Why Strategic Planning is a Team Sport

As an executive, you must make an annual decision about your organization’s strategic plan. Should the exercise be done as a team, hire outsiders to perform a study,  or simply fall back on the CEO’s thinking? While there are pros and cons to each approach, one generally yields the best fruit.
Once your company successfully grows to a certain point, it must consider the long-term impact of its actions, and make a choice. Does it continue to allow the founder to drive the decisions on each major course of action? After all, he/she is the most knowledgeable person, and the only one who has the full-time job of thinking strategically.
However, even though CEOs are generally smart people, there comes a stage when their brilliance, and this tactic, only gets them into trouble. They find themselves alone in implementing their strategies. No-one else takes the time to understand or invest themselves emotionally. Instead, they sit back and wait for the Boss Man/Lady to do all the big-picture thinking…as usual.
In a small company with a “Snow White” organizational structure (i.e. a single strong extrovert surrounded by introverts) this approach can work. However, an enterprise that must grow by hiring talented people will eventually run into trouble. High performers either refuse to join, or leave after a few months.
An alternate tactic is to invite in an outsider. A consulting firm willingly does all the interviews, data gathering, analysis and report writing. The result is a beautifully packaged set of strategy recommendations.
However, they have actually done their client a disservice.
By undertaking the intellectual labour themselves, they also undermine the emotional commitment. In other words, by the end of the project, they believe in their ideas more than anyone else, especially those who must implement them. Even those who originally had the ideas are sidelined as they become branded by Consulting Firm X.
But there is a third tactic. You could treat the development of the strategic plan as a team exercise, like a sport: an effort in which each person must play their part. However, there are several pitfalls to this approach that need to be avoided.

1. Impartial Facilitation
The best event to forge final decisions is a strategic planning retreat. Unfortunately, most are little more than one of two extremes: a place to air opinions of all kinds without making any commitments, or a presentation of pre-agreed decisions in which people are “encouraged“ to buy-in. Neither produces satisfying results.
Instead, the most effective retreats allow consensus to build from the bottom-up. In most cases, this is best facilitated by an outsider who allows contentious issues to be brought up in a civil way that helps your team make final, binding decisions.
These new points of agreement are the entire purpose of the activity – to craft ultimate, difficult choices that close the door on other alternatives.

2. Immediate Capture
The second pitfall is to think that a hearty discussion is sufficient. In a tiny company, this approach may work as it’s easy to share information.
However, in a larger organization, these agreements must be translated into projects or initiatives which lead to wide-spread behavior changes. To ensure that this happens, your team should document the new strategy immediately after it makes decisions.
In other words, the written substance of each strategy cannot wait to be captured until the next day. If the team waits even a few hours to translate their decisions into words, you may learn the hard way that strategic conversations have a ridiculously short shelf-life. As soon as they are explored and completed, their essence begins to fade once a new conversation commences. 
The only option is for you to capture these conclusions immediately, before everyone scatters to go home.
Unfortunately, this approach is rarely taken because people believe that a fancy Strategy Report is the true final product. It’s not: the decisions your team made are far more important.

3. Instant Ownership
The last pitfall you could make is to leave the retreat without proper ownership being assigned. Overall responsibility isn’t enough: key activities may still languish due to a lack of personal accountability. 
The solution is simple: assign sponsors to each of your new initiatives, even if they don’t possess subject matter expertise. Their sole job is to shepherd the project until a manager is assigned. In fact, they may only relinquish their sponsorship years after the planning event, but when they play their role well, it keeps the retreat’s momentum going.
Every sport has its peculiar conventions and practices. Avoid these pitfalls and you increase the odds that your team will win

Can Your Leaders Lead Without Personal Integrity?

   “All I have is my word.” Back in the day, this was a common saying among working professionals. For them, keeping one’s word was the only honorable, accepted thing to do. But times have changed: Is there a place for that sentiment in today’s Jamaica?

In 2020, many people have a contingent relationship to the promises they make. In other words, they will keep their commitments if the stars align in just the right way.

