Episode 50: Strategic Planning

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It’s that time of the year when organizations will usually hold forward looking strategy sessions to plan for the coming year. We have provided a unique opportunity for our clients and colleagues to listen in as we share our thought processes around strategic planning, ie What is working well with your current strategic planning process? Where are you struggling in your current strategic planning process?  What are the biggest successes so far in the current year and why? What are the biggest obstacles anticipated during the coming year? What would “Winning Moves” look like for the coming year? If your organization is in Strategic planning mode,(or about to be), you won’t want to miss! 


Transcript:

Jeff: Welcome to Voltcast, Illuminating Leadership. Glad that you can be with us today. We are a couple of minutes late. We had a little trouble on my end, so really appreciate everyone and the sound engineers helping us out. Glad that you can be with us.

 

A quick shout out to our friends in Texas and the Houston area. For the folks that are outside the US, it's the fourth largest city and they are just getting flooded. They are expecting over 50 inches of rain by Thursday, which is a year's worth of rain in about five days. Hearts and prayers go out to our friends in Texas.

 

Today, we appreciate you joining us on Voltcast. What we're going to be covering is strategic planning. I got Lee and Jennifer here with me. We've been actually in a strategic planning session all day ourselves. Working on Voltage over the next year, what are our plans, what are we trying to do? We said we'd take a break for an hour and have a conversation. Let you peel back the door to the strategic planning session that we've been going through.

 

Lee: Open up the halls of leadership. Illuminate leadership.

 

Jeff: Well, it is getting deep in here. If you want to reach us today, please feel free to email me at Jeff@voltageleadersip.com. I'll let Jennifer and Lee do most of the talking today. I'll keep an eye on our mill. Our phone number is 1-866-472-5788.

 

I've got Lee Hubert and Jennifer Owen-O'Quill from Voltage Leadership. Like I said, we've been doing strategic planning all today. I'm going to lean into Jennifer. She is in the midst of leading a bunch of strategic planning sessions throughout, really, the world, but certainly in our region. You have been doing a lot.

 

Jennifer, what do you think is the importance of the strategic planning process and getting on site? Let's start there. We'll move towards what's working and not working.

 

Jennifer: The first thing is to pause and take the time to think, to simply choose a thinking rhythm, as a first step. Check your calendar and make the time to pull up, think and have a chatty opportunity.

 

The other thing is to figure out what your desired outcome is for each of those sessions. The thinking environments are different. What kind of thinking environments are you having for the day?

 

You and I checked in just yesterday. A good facilitator, I will say, will check in right beforehand and make sure that the plan we got in mind is still the one that's needed. The rhythm is going so much faster, wouldn't you say, Lee?

 

Lee: Absolutely.

 

Jennifer: Just to stay with that, you have to be current. What's the thinking rhythm that you have? Who needs to be in the room?

 

Lee: That's a great jump off point, Jennifer. I look at it as, strategic planning- what is it you're trying to accomplish? Is it a quarterly review? We're doing that a little bit today for Voltage Leadership. Is it semi-annual? Is it annual? What are we trying to accomplish?

 

To your point about rhythm, I like to look at structure. Who needs to be in the room? Where should it be? Should it be on-site or off-site? What's the appropriate venue? Do you have an appropriate framework to operate from within?

 

We're going to share some practical tips, tools, and things that are our structure at Voltage Leadership with our radio audience today.

 

Jeff: I think it is too. I think from my perspective, a little of what Jennifer said, is to just take the time to take a step back. We'll get into all that. What's working well? What were the challenges? What do we see?

 

Put it on the calendar, take the time to do it and try to stay on focus.

All I can say is, can you imagine trying to keep this group together all the time? Just, no. We went down some rabbit trails where we dive down into some really weak stuff that's important for the moment, but it's not really strategic conversation. It's as simple as, "What time are we having our next meeting? Where are we going to lunch?"

 

I would also just say, having a good facilitator, having a really good agenda. Jennifer did do a nice job of checking in yesterday to make sure that we're on the same page, really helpful.

 

Jennifer, let's start with you. What are some of the things that you are seeing going well in organizations that take strategic planning seriously?

