Successful Supervisor 98 Know Your Purpose

October 21, 2018

It is essential for you to have a purpose for your work other than to put food on the table. We tend to lose sight of the meaning of life if we cannot articulate a clear purpose.

Let me clarify the difference between an individual’s purpose, values, mission and vision so you can appreciate the role that purpose plays for your life.

Purpose tells you WHY you are here

The formal definition of purpose is “something set up as an object to be obtained: intention.” Purpose represents a personal commitment for the highest calling of your being. Without a firm understanding of your purpose, your work loses relevance. The reason you get up and go to work each day is to fulfill your purpose.

It is important to be very specific and concrete with your purpose statement. Try to boil it down into the fewest number of words, so you can communicate it to others succinctly. If possible, I like to think in terms on one article (usually “To”) followed by one verb and one noun.

For my business, my purpose is “To grow leaders.” I believe that is why God put me on this earth and gave me the capabilities that I have.

Values form the FOUNDATION for everything you do

Values allow us to test the rightness of an action or thought. These important concepts about what life is supposed to be like were programmed into us long before we were able to walk and talk. Usually values come from our parents, but they are also shaped over time by other influences such as school, friends, church, experiences and other events that happen early in life.

For most of us, the set of values we obtained in our youth will remain with us the rest of our life. It is difficult to change a deep-seated value, and most people would not want to do so.

Our values form the LENS through which we view everything around us. Values are also highly culturally specific. For example, to bribe another person is not acceptable in some cultures and perfectly fine in others.

It is important to have your values clearly visible to you. Write them down and refer to them often. For best results, repeat daily.

Mission tells you WHAT you are doing now

Mission is important because you need to know exactly what you are trying to do now. It is similar to purpose, but more specific. Think about walking into your place of work and picturing exactly what you are trying to accomplish today. That is your mission. I believe that mission statements should be short and memorable. Let me share what I consider a good mission statement and then share one that is not so good.

Wegmans is a grocery chain that is based in Rochester, N.Y., where I live. Their mission is “Every day you get our best.” That makes a great mission because it tells all of the employees exactly what they are trying to accomplish on a daily basis.

Here is a mission statement that doesn’t work for me. “To establish beneficial business relationships with diverse suppliers who share our commitment to customer service, quality and competitive pricing.” The statement is so general that is gives the reader no idea what industry is involved, let alone the specific company. Actually, that is the mission statement for Denny’s. What? Where is the food?

Vision tells you WHERE you are going

The vision statement is strictly about where you are going in the future. It describes accurately the end state or objective you are working toward. A good vision pulls you in the direction you wish to go. Without a good vision there is little impetus to improve on the status quo.

Some people believe that a vision that has the possibility of not happening sometime in the future is a poor one. I disagree. Consider the early Federal Express Vision: “Absolutely positively overnight.” It is easy to see that there were some times when acts of God would prevent the company from doing this, but that did not make it a bad vision. They made a lasting organization around that compelling image.

Make sure you have these four concepts well documented for your life and your organization too. You will go much farther than you would go otherwise.

This is a part in a series of articles on “Successful Supervision.” The entire series can be viewed on http://www.leadergrow.com/articles/supervision or on this blog.

Bob Whipple, MBA, CPLP, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust. He is the author of four books: 1.The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals (2003), 2. Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online (2006), 3. Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind (2009), and 4. Trust in Transition: Navigating Organizational Change (2014). In addition, he has authored over 500 articles and videos on various topics in leadership and trust. Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations. For more information, or to bring Bob in to speak at your next event, contact him at http://www.Leadergrow.com, bwhipple@leadergrow.com or 585.392.7763


Successful Supervisor 88 Better Team Building

August 11, 2018

Much has been written about the various Team Building methods. Different consultants have their favorite exercises for helping groups of people work better together.

A common technique is to take a group off their normal site to do some outdoor experiential activities, like rock climbing or zip lining. These event-based team building exercises do get the attention of people, but I believe there is a better experiential activity that does a better job of knitting a team together.

Carve out some time to work on a strategic framework as a team. I had a whole section in my first book, “The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals,” where I described the process of taking a group of people through a strategy process so everyone on the team had a hand in designing the future.

