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.

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 overwhelmed. But, chances are you’ve wasted more time agonizing over how to start a project that another person would have completed by now, if you engaged them. 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 virtual marketing department serving clients’ needs, providing both consulting and creative services. Whether small or large projects, every one of our client engagements involved busy business leaders, like you. But, remember what our clients have now come to realize, namely, that you don’t get the benefits of a strategy not implemented.

Write that down on your wall or whiteboard and revisit it often, “You don’t get the benefits of a strategy not implemented.” Eventually, you’ll do something different to close your uncomfortable gap across the 3 legs of the stool while at the same time getting your personal life to soar.

about the author

Gregory Olson is a business and marketing consultant, author, and speaker. 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.

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.

 

Mid-Year Business Performance Tune-up: 7-Step Action Plan for Leaders

Automobiles, machinery, and precision instruments at times need to be tuned and calibrated to ensure performance. Life and business have similar demands. If you aren’t concerned about performance then whatever you’re doing is adequate. But, periodically in your life and in your business you’ll want to re-evaluate strategies that are misfiring, products and services that seems amiss, a launch that falls short, an identity that isn’t working, communications that don’t connect, recognition that is absent, etc.

When there is an uncomfortable enough performance gap, then you’ll do something different. This is true in life and in business. Mid point in a calendar year is a natural point to reflect on the first half and project forward what you’d like to have happen by year-end. You may have a similar cycle with your financial planner and dentist. But, what about the rest of you and your business?

There are plenty of tools and conversations you can use. The key is to start. Once you begin it is easier to keep going and pretty soon you’ll be closing the uncomfortable gap just as you avoid toothaches and worse with periodic checkups and cleaning.

Here is a 7-Step Action Plan for a Business Performance Tune-Up

  1. Revisit your strategic imperatives for the year – what were the big bets for the year and are they paying off? Didn’t really have any solid strategic initiatives? Now would be a good time to establish some. Get clear on the destination: where are you going and what does success look like? See related post: Make Work Feel Like Vacation
  2. What have you learned and how can you apply it? Consider both the business landscape and the customer ecosystem. Organizational immaturity and old habits and patterns may get in the way of identifying and leveraging the talent and resources available in the business landscape. Also, if you don’t have personas to represent your various stakeholders now would be a good time to prioritize their development. Personas provide representative profiles for a customer base and other stakeholders too, e.g. investors, employees, partners, etc. As a design tool, they are a powerful way to visualize and communicate behaviors, goals, wants, needs, and frustrations.
  3. Get clear on your audiences and priorities: what promises will you make and keep and to which audiences? Make visible your Promise Delivery System for each of your stakeholders. The Promise Delivery System is a closed loop system that revolves around an audience and includes strategy, delivery, validation, and learning. You have a Promise Delivery System for each stakeholder that is served as well as those who serve. This is the subject of CH 8 in the Experience Design Blueprint.
  4. Define deliverables: what will you produce and deliver to keep your various promises? Think products, services, events, campaigns, programs, and communications.
  5. How does all of this line up against the calendar? What will be your day-to-day operational reality? What will your organization invest its time and resources into?
  6. Establish operating mechanisms: how will you stay on track and maintain your Promise Delivery System? What will be the rhythm and pace of the organization? Revisit your operating mechanisms and calendaring processes and events to ensure excellence in execution. Create an operating mechanism to capture ideas that may come at inconvenient times. Also, create an operating mechanism to evaluate and advance ideas. These are important to maintain (or establish) a culture of innovation.
  7. Revisit your performance metrics. How are you keeping score? If any of your metrics are irrelevant, modify them. If something is working well and appears to be a bright spot, then do more of it. Dial-up the activities that drive desired metrics. Stay focused on those areas where you have uncomfortable gaps between current performance and desired performance. See related post: Business Performance Continuums. Identify experiments you can run to test ideas for value. These represent quick trips around the Promise Delivery System.

You wouldn’t be comfortable flying in a commercial airliner that doesn’t receive maintenance and performance tuning. Your business is no different. Don’t let you customers, employees, and partners suffer through an under-performing business, especially when many of them would love to be engaged in a solution path to higher performance.

“Drive thy business, let not that drive thee.”

Benjamin Franklin
Author, Printer, Scientist, Musician,
Inventor, Satirist, Civic Activist,
Statesman, and Diplomat
(1706 – 1790)

Ben Franklin said it well, “Drive thy business, let not that drive thee.” Leadership sets the tone and begins the conversation. If you’d like some brainshare and assistance shoring up your strategy and designing deliverables to accompany that strategy, then please contact me.

about the author

Gregory Olson authored The Experience Design Blueprint, a book about designing better experiences and then making them come true. Exercises and mental models in the book will build your confidence and competence in envisioning better possibilities and then making them come true, whether you are working alone or alongside a team. Chapters in the book that especially pertain to this article include:

  • Chapter 2: Make the Customer Come Alive
  • Chapter 3: Who is in the Sandbox?
  • Chapter 8: The Promise Delivery System
  • Chapter 9: The Neighborhood
  • Chapter 11: Barriers to Innovation and Overcoming the Wall
  • Chapter 13: Taking Flight
  • Chapter 14: The World of Work has Changed (see Glimpse)
  • Chapter 15: From Argh to Aha!

Read The Experience Design Blueprint on Kindle or any device using the free Kindle Reader application or read the full color print edition.

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.