Fix Your Roof When the Sun is Shining

Lisa Hershman, Denovo Group, has a phrase, “We never fix the roof when the sun is shining.”

I don’t know if I really need to explain the saying, but often businesses wait until stuff goes wrong to try to fix it. Then, it becomes an emergency break fix and it is done poorly because they lack sufficient time to really solve the problem.

The thing is, in business, fixing things when the sun is shining applies to everything. This basically means fixing things that really are not broken.

Off the top of my head, here are a few items that we neglect until it is too late and then do wrong because we are hard-pressed to simply get it done.

Planning. Strategic, operational, and even tactical planning, we are tremendously poor at in business, but specifically strategic planning is often overlooked. All too often, businesses look to strategic planning when they are having significant problems and they think it will solve their problems (the proverbial silver bullet). The problem is that strategic planning is a long range effort (hence strategic) and not designed to solve tactical problems.

Process improvement. All too often businesses let shoddy processes continue as the company grows and they ignore things like defects, poor customer service, and excessive process variance until too late. Then, when everything related to the process is falling apart, suddenly the business tries to solve the problems that took years to manifest in the process. What is worse, all too often all of the business processes are in the same state of disrepair and instead of just fixing one process, the business tries to create a full blown process organization and expect it to happen overnight.

Development. Businesses often look to training to solve a problem, but do not look at development when there isn’t a problem. If you are considering going into a leadership position, this is when you start learning about leadership, not six years after becoming a leader and you suck at it. However, we get very tactical when it comes to solving problems with training as the solution.

These are just a few examples of how businesses become very reactive to things and treat everything as a fire fighter versus a fire marshal. Living the advice of Lisa Hershman is very important for all of us.

When You Need A Swiss Army Knife in Business

Lately I have met several organizations that are at a crossroads in their own evolution. Many companies realize the importance of things like strategy, change management, process improvement, strategic communication, and employee engagement. However, these organizations are making tactical decisions on the direction of these areas versus truly looking at this from a strategic perspectives.

Instead of hiring several different individuals or creating separate teams all focused on doing the same thing, companies today should should focus on bringing all their Operational Excellence activities under one team working directly for the CEO or President of the company.  This group should be led by a senior leader that sits at the same table as the companies other leaders.

This Swiss Army Knife professional–SVP/VP, Operational Excellence–should manage things like:
– Strategy development, execution, and change
– Performance optimization through process, product, and functional continuous improvement
– Strategic communication inside and outside the organization
– Strategic human capital management to include education, training, and development and employee satisfaction, commitment, and engagement
– Information and innovation engagement

This team does not need to be big…depending on an organization’s size, it could be as small as three or four people.  However, it should leverage other support areas throughout the organization, like Human Resources, Finance, IT, etc. These organizations would not report to the position, but work with the position.

Today, some organizations have some or all of these activities occuring, but they are scattered across the organization and have very little singular direction. By bringing the functions together into a small effective team, an organization is equipped to deal with the challenges of today and the future.

Of course, the leaders of these types of organizations have to have a solid understanding of all these functions at strategic, operatiomal, and tactical levels and not focused on creating some massive sandbox of people with various skills. They need to be highly skilled with a focus on lean and mean.

A Continuous Improvement Culture isn’t built in a day–it takes strategy

Building a Continuous Improvement Culture begins with the development of a strategy.  This blog continues our discussion with National Graduate School.  In this blog, I provide a strategic framework to help you develop your own culture change.  Although I can’t tell you everything you need to develop–I can help you better understand the strategic steps you need to take and why you need to take them.

Incorporating Scenario Planning into Your Planning Offsite

Strategic planning, as a structured and systematic process, is successful when it is leader-led and overcomes the five reasons 70% of all strategies fail.  Learn how to see your plan through to success.  The strategic planning process is where leaders of an organization establish the vision of the organization’s future and then develop and implement the actions necessary to achieve that future.  This article expands on the strategic planning concepts addressed in Think Big, Take Small Steps and is designed to help you achieve success in your strategic planning process.