For this short blog article, I will not describe the entire process, but I will outline and define the major parts of a strategy process and give some tips I have learned from facilitating numerous groups through the process of developing a strategy. Note, the order of the parts is important. The exercise has a kind of flow to it that helps the team bond.

Values – Start the process by documenting a set of values for the group. Everyone can suggest a few key values, so use an affinity process to distill down a list of 4-6 key values for the entire group.

Vision – Identify where the group intends to end up. As Stephen Covey stated, you need to begin with the end in mind to have a workable plan.

Mission – This is a short and very specific statement of what the group is trying to achieve right now. Avoid long lists of items, or management speak; keep it to the central idea of the group.

Behaviors – This step is frequently left out, and that is a big mistake. Identify specific behaviors that the team agrees to abide by. This helps when holding people accountable if they fail to live by the behaviors. Two examples of team behaviors might be 1) We will act like adults at all times, and 2) When we disagree, we will do it without being disagreeable.

SWOT – Brainstorm a list of the Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats for the group. The first two items are like looking at the group through a microscope, and the last two are like looking at the environment the group is operating in through a telescope.

Identify Needed Changes – What must change in order for the group to actually achieve the vision?

Identify the Strategies – How is the group going to achieve the needed changes in a timely manner? Here it is important to avoid having too many strategies. I believe five strategies at any one time is optimal. What you are doing is trying to focus the effort of the group on a few key drivers.

Specify the Tactics – Identify the specific actions that are required to accomplish the strategies. Who is going to do what and by when? Make sure the tactics are reasonable so people are not overloaded.

Identify measures – How is the group going to identify progress toward the vision? The measures must be expressed as SMART Goals. SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Assignable, Realistic, and Time-bound.

It is critical to get this work done quickly or the team will become frustrated by a long, drawn-out process over a number of months. I like to facilitate groups to develop their strategic plan in less than 8 hours duration. That may seem unrealistic, but I have developed a process that is actually quite doable with the proper preparation done ahead of time.

Creating a solid Strategic Framework is the best team building activity a team can do, because it engages everyone in creating an exciting future for the group.

This is a part in a series of articles on “Successful Supervision.” The entire series can be viewed on http://www.leadergrow.com/articles/supervision or on this blog.

Bob Whipple, MBA, CPLP, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust. He is the author of four books: 1.The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals (2003), 2. Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online (2006), 3. Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind (2009), and 4. Trust in Transition: Navigating Organizational Change (2014). In addition, he has authored over 500 articles and videos on various topics in leadership and trust. Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations. For more information, or to bring Bob in to speak at your next event, contact him at http://www.Leadergrow.com, bwhipple@leadergrow.com or 585.392.7763


Write Them Down

May 16, 2015

Writing businessmanAs I visit companies of all types and sizes, I am intrigued with the number of organizations that have not committed their strategy into written form. I ask if they have values, and often they start talking about honesty, integrity, customer focus, or employee satisfaction. I get some vague statements about ethics thrown in for good measure.

Then I ask where the values are written. Sometimes the leader can pull a dusty old paper out of a drawer where the items vaguely resemble what I was just told.

More often I am told the values are posted in the conference room and the break room. I go and look, and there is indeed a slightly-torn or smudged paper on the bulletin board.

If I ask the employees about them, they tell me “Oh yes, we have the values posted, but “they” do not follow them.” If the values are posted but not followed, they do more harm than good, because they serve as a reminder of the hypocrisy.

There are several organizations where the words are in the minds of the executives but not even written on paper, let alone implanted in the hearts of the employees where they can do some good.

The three simple rules with values are 1) write them down, 2) talk about them every possible chance, and 3) follow them. If you are missing any of these three steps, then you are forfeiting most of the power of having values in the first place.

The exact same discussion applies to the vision of an organization. If the vision is not committed to writing and included in discussions with employees, it loses its power to direct the daily activities of the population to move toward the future with confidence.

These two things are most important to write down, but I believe the entire strategy should be committed to written form. That would include the following things at a minimum: vision, mission, values, behaviors, strategies, tactics, and measures.

