Pretty Words

15 07 2009

Listening to Sonia Sotomayor retrack her “wise Latina” comments made me think about an old Vince Gill song – Pretty Words.  “They’re just pretty words” seemed about right.  This is often the role of the politician, to say things that make people feel better.  We have limited manner in which to hold them to their words, so we often judge the words based on if we believed what they were saying.  Think of how we now perceive Roger Clemens, Alex “A-Rod” Rodriguez, and the steroid gang.

One of the problems we have as leaders is an overuse of pretty words.  We are often asked questions that can not be answered at that time, thus forcing us to spin a response:

  • Are we having layoffs?
  • Are we selling the company?

While these hurt credibility with the front line, they are necessary to keep some level of sanity and productivity.  Yet, what happens when executive communication seems to be only about spin and pretty words.  If the rank and file feel “pretty words is all he is giving you” then we have a problem with communication and trust.  If these are broken, you can bet productivity is no where near optimal levels.

As executives and leaders we can know, or we can think we know if people are listening.  What I have often seen is that the good ones assume they don’t know and find out – thus reinforcing positive communication.

  • When was the last time you had an outside, independent team assess “trust” in the organization?
  • What would be the value to the organization?
  • What if you hear something you don’t like?




Is Strategy top of Mind

10 05 2009

I recently read a few blogs from Jonathan D. Becher and it reminded me of a couple of stories.  I did a couple of webinars a year or so ago with the lead in being a question about how well do you know your corporate strategies.  What I consistently found was that 80%+ of the respondants could not cite the strategy off the top of their head.  This is clearly not new research as their are a number of people/companies that cite very similar numbers.  

I think there are a number of factors at play here:

  • Corporate Strategy has no lasting communication vehicle.  It is often discussed in conference calls and writen on walls, but we have no effective, living tool.  We need to build a communication plan around articulating strategy.  Here is a reference to an older blog of mine on Strategy Maps that touches on this subject.
  • We often lack a consistent framework for Strategy (or a single version of the truth), so we end up with a number of different frameworks for defining strategic objectives.  Corporate uses one framework, the business units another, and then each department creates something new as well.  What we end up with is too many messages and no clarity into priorities.  All of this becomes to difficult for anyone person to understand, so they just go about their day doing the things that want to do or that are easy to do.
  • We also have unstated strategic objectives, or as Oski refers to them in a comment on this blog post, “shadow strategies” where the organization says one thing, but actually does another. 
  • There is also personal politics and empire building that is probably more widely used than anyone would care to admit.  I have seen too many examples where people talk more about how big their team is than provide the value their team creates.  If this is what is top of mind, it is probably an indicator of their motivation.  
  • We don’t have a strategy management process.  Strategy is done independently from budget, or we hire some consulting firm to develop it and then the binders and reports are placed in an archive.




The Value of Scorecarding

21 04 2009

One of my first Scorecard exercises is one of my favorites.  It taught me a great deal about the power of scorecarding.  I did what I suspect most people do.  I interviewed all the VPs and developed a long list of KPIs.  I then used an excel spreadsheet to organize the KPIs.  I put the KPIs down the rows, and theVPs across the columns.  Then to help visualize the data, I placed “red” cells where VPs were directly impacted by the KPIs and “yellow” cells where the VPs were indirectly related.  I did not intend the colors for anything other to call out attention for each of the VPs.

By choosing the “red” and “yellow” I had each of the VPs concerned that they were under performing in each of those areas.  I had to explain a number of times, the reason for the colors.  
  • The first lesson was that by associating colors with performance, I clearly had the attention and focus of the executives of this team.  It sparked a number of very strong conversations about performance.
  • The second lesson is that communication is just as important.  By doing a less than stellar job of communicating (at least from a visual sense) the information, I wasted a tremendous amount of time that should have been used for more strategic discussion.  

Scorecarding can be a very powerful tool, but it needs to be used appropriately.





Strategy Maps for Strategy Development

21 04 2009

The Strategy Map is one of the more interesting tools in terms of Strategy Development.  I know most people want to describe it as a Strategy Execution tool, but I see it as a great check to the overall health of your strategy?

  • Do you cover things other than the financial outcomes in terms of your strategic objectives?
  • Do you consider the customer voice, or desire?
  • Do you know where you are in your strategy lifecycle?

Some people like to design complex strategy maps that take months and months to develop with strategic objectives to cover all contingencies.  The font becomes too small, and the word optimize shows up too much.  

What if we took a different tact?  What if we use the Strategy Map as a santiy tool, to test the strategies to make sure they are top of mind and easy to digest?  Instead of creating too many objectives, we focus on clairty of thought.  We use the tool to make sure the organization can understand what we are doing and to then use the map to define the initiatives and performance measures that align their department with the overall corporate goals?