Tuesday, August 27, 2013

The Plan

The Second Item you need to overcome the inertia in your organization is: a plan.

It is quite common for folks to denigrate planning, and many are fond of quoting the apocryphal comment from the German General Staff officer that the reason the US Army was successful was that ‘war was chaos and the US Army practiced it every day.’

That makes for a good quote, but it is mostly nonsense.  If you don’t think the movement of military forces requires planning then you are confused.  The larger and the faster you are moving them, the more planning that is needed.  The planning necessary to reliably to purchase gear, train people, maintain aircraft and ships, etc., and then move to a combat theater is substantial.  US training may emphasize being able to improvise, but the ‘improvisation’ is built on a foundation of detailed planning.

And, the fact is we all make plans – simple ones and complex ones – all day long.  But when we are trying to figure out how we achieve our goals with our company or organization we really need to engage in formal planning. 

There are real limits to planning as well, the most important being that plans work very well for tightly focused organizations (such as armies).  This is one of the (many) reasons that large, broadly scripted organizations, such as governments, routinely perform so poorly: the planning attempts the impossible – achieving multiple complex goals under a single plan.  Narrowly focused organizations – to included tightly focused governments – can achieve great things (think NASA and the race to the Moon); broadly focused organizations rarely do.  And this is one place where planning gets a ‘bad reputation.’  But in that case it isn’t planning that fails, the organization has already failed by reaching for too many goals at the same time.

Briefly, assuming that you have a clearly stated goal, your plan should explain what is happening, why each major step is taking place, and, as you work down into the details, the role of each individual or group in each step.  Everyone must be provided a meaningful role in the new plan.  Cosmetic roles will be spotted in an instant and are poisonous to the organization.

The process is simply stated and each step is completed in order:
- Clear Goals
- Guidance & Intent – from the boss – what he means and what he is thinking
- Assumptions (Major issues – if your premise is the price of oil has to be $100 per barrel for everything to work – you need to tell everyone that…)
- Constraints and Restraints - Things we must do and things we will never do
- Understanding the World Around Us – particularly the market sector of this organization
- Develop various Courses of Action
- Choosing a Course of Action
- Developing a detailed implementation plan and a kick-off plan
- Execution

These steps are easily stated, but not easily completed.  Good planning requires a committed and involved leadership, a small but well-chosen planning team, and inevitably the complete support of the entire organization.  Bringing in someone to help orchestrate the planning and the planning team is also a good idea.  But it has to be the leader’s and the organization’s plan.  A good plan aggressively executed is better than a perfect plan with no commitment from the front office or buy-in from the organization as a whole.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Your Goals - Part 2

So, how do you bring clarity to your search for your Goal?

As I mentioned earlier, you have to do a good deal of soul searching.  Begin by asking yourself this question: Where do I want to be in 20 years?  Take out a pad of paper, something you can burn later – no one sees this homework – and write down what you want – start by putting everything down, engage in some crass materialism: degrees, jobs, positions, income, numbers and types of cars, boats, airplanes, houses (size, location, size of yard, etc.), wife or husband, kids, dog, where you vacation, who your friends are, etc., etc., etc.

When you are done, fold it up, put it in your pocket and go for a walk.  When you are done with the walk – and are all alone, pull it out and take a look at it: is there anything you forgot?  Put it on the list.   Fold it up again and put it away.  Tomorrow, in a quiet moment, take a look at it. 

Now, is there anything on that list you can live without?  Seriously think about it: do you need this or that?  The car, the boat, the second (or third house)?  Is this or that position vital?  If you can live without it, strike it off.  Go through this process several times.  When you are done you will probably find you have a short list, and if you are like most people it will contain just one or two things: some sort of professional achievement (president of the bank, a master welder, a board certified surgeon, the mayor of the city, your own farm, etc.) and a personal item (happily married, some kids).

If you are already the head of your organization, and perhaps happily married, you may well find the list harder to create, and harder to edit.  But, do it anyway.  When you are finally finished, you should have one or two things listed that are your core goals. 

Now do the exact same thing for your organization.  This will be a bit more complicated.  First, you probably don’t exercise absolute authority over your organization, few do.  But, start with this guidance: what would it look like ‘if I were king?’  What would you want the organization to look like?  What do you want it to be in 10 or 20 years?  At the same time, do you even see yourself in the organization in 20 years?  If so, all well and good.  If not, is this about your legacy or is it about the needs of the organization and the community it supports?  This is when it gets hard.  And as you juggle those different perspectives, you need to consider when and under what conditions you would leave the organization.

After you have cycled through this process several times, you should now have two – short – lists: your personal goals, and your organizational goals.  You will need to do some more soul-searching at this point, particularly as the head of some organization: do your personal goals conflict with your organizational goals?  If, for example your number one personal goal is ‘spend more time with my wife and kids’ and the organizational goal includes growth and expansion – you may find you need to consider turning over management of the organization or in some other way changing your relationship with the company.