When they do, it’s because their feelings and circumstances are in the perfect place, and the gain far exceeds the cost. To summarize: the result is not really up to them, but a fortuitous confluence of external events. It provides them with a psychological back-door: a way to escape any future obligation.
Some people specialize in this kind of behaviour, even while seated at a boardroom table. But it’s human: we hate being trapped by promises we made in the past. Some refuse to make them altogether, explaining that compliance is up to God, not them.

While such behaviour is convenient to those giving their word, it wreaks havoc in the world around them. Here are two ways.

1. Reputational Risk

If you have ever been ghosted (i.e. stood up) by someone with a flimsy excuse, you probably made a decision. Perhaps you resolved never to trust him/her again.
However, if you are a habitual “flake”, you may be upset to hear what we won’t tell you: “If you can’t be trusted to satisfy simple obligations, then you certainly won’t be considered for others which are more substantial.” Also, while we may consent to meet with you again, we’ll be calling ahead to “confirm” (aka micromanage) the appointment.
But don’t relax. Whereas this trick may work for small matters, it fails for important commitments. Instead, we’ll just call someone else.
Unfortunately, you may never understand why you are no longer on our list of invitees, or why we don’t return your calls and email messages. Your inability to generate the willpower to keep your promises has resulted in lasting damage.

2. Organizational Weakness

Hire enough chronic promise-breakers into the same organization and you have the perfect recipe for bankruptcy.
Case in Point: A founder, known for honouring his word, dies and leaves the company to an unreliable sibling. The inheritor never understands the invisible glue of integrity that enabled the company to thrive. Consequently, promises are broken on a whim so customers, employees and other stakeholders start a steady exodus to better alternatives.It’s a lack of integrity writ large: a violation of the brand promise, employee compact, or shareholder trust. These are all unwritten expectations no company can break for long.
Arguably, the rise and fall of the quality of Digicel’s mobile service is such an example. When it entered the market in 2001, it delivered a striking, powerful salvation from C&W’s monopoly. But recently, the government reported a meeting with the company to complain, on behalf of consumers, about its poor service: a dramatic reversal for a favorite brand.
What can leaders of companies like Digicel do? They can undertake a return to workable standards on a personal, but public level. 
In an era in which the President of the United States freely reverses his stated commitments to people, precedent and principles alike, the world is short of those who lead by example. It appears that the practitioners of “situational integrity” are “winning.”
This has not gone unnoticed in Jamaican society, however. Organizations like the NIA and CAFFE are pushing to return our country to a simpler standard: a time when people did what they said they would, just because they said they would…especially when it’s hardest to do so.
But the key is not to merely be wary of making promises. The deeper challenge is to relate to one’s word as if it were as important as oneself: a reflection of character.
Unfortunately, when life is working as it should, the challenge seems to fade in importance.
For example, several local politicians have apologised for disparaging remarks made on the campaign trail about an opposition Member of Parliament. In essence they said: “Those comments are not a reflection of who I am.”
The irony is that Digicel and other organizational leaders could see their recent shortcomings as an opportunity to return themselves to who they really are. Jamaica yearns for this kind of leadership: the kind that willingly reveals itself when mistakes are made, at the moments when it’s inconvenient, uncomfortable and unprofitable.
These opportunities demonstrate how to live old-fashioned principles in modern-day life and empower everyone of us to do the same.

Why The Most Ambitious People Time Block

Have you ever wondered why a few high-performers insist on scheduling (i.e. time blocking) their entire day? It’s not because they are indulging in an idle pastime. Instead, they are resorting to this little-known technique because they have no other choice.

CEO’s. Olympic athletes. Entrepreneurs. Teachers. Part-Time Students. Parents of twins, triplets or more. Employees with a side business.

These are some of the busiest people you may know. But being busy isn’t just a state of mind, or a feeling. Research shows they have a practice of creating a huge number of tasks. In other words, the backlog of demands they have set for themselves far exceeds 24 hours per day and 168 hours per week.