 

Jennifer: Well, I think that when it's going well, there is a sense that the leader has their hand on the rudder, of not just where the organization is going, but the maturity of people's thinking in the organization, and where they need to be, meet people where they are. As people come and go from the team, do we need to reset? Who do we need to catch up? What am I going to walk into the day that we have together? What do I need to do in advance, so that everybody is in the same place and space by the time we get together and are moving forward?

 

That's one of the things I would think of. It's the preparation time when it's going well, to continue to be thinking about the actual context that you're walking into at that moment. There might be something that's disruptive that has happened in the marketplace. There might be something that's been disruptive that's happened on your team.

 

Lee: Like Houston.

 

Jennifer: Right. Anything could be going on in your business, in the world, and with the people. For example, for our team, there are things that are going on in the world, but also, Jeff just came back from taking his daughter off to college. That's a go Dukes, right?

 

Jeff: Blue Devil. Go Blue Devils. She couldn't say go Dukes. That's where I went to school.

 

Jennifer: Being able to stay along side where people are coming from when they roll up to the conversation, and be aware of that. Let’s all just stop there and all board a thing.

 

Lee: Let me get under what Jennifer is talking about. Earlier, you mentioned agenda. It’s very important to have a good facilitator. Get the agenda items out as early as you can.

 

To my point, we had structure. I'm going to share with you at high level, what the structure was from our actual Voltage Leadership strategic session today. The first thing was the opening round, checking in with people. "How are you? What's up? What's down?" Make sure you make eye contact with people.

 

Second thing is, you maybe doing this slightly differently in a semi annual or annual mode, but for us today, it's a quarterly marketing analysis. What's taking place? Do we need to change our technology, upgrade our technology? Is there something new that is impacting us? What's the strategy to utilize that?

 

Next thing is the marketplace itself. As we get into a little deeper dive into the bigger strategy discussions, the SWOT discussions, for us it's what are the trends in the marketplace and how are they impacting us. As Jennifer pointed out, socio-economics, weather.

 

There could be any number of different things, followed by, what's really the big targets for business. Client proposals, people we want to go and propose to, people we're serving well now, people that are at risk, what are all the variables.

 

Finally, we will probably wrap up with a business development discussion of some sort, because that makes sense to do so.

 

Jeff: Okay. Good. Jennifer, what gets in the way?

 

Jennifer: When people are not aligned about the purpose of the conversation, particularly across levels in an organization. I think it's helpful when you have a diversity of level in the room, but how big do you want that swing in thinking to be and being intentional about that. What's going to contribute?

 

Have a really clear understanding about the desired outcome for our conversation. Are we really thinking through what the strategic outcome is for our thinking, that's actionable the next 18 months? Are we looking at the five- year trend of the business end? To know which way you're supposed to be thinking and that you're tracking along with that, it's very helpful.

 

Something that gets in the way is when people are talking in different directions.

 

Jeff: To your point Jennifer, I liked it. Are we aligned around our desired outcome? One of those troubles I do see in a lot of strategic planning process is, you have very competing needs. I often do board meetings, where the board is really concerned about five, six, seven years out. Then there'll be a board member that cares about this moment, this week. They want to get solved. It's trying to make sure that you are managing that well.

 

Even within our own conversations, sometimes someone gets really excited about product, whereas someone else might be interested in what market are we developing, or our next program. I think that it speaks to having a clear agenda, a good agreed-upon desired outcome, and some really good facilitation to make sure we don't go down the rabbit holes.

 

Speaking of rabbit holes, Lee, what would you like to add?

 

Lee: Well, you mentioned it. Firstly you do a good job, Jeff, in our entire lot of saying, "Okay, let's table that for now and then let's move on to the next point."

 

You mentioned, what is working well. I’ll add, what have we been struggling with or what's been getting in the way. Sometimes just staying on topic gets in the way because people want to go down different things like meet a rabbit hole.

 

The other things are, talk about the things that went well, what are the biggest successes so far this year, and what are the biggest obstacles anticipated during the coming year. In other words, as I go out whatever time frame, to Jennifer's point or to Jeff's point, what do winning moves look like?

