‚ÄúAll executives know that strategy is important. But almost all also find it scary, because it forces them to confront a future they can only guess at. Worse, actually choosing a strategy entails making decisions that explicitly cut off possibilities and options.‚ÄĚ
‚Äď Roger L. Martin
For those of you in the business of shaping and steering your ventures, but haven’t come across Roger Martin and his work on strategy, you may be well-served to check it out.¬†Martin is the former dean of the prestigious University of Toronto‚Äôs Rotman School of Management and an adviser to CEOs on strategy, design, innovation, and integrative thinking. He is a coauthor (with A.G. Lafley, CEO of Procter and Gamble) of Playing to Win: How Strategy Really Works (Harvard Business Review Press, 2013). We’ll have a post on the book, itself, coming up.
This month, Roger Martin’s article,¬†The Big Lie of Strategic Planning, is posted free on HBR’s blog. It touches on common traps leadership fall into as they attempt to develop effective strategy for their organizations, and what to do, instead.
One of the key distinctions Martin makes is that creating a strategy is different – messier, and far less reassuring – than detailed strategic¬†planning. The detailed plan provides the executive with the illusion of control over multiple unknown futures. The downside, as Martin sees it, is that¬†‚Äúplanning typically isn’t explicit about what the organization chooses not to do, and why. It does not question assumptions.‚ÄĚ He continues: ‚ÄúYou need to be uncomfortable and apprehensive: True strategy is about placing bets and making hard choices. The objective is not to eliminate risk but to increase the odds of success.‚ÄĚ
I would qualify that while some of the symptoms described are specific to middle-market and large organizations (smaller ventures rarely have the resources to over-plan to the degree described), the essence of his advice cuts across all sectors and scale of business.
Idea in Brief
In an effort to get a handle on strategy, managers spend thousands of hours drawing up detailed plans that project revenue far into the future. These plans may make managers feel good, but all too often they matter very little to performance.
WHY IT HAPPENS
Strategy making is uncomfortable; it’s about taking risks and facing the unknown. Unsurprisingly, managers try to turn it into a comfortable set of activities. But reassurance won’t deliver performance.
Reconcile yourself to feeling uncomfortable, and follow¬†three rules:
Keep it simple. Capture your strategy in a one-pager that addresses where you will play and how you will win.
Don’t look for perfection. Strategy isn’t about finding answers. It’s about placing bets and shortening odds.
Make the logic explicit. Be clear about what must change for you to achieve your strategic goal.
Source: published both in the¬†January-February 2014 edition of Harvard Business Review pp 78-84, and on the HBR blog,¬†here.
- Gary Ralston
¬© 2014 Ralston Consulting Inc.
We believe this message is bigger than a single faith.
It speaks across cultures and creeds and diverse communities everywhere.
We are filled with gratitude for all of you in our circle – that you are in our lives.
May this fervent wish be realized for you, your family and your caring community.
In warmth and love and peace,
Ann and Gary
December 24, 2013
photo: Ann Ralston.
Last week a group of my dear friends and fellow students gathered in Newfane, Vermont to celebrate the 70th birthday of our teacher, mentor and friend, Robert Fritz.
Many of my clients and friends have only an inkling of the impact Robert’s work has had on my life *. But a few hold a deeper appreciation because of their own study of the Creative Process with Robert. As with writing a poem, composing a song or designing a garden, they are intentionally creating their own businesses, and their own lives.
I first met Robert at a Fundamentals of Structural Thinking workshop. (My exposure to his work was a happy accident. One of my coworkers was not able to attend, so I went to the workshop in her place!) During that first workshop, Robert introduced us to the creative orientation and structure through poetry and art, and through conversations with people about their lives and their businesses. He helped us begin to see the world in a different light.
Many people travel this life seeing only what they want to see, or standing in their values only when it is convenient for them. We all know people like this.¬†It‚Äôs the person who pretends everything is fine, so they don’t have to make a decision or take action. Maybe it‚Äôs the manager who ‚Äúlets‚ÄĚ a chronically late employee get by for one more day, because they don‚Äôt want to deal with the conflict. Or perhaps it’s the person who fears they will lose funding and fudges a glowing progress report when the reality is quite different.
It is avoiding, rather than creating, that shapes their lives.
That first workshop started me down a lifelong path of learning. It was the starting point for a profound journey of seeing the world, myself, and obligations, biases and assumptions (of myself and others) as they are. Believe you me, at times I’d like to have jumped off and taken an easier path.¬†Over the next 20 years, I traveled to many workshops to learn from Robert. Each time I experienced a deeper understanding of ‘structure’ – the forces in play, the underlying patterns and behaviors that drive people, processes, relationships, businesses, and ideologies. I learned how to better see these structures that play out in our organizations and in our lives. And each time, I found I could immediately apply what I had learned with our clients.
One of the ways we honed our skills was to consult our clients at the front of a room full of our peers. Robert was a demanding teacher, expecting more discipline and rigor of thinking than we thought possible! But he was always there at our elbow, asking questions that helped us see the implications and discrepancies in the story (and in our own thinking) that helped to deepen our understanding of the structure.
