Clouds or Weeds: Where Should Strategy Live?

Having lofty ambitions is good. After all, by striving to achieve the impossible we may actually do it. And, the rewards can be many. But, if we only have lofty ambitions and pay no heed to the myriad actions required along the way to achieving them then we’ll likely never reach our destination. Many organizations (and individuals) fall into this head-in-the-clouds trap.

Being More Grounded

You’ve heard it, maybe even said it, “You’ve got to be more grounded. Get your head out of the clouds.” People who say such things are mindful of the implementation details. They are the “execution police” among us. Whereas some minds are filled with lofty ambitions, others are consumed with getting things done. The details they fret over may appear to some to be too grounded, or “weed-level.” But completing weed-level projects is necessary for a functional organization. Whether it’s invoicing the newest customer or making payroll, updating the website, or producing and distributing the latest company news or developing a block of code, weed-level projects guided by a coherent strategy propel an organization toward its destination.

Guided by Coherent Strategy

The caveat in that last statement is “guided by a coherent strategy.” If weed level projects become the strategy unto themselves then the organization is headed for trouble. When strategy gets hijacked by a propensity toward getting things done, minutiae can begin to consume all available resources. When this happens, there is no longer capacity in the organization for healthy discourse. Nobody would ever hang a banner on the wall expressing the norm of “Guided by Minutiae” but many have felt this way in organizations large and small. This spells trouble for employee engagement and an otherwise would-be innovation culture.

Beware of Action Junkies

At the extreme, “action junkies” place demands on the organization that might be counter to the strategy already in play. The time horizon for gratification shrinks. Instead of thinking long term strategy and the benefits thereof, short-termism takes over. This can happen at all levels of the organization, shifting the focus and further demanding the attention of others. Suddenly people are pulled into “surprises” while others may be shed like an unwanted winter coat. You’ve heard this play out in organizations before; perhaps you’ve even uttered the words, “We just need….” When short term tactics become the basis of your strategy, your organization begins to drift. Persistent strategic drift will cripple an organization, no matter its size or tenure. See related articles: Don’t Let Your Organization Become a Lumpy Snowball and also Focus Focus or Hocus Pocus.

“Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.” – Sun Tzu

Sun Tzu said this well, “Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.” 2500 years later we still are dealing with the same human foibles on the battlefield, in board rooms, and in every room.

The False Choice

In the title of this article I presented you with a false choice, namely, where should strategy live, in the clouds or in the weeds? Actually, you need strategy in both places. Your strategy needs to produce strategic imperatives that communicate the overarching aims of the organization. You also need a strategy to continuously ensure that the execution level details remain hitched to strategic aims. This passes the relevance test. You should be able to walk down the strategy from the clouds to the weeds and vice versa from the weeds up to the clouds. If you cannot do this without massive tension among those involved in the discussion then more work (and conversation) is warranted. Two scenarios are likely at this point.

Scenario 1: Mapping but Questions Remain

You’ve heard of such practices and maybe have some firsthand experience mapping individual goals to department goals and objectives that in turn map to the organization’s strategic imperatives. That is great.  You’ve started but related challenges to resolve include:

  • Is your innovation culture able to detect changes in customer mood, needs, and desires?
  • What about the changes in technology, communications, and other factor outside your organization that are certain to change?
  • Does your organization embrace ideas that may come at times inconvenient? Does it matter where those news idea comes from?
  • What about responsiveness to competitive changes or budding alliances in the business landscape?
  • And, how will you keep score of your progress or lack thereof?

Scenario 2: Conversation Needed

You’ve not performed strategy mapping in any form. In that case, definitely more conversation is warranted. For that, I recommend you assemble a team, carve out quality time (and place), and begin a regular dialogue beginning with the questions raised in scenario 1) , but more generally how can your organization remain relevant in a constantly changing environment? One model to leverage is the Promise Delivery System, the subject of Chapter 8 in, The Experience Design Blueprint.

The model and method you use isn’t as important as you establishing a regular dialogue on strategy and execution. Once you do, you’ll more naturally know whether the weed-level project du jour is “on-strategy” or a defection thereof.