Many organizations make a production out of generating the strategy that the resulting tome is way too heavy for the employees to lift, let alone read and understand.

I usually reduce the entire strategic framework to a single sheet of paper. On the front side we have the vision, mission, values and behaviors.

On the reverse side there is neat array of the top 4-6 strategies (too many strategies defeats the purpose of focusing effort) along with a few major tactics for each strategy and precisely what measure we intend to use to track our progress for each tactic. I like to laminate the document as a way to indicate legitimacy.

Usually the entire process of developing the single sheet framework takes from 8-16 hours of interface time with a management team. That is enough time to engage everyone in the process and far less that the burdensome six to 18 month process that creates open hatred for the process among the staff.

If you drive an efficient and high energy process to create the strategy for your organization and commit the resulting framework to paper then you have a much higher chance of being a successful organization.


7 Tips for Better Strategies

July 6, 2013

marketing strategyIn my leadership development work, I am often called upon to help organizations with their strategic plans. The process is well known, and numerous facilitators are qualified to help organizations work through the process. This article outlines some of the mistakes I see organizations make and shares a typical “Strategic Framework” that I find very useful.

The typical mistake made by well-intended managers is to overdo the strategic process until it becomes an albatross rather than a means to focus effort. Here are seven signs that a strategic process is too complex.

1. Too many strategies

The idea of a strategic plan is to focus effort on the vital few tasks and put less emphasis on the trivial many. If the end product of a strategic plan is 23 different strategic thrusts, it is way too complex to be useful, even for a large organization. I urge teams to try to identify three to five strategic thrusts at any given time. The idea of having a “handful” of strategies is appealing because the total effort does not look or sound overwhelming. Sometimes groups will have six strategies, but more than that is going to get some pushback from me.

2. Too many meetings

A typical mistake is to set up sub teams and have a series of standing meetings to deliberate on the elements of the strategy. This process sounds logical, but it easily becomes a huge activity trap. I witnessed a college set up numerous strategy teams. They slaved in long meetings for over 18 months. When the strategy tome was issued, it resembled the IRS Tax code. There were so many details and overdone objectives that the entire effort basically sank under its own weight. When I work with groups, I try to get the entire strategy completed in one or two sessions (usually several hours each) and the documentation fits on the front and back side of a single sheet of paper. The trick to getting the most accomplished in the least amount of time is preparation. For example, I have the group vote offline ahead of time on candidate values from a list of about 50 possible ones. There is always the ability to go back and redo the strategy at a later date if things need to be added. The mistake many groups make is trying to get the thing perfect at the outset.

It has been said that a camel is a horse designed by a committee. Be careful to not make the strategic process into a series of social events or public debates. The job of creating a strategy can be streamlined without sacrificing buy in. One way to check if you are overdoing the number of meetings is to watch people’s eyes when you announce a strategic planning activity. If their eyes roll back, that is a good indication you are making the process too complex.

3. Wordsmithing

For some inexplicable reason, people see a compelling need to have the wording of things like mission statements be perfect and embraced fully by everyone. I think mutual buy in is laudable, but if you drag out the discussion of every word of every sentence until all parties are thrilled, the ship will sail without you. I have witnessed long passionate arguments by managers about whether to use “and” or “and/or” in a mission statement. Once the thing was finally cast in concrete, there was so much acrimony that the parties simply put the product away and forgot about the whole exercise.

Use the Pareto Principle when working on the wording. If we can agree on 80% of the concept, then we can have someone generate a straw man document offline and not tie up the entire group.

4. Confusing Tactics with Strategies

For every key strategy, there will be some tactics that allow achievement of the objective. Strategies are broad areas of focused effort that help an organization move toward its vision. Tactics are operational activities that collectively allow the strategy to be achieved. Strategies are the “what,” and Tactics are the “how.” Often groups put the “things to do” as the strategies rather than call them tactics. A trained facilitator knows how to avoid this pitfall.

5. Not including Team Behaviors

Many facilitators leave out this critical step. Teams need to have a set of expectations for the behaviors of team members. Reason: without specific expectations it is difficult to hold each other accountable for accomplishing the tasks. Strategies become a wish list of good intentions rather than high energy areas where we are truly going for the gold.

