It is that time of the year when you typically conduct planning session with your teams. I just came from one that I facilitated a week ago. I would like to share the planning methodology that we used. This planning process that I am going to share with you is nothing new and nothing that I came up with. You can find a lot of planning methodologies out there, if you Google it.
It is important to understand the current situation and needs that your organization has in a particular point in time, and then use it to tailor your planning process.
It is important that your team understands the entire planning process—what it is that you are trying to accomplish and what are the expected deliverables. I usually allot an adequate portion of the planning meeting to explain the “tailored” planning methodology. At this particular instance, I started out by showing the team the atlas of the universe; then the solar system; and then a picture of our planet earth; then I showed the a picture that represents our company or the business enterprise that we belong to; and finally, a box with an arrow going upward. I told the team, “that box represents us.” I explained why.
Mission and Vision
The box represents us—our mission and vision as an organization (see diagram below). Our mission defines our purpose— what is in and what is out. It represents, in the broadest sense, who we are. The vision is where we want to be as a group in a period of time in the future. The arrow from where we are now (point a) to where we want to be (point b) represent the shortest path to achieving our vision.
Our group had the opportunity to define our vision in our planning session last year, so that was something that we carried on and will carry on in the next couple more years. It is an input to this year’s planning process.
It is important to know where you are at the multi-year planning cycle to best tailor your team’s planning process for that particular year.
Last year, the first year of our planning cycle, we did the following:
- Invited key stakeholders of the company to speak to us about the business strategy, their expectations and needs.
- Gathered customer feedback from different forums and channels.
- Analyzed operative and project results from previous years.
- Conducted a team discussion around organizational concerns.
- Identified and discussed our Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats as a team.
- Established our vision for the next 4 years- articulated in a vision statement.
- Define our objectives and goals for the first year.
All the things that we accomplished in our planning session last year were used as inputs. We also analyzed the relevancy of some of our foundational objectives.
After reviewing the inputs from last year, the next thing that we did as a group was to do the “look back”. We talked about the operative and project successes from the past year. It was important to identify lessons learned and to convey key messages that align to the overall company direction and strategy. We had the team present those success stories by relating their experiences and journey.
Balance Scorecard and Strategy Mapping
To articulate our P&IT strategy we decided to use the time tested Balanced Scorecard approach and complemented it with Strategy Mapping. The Balance Scorecard, created by Robert Kaplan and David Norton, is one of the most popular and comprehensive tools for defining strategy and reporting performance in executing that strategy. This approach forces you to classify key measures and objectives used in your organization according to the four main perspectives— customer, financial, business process/ internal services, learning and growth. The key questions that we answered were:
- Financial – To succeed financially, how should we appear to our stakeholders?
- To achieve our vision, how should we appear to our customers?
- To satisfy our stakeholders and customers, at what services must we excel and what projects must we deliver?
- To achieve our vision how will we sustain our ability to change and improve?
The next complementary step is the mapping and analysis of the foundational objectives identified in the Balance Scorecard using Strategy Mapping techniques. By mapping how different objectives relate to one another, leaders can clearly see how to accomplish the stated objectives and how each one relates to the other. Many of those relationships go in a natural path from learning and growth to internal processes, to customer, finally to financial. To illustrate this concept, please refer to the diagram below. The blue boxes represent the identified foundational objectives classified in all four Balance Scorecard concepts. Then by relating those objectives based on causal linkage you form a story—your story, your strategy. In this strategy, the story goes:
You believe that by improving team culture, it is going to improve service delivery. And by improving service delivery, you believe that you will have more satisfied customers. And finally with improved service delivery and improved customer satisfaction you optimize IT cost. How those objectives flow and link represents your strategy.
After we defined and agreed on a strategy and with it the foundational objectives, the next step is the most tedious and difficult step of the entire planning process. It is the actual definition of departmental, team, and individual objectives. When you get to the point when you start identifying what you need to do to accomplish the strategy, real work begins. The team needs to have a clear understanding of the strategy, the role of their department/team and their individual role in making it happen.
- The first step is to break foundational objectives into departmental objectives. You can do this using a breakout session.