Several weeks ago, I talked about Application of Scenario Planning in Strategic Planning.  Then, we discussed the actual building of the potential scenarios to address possible future occurrences.  Now, in the Facilitation of an Effective Strategic Plan Offsite, we use scenario planning to generate potential ideas around what an organization should strategically consider.

Let me provide you with an example of a scenario that I used before with military privatized housing.

Scenario Planning Example

First, you should develop three to five scenarios that address potential concerns that you identified in the blogs covering How to Conduct an Organizational Assessment.  Review them with the senior person you are working with and narrow these down to three.  Any more probably is too much.

We’re not talking about aliens landing and capturing market share…focus on potential future events that are based in reality.  if you look at the above example, this proved to be a very possible event and raised concerns that the military determined to strategically deal with.

There are two ways to primarily address a scenario.  The example above provide the first way and that is to point out a potential vulnerability in current operations allowing the senior leadership to discuss and determine potential ways to mitigate the strategic risk.  If the organization already has a mission, vision, and goals, I like to provide scenarios that challenge their current strategy and have them determine if the strategy is still valid or does it need to be changed.

Either way, these are used to promote discussion, which leads eventually action items that I talked about last blog in Building a Strategic Plan from the Bottom Up.

My recommendation is that you have fun with the scenarios, but be realistic.  I have found that senior leadership enjoy thinking about the strategic what ifs and discussing them.  You just don’t want to do this too much during your offsite, or overuse the approach because the leaders will wonder if the plan is being built off reality or fiction.

So, 70% of all plans fail to some level; however, by following these guidelines you can help ensure your strategic plan will be one of the 30% successes that everyone reads about.

Building a Strategic Plan from the Bottom Up

Strategic Planning OffsiteStrategic planning, as a structured and systematic process, is successful when it is leader-led and overcomes the five reasons 70% of all strategies fail.  Learn how to see your plan through to success.  The strategic planning process is where leaders of an organization establish the vision of the organization’s future and then develop and implement the actions necessary to achieve that future.  This article expands on the strategic planning concepts addressed in Think Big, Take Small Steps and is designed to help you achieve success in your strategic planning process.

A Successful Systematic Process to Apply at Your Strategic Offsite.

How many of you attended, participated in, or facilitated a strategic planning session where you started with the mission and vision and then went around the table coming up with goals that every felt the organization needed?


Welcome to the world of the Good Idea Group.  Where leaders come up with things they think they want to work on and everyone gets assigned a goal so everyone is “part of the strategic plan.”

If you have been or are doing this, you are going to build a strategic plan without an Executable Focus and you will undoubtedly become one of the 70% that fail at achieving desired results.

The bad thing is that I have done this too!  Yep, I, even as a leader of organizations, have created plans built this same way.

Want to break this mold?

What to walk into a strategic planning session and walk out the end of the day with the best strategic plan possible?

Want everyone who attended the offsite feel like this was the most productive time they’ve ever had planning?

Want a plan the makes sense and is easy to implement?

If you answered yes to those four questions above, than this blog is for you.  As part of Leading Your Leaders to Develop an Effective Strategic Framework, this blog specifically describes how to build a strategic plan quickly, efficiently, and effectively.  You will find this technique is applicable to anything you are trying to solve.  Ready for this?

CertifyI Certify, that if you follow this approach, you will create a strategic plan with a solid executable focus that is designed to overcome problems in your organization and leverage your strengths and opportunities.  The resulting plan will, without a doubt, be fully implementable and you will always know why and how every action supports the vision of the organization.


Imagine this (above) as your company.  You have a Mission (where you are today) and a Vision (where you want to be in the future) that you have validated during the first part of the offsite–we discussed this in the last blog, Facilitation of an Effective Strategic Plan Offsite.  Between the mission and vision, there is a raging river that prevents you from getting to the river.  What you need to build is a bridge that connects the too so you can actually get your organization to the vision.