Furthermore, they face the same challenge we all do of living in Jamaica, with its hectic daily surprises that make it so hard to focus. Time blocking is the way they stay on top of their time commitments.
What you may not know is that they actually started using the technique relatively late in life, after progressing through other practices. Here are the steps you could follow if you are looking towards a future of increasing task volume.

  • Start Off Using a New Kind of Memory
    Like most adolescents, you probably had a goal of having a great memory. After all, primary and secondary education is almost all about memorization, recalling facts and figures, using what’s called “retrospective memory”.
    However, there is another: “prospective memory”. This is the kind of memory used to perform actions in the future, such as your plans for the rest of the day. This type has a short shelf life, unlike retrospective memory. For example, your schedule for yesterday afternoon is of little value today.
    Furthermore, prospective memory is used to help you reach your goals and intentions. However, the fact that you’re taught to use personal memory to track incomplete commitments is a problem. Why? Once you try to remember too many tasks, it fails.
    Finally, the older you get, the worse this kind of memory performs; as you may have observed with your parents. It’s not a long-term solution to the problem of task recall, even though it’s the most popular.
  • Solving the Problem With Lists
    If you came of age before 2005 you probably sought to solve the problem by using paper lists. Consequently, you developed the successful practice of carrying around a pad or notebook.
    Of course, not everyone has learned the habit. “Don’t worry yuhself, mi wi remember” is a popular refrain that often leads to problems. (My casual observation is that more Jamaican men than women are likely to utter it, and less likely to have pen/paper handy.)
    Unfortunately, there is a limit to the number of tasks a paper list can handle before the practice of continually writing a new one becomes a chore. Plus, it can be lost, stolen, wet or burned. Thankfully, new technology on our phones can help.
  • Migrating to Smartphones
    If you came of age after 2010 you may think the idea of using paper instead of a digital task app to be backward. Instead, you jumped straight to using your phone to manage your tasks. Now, your cloud-based app offers perpetual safety, plus the ability to stay on top of much more todos. 
    But you are still subject to the law which states that whenever you try to manage your tasks with tools which lack the requisite capacity, you will experience difficulties. This law applies whether you are using prospective memory, paper or  a digital task app.
    So if you happen to be using an app and find yourself unable to keep up, there’s one more level to consider.
  • Adopting a Super Calendar
    Academics in the 1990’s discovered that when you specify the time to complete a planned task, it dramatically increases the odds of completion. In other words, you are more effective when you time block a task in your calendar than if you merely add it to a list.
    While it’s possible to use a paper planner, there are two powerful digital solutions: picking up a calendar on Google or Outlook, or switching to an AI-powered auto-scheduler. The former requires you to move tasks around one-by-one by hand, which can become painful. The latter uses an intelligent robot you can train to produce a new, optimal schedule on demand.
    And if you don’t want to manage your own calendar, a third option is to hire someone (like an administrative assistant) to do the job of time blocking for you.
    All three are techniques used by most ambitious, accomplished people.

Unfortunately, given psychological and technological limits, these are your only choices. Until something better is invented, time blocking tasks directly in your calendar is the best choice for dealing with a high volume of time demands with sharp deadlines.

Why Rising Executives Don’t Find Their Real Mission

January 19, 2020

Why is it that some fast-rising corporate professionals get stalled on their path to the top position? Or, why do they fail to fulfill their potential when they assume the top role? The answer: sometimes, they neglect to revoke unproductive ways of being that operate behind the scenes. 

There’s an invisible transition that should occur during an executive’s ascent to their ultimate destination:  the big corner office. They work hard – that’s not in question. However, by mistake, they rely on two weak “skills” for too long

To listen to this podcast, visit Source

The Hole in the Fence Theory of Productivity

January 10, 2020

There are many reasons being given for our lack of economic growth and corporate profitability. I suggest a different one, aptly named by columnist and friend Dennis Chung: “The Hole in the Fence Theory.”

We Jamaicans love a business rebel; the person who finds a hole in the fence to a concert then sneaks in as many friends as possible before discovery. With good reason. Our ancestors used short-term opportunism to survive and thwart the profit-makers who enslaved them.