- Teams within their departments identified next level objectives and initiatives that they are responsible for.
- It is important to identify not only the initiatives/actions but also the measure and target by which the performance of the action will be measured.
In this process the common SMART method comes in handy. Your objectives have to be Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Timely.
Finally, you have your mission and vision; you have your strategy and a detailed game plan (objectives) on how to bring your goals to fruition. The next challenge is to make it happen. I believe that the planning process does not stop after the initial planning process, which to me is the annual planning meeting. It is an ongoing process throughout the year. I like to borrow a term PMI uses- “progressive elaboration”. As you go through the year, you monitor and control the execution of the plan, as well as the changes to it. As you progress through the year, you will gain more information, priorities might change, and business requirements might change– you progressively elaborate your plan aligned to the business and IT strategy.
I attended a manager’s training program this week that my company organized. To be honest, I thought I would not encounter many new things, as I have participated in similar programs in the past already. I was wrong. One of the modules centered on leadership. I learned about improving leadership skills and effectiveness by focusing on specific leadership aspects. What resonated to me personally were the personal, relational and inspirational aspects of leadership that I often overlook. It helped that one of our program facilitators who shared about leadership, a seasoned HR director leader himself, gave personal stories from his own experiences that allowed me to see leadership through those aspects and ponder my own realization.
“I do not like that man. I must get to know him better.” – Abraham Lincoln
“Leadership is personal”, our facilitator passionately said and repeated. He took his statement to heart when he shared a lot of personal accounts about himself in the office and at home (about family) to demonstrate the personal dimension of leadership. I thought it was brilliant and the only way to bring the message across with effectiveness. What I learned is that— leadership is personal. It starts and ends with people following you because you are credible and you gained their trust. I have worked with the same boss since 2004, when I was assigned to participate in a business integration project in Europe. It is kind of strange how I call my boss and how he calls me—“my friend”. Because of working together for so long, you gained that level of trust and relationship. I see him as my personal leader and probably one of the reasons why I have been working in the same company for about 15 years now. Personal Leadership is about developing and projecting your leadership capability; being real; and demonstrating dedication. He embodies that. Personal leadership is the best way to gain credibility, loyalty and trust. As a leader you gain trust by demonstrating concern and understanding.
Ralational and Inspirational Leadership
“The greatest glory in living lies not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.” – Nelson Mandela
“Leadership is like a contact sport”, our HR Director facilitator asserted in one of our discussions. He gave a lot of references to professional and collegiate sports, as to how coaches, as leaders, motivate and inspire their players and teams to achieve the best. I learned that leadership aspiration is not always about winning that championship trophy at the end of a tournament. It is about the inspiration and the motivation to have given the best effort possible—to leave every sweat and blood on the court. Our instructor showed us a 10 year old video, where NBA coach Mo Cheeks, then coach of the Portland Trailblazer, gave Natalie Gilbert a little help singing the national anthem. There is an American awareness for great performances of the National Anthem at sporting events. But for sheer inspirational impact, it’s hard to top what happened on April 27, 2003. This is a story of leadership, an example of humility, compassion and humanity. A tale of how one man, who decided in a few seconds, to help a girl sing the national anthem and inspiring millions by doing so.
What Mo Cheeks did expressed sentiments in the kind of message about leadership sports like basketball conveys. I think leadership has less to do with authority, punishment, rewards, and more to do with credibility, trust, empathy and love. If you think about it, if you have a professional career spanning 15 years or more (like me), the leaders who have motivated and inspired you, are the ones who made the most personal connection with you. There is vast untapped potential within organizations and communities to collectively perform at a level substantially greater when they have the right leadership. How can I consistently bring the best in my people? The answer is having an engaged team. How can you have an engaged team? Start with personal leadership.
At the dinner table, my wife and I were talking about the piece she just published in her blog, The Red Sticks. She spoke about how she manages her time while raising our twin boys. You can read her whole post here — Dividing Time.
In summary, she mentions five important things to remember:
1. It is okay not to be able to do everything.
3. Don’t forget me time.
4. Use your kid’s downtime to your advantage.
5. Enjoy your kids.
Although the post was written with parents — particularly Moms — in mind, these lessons can be applied to one’s personal and professional life. No wonder she is doing a great job with the boys and on top of this, she is still able to do her personal stuff (like writing).