The troubled water between the two banks was outlined by your organizational assessment that we covered in the How to Conduct an Organizational Assessment portion of this blog.  This is what you must overcome–what is in that water are the things that prevent your organization from reaching its vision.  However, scattered here and there in the river are low spots and rock outcroppings that help you in your journey of building a strong bridge to you vision.

If you keep this analogy in mind, you will easily understand this approach–as a matter of fact, I show a similar slide on the board to kick off this part of the offsite with their mission written out on the left and their vision written out on the right.  During the offsite, I cal these series of exercises “What We Need.”

This exercise happens in three parts:

  • What We Need…
  • Diagramming…
  • Ownership…

What We Need

At this point, we have reviewed the Organizational Assessment and finalized a solid Mission and Vision Statement (I will talk more about these in upcoming blogs).  I normally send everyone on a break and then I update the appropriate slides for the next section.

When everyone comes back, we review the high-level SWOT assessment, which encapsulates pretty much what is going on in the organization.  I might refer to white boards or flip charts where specific items where added.  This refreshes everyone’s thoughts on what is happening.  Then I bring up the bridge slide with the new mission on the left and new vision on the right.  At the top of the slide is the statement, “What we need…”

I give the team (normally) 60 minutes to silently finish this sentence:

What we need to achieve our vision is…

I ask them to write each thought down on a 5×7 post it note.  The statement should be a concrete thought like “professional development training for all levels,” not something simple like “training.”  They have 60 minutes to silently brainstorm ideas to finish this sentence.

Each idea should be focused on overcoming the challenges the organization faces today and leveraging what’s good.

I like to have two or three people working with me at this point.  One or two go around and simply pick up the post it notes and bring them to me.  I then start arranging them as they come in into group using affinity diagramming.  I stick them on the wall in their groups.  Sometimes I use a large white board or I hang empty post it butcher block paper around the room and organize the groups that way.

As you can imagine, this can be a fast and furious activity, especially if the leaders are strong thinkers.  You can quickly generate hundreds of ‘what we need’ ideas.

Once everyone appears done, or at the 60-minute mark, I stop the exercise and put everyone on break.  While they are on break, I get the helper(s) to review my groupings and help me finish them up.  At this point, this is my affinity diagramming–not theirs.


When everyone is back from break, the first thing I like to highlight is the number of strategic ideas they came up with (number of post it notes) to achieve their vision.  This number is normally well into the hundreds and is always impressive that in an hour or less, they could come up with so many ideas.

Then I explain how I have organized their ideas on the wall.  Note that I don’t talk about group titles or anything, just explain the process I used.  Several times the executives I work with have never seen affinity diagramming at work–many have never even heard of it.

By the way, this approach has been so effective with organizations that many executives have asked me to help them apply the same technique to many other types of projects.

For the next 10-15 minutes (or so), I ask the team to come up to the board and review all the ideas and validate the grouping.  They are free to discuss and move anything on the board, but they cannot remove any idea–all ideas are valid at this point.

Once they have agreed on the final groupings, we walk through each group and discuss the items–I normally read them off.  Then I ask them to label that group with a name.  After all the groups are named, I ask them if any of the groups are similar in nature and could be grouped into a larger group–this is what is called tree diagramming (grouping the groups).

Once the final large groups are done, I step back and point out that they have just come up with their strategic plan.  They have their Goals–the large groups, Objectives–the original affinitized groups, and the Actions–the ideas on post it notes.

It is normally at this point that every executive in the room is so amazed that they have created so much and done it in under two hours!

Of course, the plan needs work by me, but everything is there.  My next job is to write it all up in a structured document.  But the plan is now theirs!  It was their ideas and their groupings, all i did was facilitate their thoughts in a beneficial direction to achieve their vision.  This breeds ownership of the executives of the plan.


