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12 November 2009 • 7:00 am

The Strategy-Focused Organization Concept is Still Robust

read this book

read this book

Most popular ideas in the domain of organizational management have a limited shelf-life. Those that gain widespread attention usually do so on the strength of a published work. My bookshelves are filled with titles that in their time, were purported to be the next ‘big idea’ in management, but have since faded into relative obscurity. This pattern is as much a function of the audience for the ideas as the ideas themselves; executives and managers crave the easy answers and magical insights that are promised by these works. So when an idea remains relevant and applicable for more than a few years, it stands out. 

Of course, balanced scorecard has been an exceptionally durable concept. The idea of a scorecard (a collection of measures) as a tool for management has been around for decades, and is thought to have originated at General Electric during the 1950s. Kaplan and Norton elaborated the idea of a scorecard as a tool for strategic management beginning with their first Harvard Business Review articles on the topic in 1992 and 1993, and their book The Balanced Scorecard in 1996. The BSC articles and original book were extremely popular, and remain so today.But I never recommend Kaplan and Norton’s first BSC book to anyone embarking on a journey of strategic management.
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14 October 2009 • 7:00 am

The Importance of Pre-Meeting Meetings

I spoke on the phone with someone this morning who has had tremendous success getting leadership buy-in from multiple levels in a large organization. As he shared his story, he reminded me of something that seems like overkill but that contributes to successful change initiatives: having meetings before the meeting.

Having pre-meetings is far different from having post-meetings. Post-meetings happen because not everything that needed to be said came out during the actual meeting, due to fear, mainly. Pre-meetings are held to make sure that what needs to happen in the actual meeting actually happens.

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28 September 2009 • 7:00 am

The Deliberate Organization

As a mediocre writer and crossword puzzle addict, I am continually amazed at the richness of the English language, and yet surprised at the number of words serving double- or triple-duty; words carrying the weight of multiple meanings. One of my favorites examples is the word sanction, which can either mean a penalty for a violation of law, or explicit permission for some action. Homophonic antonyms, such as raise and raze (e.g. to put up or take down a building) are also especially amusing.

One such word I find myself using often in my writings here is deliberate. Both its verb and adjective meanings (which are sometimes pronounced differently) powerfully apply to our interest in strategy, change, and organizational leadership. Let’s take a closer look.

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22 September 2009 • 7:00 am

Five Traps of Performance Measurement


Sir Andrew Likierman

Sir Andrew Likierman

An unusually practical article appears in the October issue of Harvard Business Review on the topic of performance measurement. I regret that I can’t share a link with you, because HBR content is not available online, except to subscribers of the magazine (perhaps the folks at Harvard haven’t yet read about the idea of Free). No matter. Though I can’t share the article itself with you, at least I can summarize it here.

Entitled The Five Traps of Performance Measurement, Andrew Likierman’s article is concise and valuable. Sir Andrew Likierman is no less than the Dean of the London Business School, a non-executive director of Barclay’s Bank, and Chairman of the UK’s National Audit Office. He knows of what he writes.

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15 September 2009 • 7:00 am

Good Morning. Do You Know What Your Workforce Will Do Today?

An important element of the strategic planning process is the management of the organization’s projects and initiatives in the context of strategic and operational objectives. Collectively, these discretionary activities account for only a small portion of labor expended in the organization, compared with that expended in the execution of normal business processes. But the discretionary allocation of labor and time is the necessary domain of management, yet management all too often doesn’t know what the workforce is actually doing.

A crucial step in driving alignment with strategy after the strategy itself has been established is to capture the activities (projects, initiatives, call them what you will) that are already underway. A matrix of the strategic initiatives against the strategic objectives almost always reveals opportunities to improve alignment; initiatives that don’t map well to objectives, objectives with no initiatives, and in some cases, objectives with too many initiatives.

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10 September 2009 • 7:00 am

Best Practice in Best Practice?