While I don‚Äôt have many photos from the workshops over the years, I have mental images of the people, the sessions and the learning. Images of:
- Dissecting movies, plays and poems to learn about story, contrast and composition. Then, making movies! Movie sets in the woods behind the house, our scavenger hunts for props, and Robert peering through the camera lens framing just the right shot.
- Robert cooking dinner for and with our Advanced Students in the love and warmth of the Fritz‚Äôs kitchen in Newfane.
- The celebrations of birthdays, and of many successful creations, in Robert and Rosalind’s garden overlooking the Vermont countryside.
- Robert in the living room of the old house in Williamsburg, on a snowy morning, sharing ‘the reciprocal equilibrium cycle‚Äô for the first time. (While this is jargon to many readers, it was truly profound learning). We heard excerpts of new books and saw rough cuts of new movies. We have been witness to and a part of the creation of a wonderful body of work that will continue to impact our lives and our world.
When I stand with my children in the face of very challenging choices, we can objectively explore our thinking and better understand real relationships, real choice, and freedom. Underneath those conversations is the guidance of Robert’s hand at my elbow‚Ä¶
When I stand in relationships with mates, friends and colleagues co-creating our futures, projects, organizations and communities, I know that Robert’s hand is again at my elbow, guiding, reminding me to think‚Ä¶ and rethink‚Ä¶ and to picture.
Throw a stone in a still pond and watch the ripples flow out and out. That‚Äôs the impact of Roberts work touching one person‚Äôs life. As each of my fellow students and I pass that touch through our clients, friends, families and beyond, the multitude of subtle shifts is creating a better world. A world based on values, based on personal integrity, and most importantly, where we are each the generative force in our own lives.
- Ann Ralston
¬† August 26, 2013
* Rosalind Fritz, Robert’s lovely wife, is also a dear friend, teacher and mentor. Rosalind is a master structural consultant and director of the Structural Consulting Certification Program. Together with Robert she leads workshops throughout North America and Europe.¬†She has had an amazing impact on my life as well, and I‚Äôd be remiss at this moment if I didn‚Äôt acknowledge her, too. (Thank you, Rosalind!)
¬© 2013 Ralston Consulting Inc.
We are delighted to be co-producing this very special gathering of truly amazing people from around the world. They are all traveling to Cincinnati, Ohio to deepen their understanding – and experience – of community, generosity and compassion.
We will learn from one another, as well as with our speakers, Peter Block, John McKnight, Angeles Arrien, Walter Brueggeman and Harrison Owen. ¬†Interwoven through this remarkable event are artists and their works, including musicians and other performers, from the local community and from abroad:
This is a larger conversation than can be dealt with here, but here is the gist of it. There can be no transformation without art. Art in the form of theater, poetry, music, dance, literature, painting, and sculpture. Communities by and large know this and invest heavily in the arts. Those who want to heal the wounds of a fragmented community initiate hundreds of art projects for those living on the margin. Art brings these voices into the mainstream. Most communities are proud of their arts tradition and rightly so.
If this is true for our larger communities, then it must be present each time we gather.
-¬†Peter Block. Community: The Structure of Belonging
We extend our warm welcome to all interested and involved in transformative community. We hope to see you very soon in Cincinnati!
- Ann Ralston
For those of you who wonder what we do…
- Ann Ralston
¬© 2013 Ralston Consulting Inc.
We are delighted to celebrate the success of our¬†client, Digital Opportunity Trust (DOT), an international social enterprise based in Canada. Since 2001 DOT has reached over 800,000 direct beneficiaries in Africa the Middle East and the Americas through its youth-led programs and network of over 4,000 local young leaders of change.¬†Today,¬†Janet Longmore, DOT’s founder, president and CEO has been selected by Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship as Social Entrepreneur of the Year 2013. In an interview with Janet, columnist John Geddes, with¬†Canadian publication, Macleans, puts the honor in perspective:
¬†”That‚Äôs Schwab as in Klaus Schwab, better known as the founder of the World Economic Forum, best known, in turn, for its annual Davos, Switzerland confab of global leaders. Schwab‚Äôs foundation is a prime promoter of businesslike ways of fighting poverty. So winning the Schwab award, beyond being a nice accolade, links Longmore‚Äôs group to an influential network. She spoke with Maclean‚Äôs about what it means, what DOT does, and the state of Canadian social entrepreneurship.” [more‚Ä¶]
Even as DOT receives this honor, it is setting out to tackle a really difficult problem plaguing Not-For-Profits everywhere: Many funding organizations are focused tightly on measurable program outcomes and responsible management of money awarded. This means that recipient organizations cannot build capacity for further innovation and growth – ironically, their success constrains their further growth.
Janet summarizes the challenge and DOT’s innovative solution in this brief, brilliant interview on CBC’s Lang and O’Leary Exchange‚Ä¶
¬†- Ann Ralston
¬© 2013 Ralston Consulting Inc.