 

We'll define winning moves in just a little bit, probably after an upcoming break. Put your strategic thinking cap on with us.

 

Jeff: Jennifer, anything to add to that?

 

Jennifer: I would say, I think you got it. Watch for the rabbit holes, stay on point, agree on the direction and the timeline of the direction. If you get that, at least people will be aligned.

 

Jeff: I was speaking to somebody yesterday, this Chief Product Officer. He was leading this strategic planning process. He was really working hard at trying to bring everyone along, but they're about to miss a deadline. We also talked about, is this a time where we can be co-creating together? When do you have to start to make a decision and make sure that we get to our strategic plan? I do think that that's important too.

 

What's the confidence of people in the room about having this strategic planning conversation? When do we have to stop talking and make some decisions? What I see occasionally happen is, we don't have clear boundaries about who's the decision maker. Does every person's vote count equally?

 

You need to have clear decision making. When we are going to make the call? Is it done today? Is this something that we’ve got a month to come back prepared? Make sure that you know all those different things.

 

What I'm seeing for now is, good start. We've covered some good topics. What we're going to move to next is defining some of these keywords, like winning moves and SWOT, and start to give you some of our best practices.

 

We'll be back in two minutes, after the break. Looking forward to talking to you more about strategic planning.

 

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Jeff: Welcome back. Glad that you can be with us. I'm Jeff Smith and we're doing Voltcast today. We're doing it from our office, so it may sound a little more echo-y, but the best part is you get all three of us in the room at the same time. We appreciate you guys sticking with us. Let's continue this really interesting conversation around strategic planning.

 

Lee, ahead of the break, you introduced a concept called winning moves. I really like this concept. Can you explain what you meant by winning moves?

 

Lee: Yeah. I think winning moves is excellent. For you folks that are familiar with it, you understand what it is that I'm talking about. For those of you who are not familiar with winning moves, it comes from the work by Patrick Thean. Long story short is- it's, how many moves can you make that can deliver two to five times your current revenue in the next five years.

 

Meaning, is it easy to do? Is it expensive? Is it not expensive? The fact that something might require some investment does not necessarily mean we shouldn't do it. The question is, what's the impact? In other words, is it a winning move?

 

Now, the reverse is also true. You can latch on to something that seems inexpensive, cheap. It's expedient. It gets you to do something, but what value does it add? To our point as we have this discussion today, how does it add value to the strategic plan? Does it match the strategic intend?

 

Of course, there's other things that cost a lot of money, that are boondoggles that look seductive, that might be down a rabbit hole or down a rabbit trail. It might end up being as disastrous for some businesses because it sucks up all the resources.

 

Jeff: Again, a winning move is something that is high impact, relatively easy-do. Nothing in business is completely easy, but relatively easy to do. Putting a man on the moon, not easy. Going into a new market that's somewhat what you're in, easier for you to do.

 

Again, it looks like it's creating two to five times the value in the next two to three years. In our business, gamification, virtual training, is that something we want to get into that has the potential to be a winning move? We thought, from our perspective right now, that that was probably an expensive winning move. It's possible. It can be done. For mid sized firm like us, to being the ones to create software, to hiring IT folks, doesn't match who we are.

 

It's the right move for somebody else, though. We might want to partner with them. Our winning move could be how we've formed that strategic partnership in two to three years. For us to create our own games that do leadership programs and things like that, not our expertise.

 

Lee: Interesting. It depends on who you ask what a winning move is.

 

Now, let's talk about gradation just a little bit. You mentioned this at a board meeting. Is it a C-level meeting? Is it a VP, Director meeting? Is it a team meeting? The priorities in the planning results may vary from that. I've been in board meetings. I know how some of those can go. You need excellent facilitation to keep on track.

 

Jeff: Jennifer's been busily taking some notes over here. Jennifer, let me ask you a question. I'm just going to say, holy cow, that's a lot of great notes. Give us your wisdom. What do you have for us?