U.S. President Barack Obama delivers his speech on healthcare. REUTERS/Jason Reed

U.S. President Barack Obama delivers his speech on healthcare. REUTERS/Jason Reed

U.S. President Barack Obama gave his highly-anticipated speech on health care reform to a joint session of the U.S. Congress and a national TV audience yesterday evening. For those outside of the U.S., speeches to both houses of Congress are relatively rare (except for an annual ‘state of the union’ address), and this speech marked a crucial point in the intense health care reform debate that has been raging here for the past several months. I am sure that several other bloggers have already or will shortly provide their take on the speech itself, so I will spare you my own interpretation. But Obama used the ‘best practice’ term to describe a couple of U.S. regions in which per-capita health care costs are both significantly lower than average, while quality of care and outcomes are better than average (a theme in a New Yorker article I reviewed over the summer), in his desire to improve the cost and quality of health care across the country.

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1 September 2009 • 7:00 am

The Dance of Change

ballroom dance Pictures, Images and PhotosI’ve been thinking about how despite our better intentions, changing organizations is never predictable, and doesn’t perfectly fit into a nice theoretical model the way we wish it would.

As change agents, we frequently Dance in the Moment (a term I learned a few years ago in the CTI coaching program). While we work toward an envisioned future, we can only handle what is right in front of us, which is constantly shifting based on the reactions to the strategies we’re using to try to influence change.

If you think of the process of change as a dance, you realize it’s a partnership between two entities. Even if you haven’t taken ballroom dancing classes (or watched Dancing With the Stars), you probably know that each person in the duo has a specific role: leader and follower.

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28 August 2009 • 7:00 am

The Case of the Undermined Change Program – Part V

In Parts I through IV of this case, I recounted the history of an engagement I had several years ago with a particularly challenging client, WorldCo, a division of a large U.S. corporation. We met Reggie, the head of the WorldCo division, Karen, his head of strategy, and Linda, Karen’s deputy (all names and some details have been changed). Please read Parts I, II, III, and IV  now if you haven’t done so already.

The afterglow of the strategy map workshop didn’t last very long. Working closely with Linda, the next step was to recruit people in the WorldCo organization to identify prospective measures for the strategy map objectives. This process was designed to require minimal participation from leadership team members – the work was to be delegated deeper within the WorldcCo organization.

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27 August 2009 • 7:00 am

The Case of the Undermined Change Program – Part IV

In Parts I through III of this case, I recounted the history of an engagement I had several years ago with a particularly challenging client, WorldCo, a division of a large U.S. corporation. We met Reggie, the head of the WorldCo division, Karen, his head of strategy, and Linda, Karen’s deputy (all names and some details have been changed). Please read Parts I, II, and III  now if you haven’t done so already.

It would have been so easy for the workshop to have been awful. Forty-five executives and managers instead of the promised nine, many of whom had no advance understanding of what was going on. A not very cohesive leadership team, with at least some evidence of rivalry and political intrigue among them. Some open skepticism about the process (although this was typical), and an organization whose culture seemed to be all about impatience. And in me, a somewhat rattled facilitator.

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26 August 2009 • 7:00 am

The Case of the Undermined Change Program – Part III

In Parts I and II of this case, I recounted the history of an engagement I had several years ago with a particularly challenging client, WorldCo, a division of a large U.S. corporation. We met Reggie, the head of the WorldCo division, Karen, his head of strategy, and Linda, Karen’s deputy (all names and some details have been changed). Please read Parts I and II now if you haven’t done so already.

Each of the many dozens of strategy map workshops I have facilitated in my career has been different, but they have all been exhilarating. For up to eight hours, I (and typically a colleague) guide a group of executives to construct and agree to a concise yet richly detailed expression of the strategy for the organization (read more about the art and science of strategy map design). With only a few exceptions, executives emerged from their efforts highly satisfied with the result of their efforts, and energized about strategy execution.

Over the years, my colleagues and I have developed an understanding of the ingredients for a successful strategy map session. All members of the leadership team in attendance, and fully engaged (e-mail and telephone calls only permitted on breaks, no laptops or PDAs allowed). No more than about fifteen people in the room. A carefully developed draft strategy map that has been previewed with the leader of the organization. The pacing of the discussions that enhance and revise the draft map must be carefully managed, and it is important to “read the room” to sense when it is time to seek closure on a discussion.

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