A Strategy That Lives

When enough people in the organization are executing on a coherent and communicated strategy, employee engagement will soar, an innovation culture will coalesce, and the organization’s well being will improve no matter how you’ve collectively defined that. Then you can revisit the original question about where strategy should live. Instead of answering “in the clouds” or “in the weeds” you can confidently state “our strategy lives in both places and in between. We are able to shape and shift our strategy as needed. Our strategy is alive and well. Our many stewards of strategy are on the watch and at the ready.”

about the author

Gregory Olson is a consultant, speaker, and author. He founded strategy and design firm Delightability, LLC. with the belief that if you delight customers then success will follow. He believes that we all have the potential to do better, as individuals, organizations, and entire nations. image of Greg-Olson-Managing Director of Delightability and author of Experience Design BLUEPRINTGregory Olson’s latest book is L’ impossipreneurs: A Hopeful Journey Through Tomorrow, a light-hearted and deadly serious book about a brighter future where we live more meaningful lives, governments invest in people and sustainable progress, and technology serves humans.

Greg also authored The Experience Design Blueprint, a book about designing better experiences and then making them come true.

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Small Business Leaders Struggle with the 3-Legged Stool: How to Overcome

Like most entrepreneurs and small business owners, you likely have a long list of things that get shoved off to the back burner waiting for another day or week when there is more time. The trouble is, more time never actually arrives, right?

Today is no different from yesterday and tomorrow will look much the same. You only have 24 hours in a day. When it comes to time, there is no aristocracy of wealth. Genius or laziness is not rewarded or punished with any more time.

The 3-Legged Stool

3-legged-stool of operations - promoting value - delivering value - balanced personal life - Delightability LLC.

Every small business owner struggles with maintaining balance among these areas:

  • Maintaining a smooth operation – invoicing customers, paying expenses, having good procedures in place to prevent business breakdown and wasting resources
  • Delivering value – providing to customers whatever your business does as its core offering, i.e., products, services, and support
  • Promoting value – performing the sales, marketing, and business development functions to ensure 1) prospects know your business exists; 2) customers understand your value and provide you with validation; and 3) employees, partners, and customers stay engaged.

Stop Letting Your Personal Life Suffer

The person sitting atop a well-balanced 3-legged stool has the opportunity for a personal life. Chances are you’re not very good at all three legs of the stool. In a large company you have the benefit of departments to focus on activities related to the different legs of the stool. That probably isn’t the case in your small business where you have to spread your time, talent, and attention across sales, marketing, account payable, human resources, product development, etc. Even if you are good in all areas, you’ll struggle with the limited time available. When the legs of the stool get out of balance or become all-consuming then you and your personal life get sacrificed or worse, topple to the ground. Business performance then also suffers. We’ve all been there.

Five Things to Overcome the Struggle

  1. Recognize the need to slow down: sometimes you need to slow down in order to speed up. It is true when hiking up a steep trail and it’s also true in business. As a now deceased friend has taught me, “Make time to linger.” R.I.P. Donald Marsh.
  2. Revisit your operation: perhaps you need new operating mechanisms that could prevent snags in the business operation that if left unresolved will end up consuming resources. As a start, begin to identify where your time gets wasted. If you don’t know, begin monitoring your own time over the next week or month. Identifying the workarounds could be a place to fix first. If you have employees, they’ll know these rough spots.
  3. Stay on course: your energy spread in too many directions can fatigue you and crush personal and business performance. Be deliberate on your destination and script the critical moves needed to get there. Read the Destination Postcards article for an exercise that can bring discipline to charting a course and then staying true to that course.
  4. Confront reality: mind the uncomfortable gap you have between your current performance and expected performance. Focus on key areas and find acceptable discomfort for what you’ll not work on in the near term.  You cannot do it all, so find some peace in accepting that. See Business Performance Continuums exercise.
  5. Force multiply through others: recognize that you cannot do it alone. It is difficult to involve somebody else in your projects and business, especially if you already feel overworked. But, chances are you’ve wasted more time agonizing over how to start a project that another person would have completed by now. There is plenty of talent available to help you in whatever your endeavor is. More talent on the team can come in many forms: full-time or part-time, employee or alliance with a service provider. At Delightability we are a service provider for our clients’ communications needs, providing both strategic and creative services. Whether a small campaign test or a large brand pivot with accompanying business case, every one of our client engagements involved busy business leaders. It’s true for you, too. But, remember what our clients have now come to realize, namely, you don’t get the benefits of a strategy not implemented.

about the author

Gregory Olson founded strategy and design firm Delightability, LLC. with the belief that if you delight customers then success will follow. He believes that we all have the potential to do better, as individuals, organizations, and entire nations.
image of Greg-Olson-Managing Director of Delightability and author of Experience Design BLUEPRINTGregory Olson’s latest book is L’ impossipreneurs: A Hopeful Journey Through Tomorrow, a light-hearted and deadly serious book about a brighter future where we live more meaningful lives, governments invest in people and sustainable progress, and technology serves humans.