 

Jennifer: One of the ways you'd come up with winning moves is you have to think through, what is going well? What your opportunities are? What is not going so well, both internally, your weakness, and externally, the threats? You have your eye on the landscape. Instead of the SWOT, I like that TOWS model.

 

It asks you to think, not just through what those strengths, opportunities, weaknesses and threats are. It puts it in a matrix that says, "How can we use our strengths to capitalize on some opportunities?" It puts these things together and makes you think through, not just capturing ideas that are actionable, but what is actionable data. SWOT is some nice information, but how do you make it actionable?

 

Those simple questions of, how can we use our strengths to capitalize on opportunities? How can we take advantage of the opportunities to mitigate our weaknesses? How can we use our strengths to get a better handle on the threats that are out there?

 

Then the other question is, we have weaknesses and external threats. How do we make sure that we're aware of what those are? Just using that lens to capture what's going on inside of your business and inside of the marketplace.

 

Jeff: Most people, I think, are familiar with SWOT, the strengths, the weaknesses, the opportunities and threats. TOWS is a little different. It just reverses it. We won't teach any deeper here today. If you want more information, I refer you back to some on our website. We've written a blog around TOWS in the past. If you just Google it, you can get some more information about TOWS.

 

What's important about that though is, you're asking yourself questions. What does the state of our state look like? How do we go about overcoming it, putting strategic plans and goals specifically around those topics?

 

Where I see strategic planning, maybe, going askew at times is, we follow someone's personality too strongly. Someone's got a really strong personality. Maybe they speak the loudest. Maybe they have the biggest title. I work a lot of times in health care. You can have one area like Cardiology. It is such a big revenue producer that we sort of over emphasize one area.

 

I think there's an element to, how are we going to make sure that we get to the most important topics and not have a person dominate? Spending time on each one, allows us to be able to say, "Alright. Let's focus on the right things, and not just on one small opportunity or one small threat."

 

Again, that goes back to having a good facilitator and good desired outcomes. You also have to have someone that can take on, let's call it, the bully in the room. When they start to dominate, they would go and have that conversation.

 

What I'd say too, is what Lee alluded to earlier. Jennifer and I led a session together this past Friday where we started to get down that rabbit hole. We were comfortable saying, "Interesting. That seems like a conversation for another day." I said that a couple of times this morning. I also led us down a couple of rabbit holes.

 

Anyway, but I would just say though is, again remembering that you got to have someone that can facilitate and cut something off, or else you won't get to major topics.

 

Lee, what's up for you next?

 

Lee: This has to do with sometimes the board level, sometimes the executive team, sometimes the CEO and the C-level. That is, one of the outputs from the planning process are the actionable items. Something we've gone through. We know the rhythm. We've had good facilitation. We got it clear. We know what's working well. We know what's coming on the horizon. We know what the threats are. We've done TOWS.

 

Now we have to try to figure out what to do with it. What do I do with it? One of the biggest waste of time that I see groups make, executive teams or boards, is that they spend too much time tasking people on deliverables over which they have no influence. Let me say that again. You're wasting your time if you're going to task people to take action on deliverables over which they have no influence.

 

You make a huge spreadsheet. I think of an offsite I did for a healthcare client. We had 87 items on this spreadsheet, if you envision this in your mind's eye, on the left side of the spreadsheet. On the right side, it says "Action items" and "Owner or Owners," plural.

 

Well, before we started pitching 52 on who owns what, I went around the room and said, "Who has influence over this by a show of hands?" We busted that up into a subset. Now when we really got time for the rubber to meet the road, we didn't waste time. We assigned the right influences to the right actionable items.

 

You see the heads nodding in frustration. Sometimes people get frustrated that, we're not making progress, we talked about that 8 months ago, 6 months ago, here is how to get past some of that.

 

Jeff: Along these lines, Jennifer, I'll come right back to you, working with Amy Ankrum and her team down at Qualtrax, we've had Amy on the show back earlier this fall, one of the things that we do at the end of the day is a sanity check.

 

Did we bite off too much? One of the things that we noticed was around the winning moves, when we were picking the priorities of the year, we saw that one of the executives had three of the five priorities. We made it a rule in that team. This doesn't have to be your rule. With this team, we made a rule that an executive could only have one of the initiatives.

