Making research relevant

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard executives ask for something different in research. No one really knows exactly what’s wrong with what they’re getting, but they do know that it isn’t hitting the mark. There are lots of reasons to do research, and some of those might call for broad-reaching environment sweeps. In many cases, executives are inundated with information. Aside from their own methods of staying on top of the environment, they sit on multiple boards, and all of them provide 100 page long research reports. A lot of effort gets wasted here because little to no guidance is provided to Research departments on where to focus.

An idea: Your planning and risk management practices should be scanning the environment to determine what is happening out there that has the greatest potential to impact your ability to implement strategy. Tie your main research to these critical issues / critical opportunities. Aside from helping your company better understand what is most likely to impact them and in arenas where a prepared mind would go a long way, you’re delivering on a topic they have already told you was foremost in their minds.

You’ll never hear someone tell you it’s not relevant ever again.

Corporate Standards for Planning

Let me start by saying this is highly culturally based. However, for mid to large companies, pretty much essential. Why? You have to let people know what is expected of them, or they won’t be able to come through for you. This is as relevant in the case of new managers as it is for older managers.

Division, department and team planning is used to support the cascade of strategy to all levels of the organization. The purpose of this is to ensure consistent understand across the organization and to ensure alignment to this direction. Effective implementation of the corporate strategy is entirely dependent on the quality of alignment in every division, team and even at the individual level. The point of a corporate strategy is to create a singular focus to position your organization for success in a chosen market. While the executive lead the company, management and employees levels are where the bulk of the work is done. In order for the company to move with singular focus, there needs to be understanding and alignment to a singular direction.

Put the expectations around what a plan needs to consist of and how often teams should be meeting to talk about it in performance plans. What gets measured, gets done.

Be sure to include draft agendas and templates for people to use. This will position them for success, and create an additional measure of consistency.

When do you run your risk management events?

Recently, a colleague asked the question of when to run your primary risk management events. I responded with the following:

Make risk management as much of an ongoing discussion as planning is. Funnel the output of ongoing environmental factors, opportunity and risk identification processes as an input into the executive strategy review discussions to determine whether any emerging strategy gaps have occurred, new action is required or change in implementation approach. Annual event based risk management is not the way to go. To bottom line this from my perspective, it’s all about:

1) Identifying environmental factors or emerging risks/opportunities on an ongoing basis
2) Putting processes in place to understand the significance of these (ongoing)
3) Having an ongoing decision point through which your organization can act

Risk identification has it’s place as an input to planning, but planning also creates new risk to the organization. In my opinion, the advancements of risk management, planning and research are all starting to blur into one thing. A much more effective management approach.

How to tell whether a corporate management system is effective

Almost anyone can develop a business plan, but there’s more to putting pen to paper than just going through the motions. Think about whether you follow the existing processes or how often your strategy management group does an assessment on the organization to determine what you need to change in the organization.

Before you think about doing anything else around planning, here are some of the things you need to pay attention to when focusing the ongoing development of your management system:

What is the overall health (vitality) of your corporate purpose, vision?

If you were to walk the halls of the organization and ask people what your vision is, and what is exciting about it, what would they say? Don’t guess, get a piece of paper and a pen and go ask them. Do an anonymously impromptu survey right now… or perhaps when you’re done reading this article. I’m not kidding. This is one of the most tangible ways to assess the overall quality of strategic management.

Does your direction DRIVE your company, excite people, focus decisions and create momentum? Does it need to? Absolutely. Companies that don’t have a strong sense of purpose aren’t moving anywhere significant. They follow. Companies that follow eventually find themselves out of business.

On the flip side, companies that have a strong, exciting purpose to change something about their market, or the world… matter. They create the world that we live in. They are the first ones on the scene. This isn’t to suggest that you literally focus your market on early adopters and ignore the middle of the market. Just that your company has to exist for a higher purpose than to maintain a status quo.

Chances are, when your company was formed, someone had a bold dream to do something big, something that mattered. That’s the kind of driving force that it takes to start something new. It’s easy to let that purpose fade away once stability comes, if the business doesn’t continually reinvent itself… which leads to the next discussion.

What is your company on the S curve?

Strategically, where are you? Are you developing a new market or business model or are you squeezing the last drops out of the one you have. Recognize that you can’t ride your current business model forever. Even the best ones diminish over time, it’s the natural order of market relevance. It’s important to know when it’s time to jump off to the next before it’s too late. Do it from positions of strength.

What do your strategy review meetings look like?

The quality of the strategy review meetings is an excellent indicator into the quality of your strategy management systems because the direction is either inspiring or it’s not. If it’s not, the reports will lack focus and inspiration, people won’t understand the purpose of the meeting and there won’t be any excitement about what you’re doing. If you’re on the right track with a well communicated and engaged, compelling purpose, you will know it. Obviously, a well structured discussion is needed to make the connections, but you will see the difference. This speaks to the purpose, the communication of that purpose, the alignment to that purpose and the quality of leadership.

How far into the organization does the alignment go?

One of the biggest challenges I have seen is getting everyone to engage the alignment of strategy at lower levels of the organization. Sadly, this is where most of your customers get affected. Quite often, you run into pockets of management further down into an organization that don’t want to change. Do you have consistent levels of quality in the teams plans across the organization and are they being talked about? Assess at every level and then move to the next. This will tell you a lot.

All of the major functions in the organization need an accountability and communication channel with the executive, to create visibility and accountability. It’s good for the company and it’s good for those areas.

What quality of integration exists between the various areas of work?

Are there walls up between research and planning and communications and HR and finance etc… Are people guarding their territory? Building fences around your turf will cripple the organization from being able to implement strategy and to build a culture that supports this.

As planners…

We have to be the ones that consider the organization from a perspective that others quite often don’t. It is the ongoing monitoring of how the organization thinks, and acts that allows us to add value.