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On Ways to Persuade Others to Act

How do you get groups of people to take non-sales related actions? Is it a matter of using a catchy graphic or video to tell them what to do? Or interrupting them while they are doing something else? Or applying pressure with multiple reminders?

Sales and marketing professionals aren’t confused: persuasive messaging is required to sell products and services. However, if you aren’t a salesperson and you need to persuade a group of individuals to take a certain action, what skills should you employ?

Perhaps you even hate to use the word “sales” in reference to what you are trying to accomplish. But the task remains daunting: you must still say or write stuff that causes people to act. Whether they are employees, peers, board members, customers, the public or another stakeholder, where do you start?

In my column of November 17, 2019, I offered a solution. Begin by analyzing the “Unmet Needs” of individuals in the target group you are trying to influence. When their needs aren’t being met, people’s typical response is to co-opt a low-quality substitute into playing a “better-than-nothing” role. 

However, knowing these needs is just the beginning. The fact is, we live in a world of distracting messages and influences. Whether cash payments are involved or not, you must compete against these distractions for your subject’s time. Even your free offerings need to displace Facebook, Netflix and the news in order to be effective, going up against the millions those entities spend to get attention.

If you are willing to win the battle, I suggest a four-step framework from Michel Fortin, the experienced copywriter. For example, let’s assume that you are trying to arrange a Neighborhood Watch meeting for your community.

Step 1 – Enumerate the Features
These are elements that make your event attractive. They are factual: visible to the naked eye, incontrovertible and distinct. Make a list of these features such as: “The meeting is scheduled for Sunday afternoon at 4pm” or “The nice policeman who drops in occasionally will be there.”

Step 2 – Detail the Advantages
Each of the features you listed can do something that makes your product special. In other words, it provides an advantage. To craft them quickly, simply add “so that” to the end of each feature, and then complete the sentence. For example, “We have scheduled the meeting for Sunday afternoon so that everyone can attend.”

Step 3 – Compile the Motives of Your Prospects
These are the deep psychological drivers, motivations inherent in your targets’ minds. As such, they lie dormant even before the prospect is aware of your solution. You may find these within the Unmet Needs, and they should help you understand why they will take action.
For example, your targets may have a “Hassle-Free” motive for the meeting. Therefore, avoiding the busier days of the week should help.
Continue mapping motives to advantages until the list has been exhausted.

Step 4 – Craft Benefits
The final and most important step is to develop benefit statements you can use in your verbal, written or visual messages. These are practical outcomes which occur when features, advantages and motives are combined to produce a meaningful result. I use the phrase “which means” as a prompt.

For example, “The meeting is on Sunday so that everyone can attend, which means that we can finally come together to plan detailed strategies to protect each and every unit from the thieves living across the gully.”

In benefit statements, I often describe what will happen if the action I want fails to be realised. In the example above, I’m trying to imply that those neighbors who miss the meeting are putting their homes at risk.

When these statements are stacked together, the end-product can be quite persuasive. It should be. After all, it began with your prospect’s Unmet Needs.

However, many individuals don’t want to exert the time and effort to do such rigorous thinking. “De people dem fi know dem need fi come a di meeting” is used as a reason to avoid the hard pre-work needed to craft convincing statements. In the minds of those who are already persuaded, all that’s necessary is a nice, simple flyer.

Unfortunately, most flyers include little more than a list of features; hardly enough to produce the desired result. In a world of relentless demands on our time punctuated by rude surprises, that approach won’t do.  Don’t arrogantly assume your targets should know better and complain when they refuse to comply. Instead, plant the seeds of your success from the start by doing the in-depth work required to convert unmet needs into action. 

Francis Wade is the author of Perfect Time-Based Productivity, a keynote speaker and a management consultant. To search prior columns on productivity, strategy, engagement and business processes,  send email to columns@fwconsulting.com

How to Reward Your Employees Effectively

Could you make a mistake and offer the wrong gift to employees during the holiday season? What if it’s based on outdated assumptions that do more harm than good? Here are some findings from recent research to ensure your organization makes the most of the occasion.

