The Organizational Strategist

October 12, 2013

Pathways to success: Anders Westby’s take on personal strategy

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , — Whit @ 12:26 am

Introduction

Every now and again, I come across someone who has an unusual, yet interesting take to their own personal strategy.  At times, I’m fortunate enough to be able to interview them and get a chance to share what I learn from that person.  Here is another interview that takes ahold of personal choices in management and leadership styles. The content below is an edited and summarized version of an oral interview done in a similar style to the earlier interviews with Fred Collopy and Robert M. Mason.

Anders Westby (Professional Profile) and I met at Logic20/20, Inc. I was fortunate enough to be able to choose him as my career counselor.  His take comes with a very refreshing strong personal conviction and intentional positive orientation.  I’m happy to be able to share a sample of what Anders brings with him at all times.

Interviewing Anders Westby, Senior Consulting Manager

1) How do you define yourself?

“I’m generally optimistic. I’m almost always in a good mood, which is normally good, but can sometimes be to my detriment.  I’m always on the lookout for the good things in a person or project and in my role, I often need to be critical.  I’ve found that while I can get specific results from someone if I’m really focused and in front of that person all the time.  It will work for that day, but longer term results become much harder. I’d rather see the positive in what they were able to accomplish and talk through the remaining tasks and help them figure out what it will take to deliver.

I believe a part of [my view] is due to my Midwestern work ethic and Scandinavian heritage [regarding the conscious choice to have a happy outlook].  I’ve tried various approach as different times in my career, ranging from complete hardass to accommodating. Part of what I had to figure out is when to make the shift in approach and how far I need to shift in this situation.  There are stressful times and moments in everything you do, and you need to be careful that that stress doesn’t become part of your life.  You have to minimize the risk and basically project manage.  I plan a lot and try to think through the dangers of the project at hand. 

An example of this is how I love working with my hands.  One of my habits is working on old vehicles.  I was rewiring an old truck where the wires were like a rat’s nest.  When I went through to replace things, I thought through it carefully before starting the first step.  By being very deliberate, I knew exactly how things were going to work out in the end.  The result was that every new circuit worked the first time I tried it.   The problem there is that can take a long time to do anything.  What I do by being an optimist is to plan things out and that leads to results.”

2) What do you do? Feel free to answer this question from a professional and/or personal view.

“In my role, I try to empower others.  With my kids it’s all about learning, figuring out how to be productive, and doing well at academics, sports, and socialization.  With work, it’s about empowering the teams.  My work is thru other people.  I’m always checking to see that they know what they need to do, what they want to learn, what they need help with in order to be successful I try to find creative ways to make everyone happy about it.

Early in my career, it was about being the most skilled, fastest, etc.  As I took on more responsibility, I had less time to do the work myself.  I had to figure out how to leverage others and it’s a continual process of learning.  There are still too many times when I could’ve done things differently to empower my team, give people tools, information, etc. to make them more successful.”

What else needs to happen to make it even better?

“One of the things I’ve learned is that my vision may not be the only vision to meet the objectives.  I ask lots of questions, poking, prodding, and so forth to see if alternative approaches meet the objectives.  Depending on the person or engagement, I might need to give more or less guidance.”

3) What has been your strategy that has led to your success?

“I think it comes down to three things:

Persistence: My Midwest spirit of never going to give up.

Optimism: I know it’s possible and I’m smart enough to figure it out.

Ability to Pivot: Being able to turn on the spot and tackle the next approach.

You take the various assumptions of the objectives, resources, time, etc. for a problem. From there it takes the ability to pivot to understand the implications and all the while thinking through the different possibilities for ongoing efforts and the future.  Understand the implications of today and what the future may be.”

4) Please describe an occasion where you had to change or course-correct your strategy.

“There was a project that had changing project management, client requirements, architecture, developer staffing, timeline, and scope.  It wasn’t doing well when I came onto the project.  No matter how dark the tunnel, I could still see the light at the end of it.  I just had to buckle down and do it.”

5) What advice would you offer to others so that they may achieve their own success?

