Strategy

The Present

This is my favorite clock.  The hand transverses a color spectrum background correlated to the seasons.  It takes one year for the annual hand to complete its journey.  The daily movements are so fine as to be imperceptible   Over the course of a week one can observe the subtle passage of time.

My enthusiasm for the Present is not only the remarkable way in which it represents time but also in the manner it calibrates my perception of time.  Far more meaningful are the actions and experiences that take place within the annual transition of seasons than the list of appointments that fill my days on an electronic calendar.  It are those remarkable moments that map back the annual clock.

I use the Present as a metaphor for planning.  Which journeys are worth taking during the next five rotations of the Present that will be meaningful?  Strategy demands a more distant horizon than the actions and objectives that fill the hours of our day.  A new representation of time can be liberating to our thinking.

Train to Race or Race to Train?

Elite athletes train to race but most athletes race to train. The difference is that a professional athletes design a program and schedule a plan to build fitness and speed for specific competitions. This approach is process focused. Many amateurs go for the event approach. They race which then gives them motivation to train. A race result from one week inspires or motivates training for another week before they race again. The race remains the focus and they construct as much scaffolding (training) that can be assembled around the event. This strategy is more of an organic approach to a fitness plan. Panning is based on the race. An elite athlete typically takes a more holistic view, managing both the process and content. A few races are identified as the primary objective and then additional races and training are planned to build the best fitness level to maximize performance at the highlighted competitions.

To quote Seth Godin’s blog entry from December 10th, “Events are easier to manage, pay for and get excited about. Processes build results for the long haul.”

Is your organization event focused, in the race to train mode? Does your organization take a train to race approach and link the events to strategic priorities? Do you monitor the process? Which approach will help you win the Gold?

“As military strategist Shun Tzu observed, it is victory, and not mere perseverance, that is the essential goal of any battle”

Have you ever noticed how many nonprofit organization’s and businesses pat themselves on the back for their perseverance? Enduring is noble, heroic, creates legends and is written about in history. It does not always mean that it is the most effective way to reach an outcome or goal. I have recently received numerous emails from social enterprise organizations highlighting their determination during difficult times. These narratives certainly stir emotions but they make me wonder if I am supporting an organization that is closer to its sunset than sunrise.

One of the strategies outlined by Hartmut Esslinger in his book a fine line is “The Fourth Line: Building Strategic Reserves.” He recalls how Caesar kept a fourth line of army hidden in the trees during a military battle. The fourth line was the ultimate strategy for success since the enemy was not expecting the reserves to appear. During more difficult economic times and challenges to programs and services, this is the time to reveal the fourth line. These are the organizations that seems to be thriving. Hartmut talks about Steve Jobs return to Apple and how he quickly changed the business model of the company without revealing the product that defined their sector such as the iPod, iTunes, and iPhone. Once each of these were launched they owned the marketplace and the competitors reacted with sloppy replicas at best.

How is your organization thriving? Do you have a fourth line? Are you persevering and enduring or are you thriving?

Living in the Moment

I spent the three days backpacking in Sawtooth National Recreation Area. It was amazing to see how much snow still sits in the high country and I seemed to hike past one constant waterfall due to the gushing flow in the mountain streams.

What truly got my attention was the presence of bears on my hike back to the trail head. I ran across repeated signs of bears in the area. Their presence seemed to coincide with the fact that the trail became overgrown and I could not see much further than 5-10 yards ahead at best. A couple times I heard the loud crush of vegetation moving somewhere just off the trail. For the next two hours my focus was only on the moment. No day-dreaming or inner monologue- just focusing on not surprising a bear standing in the middle of a huckleberry patch.

It was a reminder that during moments of heightened awareness our focus can be well trained on the events at hand. Multi-tasking was out. I was not juggling a couple of responsibilities. It was simple, focus on moving down the trail in the safest manner possible.

I ran into a group of three backpackers who had started from a lower campsite and scared off three bears. I thanked them for their fine work.

How do you stay focused? What have you pulled off when you put your mind to a single outcome?

Authenticity

A characteristic that donors and supporters rank highest when considering contributing or joining a social causes is ‘authenticity‘. Individuals want to invest in the original, the trustworthy edition, the organization committed to meeting the needs of the cause with values that match their own. All of this sounds basic. But, how many enterprises deviate from being authentic by taking some of the following actions?

  • Adopting strategic plans that are full of unrealistic goals and lofty language
  • Creating a culture that makes patrons uneasy when they engage with the organization
  • Programs that are not consistent with the organization’s mission
  • Hiring an Executive Director or key personnel that do not embody the organization’s values
  • Accepting donations/grants from individuals or foundations that represent values that conflict with the nonprofit
  • Building a board with members who do not appear committed to the organization’s strengths
  • Launch a branding effort that looks nothing like the organization everyone has come to know

Would you prefer to visit the Statue of Liberty in Las Vegas or New York? Do you prefer to view the Declaration of Independence housed in the Archive Building in Washington, DC or a framed version hanging in your City Hall? Is your preference to meet your hero in person or take a picture with their facsimile at the wax museum? In which of these experiences would you be willing to invest more of your resources?

How do you remain authentic as an organization? Can you define it? Have you asked your supporters? How is it represented daily in your organization’s decision-making?

Cycling Strategy from Lance

I am a fan of cycling and a cyclist. My morning routine this time of year includes trying to catch a couple minutes of coverage of the Giro d’Italia on Universal Sports (living streaming coverage of the Tour of Italy). One of the team strategies that you see executed over a three week cycling tour is the strategy of sending a supporting teammate up the road on an early breakaway from the peleton (main group). One of the advantages of doing this is to the allow your team leader a chance to bridge forward and catch the teammate in the later portion of the race. Once the team leader catches the earlier breakaway, the domsetique (or support rider) buries himself using all their remaining energy to lead the star rider as close to the end of the race as possible before pulling to the side and allowing the star a chance to win the stage or gaining enough time to win the overall tour.

What I like about this tactic (and I believe may be useful to your organization) is that you take a calculated risk by putting a team member in the early breakaway. If the early breakaway fails then you have only expended the energy of one of your support riders. If the early breakaway happens to stay away, you have a team representative to contest for the win. Or, if your team leader is able to reach the earlier breakaway, you have an individual dedicated to supporting their chances. The team leader has little to risk until they make the final push for the win.

Is your organization considering a new program or service, possibly launching a new marketing campaign, adding key new personnel? Is there an opportunity to send a smaller advance party forward to see what the reaction of your customers and clients will be? Can you send a teammate up the road and then bring the rest of your organization along if the conditions appear favorable? Much better to alter the results of a trial program than to retool an entire enterprise because you put the organization at the front of the peleton too early.