It took me four years to realize that my strategic plan to get to Alaska wasn’t working. I was driving around the same block in Omaha and feeling good about it!
My first job included a weeklong, five year planning retreat. The retreat was a heady moment, filled with excitement and potential. We could see the distant Big Hairy Audacious Goal (Jim Collins). What could be easier than driving the organization to our dream destination?
The dream required a growth rate of 10% per year for five years but that seemed so easy that it was a pity to wait five years. A group of 50 students could certainly grow towards 55 in the 2nd year and 61 in the third. It failed. A strategic plan requires a lot of effort and most plans end up in dusty notebooks.
A growth mindset has to work an hour today to arrive at tomorrow’s destination.
Shannon Susko says that the point of failure in strategic planning is not the dream of the great future. Success is finding a GPS that connects one year destinations to a three year destination. Connecting the one year and three year drives you steadily on the highway of growth and success. She says that flawless execution at the one year level only is like driving the car around the block. You get to feel successful without going anywhere.
I was great at driving the car around the block, creative with the long range plan, and a miserable failure at driving my car towards a 3 year future on the way to the incredible future.
Everyone in my current nonprofit stops for 15 minutes every day to have a huddle. We commit to an hour every day to work on our three year objective. The huddle is to report on what we accomplished yesterday in our hour, how we will use our hour today, and a request for help if we’re stuck. Verne Harnish describes this in Scaling Up.
We still get flat tires and occasionally aim for Minneapolis when we were planning for Alaska. But I can already see Anchorage!
Collins, Jim, and Morten T. Hansen. Great by Choice: Uncertainty, Chaos, and Luck: Why Some Thrive despite Them All. Random House Business, 2011.
Harnish, Verne. Scaling up: How a Few Companies Make It … and Why the Rest Don’t. Gazelles Inc., 2015.
Susko, Shannon. The Metronome Effect The Journey to Predictable Profit. Advantage Media Group, 2014.
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I had a job search in 1988 and finally got an interview for an executive position at a college. I would be 2nd in command to a leader who planned a five year window for retirement. I was flown to Washington and then Philadelphia for interviews. The interviewers stressed that I would have considerable power. What’s not to like about power?
The interviewers admitted that there was one challenge – their current president was scared of one person who reported to him. The staff member was abrasive, had no support of other staff, and criticized his supervisor and peers without hesitation. They were reluctant to say what they wanted, but an unwritten part of the job description was to handle Jorge.
I understood that new direction was needed. I hated to take a new job and fire a well known staff so I suggested in the 2nd interview that they fire the offender and I could come in with a clean mandate to make things better. They were doubtful because ‘Jorge even knows how to deal with the boiler when it breaks.’ They agreed to think about it. I was sure that I had the job. I started looking for housing.
On my birthday, April 20, I got the call I had been waiting for! …… But the call was to tell me that they had chosen another candidate for the job. There is a copper taste in my mouth even as I write this today.
After much reflection, I realized — I was scared to fire. The real job that I was offered was to fire Jorge and I turned it down!
It doesn’t matter how many strategic plans you write. You will fail if you have staff who can’t work the plan or who want the plan to fail. You will fail if you don’t do what it takes to get the right people. How many of your direct reports would you enthusiastically rehire? This post is about what to do with the B and C performing staff.
Sometimes, staff changes are slow because of civil service, unions, elections – things outside the manager’s control. The mayor employs many critics that s/he cannot fire in the Police Department and other union and civil service protected positions.
Scared to fire? For most of us, the big reason that we can’t change things is that we are scared of the people who work for us! “In 2009, U.S. companies spent $3.6 billion on “outplacement services” (figuring out whom to fire and how to do it)” (Rogers, Jenny. “Getting the Ax From George Clooney.” Slate Magazine (2010): n. pag. Web.)
Scared to fire? Staff transitions are difficult. And it’s always tragic to create chaos with someone’s livelihood and career.
If you have staff that can’t or won’t work your plan, you need to analyze job descriptions, and start regular appraisals. Appraisals are a wonderful way to get staff reflecting on whether you can offer the job that they want. Effective appraisals often lead the wrong staff to resign. What’s better than helping an earnest staff member to realize for themselves that you can’t offer the job that they want to do?
Regardless of staff reaction, forge ahead to get the right people. It’s the only way. Start with compassionate candor in appraisals. If that doesn’t work, the fallback is to insist on the standards for the job you have – not the job that fits the staff member. Your coach will help.