“Find work you’re good at, passionate about, and find a way to do that well.  Don’t try to be everything to all people.  Find something that makes you happy and do it better/faster than others.  If you can find a way to make a great living at it, that’s great.

One thing I heard from a mentor long ago was that every job has a dirty 30.  That is that 30% of the job is doing things you don’t want to do.  It might be administrative stuff, interacting with an person, or being in a role that isn’t interesting.  However, the other 70% can be really cool.  Figuring out what that 70% is allows you to find something interesting in every role and opportunity.  It takes time to find that and find something that’s in your wheelhouse that’s fun.”

Thanks Anders!

August 13, 2012

An approach to maintaining strategic course over time – strategic divestment


-Introduction-

Businesses grow, markets mature, corporate directions change, product/service portfolio evolves, or other broad ranging factors change rapidly or over time.  Encompassing changes like these can have cascading effects and influences in how a business should approach, compete, and operate in their surrounding market environments.  During times like that, it is vitally important to keep up with the market space updates by adding new products, services, partnerships, or other offerings to stay relevant.  What is sometimes overlooked is that as a business moves forward, there can be products, services, customers, operational processes and other ways of doing business may be obsolete or no longer as helpful.

Updating your corporate strategy to streamline operations, profitability, effectiveness, strategic return on investment, product/service mix, and other factors in your approach can make your organization thrive.  The results of these updates can mean altering course, adding new pursuits, or even removing previously undertaken initiatives.  The removal of previous initiatives whether they are projects, services lines, products, acquired companies, etc. is called strategic divestment.

-Optimizing Current and Future Strategy-

Taking on these practices emerges from analysis of your planned future strategy and current strategy to how the resources and capabilities are performing.  It may be that certain customers, even if they are sizeable in nature, require far more attention and input for their size, than other customers.  Having a smaller set of higher quality (increased return/profitability, brand recognition, long term potential, etc.) customers can be the best bet.  It is not always the case that simply having high volume means high profitability.  By having fewer customers that bring increased profitability with less customer attention, which can free up the time needed to work on strategic projects or finding new customers that are also highly profitable.

It can be difficult to move forward with strategic divestment initiatives.  The previous investment of money, time, resources, and energy can make one reticent to move on. It is important to think rationally and to know when the efforts of the past are truly sunk costs.  However, the long term thinking and understanding of the costs (not just money) versus the revenue potential can make those choices clearer and easier to make.

The act of divesting can take many formats as well.  It may be a simple discontinuation of an ongoing program.  It could be selling off a product or set of patents.  Another example might be spinning off a division as a new company.  In this last case, severing or loosening the ties to the organization can make it more effective in the long run.  As was written in earlier articles, innovative new ideas need room to take shape.  A company may want to set up a particular division as a separate entity entirely to allow it to decide on the unique approach, organize, and implement with an approach which would be inhibited (oppressive culture, not moving fast enough, hesitant to take risks, etc.) by being a part of the greater company.

-Moving Forward-

The decision to take on a strategic divestment, as already mentioned, can be tough to work through.  It can also be very challenging to enact.  If you were to tell a long term customer that you’ve opted to longer work with them, which will probably be a shock.  It is important to foresee these challenges and plan your tactics.  Think about the most graceful way to deliver these actions.  It can be important to honor the arrangement (say to the close of a contract), remember and celebrate the progress made, and work to find the best time to move along and help support the transition.  Supporting the transition may mean sending a customer to one or your partner organizations, setting up the child organization (in the case of having the parent company intentionally separate the organizational boundaries), or aligning other helpful services to coordinate the transition.  That type of support can go a long way to continuing the goodwill derived from a company’s engagement and style.  Know that the tough short term decisions may be the right ones for the long term health of a company.

January 30, 2012

Gauging Strategic Need and Action


-Introduction-

There are many challenges that managers and leaders face when devising and implementing their strategies.  There can be a vast array of information present that overwhelms the senses or close to no information at all which can cause hesitation.  Knowing what is the right information to act on and then finding it is an ongoing challenge.  This is due to the myriad of factors that go into creating a strategic vision, rolling it out to the organization(s) involved, and the intricate process of managing the change as it is enacted.