We discussed how her tips in managing her time at home can apply in business and this is what we came up with:
- It’s okay not to be able to do everything. This is true in business as well. You can’t possibly do everything. If you insist on trying, then most likely you will just get frustrated and miss more important tasks and goals.
- Prioritize. This is about making the best use of your limited time and resources when demands are seemingly limitless. Your day only has a limited number of hours. This is the same for your week, your month, your year, etc. There is a maximum number of things that you can possibly do (with good quality) in a period of time— therefore, you need to prioritize.
- Don’t forget me time. “Me time” at work is the time you dedicate to developing yourself. Identify areas of improvement in your skills and capabilities. Talk to your boss and your peers to get feedback and continue to improve yourself. Part of accountability is continuous self-improvement. Not only do you look at what you’re already good at but also what else you can improve on.
- Use your downtime to your advantage. Obviously, there are times at work when things are toxic — everything needs to be done right away and deadlines overlap. However, there are also down times. There are two ways you can make use of your office down times. First, you can schedule your vacation at this time and make sure you maximize the number of days you go on leave. The other way is is through extracurricular activities in at work such as organizing a community outreach and writing in the newsletter. If there are opportunities for you to use or exhibit your talents, then volunteer.
- Enjoy your work. Look forward to it everyday and think of having fun. Try not to see work as work but as an opportunity to learn something or mentor someone. You will see how it will impact your productivity!
So who says managers can’t learn from Moms? This post is a perfect example. After all, our Moms are probably our first “managers”.
Photo courtesy of Stuart Miles.
We were in the supermarket today and my wife asked me to get a bottle of laundry detergent. She did not specify the brand, so without “thinking”, I picked up the one that I usually buy— Woolite. This reminded me of a book I was just reading.
Why I Picked Woolite?
The other night, I read that “brand choice (is a) predominantly subconscious, memory-based process that follows a fixed algorithm.” The ideas in the book challenged me to rationalize my selection process a bit – something I usually don’t do. I recognized that my selection of Woolite was not really based on a conscious effort, i.e. getting more facts about the product, reading the specifications, thinking about our past experiences with the product and comparing it with other brands in the store. The truth is, Woolite simply came to mind as the preferred option and I chose it. Any conscious deliberation process which could have vetoed this choice came later.
Now that I think about it, there are two simple reasons why I chose Woolite over the others. First of all, the brand name itself – Woolite – suggests that the product is not harsh and is sensitive to clothes. These are features of a laundry detergent that I value. Secondly, the white packaging seems to elicit the same meaning. So I really wasn’t buying Woolite because of its specifications. I was buying it due to a perception I had from its name and packaging. It was a subconscious choice. A choice I have been making for a couple of years now!
Do You Know Why You Buy Apple Products?
Once, a friend of mine posted a question on Facebook – asking about the difference between an iPhone, iPod, iPad and the about-to-be-launched iPad Mini. One of his friends answered that it was the size – arguing that most of these products’ functions are very similar. In fact, most of the apps you use across different Apple devices are the same.
True isn’t it?
So why do so many of us own an arsenal of all those gadgets, if they really mostly do the same things? Think about the last time you bought an Apple product. Do you know why you selected this brand versus others in the market?
Branding with Brains
The book I mentioned earlier, entitled “Branding with Brains” by Tjaco Walvis, offers a good explanation. “You can rationalize with hindsight, but the fact is our brains make these decisions without really thinking about it,” wrote Walvis. “This is why successful brands appeal to customers on the basis of emotional association, images and experiences rather than just on the back of their product specification.” As one Harley-Davidson executive describes in this book’s convention-shattering case studies, “We don’t sell motorbikes. What we sell is the ability for a 43-year old accountant to dress in black leather, ride through a small town and have people be afraid of him.”
Buy and read the book, you might just find yourself rationalizing your buying behavior just like me!