The season for giving gifts to staff is fast approaching and, right now, someone in your company is making an important decision. What gifts should workers receive? It may seem like a small-time concern, but take a closer look: it’s tied up with management’s idea about what motivates employees.

In some years, managers get this wrong, thereby amusing or even insulting staff with their choice of gifts. In others they get it perfectly right, and it resonates in a way that lifts morale and engagement. What can you learn about employee motivation that results, at the very least, in doing no harm?

The big finding is that there’s a huge paradox at play:  the story employees tell their managers about gifts just isn’t true. To wit, when surveyed, most staff members say they prefer cash rewards. With regards to money, most respond with a knee-jerk, cultural reaction – of course they “want more of it”, as soon as possible.

 However, when employee performance is measured after the fact, cash turns out to be less effective in changing behavior than verbal praise or other visible rewards.

Why is that?

I believe that, when surveyed, employees are literally reporting what they should want, rather than what actually produces higher performance. This is especially true for complex or creative work which can’t be quantified easily.

In fact, monetary awards undermine intrinsic motivation in these situations in a phenomenon called “crowding out.” It implies that staff becomes distracted by the money, focusing away from the job at hand. This ruins quality and productivity.

Part of the reason this happens is that raw cash, when rewarded, offers only a temporary spark. In no time, it devolves into a commodity to be traded for ordinary goods and services such as JPS, NWC, rent and phone bills.

However, this isn’t true for other kinds of gifts which have more staying power. Here are some examples and the reasons why they perform better than one-time cash rewards.

1. Luxury Items

These are identified as goods and services which the recipient wouldn’t purchase for him/herself. Apparently, the fact that the gift is a luxury allows an additional level of indulgence. After all, once a reward has been given, it cannot be returned. Instead, it must be consumed and enjoyed which prolongs its effective life, even after completion.

In addition, the luxury gift grants permission to the recipient to partake in an “impractical” expenditure which takes them outside habitual behavior. This heightens the experience, usually increasing a sense of gratitude.

However, one-size-doesn’t-fit-all. Each person has their own ideas about what’s special. Choosing the right gift means knowing something about their personality and making a proper match.

2. Hedonic

Another element which augments the effect of a reward is an intention for it to generate positive emotions. In particular, in the workplace it could evoke feelings of being “included, appreciated, invested in and feeling valued.” This is so important that some researchers have attributed 80% of voluntary attrition to a lack of recognition by employers, echoing similar studies performed here in Jamaica.

In this context, sometimes the most meaningful rewards have no real tangible component whatsoever. Instead, they hit other emotional chords which are more powerful. For example, the words spoken when the gift is given should be accurate and specific, focusing on the unique contribution. This increases the impact.

3. Social

Finally, it’s also best if the reward is public, so that others can honor the individual. 
Furthermore, try to choose something that’s perishable, such as a physical object; not a dinner for two.

Such visible rewards keep doing their job long after the event is over and can continue to be a talking point. Its line of sight reminds people of the reason the gift was given and continues to honor the recipient.

Too many companies treat their employees as if they are simpletons who just want more money or food (e.g. Christmas cake and Easter bun). It’s a not-too-subtle form of classism which needs to be traded in.

But don’t stop at changing the gift you give. Examine the underlying theory managers harbor about the motivations of their staff. Challenging this old thinking may avoid a problem this holiday season.

The Power of Innovating on Unmet Needs

Innovation is hard. What is the hit-rate like for new products and services in your organization? If the track record is poor, then you may need to delve into the hidden drivers of behaviors in your target market.

Most innovation in Jamaica follows the same process. First, someone high enough in the company has a bright idea – a flash of insight. Their intuition tells them that there’s revenue to be made from customers who will willingly pay for a new offering.

Then, the idea is shared, but more often than not, a directive is issued. An employee in a lower position is given the job of evaluating the concept. They return with misgivings but it soon becomes clear that the high-level originator won’t be easily swayed. A final decision is made to proceed.