-Utilizing Cynefin Model for Strategic Approach-

With all of these challenges that strategists face, it is hard to understand and know where and how to best proceed.  Along with that, leaders may not always know what they even need because of how the situation might evolve.  A while back I was fortunate enough to be invited to a seminar with Dave Snowden.  He presented his Cynefin model during the seminar.  I found it to be an interesting way of conceptualizing the types of situations that strategists face and recommended activities to pursue.

What the Cynefin model does is to breakdown the various types of situations, problems, and challenges into helpful and manageable segments.  The model has multiple situational domains to fit the kind(s) of information that may be present.  It also describes the level of difficulty to best act upon the domain. Below is a picture of Snowden’s that shows the domains, activities, and kind of practice that can be derived.

Cynefin Framework by Dave Snowden

Thinking about and classifying your current situation can only get you so far.  Knowing how to respond to your situation and what activities to engage in is the crucial juncture to show how effective a strategic implementation can be for a leader.   I’ve built upon Snowden’s work with my interpretations and experiences below to help guide those actions:

Domain

Description

Recommendations

Simple

As the name says, this is the easiest to understand.  The responses here can be laid down into concrete rules to optimize operations and articulate the fine-tuned best practices involved. In this domain, documenting and observing what works well, what works poorly, and the overall impact from activity.  This should be tracked in detail to then fuel continuous improvement initiatives to evolve and optimize an organization’s activities.

Complicated

In this domain, the amount and various types of information make it more challenging to act upon.  Here the breakdown of information into relevant groups and types leads to easier analysis and helping lead the information patterns into the simple domain. A big drive for this domain is to find the right tools to move groups or types of information into the simple domain.  To do this, seek out patterns and analyze the information for any or all of the following aspects:

  • Easiest to act on
  • Highest impact to enable the strategic intent
  • Short term applicability
  • Long term applicability
  • Buy-in from stakeholders
  • Stakeholder input (pain-points, brand recognition, value for stakeholders, etc.)
  • Return on investment
  • Leverage for future opportunities

This is a foundational element of business intelligence and so pulling together the right stakeholder alignment, formal engagement and action process, and communications to enable others to act and scale this approach out en masse. In this and following domains, it can help out tremendously to bring in consultants and experts to help navigate the difficulties of the domain.

Complex

This domain is where having clarity of thought becomes outright difficult.  There are many tougher aspects to tackle and analysis can only go so far.  The probing activity is the start or piloting of ideas, concepts, and efforts to gauge effectiveness and then expand.  As pilots progress, they can create enough clarity to progress a situation into being a complicated one. Using experience, observation, knowledge, resource and any other means to come up with pilot initiatives to see where and how the environment responds.  The rationale for piloting is that it gives clarity into what does and does not work while minimizing the risks involved.  Once an understanding of what works well is known, scaling out that and similar initiatives can be done more effectively and with lower risk overall.  When prioritizing pilot initiatives to undertake consider the following factors to help grasp which option is most promising:

  • Likelihood of user/environment adoption
  • Ease of implementation and experimentation
  • Predicted ROI over short and long duration
  • Influence an impact of stakeholders
  • Effectiveness of stakeholder engagement in a given pilot activity
  • Ability to create a ripple effect or chain reaction of positive inertia
  • Implications for branding purposes (for both the potential positive and negative aspects)
  • Alignment with other strategies and key objectives
  • Transparency into the most important variables
  • Ability to prevent others from entering/competing (blue ocean strategy)

Chaotic

This domain is beyond complex by being without clear order or understanding.  Knowing what is happening is difficult because the influences and moving parts are not clear in themselves.  This area must go on more abstract heuristics of what has worked in the past, like leadership principles, that give clarity into a kind of action but are not prescriptive.  As these are employed, given best judgment, it can help move a situation into a complex one. Here visionary ideas come into question as they may be utilized in full or discrete circumstances.  A leader may have values that are central to her or his teachings and actions.  By imparting those values and how they influence strategy, that can create leadership principles or operating heuristics. In this domain a best guess or try is called upon because there is no clear or definitive approach that can be ascertained.  As with the complex domain, minimizing the risk is an important factor and the risks are even larger here with so many unknowns. 