Photo courtesy of Cogs and Gears
I have always been fascinated about how developed countries excel in the Olympics. In the recently concluded summer games in London, 6 countries from G8 were in the top ten of the medal standings. Do countries’ economies have anything to do with how their athletes fair in games? Absolutely! How?
Allow me to use some project management concepts to explain.
Portfolio Management – Strategy in Sports and Funding
Obviously, developed countries have more resources, i.e. money, to invest in sports development and therefore, more and better sports programs translate to more chances of success. The U.S. Olympic Committee shelled out close to $250 million in 2008 to help American athletes win 110 medals in Beijing. That is a huge investment in a national sports program (and this excludes funding coming from corporate sponsorship for more popular teams). The portfolio managers — or I should say Olympic committee leaders — determine goals, value indicators and programs that can help fulfill its overall sports goal. The sports’ governing body is responsible for allocating the investment into programs that has the potential for more success. They monitor aggregate performance, track spending and measure value of results.
These are the types of decisions that sports leaders have to make as part of portfolio management.
- How much is allocated for sports programs we already excel in so as to maintain success?
- How much is allocated for developing sports with the best potential for future success?
- How much is allocated for improving equipment and facilities?
- How much is allocated for the athletes’ rewards program and development program in general?
Program Management – Managing Sports Programs
A program, according to PMI, is a group of related projects managed in a coordinated way so as to obtain benefits and control not available from managing them individually. Let’s use the USA basketball program as an example. The objective of the program is to return USA to dominance in basketball. Previously, the USA team failed to win the 2002 FIBA World Championship and finished with bronze at the Athens Olympics. Jerry Colangelo was appointed as the director of the USA basketball program in 2005. He redefined the entire basketball program with the intention of coping with the increasing competition from other countries like Russia, Spain and Argentina. This current USA basketball program was projected to take 6-8 years with the objective of qualifying for the Olympics and winning Beijing and London. The USA basketball program has an even large scope and that is, to promote basketball globally.
The program manager, in this example, Jerry Colangelo is responsible for developing the overall program plan and creating high level plans for a detailed execution at the component level. The component level items are the projects.
Project management – Preparation and Games Participation
Now let’s break down the USA basketball program into projects.
- Assemble the team and train (no longer ad-hoc collection of NBA stars)
- Participate in qualifying tournaments (players projected to participate in main events for continuity)
- Participate in the basketball tournament (with the objective of winning the gold medal)
As you can see, we dissected the basketball program into three main projects. A project, according to PMI, is a temporary endeavor undertaken to create a unique product, service or result. It has a defined beginning and end and therefore a defined scope and resources. Colangelo appointed Mike Krzyzewski (Coach K) as the USA basketball coach. Essentially making him the project leader of the components of the basketball program we listed above.
This example illustrates how portfolio management helps manage a collection of programs and projects to achieve a strategic objective. The main goal of portfolio management is to maximize the value of the portfolio by the careful management of its components—the constituent programs and projects. Countries with resources to invest in sports programs and with the leadership to guide the program through have the advantage over others.
I drive to work five times a week…. I want to come home safe and sound everyday.”
I just participated in a Leadership Safety Program and as expected, I came out a little more passionate about safety. In each section of the two-day program, we were asked to write down action plans. The template asked us to identify: Actions, Challenges or Barriers, Solution to Challenges or Barriers, and Resources.
The very first one I wrote is the simplest one, but the hardest one to do.
- Action: No phone calls, no emails, no text, no social media while driving.
- Challenges/Barriers: Deep-rooted habit hard to break.
- Solution to Challenges/Barriers: Make safety personal, Just do it!
- Resources: Support from peers and family.
This action plan is easier said than done. Yes, there are reminders everywhere. AT&T is currently running an ad campaign against texting while driving that is so authentic and moving. Still, all my years of driving and using my phone at the same time has made me believe that nothing is going to happen to me. Experiences foster beliefs; beliefs influences actions; and actions produce results. The result — my bad habit of using my phone while driving.
Breaking the Habit
The biggest takeaway that I got from the program is how to make safety personal. I am convinced that making safety more personal is the solution. I decided to start breaking my habit yesterday. I called my boss before I physically left my office to wrap-up the business of the day. In the parking before leaving, I called my wife and asked her if she needed something. I told her I will be driving with my phone silent and in the car compartment. I will be unreachable for 30 minutes, and will see just her at home.