The next and final step (normally) is for you to strengthen the ownership of the plan in the executives.  List out the goals (hopefully you have between three to five at this point) and pose to the group, who will own each of these Goals.  There should be one owner for each goal.  I have seen where they have multiple owners, trying to give everyone ownership, but that fails, because it gives leaders an out when you share the accountability.  Everyone will end up being involved in implementing the plan, but right now, you simply need accountability for each goal resting with one throat to choke.

This is a point where you would hope that the senior leader of the company would weight in (I normally prep him or her before hand) and make a determination after discussion.

The end result…

You have just created a new mission, vision, goals, objectives, and actions in one day following this approach.  The executives at this event will be amazed at how simple and effective the process was and can definitely see the value of the strategic plan.

Your next step, outside of the offsite is to bring it all together in a concise document for them to review.  I normally put this together in a detailed PowerPoint after action review that talks about what actions took place, what additional information was learned along with the SWOT, the final mission and vision with the goals between them marching across the bridge left to right (often referred to as the bridge slide), and a slide for each of the goals with written out objectives.  backup i have all the ‘what we need’ statements on slides aligned to their appropriate goal and objective.

This after action report take a week or less to put together…sometimes I can have it done the next day.  Most of it I build before the event and simply fill in the data after the event.

Following this approach is fast, efficient, and effective.  You will be recognized by the leadership for one of the best planning offsites they have ever been to, and you will have a rough strategic plan built with a solid strategic framework and executable focus.  The next step will be to translate this strategy into execution.

Over the next few weeks, we’ll discuss some of the finer points of products from the strategic planning offsite.  we will look at:

  • Scenario Planning
  • Mission Statements
  • Vision Statements
  • Values and Principles

So, 70% of all plans fail to some level; however, by following these guidelines you can help ensure your strategic plan will be one of the 30% successes that everyone reads about.

Culture, most important aspect of establishing continuous improvement

We talk about “culture” all the time and there is often a misconception of what culture is.  According to Gallup, 30% of the US workforce is can be considered engaged in their work.  A Continuous Improvement Culture depends on an employee based that is engaged.  Building and Sustaining and Quality Culture had over twice as many sessions as three of the other theme and focus areas at the recent ASQ Conference, which presents it as one of the most important aspects in quality today.  Continue on my journey with National Graduate School as we explore my Continuous Improvement Culture Model and discuss ways to drive this culture into your organization.

Facilitation of an Effective Strategic Plan Offsite

Strategic FacilitationStrategic planning, as a structured and systematic process, is successful when it is leader-led and overcomes the five reasons 70% of all strategies fail.  Learn how to see your plan through to success.  The strategic planning process is where leaders of an organization establish the vision of the organization’s future and then develop and implement the actions necessary to achieve that future.  This article expands on the strategic planning concepts addressed in Think Big, Take Small Steps and is designed to help you achieve success in your strategic planning process.

Getting the Most Out of Your Company’s Strategic Planning Offsite.

Especially for companies or organizations that have never really dedicated time to strategic planning, the first facilitation can prove to be a make or break experience for executives.

Up to this point, you have focused on developing the Organizational Assessment in my section on How to Conduct an Organizational Assessment.  Executive leadership have been involved from an interview perspective, but they haven’t been engaged to the level that we will expect during Leading Your Leaders to Develop an Effective Strategic Framework.

This is when it “gets real.”

As we discuss this part of developing the strategic framework, we will cover these two subjects:

  • Building a Strategic Plan from the Bottom Up.
  • Incorporating Scenario Planning into Your Strategic Planning Offsite.

This section is crucial for setting the stage and pre-planning a strategic planning offsite is almost as critical as holding it in the first place.  How you organize and what you do at the offsite is as important as the results.  This sets the experience that executives should expect from all strategic planning in the future.