Perhaps here more than others, it is important to very closely observe, track progress and activity, and learn what happens to then derive patterns and preferred approaches.

-Summary-

As a strategist is immersed in different domains and circumstances, the needs for more thoughtful and thorough organizational development and effectiveness activities grows significantly.  Particularly in complex and chaotic domains, devoting significant time and resources to maximizing the brain power, dedication, and diligence around the strategic activity and implementation becomes chiefly important.  The more challenging a domain may be the bigger the potential risks and the rewards.  Will you be one to take on the biggest challenges or simply watch others? 

-References-

The Wikipedia article and image were both taken from the http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cynefin site.

May 24, 2011

The Evergreen Model: The gateway strategy model as an assessment


-Introduction-

In my previous blog article, I introduced the Evergreen Model, which is also known as the 4 + 2 Model.  This article will dive into how to use the model as an assessment for internal or external consulting purposes.   There are sets of questions should be expanded upon during an assessment’s data gathering. 

-Assessing the Core Elements-

Strategy Questions-

  1. What is the organization’s strategy aiming to achieve?
  2. Describe how it is organized, aligned, and implemented.
  3. How does the organization grow?  What is the track record?  What are the future plans?
  4. What is the value proposition to customers?

 

Execution Questions-

  1. Rate and describe the organization’s product and/or service delivery.
  2. What is done to continually improve delivery? How does that compare to the industry?
  3. How does the organization respond to changing market conditions?
  4. How satisfied are customers?

 

Culture Questions-

  1. Describe the organizational culture.  What is valued and sought after?
  2. How are the desired behaviors reinforced (reward/punishment)?
  3. What were the founding principles of the organization?
  4. Where and how do the founding principles show through?

 

Structure Questions-

  1. How are employees organized? What are the accountability relationships?
  2. What is the information flow like? 
  3. How are decisions made and carried out?
  4. Does the structure enable work to be done at higher quality, faster, and/or with fewer resources?

 

-Assessing the Auxiliary Elements-

Talent Questions-

  1. What is done to develop and cultivate the employees?
  2. How happy are the employees?  What is the attrition and retention like?
  3. How engaged are the employees?  Do they enjoy the work, find it interesting and thrive in the challenges?
  4. What are the selection and promotion processes?  What is leadership’s involvement there?

 

Innovation Questions-

  1. How are new ideas incorporated into new and existing products, services, and operations?
  2. How does the organization stay on top of industry developments?
  3. What does the organization do to innovate?  How successful is the organization at innovating?

 

Leadership Questions-

  1. How does leadership interact with employees?  How is the leadership committed to execution?
  2. What is the vision and mission that employees hear from leadership?
  3. What is the relationship between employees and leadership like (trusting, inspirational, proud, etc.)?
  4. How invested is leadership to the success of the organization?

 

Mergers & Partnerships Questions-

  1. How does the organization work with other organizations?  Are there M&As or partnerships?
  2. What is the size and scope of these deals and partnerships?
  3. How effectively do the M&A deals go through (before and after)?
  4. How effectively do the organizations and partners work together?

 

With the Auxiliary Elements, it may be necessary to first determine which the two selections are or what should be the two selections.  Each element can lead to substantial organizational efforts, so finding where to focus efforts can help ensure an organization is not spreading itself too thin.  The Auxiliary Elements can form sustainable competitive advantages as well. 

-Analyzing Results and Next Steps-

The analysis should look for themes and patterns in the following aspects:

  • Consistency
  • Alignment
  • Conflicts
  • Gaps
  • Support

 

A traditional SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats) analysis could be done as well.  Other questions that should be examined include:

  • What is the core like in relation to the auxiliary areas?
  • What are the best and worst auxiliary areas?
  • What are the chosen two auxiliary areas, if it’s not already known?
    • What should they be?
    • What needs to change?