However, when the product fails in the market, everyone is mystified, except those employees closest to the prospects. They have their pulse on customer behavior, and can see the shortcomings of the idea clearly. However, they lack enough clout to make a difference.

Companies try to compensate for this power imbalance by surveying workers for ideas, but the truth is that lower-level staff often draw a blank when polled for new product suggestions. They just don’t have the skills to speak to the executive suite. Fortunately, there’s a better way.

At the heart of Tony Ulwick’s “Jobs to be Done” theory is the idea that everyone is going about their daily routine trying to get certain tasks executed. Here is a method that links this notion to innovation.

1. Ask for Unmet Needs

An “unmet need” is expressed as a three-part statement: “When I feel/need__________ I want to ____________ so that____________.” In other words, it’s an expression of a psychological state lying deep within the customer’s experience which then leads to action.

While this desire may be weak at the start, if it continues to be unmet it grows until an actionable decision is made. Consider that customers of your company are a walking bundle of unmet needs. Normally, your marketing department would simply assign them to a well-defined segment. Set that approach aside and, instead, start looking for unmet, emotional drivers.

The challenge is that customers cannot be surveyed directly about their deeper, driving feelings. Why? People give unreliable answers in questionnaires, often telling the surveyor the answers they believe the person wants to hear.

Alternately, it’s far better to have a conversation with customers about their actions, then gently probe them for the reasons behind them. Their explanations may be unclear, but their past behaviour offers important clues. Keep asking until a pattern of actions and underlying emotions emerges.

2. Look for Substitutes

Strong unmet needs cause people to take concrete steps, even if it only leads them to partial, temporary substitutes. By definition, the fact that the need persists means that the substitute is doing a poor job. For example, someone who has a feeling for some quick, new ideas to use in their organization may go searching on television, the local bookstore or Facebook. While these substitutes are all readily available and inexpensive, they are time consuming and foreign, so the need never gets fulfilled.

Therefore, your new product or service should be so well-crafted that it displaces the substitutes currently in use. They are, in fact your real enemies.

Take this fortnightly business column as an example. At first blush, you may think that another newspaper represents the competition. However, when I performed the Ulwick analysis I realized that the real competitors are television, books and Facebook.

From a traditional point of view, these conclusions makes no sense. Yet, in the customer’s world, the psychological gap that drives them to these substitutes has its own, perfect logic.

3. Use Benefit Statements

Closing the psychological gap isn’t easy. In fact, innovators often have a difficult time articulating the emotional-filled reasons their new product or service improves the customer’s life.

However, once the unmet needs and substitutes are known, the task becomes easier. For example, one benefit of reading this column regularly might be that “It gives you fresh ideas for your Jamaican organization with a minimum investment of effort, so you don’t have to waste precious time searching the internet.”

Contrast this approach with that taken by traditional marketers who imagine distinct market segments. These are usually formed around demographic data such as “an employed woman between the ages of 30-45 with two children and a bachelor’s degree.” Unfortunately, segments don’t work as well because people are actually individually and psychologically motivated by unmet needs in particular circumstances. Not by generic characteristics.

In summary, use these three insights to dramatically improve your connection with your prospect’s hidden motivators.

Francis Wade is the author of Perfect Time-Based Productivity, a keynote speaker and a management consultant. Missed a column? To receive a free download with articles from 2010-2018, send email to columns@fwconsulting.com

On Separating Breakthrough Strategic Plans from the Others

November 7, 2019

Have you ever been presented with a strategy document that appears to be nothing more than a list of projects? If so, the good news is that you aren’t crazy if you thought that something was missing. A sound plan is more than a grab bag – it should bring an intangible hypothesis to life in words and images that staff members can use in their daily activities.

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Are you Cutting Meetings to the Bone

October 31, 2019

Is it possible to simultaneously cut the total time people spend in meetings while improving their quality? Not only is it possible, but there is a natural link between the two results that your company could exploit to increase its overall productivity.

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