Greg also authored The Experience Design Blueprint, a book about designing better experiences and then making them come true.

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Stuck in Low Gear? Time to Shift.

Have you ever dismissed something straightaway because you knew it to be false? Or, have you parroted something you heard because you were certain in its truth? Of course you have; we all have.

Whether it is fact or fiction if it reinforces our beliefs then we strengthen our views, digging our heels in further. And, if it doesn’t strengthen our views then we summarily dismiss it, like a filter protecting us from noxious air. Researchers refer to this phenomena as the “backfire effect.” It is even more pronounced when the new information challenges an especially emotional or long held belief. For a depth reading with examples on WMDs, Stem Cell Research, and Climate Change, see this document.

Reluctant to Change

No matter the issue, whether politics, environment, economic, or social justice and whether it is far away or something local, we are often stuck in low gear when it come to acceptance of new truths. And, it seems that we are reluctant to shift.

But, shift is what we must do. Recognize that change for change sake is not good. The logical fallacy of Appeal to Novelty (that which is NEW! is better) is as deeply flawed as its cousin, Appeal to Tradition (that’s the way we’ve always done it so it’s the best).

Progress Requires Change

Whether you are a champion of change or the status quo you must accept progress inherently requires change. But, how do you react when change is afoot? Jeffrey Moore documented well in his 1991 book, “Crossing the Chasm” that each of us self segments on an axis of risk aversion. It is a classic technology marketing read. Before him, Everett Rogers discussed the same concept in his 1962 book, Diffusion of Innovation. This line of thinking is where we get the widely used terms, “early adopter,” “laggard,” etc. This is easy to think of in terms of technology adoption.

Impossipreneurs Face Multiple Barriers

But, technology isn’t the only hurdle we face as change agents, entrepreneurs, and as a society. As I outline in my latest book, L’ impossipreneurs: A Hopeful Journey Through Tomorrow, once an entrepreneur overcomes technology hurdles, they must still face head-on, the political, social, and culture opponents who oppose their success and who would rather see things stay exactly as they are. This is true whether the agent of the new, was Nikola Tesla, Helen Keller, Franklin Delano Roosevelt or is the entrepreneur of today, especially the social entrepreneur. Welcome to the term, impossipreneur.

Backfire Effect Near and Far

The backfire effect  is part and parcel to the opposition faced by the bringers of the new and those who dare surface the truth. If you have a tough time grasping this concept, envision trying to ensure voting rights and fair elections, an inherently nontechnical challenge rife with political opposition. Or, think of the social and cultural barriers you’ll face in introducing safe medical and burial practices to villages grappling with the Ebola virus. The backfire effect is alive and well, near and far.

Competing Narratives

Each of us has a visceral reaction to the headlines we scan and soundbites we hear. Some anger us and some make us feel sad. Fewer by design make us happy and still fewer cause us to think deeply. Consider your reaction to what you are hearing and seeing today. What narrative are you tuning into? Are you tuned into a narrative that desires to keep things as they are or one that seeks progress? See related post about the history of regimenting minds – Mind Hajacked: A Brief History of Propaganda.

Truth Doesn’t Care About Feelings

Consider at certain points in history, it was deemed that the sun revolved around the earth and that the world was flat. New ideas and models challenged those “truths” of the moment. Do you think you would have supported these novel ideas and gone against the tide of the times? The funny thing about the truth is that it doesn’t care about your beliefs or feelings. Newton’s Universal Law of Gravitation applies to you even if you choose not to believe in it. Truth has a funny way of surfacing even as others attempt to suppress it.

Reaching Our Potential

Whether we champion the new or hold onto the status quo we should do so on merits of truth, not because it’s new, tradition, or fits our current views. Resist the soothing temptation of the backfire effect. Find solace in the truth and upgrade your thinking. Imagine the possibilities when, as a society, we are able to overcome the backfire effect. Think of the authentic dialogue and meaningful connections that would ensue. It’s at that time that we will free ourselves to live in to a higher potential. I hear the gears a whirring; perhaps it’s time we shift.

about the author

Gregory Olson’s latest book is L’ impossi preneurs: A Hopeful Journey Through Tomorrow, a light-hearted and deadly serious book about a brighter future where we live more meaningful lives, governments invest in people and sustainable progress, and technology serves humans. Greg also authored The Experience Design Blueprint, a book about designing better experiences and then making them come true.

image of Greg-Olson-Managing Director of Delightability and author of Experience Design BLUEPRINTGregory Olson founded communications strategy and design firm Delightability, LLC. with the belief that if you delight customers then success will follow. He believes that we all have the potential to do better, as individuals, organizations, and communities, but sometimes we need a little help.  Gregory also serves as a volunteer board member for Oikocredit Northwest, a support association for social and impact investor, Oikocredit International.