 

The exact next steps would be dependent on the question results.  Each element, both in the core and the auxiliary sets, could result in further investigation and targeted initiatives.  Here are some general guidelines to act upon:

  • The core 4 are absolutely vital.  These form the basis of a successful organization so those would have prioritized action.
  • Choose the 2 auxiliary options, if it is not already clear.  Then focus and refine those to make them core competencies of the organization. 
  • The SWOT analysis should lend itself to combinations of Strengths (S), Strengths and Opportunities (SO) and Strengths and Threats (ST) to overcome the Weakness (W) areas.

 

These questions and analysis points can give you a great start into determining how effective the 4 core and 2 selected elements are in an organization.  Share how your assessments go and what other tools and techniques are useful complements!

April 24, 2011

McKinsey 7S Model: A strategic assessment and alignment model


-Introduction-

The 7S model is a strategic model that can be used for any of the following purposes:

  • Organizational alignment or performance improvement
  • Understanding the core and most influential factors in an organization’s strategy
  • Determining how best to realign an organization to a new strategy or other organization design
  • Examining the current workings and relations an organization exhibits

 

The model, made famous by the McKinsey consulting company, is good for a thorough discussion around an organizations activities, infrastructure, and interactions.

-The model and its usage-

Here is the 7S model that portrays seven elements of an organization.

 

I define the elements as follows:

Strategy – This is the organization’s alignment of resources and capabilities to “win” in its market.

Structure – This describes how the organization is organized.  This includes roles, responsibilities and accountability relationships.

Systems – This is the business and technical infrastructure that employees use on a day to day basis to accomplish their aims and goals.

Shared Values – This is a set of traits, behaviors, and characteristics that the organization believes in.  This would include the organization’s mission and vision.

Style – This is the behavioral elements the organizational leadership uses and culture of interaction.

Staff – This is the employee base, staffing plans and talent management.

Skills – This is the ability to do the organization’s work.  It reflects in the performance of the organization.

 

To assess each of these elements, here are some questions to ask:

Strategy –

  • What is the organization’s strategy seeking to accomplish?
  • How does the organization plan to use its resources and capabilities to deliver that?
  • What is distinct about this organization?
  • How does the organization compete?
  • How does the organization adapt to changing market conditions?

Structure –

  • How is the organization organized?
  • What are the reporting and working relationships (hierarchical, flat, silos, etc.)?
  • How do the employees align themselves to the strategy?
  • How are decisions made? Is it based off of centralization, empowerment, decentralization or other approaches?
  • How is information shared (formal and informal channels) across the organization?

Systems –

  • What are the primary business and technical systems that drive the organization?
  • What and where are the system controls?
  • How is progress and evolution tracked?
  • What internal rules and processes does the team utilize to maintain course?

Shared Values –

  • What is the mission of the organization?
  • What is the vision to get there?  If so, what is it?
  • What are the ideal versus real values?
  • How do the values play out in daily life?
  • What are the founding values that the organization was built upon?

Style –

  • What is the management/leadership style like? How do they behave?
  • How do employees respond to management/leadership?
  • Do employees function competitively, collaboratively, or cooperatively?
  • Are there real teams functioning within the organization or are they just nominal groups?
  • What behaviors, tasks and deliverables does management/leadership reward?

Staff –

  • What is the size of the organization?
  • What are the staffing needs?
  • Are there gaps in required capabilities or resources?
  • What is the plan to address those needs?

Skills –

  • What skills are used to deliver the core products and/or services? Are these skills sufficiently present and available?
  • Are there any skill gaps?
  • What is the organization known for doing well?
  • Do the employees have the right capabilities to do their jobs?
  • How are skills monitored, assessed, and improved?

 

Once the questions are answered, the data should be examined.  The analysis should look for the following aspects:

  • Consistency
  • Alignment
  • Conflicts
  • Gaps
  • Support
  • Strengths
  • Weaknesses

The uses of the model can be as a static picture to determine how effectively the organization is implementing its strategy.  Also, it can be used two-fold with a current state and an intended future state.  By comparing the current and future states, gaps can be assessed, which lead to improvement and action plans.  That latter case makes enables the model to be used for large scale change.