 

Now that's not to say that Jennifer wouldn't have feedback, but she couldn't run three. She needs to run one. That's what that team chose. I do think that you have to do a sanity check at the end and say, "Is this even possible? Have we allocated appropriately?" When we saw that one person was going to have three out of five, it just didn't sound possible, plus all the other things that they have to do.

 

Jennifer: To piggyback on that, be excellent.

 

If you have one assignment, you could be excellent at it. If you have three, you might be good at one, you might be terrible at one, but none of them are going to be excellent.

 

The other thing is there needs to be one owner, one leader for an initiative. Somebody has to own and be accountable for that outcome. You have to be able to say, "It's on Bob." If Bob needs help, if Jeff needs help, if Jennifer or Lee, whoever needs help, that's fine. They have to own and have agency then, to your point Lee, over the outcome.

 

Jeff: Let me make sure I get this straight. To be on Bill and Ted's Most Excellent Adventure, no Kumbaya moments. We must have a single point of accountability.

 

Ownership. I like it.

 

I think this is important. At the end of many of these strategic planning sessions, I do find that multiple people are on the line. Then three weeks later, they went back to being busy and nothing happened.

 

Lee: Just don't go over there. Jennifer raised an interesting point. You can have the committee. You can have co-contributors, or to Jeff's point, co-creators. We really do want co-creation in strategic planning mode. The more fingerprints on it, the better. Not to spread around plausible deniability if the plan doesn't happen and no results take place. Although that rarely ever happens in the world of corporate, does it not? Just kidding.

 

In my earlier example with this offsite group, we had an owner, to Jennifer's point. One person owns it. If two people feed the dog, the dog starves. "Oh, I thought you did."

 

"No, I thought you did."

 

"No." Poor dog. We want to make sure that the dog doesn't starve, so somebody owns this.

 

Secondarily in the committee, there are people of influence that have technical expertise and actually may have some enthusiasm for it, because that's in their wheelhouse. If you task me with something, you're arbitrarily parking it under my name, I'll smile at you and say, "Oh yeah, I'll take one for the team.” I know how to do that.

 

I really want to do the things that are going to be in my wheelhouse. If you do that, the people will do it with enthusiasm.

 

Jeff: Jennifer leads a year-long strategic planning session with many companies. They meet monthly, quarterly, having conversations. Jennifer, maybe after break, we can walk through the process.

 

One thing is that, Lee, you and I can probably talk about just for a moment here, was a conversation that I really started with Joanne Loce a couple of weeks ago. If you want to hear a lot more about talent development and succession planning, go back a couple weeks, check out our webpage, and go back and listen to that session.

 

This though is one of those times where you should pull out the succession plan, your talent development, in actually part of the conversation.

 

Lee: That is such a great point. You're working through people. Remember, you and I talked about retention strategies, just a short time ago as well. You do not want to have that key contributor, key cog in your organization come to you out of the blue and go, "Oh, by the way, I just got this great job offer. I'm leaving the organization." You start negotiating on the spot to keep them, to retain them. "How much would it take to keep you?"

 

"Well. I've already made my buying decision. Where were you 6 months ago, or a year ago?"

 

To your point about keeping the personnel engaged, the key players, the superstars and rising stars engaged, absolutely. It's fair game. In my past, we've done talent analysis, succession planning, because you're looking into the future. A lot of times, people use the five-year time frame. For strategic planning, I think that's a big cliché.

 

Jeff: To Lee's point, the classic is, Michael Porter, Harvard Business. In today's world, I think you can think about, what are some capital requirements? What's our market look like in five years? To the actual block and tackling of getting goals, three is most what we see.

 

When it comes to the talent though, there are a couple of things to think about. One, should they be in the room? If you've got someone that's a high potential, they need to learn that strategic thinking and make the connections, so have you invited them to the room, for one thing?

 

Lee: Elemental.

 

Jeff: The second thing is, as you were talking about, we got our brilliant men on some of our major goals. You're starting to put some meat on the bones. Who are some of those folks, that maybe we want them to take the initiative? This is their chance to really do that.