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3-Funnel Diagnostic; Fixing What You Cannot See

You see a model that is so simple that it can’t possibly apply to your unique situation. That’s what most people believe. It is also the reason why most humans (and business leaders in particular) are not very good about learning from others. But, people like you do learn; this article is for you.

The 3 Funnels is the Key to Organizational Longevity

No matter the size or type of your organization, you’re subject to the 3 funnels – there is no escape. Effectively navigate the 3 Funnels and never run out of cash and you’ll be a going concern forever. The 3 funnels are (left to right in the image above):

  1. The exposure funnel where you turn suspects (A) into prospects (B);
  2. The adoption funnel where you turn prospects (C) into cash generating customers that are using your product or service (D);
  3. The retention funnel where you turn customers (E) into loyal advocates (F) that help you attract more prospects, in turn reducing your marketing expenses related to the exposure funnel.

Leaky Funnels and Blocking Covers

Limited flow through any of these funnels negatively impacts your organization. The funnel shape implies that there is a slowdown; people enter the top and then take a while to get out through the bottom. No matter how perfect your organization you won’t have 100 percent throughput. Some customers never make it through the funnel. It can be as though the funnel is leaky or has a cover that prevents people from entering. You don’t want to be a board member, executive leader, or manager that makes decisions that do exactly that, limit the flow through the funnels.

3 Funnel Diagnostic

If you want to spark some authentic dialogue in your organization then pull together a team and perform a 3 Funnel Diagnostic. First, build a report against the 3 funnels to show how many people are at each of the stages. Secondly, discuss all of the activities that your organization is involved with in moving people from initial suspect all the way through advocacy. No doubt you discover organizational performance gaps. Thirdly, discuss what barriers are preventing people from entering each funnel or making it through. By doing this, you’ll surface where people get stuck and the reasons why. I guarantee you that the reasons will be more attributable to your organization’s own performance gaps as opposed to your competitors doing a far superior job. This is especially evident in industries where customer satisfaction is low industry-wide.

Proposing such a 3 Funnel Diagnostic will take some courage. But, you have courage, right? Want some assistance? Contact us.

about the author

Gregory Olson authored The Experience Design Blueprint, a book about designing better experiences and then making them come true. Chapters in the book that especially pertain to this article include:

  • Chapter 3: Who is in the Sandbox?
  • Chapter 8: The Promise Delivery System
  • Chapter 11: Barriers to Innovation and Overcoming the Wall

Gregory Olson’s latest book is L’ impossi preneurs: A Hopeful Journey Through Tomorrow, a light-hearted and deadly serious book about a brighter future where we live more meaningful lives, governments invest in people and sustainable progress, and technology serves humans.

thumbnail image of author Gregory OlsonGregory Olson founded strategy and design firm Delightability, LLC. with the belief that if you delight customers then success will follow. He believes that we all have the potential to do better, as individuals, organizations, and communities, but sometimes we need a little help.  Gregory also serves as a volunteer board member for Oikocredit Northwest, a support association for social and impact investor,Oikocredit International.

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Avoid Event and Launch Fail by Thinking in Three Zones

Conventional thinking says showing up is half (or 80%) of being successful. This is rubbish. If you just show up, you’ll not like the results. Even if you do, others will not. Showing up isn’t good enough for things that matter. Imagine a news anchor “just showing up” or a keynote speaker, actor, executive, job applicant, bride or groom, sales executive, or you. Showing up might be okay for insignificant things like cleaning your garage or drinking coffee in your pajamas while reviewing pre-breakfast social media trends. But, most of us aim for bigger moments in life. And in those moments we’ll want to do more than show up. Here is some secret sauce to make the most of moments that should matter.

Think of Big Moments as Events

No matter what you are working on it can be represented as an event that completes at a point in time. The exception to this is a program. Programs by definition are ongoing as opposed to projects which are finite in duration. Programs can be thought of as a series of connected projects.

The Point in Time

If you are working on planning an event the point in time becomes obvious. It’s the moment that eventually arrives. After all, you’ve put it on the calendar and probably invited people. But, less obvious are things like product launches, website launches, design of new services, communications, strategic planning, assembling a team, creating a movie, going on vacation, or moving to a new location.