6. Inappropriate Measures

For every strategy there needs to be at least one measure, preferably more than one. There are two common problems with measures: 1) they can be activity traps where getting the data is way too burdensome, and 2) If set up incorrectly, measures can drive the wrong behaviors. Make sure the measures you establish are encouraging people to do things that truly do lead to fulfillment of the strategy.
For example, one group had a strategy to increase revenue. The measure they selected was number of sales calls. The sales force was only too happy to increase the number of sales calls in order to earn more bonus money; unfortunately, the added activity meant they were less effective at closing sales, so total revenue actually went down. The measure looked good, but the goal was not realized.

7. Failure to communicate the strategy

It is a crime that many groups pour energy into creating a nice strategic plan that then sits in the desks of the managers for years and is not operational in the everyday world of work. The documentation of a strategy is pointless unless it becomes active in the hearts and minds of every single person in the organization.
Leaders need to continually discuss the strategic elements and explain to people why their actions are consistent with the plan. For example, a leader might say, “We are putting on a third shift next month because our vision for growth cannot be achieved without a fully loaded factory, which is the number one strategy in our plan.”

I have developed a simple format for a strategic plan that works for most groups. It is appropriate for profit or non-profit organizations of all sizes. The document can be constructed in a day or two with the right preparation effort, and it really helps focus the activities of a group after the strategy is completed. I usually show the elements as two sides of a single sheet of paper, and I laminate it like a large card so it can be passed around without getting mangled. I personally prefer the single sheet of paper over the posters in the conference room. I believe it has more power.

Click this link to view the two-page Generic Strategy Document.

There are many different formats for strategic plans; the one above is my favorite because it conveys a lot of information in a small footprint. Whatever format you select, make sure it is user friendly to the people who need to internalize the strategy. The most important objective for strategic work is to focus energy, so avoid the mega process that seems to go on forever, and make your plans crisp and beneficial.


Maybe it’s Time for a New Foundation

March 16, 2013

FoundationWould you build a 30-room mansion on a foundation made for a small Colonial? Sometimes as organizations grow, they may no longer fit on the foundation that was perfect when they were a start up. An organization outgrowing its foundation is a frequent problem, and great leaders instinctively adjust the foundation for the size of the current business, ensuring a stable condition.

In my analogy, the foundation is the strategic plan for the organization. Every business needs an operating framework that includes the following things at a minimum: Values, Vision, Mission, Behaviors, SWOT, Goals, Strategies, Tactics, and Measures. Without these guiding premises for the business, it would be as useless and grotesque as a luxury cruise ship with no power or operational engine.

When organizations start out, they are often small groups of people who operate like a family. The procedures can be informal and communication is just raising one’s voice to be heard in the next cubicle. Customer focus is pretty easy, because everyone in the office can hear the phone conversation the service person is having with a customer in need. In this small business mentality, the foundation items mentioned above are easy to describe, but that does not mean they should be ignored. Some level of documentation of things like values and vision will help the young organization to survive the treacherous infant years and grow into adolescence.

In the subsequent paragraphs, I will use sales revenue as a surrogate for the size of an organization. That variable is one typical measure that is often used. Realize that there are many other factors that can require a change to an organization’s foundation. For example, a not for profit group may take on a new major activity. Another example is a volunteer organization deciding to change their model for meetings. Any fundamental change in conditions can create the need to re-examine the foundation documents.

When an organization reaches roughly $50M annual revenue, the old foundation no longer fits, because there is usually a new physical space, and communication has become much more complex as the size and staff of the entity grows. It is time to revisit and revise the strategic framework for the journey toward a larger organization. Trying to hang on to the operating rules that applied on starting up will be a formula that severely limits future growth.

Another significant shift occurs somewhere between $100M and $200M annual revenue. By that time, the organization is a fully operating business entity with all the advantages of size, but with all the complexities and bureaucratic pitfalls that beset a large organization. Once again, it is imperative when organizations go through this metamorphosis that the foundation be resized to work correctly. The operating realities of a large organization are vastly different from a mid-sized company, and the strategic framework must reflect these realities or the organization will suffer.