Having successfully done that, you now need to call in someone you trust, but someone who has some experience developing long-term plans.    But, be careful: there are a great many people who say they can do this, and who have drafted all sorts of plans.  Most plans are so poor that they actually represent a risk to the organization.  Each of the major car companies that self-destructed over the last 4 decades – world-wide – had strategic plans.  They had spent lots of money on those plans, but the plans were no good.  So spend some time and get the right planner.  One hint, many large management-consulting firms have a great deal of talent, but those aren’t the people who show up to help you construct your plan.

Show the planner the goals you have for your organization.  What he will (or should) then do is dissect those goals until he fully understands them, and then challenge you to further refine the goals.  His focus is to ensure that the goals are first: crystal clear; second, if there is more than one goal  (ideally there is only one), the goals are prioritized and do not conflict with or contradict each other; and third, that the goal (or goals) are as briefly stated as is possible without losing any clarity.  You should now argue with the strategic planner: you both need to make certain there is no confusion or ambiguity in this goal.  When you are both satisfied, you have your goal; you are ready to move forward.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Rise to the Occasion?

There is a saying that people are fond of, and it is almost totally false: ‘Rise to the Occasion.’  The truth is, with very few exceptions, people don’t rise to the occasion, they fall back to the occasion, in the sense that when things become tense and difficult they will fall back on their training and mental and physical conditioning, on what they have learned and how they have been taught to act.  Even in the event of a single individual who acts with great courage under extreme circumstances, the odds are that there was some training, some conditioning that took place that led him to be that way.  Whether from his parents or a teacher or a coach, someone planted and nurtured a seed that had matured and was present when he stumbled into what Teddy Roosevelt called ‘his crowded hour.’  This is particularly true among groups.  Thus, when Marines hear gunfire and immediately head towards the firefight it is because that is the sum-total of their training.  And it is a testimony to their leaders who have instilled this response – particularly in a group where the fear of one individual can engender nearly universal panic.

And so, when you see groups of men acting heroically, it is well to take note, and ask yourself some questions on the leadership that produced such men. 

All of which came to mind the other day – July 30th – the 68th anniversary of one of the great tragedies in the history of the US Navy.

For most of America it is an event that they know of only because of that greatest of all summer movies: “Jaws” and the character Quint (played by the inestimable Robert Shaw) who recounts the story – a true story that fit well into the movie - behind one scar on his arm, one that he got from removing a tattoo.

The Tattoo in question was the USS INDIANAPOLIS, a heavy cruiser built in the 1930s and which served as flagship for Admiral Spruance through much of World War II.  In the spring of 1945 it went back to California for some repairs, and then carried to Tinian key components of the atomic bomb that was dropped on Hiroshima.  On July 30th, shortly after midnight INDIANAPOLIS was torpedoed and sank in less than 20 minutes, probably less than 10, though exact numbers are obviously hard to come by.

Of the 1196 men onboard, between 900 and 1000 made it into the water.  Because of some egregious breakdowns in command and control and oversight the ship was not reported as missing for 4 days, and the men in the water were spotted more by serendipity then anything else.  Most of the men in the water were actually in the water, with only a lifejacket, presenting nothing much more than little black dots in the water – the black dots because their heads were covered in oil that spilled from their ship as she sank.  The aircraft that spotted them had been sent out to look for them, but having witnessed, and participated at least tangentially in, a number of rescues at sea, spotting people in the water is seemingly impossible – much harder then it would seem, or as it is portrayed in movies and the like.

By the time ships moved in to pick them up, only 317 men were pulled from the sea, one of whom died shortly after being rescued.  Thus, of the 1196 men aboard ship, 880 died, and somewhere ‘north’ of 600 died after getting safely off the ship.  To compound it, the Navy then engaged in a witch-hunt to blame someone, and ended up pinning the blame on the Captain, Charles B. McVay, rather than accept blame for what was a monumental error and tragedy.  Captain McVay is the only man in the history of the US Navy to have been court-martialed and for losing a ship during war.  (The US Navy lost more than 700 ships during WWII, only Captain McVay was court-martialed). I read somewhere, and I don’t know the veracity of this comment, that he was the only man – among both the allies or the axis powers – who was court-martialed during WWII for losing his ship in combat.

It is a long and complicated story and I encourage everyone to spend a few minutes researching it, because the real story is in the heroism and courage and leadership of the men in the water.  I was fortunate to know one of them: Captain (then LCDR) Lewis Haynes, the ship’s surgeon, and the senior officer with the largest single group of survivors in the 4+ days in the ocean.

Captain Haynes was a good friend of my father, and I remember him visiting when I was young – but old enough to understand what he was saying.  He didn’t speak about it much, and in fact I only remember one time that he told us the whole story, and I can see him to this day sitting in our den, quietly telling the story, trying to hold back the emotion.  He was one of the finest men and finest officers I ever met.  What I have learned since then is that the quality of leadership that had been shown by the officers and chiefs of INDIANAPOLIS is central to their incredible performance in their long purgatory in the ocean.

The lessons that stand out among all others – and they apply to any and every organization that is trying to achieve great things or be ready for any situation: you must train your people as hard as you can, you must set high standards and maintain them, and most importantly, no matter how high the standards, the senior leadership must adhere to even higher standards – of both performance and behavior.