Are You There Success? It’s Me 2014!

How The Rut Was Dug…
2006: the year Twitter was launched, the year Western Union killed the telegram, the year NASA launched the first mission to Pluto (back then it was still a planet), and of course, the economy started to slow down. Then in December of 2007 the recession hit us full blown. Eight years ago, we saw the writing on the wall. We put our corporate growth initiatives into hibernation. We changed our focus from innovation to efficiency, from bolstering profits to protecting capital, and from proactive leadership to conservative management. We hunkered down, saw the light at the end of the tunnel, and coasted our way there.

So, now what? It’s 2014. Our economy is on the upswing, innovation in technology hasn’t slowed since 2006 and consumer confidence is 70% higher than it was at the start of this decade. We should be jumping up and down shouting “carpe diem.” Instead, we are trying to find the best shovel to get us out of our rut. Is it the technology shovel that will upgrade our tools and position our infrastructure for growth; is it the talent shovel that will bring us the brightest innovative minds? While the tools of change are important, it really starts in the collective minds of your leadership. So read on to get elevated.

Why Don’t Organizations Change?
Simply put: change is hard. It’s a long and often dirty process, and even the most informed change
initiatives are subject to the same variables that undermine less well-thought plans: people, technology, processes, money and the overarching culture of our organizations. It’s easy to see these variables as road blocks and avoid change as a result. The best way to overcome these obstacles is to change the way we think of them.

Outdated technology and tools: Over the last decade the recession rut kept many organizations from updating their infrastructure. Getting bogged down in the need to update MCIF, HRIS, and intranet systems will keep you from embarking on large scale change initiatives. While these tools are necessary and help create better programs, updates should not stop you from exploring change and making incremental progress. What’s certain is that these problems can’t continue to be the quiet elephant in the room. Contract an expert to examine your current capabilities, determine the gap between what you have and what you need, then create a plan and budget to get updated.

Sunken cost investments: From time to time, we all buy a bridge. We make investments in programs that look like the airplane to the future, and instead we take a ride on the Titanic. Don’t wait for the last life raft. Just jump ship. So now that you get the metaphor, let’s shoot straight. You spent too much time and money on a failed program; you teeter between frustration and the hope it will just magically click. The truth is, the longer you continue trying to make it work, the more time and money you are wasting. Accepting you are in a rut is the first step to getting out.

Bureaucracy: All that focus on efficiencies has really strengthened your operations. You have a new arsenal of forms, protocols and procedures all coveted by their creators. Strengthening controls is an important measure especially when your organization is subject to regulation and auditing, but have you gone too far? If the reins are too tight, you may stifle innovation. Sure, you need processes, protocols and procedures… but you also need passion! It’s a good time to unwind some of the red tape. Get your administrators on the next hot phrase in pop management text: “adaptive controls.”

Progressive Thoughts from Professional Thinkers
So now that we’ve countered some of your arguments against change, we’ll turn to the experts to discuss how you should reinvigorate your organization. Dan Mroz, PhD and organizational guru, is certain when he tells us, “there is no set formula for innovation,” but he does offer some fantastic suggestions. Hint: it’s all about people. 1) Create a learning environment: Learning encourages collaboration, idea generation and professional development – innovate by drawing out the best in your people and putting them in the right roles. 2) Consider your attitude: If your culture needs to be re-energized, examine the projected attitudes of your leaders. Do you truly encourage an open, honest and collaborative environment? 3) Celebrate small wins: employee recognition is more than just perks and bonuses. Celebrate your employees when they contribute to organizational knowledge. Mroz advises celebrating small wins because it creates an “organic sense of progress.”

Amplify the Message:
Uplift your organization by supporting the developmental needs of your employees.

If brainstorming meetings with your team turn up more roadblocks than possibilities, MIT scholar Clark Gilbert may suggest you need more “Energizers” among you. “Energizers see realistic possibilities; de-energizers see roadblocks.” Energizing your staff by creating a compelling vision for change. Take their minds off of past or current problems by presenting an inspiring possibility for the future. Do be certain that the goals of each member of your change teams are realistic. If it is overwhelming or difficult to execute due to resource issues, the discussions of possibilities will quickly turn back to roadblocks.