It is a best practice to review and modify an organization’s strategy about once a year to verify it is still configured correctly for the current business situation. Normally these reviews can be done quickly with emphasis only on what has changed since the last review. As the organization reaches certain milestones of size, however, it is time to take a deeper look and make a zero-based activity of the strategic review. This will allow the strategic plan foundation to match the current business reality.


Strategic Jargon

February 16, 2013

dentistDoes your strategic plan clarify or complicate? When organizations do a strategic plan, a bunch of specific words are used to describe the various pieces, but you would be surprised how those words are often used incorrectly. Many people hate to work on strategy because it is either eternal or terrifying, like going to the dentist. This problem fascinates me, because I do a lot of strategic work with corporations, not-for-profit groups, and educational institutions. I also teach strategic thinking at two universities. One cure for confusing strategic plans is to use the jargon correctly.

For example, it is common to have the mission and vision statements mixed. I have written about that problem and given some typical examples in another article entitled “Mission and Vision Essentials.” Another common sticking point is getting the strategy separated from the tactics. Strategy is the overarching way you are going to move from the current situation to the vision, and tactics are the detailed actions you will take to accomplish the strategy.

Most facilitators have an order they prefer when helping groups with strategy. I believe it is not essential to have a rigid pattern, but I generally prefer to start out with the values. Reason: Values are a kind of foundation upon which the other elements rest. To me, putting values late in the process feels like digging the foundation after the house is already constructed.

A key element in most strategic work is a SWOT analysis. SWOT stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats. This work is the basis for determining an intelligent strategy. It consists of two views of the organization. In the first view, we look through a “microscope” at the internal strengths and weaknesses of the current organization. The second view is looking through a “telescope” at the environment around the organization to determine the opportunities and threats.

The SWOT analysis can be a time consuming and very boring process. It does not need to be. Facilitators can move through this exercise by breaking up a large group into four subgroups for the exercise. The use of creative techniques, like giving a prize for the most novel idea, can keep the atmosphere light. Of course, like in any brainstorm activity, it is essential to have a “safe” environment where the ideas are just captured, but not critiqued during the session.

One technique that I like to use is a “two wave” approach to the ideas. Let’s suppose we just completed a 10 minute discussion of the “Opportunities” part of SWOT. I then will say something like this, “That is a really great list of opportunities. We could stop here, but I want to challenge the group.

Most of these ideas came quickly and were from the top of your minds. I am sure there are additional creative and dynamite ideas still lurking in the corners of your brains. Let’s take another 10 minutes and see if we can double the number of opportunities on our list.” That process brings out some highly creative ideas, because all the obvious ones have already been mentioned.

I do not use this technique for all sections of the SWOT, as that would get old. It works best for the opportunities section.

After doing a SWOT, it is possible to identify the overarching strategy and tactics. A mistake made by most organizations is to have too many strategic thrusts in the analysis. The reason for a strategic plan is to focus effort on the vital few activities. If you have 32 high priority strategies, you will have trouble making much progress. I encourage groups to narrow the analysis down to three strategies: perhaps four.

One additional activity that is extremely important, but often left out by groups, is to document the behaviors we expect of team members. Without specific behaviors stated in advance, it is difficult to hold people accountable for doing them.

I use a story to illustrate what the jargon on a strategic plan means. Sometimes this helps groups focus on the work and not get muddled up in the terminology. Here is a typical story I use for that.

I liken the strategic process to taking a trip. I want to go from New York City to Toronto. My mission is to have a safe and enjoyable trip. I am considerate and make sure people on the other end are aware of my plans (values). Reaching Toronto is my vision; I can see the skyline in my mind.
I now look at my resources: my late model car is a strength; the fact that the tires are almost bald is a weakness. I see on the map there are some excellent highways (opportunities) but also there is some potential bad weather on the way (threats). I need to select the route and timing wisely.

I decide which day to leave and the route to take (my strategy). The plan is to stay in Toronto three nights, because I have two days worth of business to conduct. My goal is to drive there in 10 hours. I know it is not possible to get there in 9 hours, and I am willing to accept up to 12 hours if there is construction or other delays. There are contingency plans associated with potential problems.