If your offsite is boring, produces little results, feels conceived, and appears to be a waste of time, then your resulting strategy will undoubtedly fail to achieve desired results.

The organization of the event is critical.  Executives time is always at a premium and pulling them out of the office for even a half day session is met with resistance.  Getting buy-in from the senior leader on the importance of the offsite is critical.  You need to get their dedicated time and if they aren’t willing to dedicate time to setting strategy, you need to question their understanding of a leader’s purpose in a company.

My approach to an organization’s first strategic planning offsite takes one dedicated day.  If the organization has specific issues to deal with, like determining roles and responsibilities, working through a significant cultural issues, etc., then I might add a day or two where they will work specifically on these issues.

Of course, everything is planned in advance and the organizational assessment should already have highlighted additional offsite planning needs and activities.

This is how I normally organize a strategic planning offsite and why:

  • Set the Stage. Step one at the offsite is to ensure that everyone is present. If the senior leader can’t make it, then don’t have the offsite. This sends a message (regardless of the reason) that the strategy isn’t important. The senior leader kicks off the event and then introduces the facilitators. I like to have at least three people working a strategic planning offsite–two facilitators and a really good note taker. When the facilitator takes the stage, they should take charge. It is a job of the facilitator not only to ensure everything is completed in the allotted time, but to control the group. You will be challenged at some point and probably often by the executives in the room and you must be firm and tactful. Have rules of engagement and stick to an advertised agenda.
  • Level Set. Before you get into anything about the organization, level set the group on what strategic planning is. Get everyone to agree on terms and definitions that will be used. Everyone in the room has an opinion on what strategy and strategic planning is; what you want is one common definition that the organization will agree on. This eliminates ambiguity as to what the terms you use mean. Some organizations might call it a business plan, others might call it a campaign plan. Some use mission to reflect both the mission and vision, while some might call a mission a purpose. Regardless, get these things on the table and finalized up front to eliminate confusion later.
  • Organizational Assessment. The second level setting activity is when you explore the results of the organizational assessment with the entire leadership team. Prior to the offsite, I will have reviewed the results with the senior leader to ensure they are comfortable with all the findings being shown. If they are good, then they stand behind the results. Undoubtedly there will be significant discussion on some to several points. They will want to add information to the assessment, which you should capture on white boards or butcher block and keep posted throughout. This makes sure that everyone fully understands, at the same level, the issues that the organization faces and the strengths and opportunity the organization has at its disposal.
  • Mission Statement. I, using the knowledge from the assessment, lead the leaders through creation of a new or validation of an existing mission statement (or whatever they’re calling it). I will cover this in a few weeks in more detail.
  • Vision Statement. I, using the knowledge from the assessment, lead the leaders through creation of a new or validation of an existing vision statement (or whatever they’re calling it). I will also cover this in a few weeks in more detail.
  • Lunch. By this time, the leaders understand the current state and have a mission and vision to move forward. It is time to break for lunch and let them discuss and reflect.
  • Develop the Plan. Next week I will take you through the approach that I use to build a strategic plan from the bottom up. This activity is simple and ensures the resulting plan has an executable focus on fixing organizational problems and overcoming barriers to the organization’s vision. This series of exercises takes most of the afternoon.
  • Assignment of Ownership. At the end of the day, I get the leaders to assign ownership to the plan. The plan will have high-level goals (or whatever you decide to call them) and it is important that the leadership of the organization take ownership of these goals. So, before I close out for the day, each goal gets a person that will own it and will drive it toward implementation.
  • Closeout. At the end, I wrap up by covering what we discussed, our results, and discuss the next steps. Then, I ask the senior leader to close out the planning offsite with their thoughts and direction for the leadership team.

Thoughtful organization of your strategic planning offsite will ensure executive’s time is used appropriately and the result will be an effective strategy for the organization.

So, 70% of all plans fail to some level; however, by following these guidelines you can help ensure your strategic plan will be one of the 30% successes that everyone reads about.

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