • Take every punch thrown and don’t retaliate.  Have those conversations in private.  Change is tough in the best of times.
  • Focus almost entirely on the goals and let the experts manage the details.  They are experts for a reason and you need to trust them.

Seeing as how I’m repeating the same process again and again, I figure it would be best to “package” that plan as a teaching tool.  And that’s my personal career goal for the next year.  I’m still working out the broad strokes, but I figure if I’m able to do it well, then I should be able to teach it to others in some fashion.  And I should at least try.


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