Then I figure out what things to pack, decide what time to leave, and buy two new tires (tactics). I monitor my progress and determine my gas mileage along the way (measures). For example, I know it is necessary to reach Buffalo by 1 pm to make my timing goal. I drive within the speed limit, am courteous to other drivers, and I stop frequently enough to not get over tired (behaviors). I have a very good chance of having a good trip, which was my original mission.

Now if I can only get those SOBs in Toronto to sign my contract, I will be fine. Hold on a minute; maybe that is worth some planning as well. Maybe my vision in the first place should have been more about a signed contract than about seeing the Toronto Skyline. For that, I need to make sure my strategy achieves the true purpose for the trip, and make sure all parts of the plan align with that objective. In this case, I would have been wise to state the vision was to get a signed contract, and the trip to Toronto was one of the strategies. Now my strategic plan would stand a better chance of getting me what I really need.

The process of creating a strategic plan is fairly straightforward, yet many groups get tripped up with all these strange words, and come up with a plan that looks good on paper but does not work well in the real world. That is a colossal waste of time. Make sure you have someone who knows what he or she is doing lead the activities when creating your strategic plan.


Get Mission and Vision Statements Right

February 10, 2013

VisionMost organizations have done some strategic planning work that includes generating a mission statement and vision statement. I am amazed how much confusion there is relative to these two simple concepts and how the quality of statements is all over the map. This article will untangle the mess and give examples to show the difference in quality.

There are huge differences between a mission statement and a vision statement, although some organizations try to combine them into one statement. Actually, I have seen several organizations that have a mission statement that is really a vision and a vision statement that is their mission. It does not kill the organization, but it can get really confusing, and since the role of these statements is to clarify rather than confuse, why not get it right?

The mission statement is always about current reality. It is what we are trying to accomplish every day at work. It tells people what is important now, and it is crystal clear about that. Let me share a good mission statement and a terrible mission statement.

Great Mission statement – for the Wegmans Grocery Chain – “Every day you get our best.”

Terrible Mission statement – “To establish beneficial business relationships with diverse suppliers who share our commitment to customer service, quality, and competitive pricing.”

The reason the first one is good is because it is short, memorable, and it actually tells people what is important to do today at work. If you work at Wegmans, you know exactly how to treat customers every day.

The second mission statement is not good, because it is a bunch of management-speak and does not even give a whiff of what people are supposed to do at work. In fact, that statement could apply to a hospital, a garbage collection firm, a lawyer’s office, a manufacturing plant, the US military service, a real estate firm, or a baseball team, to name just a few. In reality, that mission statement is for Denny’s – – What? Where is the food? Isn’t Denny’s about getting wholesome food to people at good prices? Fill the tummy with really good stuff, and don’t soak the customer, folks! Don’t talk about establishing beneficial business relationships with diverse suppliers… etc. That is not your mission!

The vision statement is entirely different. The vision is all about where the organization is trying to go in the future. Without a good vision, the organization is like a ship without a rudder. You can go out on the ocean and sail around, but your chances of getting anywhere interesting or profitable are nil. You have no ability to control your destiny. You don’t even know where you are going.

Really good vision – Gorbel Inc. (maker of Cranes) – “We defy gravity”

Really bad vision statement – “Diversity means valuing differences. It’s a corporate value that must be continually developed, embraced, and incorporated into the way we do business.”

The first one makes a great vision statement for many reasons. First, it is short and punchy: easy to remember. Second, it really has a double meaning. One refers to the product made by Gorbel, but the second is that they intend to keep “going up,” even when the market goes down – “We defy gravity.” Now, we all know that to defy gravity literally without assistance is impossible, but that does not prevent the statement from being a powerful and brilliant vision for Gorbel Inc..

The second one is terrible because it, again, does not give a clue about the business and only refers to one thing – diversity. Well, there is nothing wrong with diversity as a value, but if that is the only thing mentioned in the vision, the organization has nowhere to go but down. In fact, they did go down. That was the vision for Blockbuster. Bye Bye now!

It does not take any extra time or energy to get these concepts right. Make sure when you do your strategic plan that you do not mix up the concepts of Vision and Mission, and do think about having high quality statements rather than drivel, so they really work for your organization.