The Big Moment

So, we have this point in time where your, we’ll call it “big moment”, completes. Let’s unpack that moment. There is the time leading up to your big moment as well as the time that follows. And of course your big moment covers a span of time as well. For an event that might be an hour or a few days in the case of a trade show event. So, really we have three periods of time, or time zones.

Three Time Zones

As it turns out, anything you’re working on has these three time zones. If you are mindful of the preparation leading up to the big moment then no doubt when your big moment arrives it will be smoother, higher quality, more engaging, and more likely to yield the results you want. And, when that happens the time zone following your big moment will be likely involve sharing, celebration, reflection, and more opportunity.

Ignorance is not Bliss

But, ignore any of the time zones and you are leaving much to chance. Imagine the best trade show ever (or family reunion). Of course you’d love to have pictures to relive the memory of where you connected with your best customer (or cherish the memory of when your favorite Aunt was still alive). Well, to have those pictures to reflect upon, somebody somewhere would have had to think to secure a photographer or provide instructions to many people to take pictures and later share. Without that forethought, the event would unfold in time and the opportunity to take pictures will evaporate along the way. Time marches on whether you are prepared for it, or not.

Make the Most of Your Big Moments

To make the most of your big moments, whether you are working alone or alongside a team, think in three time zones. What needs to happen ahead of the event, during the event, and following the event.

Zone I – Readiness

Most things of any significance cannot be accomplished alone. Things to think about in the readiness zone include:

  • Who needs to be prepared?
  • What information will be needed? How will we get it?
  • What is the sequence of actions leading up to the moment?
  • What can be completed ahead of time?
  • What communications need to be created?
  • What deadlines to we need to be aware of?
  • Who can help accomplish all of this?

Zone 2 – The Moment

Project yourself ahead in time to the big moment and answer the following questions:

  • Who is the intended audience and what will be their context?
  • What experience do we need to create for them? (See CH 1: What is an Experience?)
  • What will ensure the experience unfolds as planned?
  • Should we aim for remarkable, unbroken, or generous? (See CH 6: Aiming for Remarkable, Unbroken, and Generous Design)
  • Who will be on point for different activities?
  • Will we capture the moment in pictures, sound, or some other medium?
  • Who will keep us orchestrated?
  • What could go wrong and how will we mitigate?

Zone 3 – The Follow

After the big moment completes there is the tendency to rush to the next thing. But, here is a case where slowing down now can actually help you to speed up later. Follow-up, debrief, and apply what you just learned so that you can positively impact what’s next. Some of the things to think about here include:

  • What should be the follow-up with our audience(s)?
  • What did we learn and how will we apply it?
  • Who can benefit by our sharing?
  • Did we or can we still gain validation?
  • How could this event be even better next time?
  • Was it worth it? Shall we repeat it?
  • What should we adjust going forward?

Summary

If you want to make your big moments matter then you’ll need to imagine yourself in each of three zones before they actually unfold in time. Thinking about what will need to happen in each zone and having conversations with others who will be involved will make the difference between an memorable event that makes a big impact and a lackluster event where people simply showed up. A couple of other guiding principles to keep in mind are:

  1. A task unclaimed is a task undone;
  2. Inspiration has expiration so best to get started soon;
  3. Show visible progress to keep motivated and moving forward;
  4. Checklists are good insurance against overconfidence

If you are working in a team then introduce the three time zones into your business vernacular. Those big moments that await you will notice the difference along with your audience and the team that played a part in making it all happen.

about the author

Gregory Olson authored The Experience Design Blueprint, a book about designing better experiences and then making them come true. Chapters in the book that especially pertain to this article include:

  • Chapter 2: Make the Customer Come Alive
  • Chapter 6: Aiming for Remarkable, Unbroken, and Generous Design
  • Chapter 8: The Promise Delivery System
  • Chapter 11: Barriers to Innovation and Overcoming the Wall
  • Chapter 13: Taking Flight

Gregory Olson’s latest book is L’ impossi preneurs: A Hopeful Journey Through Tomorrow, a light-hearted and deadly serious book about a brighter future where we live more meaningful lives, governments invest in people and sustainable progress, and technology serves humans.

thumbnail image of author Gregory OlsonGregory Olson founded strategy and design firm Delightability, LLC. with the belief that if you delight customers then success will follow. He believes that we all have the potential to do better, as individuals, organizations, and communities, but sometimes we need a little help.  Gregory also serves as a volunteer board member for Oikocredit Northwest, a support association for social and impact investor,Oikocredit International.

 

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