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The Promised Land

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The Promise Land
View from Goodwill bridge

If you want to make the gods laugh -tell them you are planning!

The capacity to be strategic does not come easily to everyone and /or every business. There is a quote, which captures this dilemma perfectly.

“When you are up to your “a-se” in alligators it is really hard to remember the objective is to drain the swamp!” Anon.

 This, plus the issue of different behavioral styles and approaches, leads us to a place of confusion. In many businesses, the leadership often becomes so immersed in running the business, they struggle to develop the capacity to work and /or think strategically.

My initial observation is that every business has a strategy –some do not articulate it very well and some do not engage the employees in the business very well.

What are the clues to identifying the existing strategy? Two primary sources of data are:

  1. Sources of Income and Expenditure profile
  1. The existing organization structure

In this era, another data source is a website, which often has much on it with respect to elements of the strategy

Many business owners start businesses with very ’limited’ but important goals e.g. “put food on the table’ or ‘sell enough product to stay in business’ or ‘pay the staff’’. Often the activity of business takes over. It is only when they stop and reflect that the real potential of what they are doing takes hold. It is the stopping to “take time and reflect” that is the critical action.

In any business on a day-to-day basis, strategic actions are occurring all the time. It is just that they are not considered strategic. They are just ‘what you do’.

The development of Strategy in business emerged as a topic in the 60’s and 70’s.In the 80’s in Australia, there was very limited work done in the area.

The whole body of Management Theory was emerging and Business Schools were only just starting –as an extension of the Accounting and Finance departments. The strategy was a small part of it.

In the mid-eighties strategy consulting was a relatively new phenomenon and I met with many CEOs then who said things like:

  • “ We have a budget we don’t need a strategic plan or a strategy?”
  • “I decide strategy and I just tell them”
  • “The Board has no involvement with strategy other than to approve it! It’s the role of management to propose it!”
  • “The strategy is to be profitable –what else do they need?”

The world has moved on considerably and now everyone has a strategy for everything. Marketing, IT/Digital/Operations/Finance/Innovation/Quality and it goes on! There is a consulting industry who will assist with strategy from every perspective function and opportunity –Australia is currently booming in the areas of Innovation consulting and Start Up consulting!!

There are multiple perspectives.

Actually seeing the BIG PICTURE for business leaders is the real challenge.

At the heart of strategy is a conversation about whether it is possible to ‘create the future’ or whether it is acceptable to allow the environment to dictate and influence your future.

There are many issues in the planning process and over the course of many future Blogs, I will canvas some of the learning I have uncovered in my working life. As it happens, most of this working life has involved working with Organisations, Businesses, small groups and individuals as they address BIG questions.

The questions range from:

 Model 1- simple planning questions

Where are we now? (Current position)

Where do we want to be? (Future position)

How will we get there? (The Stages / Steps)

These three questions are the platform for all planning at any level. These questions must be answered for any strategy to take hold.

Model 2 – at the heart of strategy

Right at the heart of the strategic process are a number of profound questions which in many cases are avoided in the start-up phase. I can assure you that these questions will come back once a core group of people has been established. Questions like those outlined below are unavoidable in today’s business environment.

Who are we?Identity
What do we stand for?Values
Why are we doing this?Our Core Purpose
What real difference are we making?Meaning
What are we good at?Competence
Where are we going?Direction
How will we get there/Strategy
How will we know we are there?Vision (Tangible)
How will we measure progress?Objectives

An organization that does not answer these questions in some way is rudderless and will not survive. They are, as I said, at the heart of strategy. My hypothesis on why they are difficult is that they are the questions which are at the heart of the human journey for each of us. They are difficult and in today’s environment there are many who will do anything rather than front the really hard human questions. They are dismissed with comments like “we haven’t got time for that stuff – write them for me!” or “we are here to make money that’s our business!” I have heard many rationalisations for avoiding this work.

The business people who are either unable or unwilling to address these questions in a substantial way are unlikely to ever build a serious business.

And these are not the only questions?

One of the great leadership questions is how to move a group of people from point A to point B with a modicum of coherence and a high level of achievement! There are many who try and a few who achieve outstanding success.

Planning is one tool to be used in addressing the movement/progress of any group. The assumption in the 21st Century that a leader is somehow going to dictate a direction and enforce movement is quaint in the extreme!

Let me tell a story which I first heard over 40 years ago at an Asia Pacific Human Resource Conference (1978)

I have little recollection of the conference but I have never forgotten the story!

The Promise Land
the bible character “moses” written in vintage ink stained letterpress type.

To the best of my recollection, it went like this:“You can read it in the Bible Exodus – 14

Moses was running a pretty good-sized operation and they had a change of strategy and decided to cross the Red Sea (which they couldn’t do today without an Environmental Impact Clearance). It opened up and closed up, and when they got to the other side, the people asked him, “Moses, you have been protesting to the Pharaoh for shorter hours, better conditions of work in the brick yards and now we have walked out –and- we are a people,” (And what is the first question that anyone wants to ask of a leader) “Where are we going?” Off the top of his head, Moses came back with a very bad strategic objective and he said, – “We are going to – … The Promised Land”.

No criteria, just a rather soft sort of objective. So it’s not surprising that

  1. It took them 40 years wandering in the desert
  2. Moses died before he got there.
  3. And they landed in the only place in the Middle East that doesn’t have oil! (or water!)”

While planning is not the solution to every problem this story highlights the difference between rational and non-rational approaches to planning.

The rational approach focuses on tangible measurable objectives – the nonrational approach inspires the human spirit.

In my Blog: A Great Question -Why do we exist?  I have explored this issue further.

The Promised Land has been inspiring humanity for thousands of years!


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