 

Don't make that an HR function. This is a business discussion. This is not, "Oh, by the way, let's hand this off to HR and let them figure it out." No. This is you, as an executive saying, "Hey, we got some really talented people. How are we going to put our most talented against these strategic goals?"

 

Lee: Please don't hand it off to HR.

 

Jeff: Yes. Please do not do that. Two former HR executives saying that.

 

Lee: To Jeff's point, you have talented people who want to do a good job and who need the developmental discussion.

 

Jeff: Jennifer, anything you want to throw into this part of the conversation?

 

Jennifer: Yes. Having those folks in the room and teaching strategic thinking, it is really the job of the expert to own their portfolio of business. It is a learned skill to be able to think about the whole organization. They need some exposure to how to do that and having intentional practice by which you do that. Including people in the conversation is helpful.

 

Jeff: Good. Jennifer, Lee and I will be back after the next break. What we will be coming back to talk about is, the process of how to set this thing up, how to go through it. What has Jennifer seen from working with these CEOs and C-Suite throughout the course of the year? What are some of the best practices, or maybe a couple of watch outs?

 

Really appreciate you being with us. We will be back in two minutes.

 

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Jeff: Welcome back. This is Jeff Smith with Voltcast, Illuminating Leadership.

 

Just behind the scenes, we do talk about what we're going to talk about next and then we just threw in some random dancing. Having a good time.

 

Lee: Margarita dance party, right after the show.

 

Jeff: Welcome back. What we're talking about is strategic planning. It sounds like this is sort of an event. You go outside, you have it all done, and it's like, "There. We got it all done."

 

Jennifer, I think you'd probably argue. Instead of being so event based, this is really about strategic planning process. As you think about it, what are some of your tips and practices that you see in a strategic planning process?

 

Jennifer: Well, first thing I would say is give people time to think when they are together, actual time to think. Stop with the brainstorming moment in the middle of the meeting, and actually have people heads down, quiet, library time thinking, so that people really can have some of that quiet reflective time and then come back to the room. That's more of an event type of thing. It came to mind because you people were dancing around.

 

Know the function of what the rhythm is that you want for the pace of your business. What's the pace of your business? What's the momentum of your cycle? If you're starting and scaling, that's one momentum. If you've plateau and resting, that's another momentum.

 

Knowing that you have to also schedule in respite for your people, you can't just keep taking hills. I know from first-hand experience because I'm someone who designs momentum. "Let's celebrate for a second, and then let's take two more hills." That's not helpful for your workforce. It’s being able to really think about, "Okay, leader. What do your people need? If you're racing around the racetrack, have you actually pulled off and had a pit stop? Are you taking those people around the racetrack so many times without a pit stop, that the wheels are going to come off the last time you go around?"

 

Jeff: We’re going to hit that real quick and let you catch your breath. This is a real conversation that Jennifer and I had two years ago. Jennifer, as you could tell, is an "ideator." It was about September. I was like, "Jennifer, I need no more ideas from you until January."

 

The reason for it was, I knew what her fall was going to be, better than she did at that point, because I've been through this cycle more times. She was already full. There's this element of how much can we handle and where are we in our seasonality. A couple of things she wanted to initiate were brilliant and would have been great in our strategic plan but they need to be in the next year.

 

We came back, and this is to our earlier point, instead of doing three things at fall and none of them being very good, she did one thing and really focused in on it. Then we launched two other things come Spring. I think there is this element of pace. Too often, we as the leaders, we do this one time strategic planning event, and we load up a bunch of stuff in that first quarter. Instead of saying, "What is in that first quarter and what would make more sense?"

 

In our business often, summertime's a good time for us to take a step back and say "How do we rev up our next program? How do we work on our next piece of content? When do we write some blogs?" You guys are all at the beach and on vacation. You don't make strategic plans offsite. Really, understanding your seasonality and your business matters.

 

What else you got for us, Jennifer?

 

Jennifer: I would say, yes, you have your thinking rhythms, pick an annual event. It's a longer event. Give your team time to first come together, gel, and then do their thinking. That's a helpful practice. Go through some of those big, lofty ideas and then drill down to what's actionable. Ask people in advance for the data that they'll need to be successful in the room. Actionable data really is important.