-Summary-

Like any model, there are good fits and poor fits.  This is a handy model for taking a snapshot and comparing that to the desired state or improvement.  It visually shows how everything is linked and understanding the larger implications of change can be very revealing.  It is much like how a general doctor can help diagnose a patient’s situation, but the fine-tuned skill of a surgeon can be used to make the specific, desired changed. 

Update:

Read more about how to leverage a McKinsey 7S Model assessment on my follow up article McKinsey 7S Model: Progressive change.

Sources:

This article’s content was based on http://www.themanager.org/models/7S%20Model.htm, http://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/newSTR_91.htm, and my experience and opinions.

March 17, 2010

The 3 Horizons of Growth: A Consultative Approach


-Introduction-

In an earlier article of the Organizational Strategist, I wrote about the 3 Horizons of Growth strategic model (link here). This model segments an organization’s innovation pipeline into three parts (Operational, Entrepreneurial, and Futurist).  It’s based on the Alchemy of Growth book, by authors Mehrdad Baghai, Stephen Coley, and David White, which can be used for both creating an organization’s innovation pipeline strategy and assessing its health. This article will be delving into how to assess the measure of health in each horizon.

-Assessing the 3 Horizons of Growth-

These questions are built upon the foundational questions in the Alchemy of Growth. I customized them to fit my style preferences and organizational focus.

Operational Horizon Questions

  • Is the organization generating enough earnings & cash to invest in growth?
  • Has market share been stable or growing?
  • Has operating performance been stable?
  • Is there a strong performance orientation to drive profit in the next few years?
  • Is the organization’s cost structure competitive with the industry?
  • Is the organization reasonably safe from new competition, technology, or regulations that could change the industry?

Entrepreneurial Horizon Questions

  • Are there any new products or services capable of creating as much economic value as the Operational horizon’s product and service mix?
  • Is the organization comfortable making a substantial investment to speed new growth?
  • Is there mounting investor and stakeholder confidence in the new opportunities?
  • Are the new opportunities attracting entrepreneurial talent into the organization?
  • Are the new products and services gaining momentum in the market?

Futurist Horizon Questions

  • Does the leadership team dedicate enough time to think about growth opportunities and industry evolution?
  • Has the organization developed a rich portfolio of prospects for reinventing existing and/or creating new opportunities?
  • Is the organization developing attractive ways to turn the opportunities into new revenue streams or funding mechanisms?
  • Have these ideas been made into concrete, measurable steps?
  • Are or will these new ideas markedly different from those on last year’s list? Three years ago? Five years ago?

Determine the health of each Horizon by getting one or more knowledgeable organization employees to answer the questions candidly and completely. For a horizon to be healthy, the majority of the questions in that horizon should be responded to with favorable remarks. I’ve ordered the questions by importance. The initial questions influence whether or not the horizon is considered healthy more so than the following questions. The Operational horizon is the most needed area for the short term efforts of the organization. The Entrepreneurial horizon is the most necessary area for upcoming developments and to maintain the Operational core of the organization over time and as the industry evolves. The Futurist horizon is the vital element for the organization to harness distant possibilities and adapt to market volatility. Ideally all will be very healthy. If none are healthy, the organization is likely to die.

The different blends of some horizons being healthy while others are unhealthy each have challenges and opportunities. There’s too much to go into in this short article, but suffice it to say that the Alchemy of Growth book explores all of the assessment outcomes with helpful descriptions of what is at risk, what can be harnessed, and the direction the organization should take to improve.

-Summary-

Strategic models are tools. They can be used to create and to deconstruct. A hammer can pound in nails to build a structure or pry up nails to reassess and realign. The 3 Horizons of Growth framework is straightforward and powerful. It is easy to use for clear communication, yet can lead to very in-depth and valuable dialogue. Additionally, as noted in this article, it can be used to assess the thoroughness and completeness of an organization’s innovation pipeline. Through these uses the 3 Horizons of Growth is well suited for inclusion in an organizational strategist’s cache.

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