Amplify the Message:
Lead change efforts with a strong vision that is both inspiring and realistic.

Ultimately, it’s about recognizing when it’s time to change and taking steps to snap yourself and your organization out of a rut. The Recovering Leader recommends concrete action when you have accepted you are in a rut. Among his advice is the need to “face it” by discussing your organization’s complacency with an advisor who will give it to you straight. He also advises you tackle the “bigger enduring issues” first. Remember the top reasons organizations don’t change? Those reasons are things that can be, well, changed. Rank them in order of importance and knock them out of the way.

Whatever Happened to that Plan?

As the summer sun gleams through your office window, it’s difficult to think back to the cold winter that passed. But, that is where we are going today. Back to December when you vowed that 2013 was the year you’d plan ahead, stick to a calendar and figure out what’s so smart about SMART goals. Back to January when you pulled an overnighter to put the finishing touches on your production calendar and optimize your new monthly tracking charts. Back to that harried day when you drove through the snow for a grueling hour hoping you wouldn’t be late for the management meeting where you were rolling out the best annual business plan you’d ever written.

So…yeah…whatever happened to that plan? If you’ve stuck to that production calendar and dutifully completed your tracking charts for the first 8 months of this year, bravo! You are as rare as the great white buffalo, a master of business to behold and applaud. Yes, we love you, we envy you, but you can stop reading now….

Okay, now that the rest of us are alone, let’s talk about why we keep finding ourselves in this empty ritual of slaving over an annual plan only to abandon it before first quarter results are in. It was, after all, a great plan. You downloaded a cool template, you asked for input from your team, you aligned your business unit’s goals with the organization’s and you delivered it passionately back on that cold, snowy morning. So, what went wrong? Chances are there is more than one answer, but here are a few of the most common causes of business plan failure:

1. The Earth isn’t flat and neither is the market.
We often write plans in our happy place. Much like New Year’s resolutions, we commit to goals that are attainable in the most perfect, static conditions. Be it your commitment to launch a new product or finally hit that next million-dollar milestone, you need to consider whether outside influences or market challenges could derail that goal. Doing the research doesn’t cloak you from failure, but it softens the fall. Picking up the pieces is infinitely easier when you have considered alternate courses of action and mitigation techniques in your plan. A few extra bullet points can be the difference between an irrelevant document and a darn good starting point to correct the course mid-year.

2. It’s always easier said than done.
Great leaders, heck even good ones, have big visions. You believe whole-heartedly that if you shoot for the moon, you’ll land among the stars. Unfortunately, you may be leaving your team wondering what planet you live on. When you write your goals and layout the strategies and tactics to achieve them, don’t forget to analyze your resources. Do you have a team dedicated to carrying out that plan, or like the rest of us, is your team going to make incremental progress between carrying out the day-to-day business? If an honest analysis proves you need to hire someone, put it in the plan. If it isn’t deemed worthy of an extra salary, it can be revised, downgraded or parked for future consideration.

3. If you liked it then you shoulda put a ring on it.
Commitment: feared by many and lacking in boardrooms across America. Even the best-laid plans will crumble quickly without it. It isn’t enough to write the plan or make a jazzy PowerPoint explaining the plan, you have to get real buy-in. Sure, a table full of executives nodded their heads after you concluded your presentations, but I’ll bet a couple of them were thinking about their fantasy football matchup within 30 seconds of your last word. Real buy-in probably won’t happen the first day you present the plan. It will happen when you come to meetings weekly and monthly showing them the progress you are making on your goals and telling them what you need from them to get it done. Set goals, make progress, and then demonstrate results. Yes, I know…it is always easier said than done.

So, as you enjoy the end of summer and prepare for the fourth quarter, dust off your forgotten plan and figure out how you can really do it better next year. Maybe practice on that quarterly plan, speaking of which, that’s due soon…get cracking!