 

Jeff: This goes back to the Qualtrax example. When we were just starting to work with them, they just didn't have a whole lot of data that we needed to measure for the strategic plan. It's okay. Don't feel like it has to be perfect. As the year went along, we got better at understanding what we wanted. We posed some questions like, "Should we measure this? Should we measure that?"

 

If we waited a year, we wouldn't have made much progress. By meeting quarterly to really talk about it, and then monthly check-ins, we started to get our data quicker. Having metrics, measurements, and then revisiting and seeing, is it trending, not just in what we want, but does the metrics even make sense anymore? You have your best stab at it, but sometimes you're wrong. Be willing to admit, "Maybe we chose the wrong metrics."

 

Lee: You need to challenge assumptions. One of the flaws I see sometimes in planning mode with groups is, they load up the first quarter. It is a lot of wishful thinking at that point. I've seen Jennifer design these things. There's a strategy session kickoff.

 

The group that I was alluding to, they do something called key performance indicators, KPIs.

 

Nobody likes to hear the sound of that story. "You better hit your KPI." What does that mean and what are the underlying assumptions? Before they put it in the can, "Is that okay? This is the final thing we're bringing to a board or final authority," we want you to go, I'll say, down the water line and test some of the assumptions that were made.

 

Let's say, you made an assumption about productivity or you're making an assumption about leadership, or you're making an assumption about capacity. Is that real? Remember sometime ago, Jeff, we were talking about the iceberg of ignorance, where only four percent or five percent of the executives in an organization really, truly, understood and knew, what their problems were, their opportunities were with their firm.

 

If you challenge the assumptions that underlie this before you put your strategic plan in the can and say, "Here's our plan," you are way ahead of the curve.

 

Jennifer: One of the things, as you mentioned Lee, you start with an annual conversation and just go. Start moving. Have a check-in, whether that's every other month or quarterly, whichever based on the rhythm of the organization, but more often than not, its quarterly for a second big conversation.

 

In my perfect world, it would be another day, but often it's a half-day that you can get. Have the time and ask the question, not, "What do we have yet to accomplish and what have we accomplished," but "What new things have we added?"

 

I often find that, often times it's the senior leader that loses track of all the things that they reconcile. It can be simply too much for the organization. They are thinking about top line of things, but the amount of work volume that's coming in at folks in the middle can sometimes be overwhelming, so use that time to check your pace. It's very important.

 

Reset expectations so that your people are continuing to drive through something that's going to keep them sustainable and successful for the whole year. That KPI may need to shift a little bit later from what you expected at the beginning would be the outcomes for your results, so that your people can have that sense of victory by the end of the year. That's an important piece of it.

 

Lee: We're making shift happen again, is what you're saying.

 

Jennifer: That's right.

 

Lee: This is Jon Hagmaier territory, for you folks that are familiar with the innovative achievements story. Are you in the leadership space where you are allowing your people to plan well or are you being overbearing? If you're the sort of person in that leader mode who needs to know every detail, and there's nothing wrong with being informed, you're not hearing me say be uninformed, what I am saying is give your people freedom to do their best planning, and then get out of their way and let them bring it to you.

 

Jennifer: That's one of the reasons why it's helpful to have a third party facilitator. I can speak to that in way that doesn't have as much heat or fear as somebody who is a direct report of the person who's calling the shots and making the decision.

 

It's one of those things to say, well, "I just have a question about pace. These are the risks that I see. It's not about my workload. It's about the health of your organization.

 

Jeff: Let me just say, one quick comment here.

 

Don't let perfect get in the way of good. What I mean by that is, some of you who are listening are like, "We are not even doing it yet. I'm interested in starting this." Don't feel like you have to have a perfect plan. Just start to have those conversations. You'll get better over the next couple years. Start, and then have ongoing conversations. Maybe you can't do in two days or a day at all, so it gets a half-day.