I drive to work five times a week. My family expects me to come home. I have a wife and two sons — two beautiful sixteen month-old twin boys. The story of how we had our first kids after nine years of marriage is a long one. So these boys are extra special and long-awaited. I dream of playing basketball with them when they grow up . I dream of travelling with them to places my wife and I have been to. I look forward to teaching them how to run, bike and swim. The best part of my day is when I come home. As soon as the boys hear me open the door, they drop whatever they’re doing and come rushing to me. It is the best feeling in the world. I want to be able to do all those things with them and for them. I want to come home safe and sound everyday.
Bad habits and false sense of security are main reasons why people behave unsafely.
Photo courtesy of adamr and video from AT&T
I don’t know if it’s just a coincidence but it was the first time we flew Continental, under United name and we had a bad overall customer experience.
I have been a loyal customer of Continental Airlines for many years now. My family and I use it for all our vacation and business travels. Although I could find other airlines offering more competitive air fares, I would still choose Continental. I have always found comfort and satisfaction flying Continental. The merger of United Airlines and Continental was announced in 2010. This union formed the largest airline in the nation, under the name United. I still patronized Continental during the post merger transition. I was remarkably surprised that they had maintained the consistency of their service level. I continued to be a very happy customer.
Last week, my family traveled to California for vacation. Of course, we chose to travel Continental. This time, the name on the plane was noticeably changed to United. Also, it said “Premier Access” on my boarding pass instead of the usual “Elite Access”. I expected our flying experience to be the same or better. A merger of two companies usually means the best practices of both established firms are retained. The outcome is usually the best of both companies.
I was wrong…
I flew back to Houston from Ontario, California last Monday. My wife and our twin infant boys were travelling with me. As can be expected when travelling with two infants, we had a bulky stroller with lots of baby stuff (formula, diapers, the works) in preparation for the three-hour flight.
What would you expect when boarding a plane with kids or infants? My expectation is to have a bit of consideration — maybe priority boarding. I understand that first class goes first (they paid for it), then military and passengers needing assistance — typically those in wheelchairs. But aren’t people with strollers and infant children also in need of assistance?
We were in boarding group 5. I don’t know if it was just me or because of the experience, but I feel bad about the number tag on priority boarding. This was printed prominently on the boarding pass. So groups 1 to 4 board before us. Usually, it does not matter to me if I were to board last; but since I am travelling with my twin babies, it certainly mattered now. I want them to be comfortable. So it became more personal.
More than half of the passengers were already boarded and we were still waiting for our group 5 to be called. My wife went to ask the gate service attendant because normally, in any flight (and not just with Continental), the people with infants were among the first to be boarded. But she got an unfriendly response and told to just get out of the way and wait for our group to be called. During our actual boarding, I asked the same attendant and got the same rude response.
I don’t know if it’s just a coincidence but it was the first time we flew Continental, under United name and we had a bad overall customer experience.
Here is another…
Arriving in Houston, we got our baggage and were surprised to see that one of our bags had a broken handle. The handle was destroyed in such a way that you could no longer use the luggage. It was a relatively new bag that we bought last January. It was only the second time that we used it.
We went to the United Baggage Service office in the airport. We were attended to and were given a reference number and a claim number. We were given a contact number and instructed to call it for follow-up and further assistance.
My wife called the number later, only to be referred to another office. That office asked her to call the United office at the airport instead but could not give her the contact information. On Monday, after we got home from the airport, she had received an email from the claim case that was filed and on it was contact information. She called that number and was told that the case was closed and she should call the United office at the airport if she had questions. At this point, my wife had to use a search engine to find another contact number for the Baggage Service office of United Airlines and get a clearer response to the status of our bag damage claim. She had to talk to several people and was passed on to several offices giving her conflicting information about the case. They damaged our bag and we had to go through all these just to get an answer that the claim is still in process. So far no resolution to it yet!
As you can imagine, this was such a frustrating experience for us flying United. The front-office customer experience was already bad and the after flight back-office service was just as bad!