 

I would say, we have enjoyed "Rhythm" by Patrick Thean. We have some of our own skills and tool sets that we provide. What I'd say is just to get started. Dedicating the time will be key insights.

 

One of the tips I would want folks to leave here with as we start to close on our best practices is, just start. Just try. See what happens.

 

Jennifer, how about you?

 

Jennifer: It's as simple as the question of, "How are people? What's our product? How's it doing?"

 

Jeff: Slow down and do that again for me.

 

Jennifer: "How are people? What's our product and how's it performing? What's our productivity and our pace like?" If you just ask those questions, you'll have a pretty good sense of the state of it, the State of the Union, if you will.

 

Jeff: I'd add, for us, we had about an hour and 15 minute conversation somewhere there about, just on the state of our marketplace. What are the trends? What are we seeing? Where are we currently doing business? Where do we stand? Who's hiring? Who's not hiring? What's the economy like? We felt fresh on what we are looking at and what we actually thought about. Day in and day out, you just get busy and that noise goes by. This was a nice way for us to pull back.

 

We didn't get to a whole lot of resolution, but it made us think in different ways that will lead us to some resolution over the next couple of months.

 

Lee: You said a great word there and that is noise. I can't count how many times I've been on either middle level groups, or senior level groups, or some board situations where people form an opinion or a conclusion based on part of a story, AKA noise.

 

"I've heard that," and that becomes part of this discussion. It's like, "Okay, look, nobody's being disrespected here, but what's the basis for that? Are you dealing with a hyperbole, which is just a word on the street? It has its place. It's only one data point. Is it so? Is that actually true? If so, tell me why you think this one is?"

 

We waste a lot of time in some of these discussions with people having to debug some of that stuff.

 

Jennifer: One thing that came to mind when we were having this conversation is, are you current in your field? Not just the field of the marketplace for the thing that you offer the world, but are you current in your field, in terms of the working environment that you're providing your workforce? Is it current? Is it relevant?

 

We're trying to have our goods and services. For sure, be competitive. We also want to be competitive for the talent that we have. Are we creating the right environment that's going to bring out the best in the people littered around us that are creating the idea for the next thing we're going to do?

 

Are we current in our field? Do we know what's going on in our industry? Do we know what's going on in the work environments that people are creating today?

 

Lee: That is a great point. Everybody understood what Jennifer was just saying. I'll say it a different way. Culture trumps planning every time.

 

I can have a great plan, but if the leadership doesn't get it, they don't have sufficient IQ and EQ to make it happen, to carry it off, it doesn't matter how good my plan is. You hear the words, "Be the employer of choice. People are our highest priority." Are they? If so, that should be reflected in your plan and not to mention in the budgets for that plan.

 

Jeff: Any last comment from you? Want to do the wrap here?

 

Jennifer: I'm good.

 

Jeff: Thank you. It's been a fast moving, all over the place kind of show today. Jennifer and I will be back next week. We will be focused, aligned and ready.

 

Over our next few weeks, we will have others on the show that have survived the accident in New York.

 

Lee: Miracle on Hudson.

 

Sully.

 

Jeff: We're going to talk about that some. We've got someone coming in that's written a book about purpose, what it means for organizations, and how well they align with that purpose. We will also continue some conversations around how we keep people motivated and engaged. We have Susan coming in to talk about what it's like to be working in the global arena, and bouncing between countries, and the worst and the best practices you have for global businesses.

 

We appreciate you being here, each and every week. We like the notes, cards and calls we get during the week. If you want to send us an email, Jeff@VoltageLeadership.com is probably the easiest way to get us. If you want to go and re listen to the show or check out the blog, come out to VoltageSolution.com. You can like us on Facebook at Voltage Leadership. You can connect with us on LinkedIn at either Jeff Smith, Lee Hubert or Jennifer Owen-O'Quill at Voltage Leadership Consulting. You can follow us on Twitter @VoltageLeaders.

 

We really appreciate you listening each and every week. Your ideas really help stimulate the show. Drop us any ideas you have. In the meantime though, we appreciate all the hard work that you're doing to become a better leader.

 

Please join us again next week. In the meantime, have a fantastic week and good luck to the folks in Texas.