vi-strat-ess – Vision – Strategy – Progress

“Action is eloquence” – Shakespeare

“Action is eloquence, and the eyes of the ignorant more learned than the ears” – Coriolanus

Even back in the early 1600s, Shakespeare succinctly articulated, in the three opening words, the essence of success.

For the grammar police, we understand the difference between eloquence and elegance.  In this case, one could argue Shakespeare was actually addressing both action and speech.  It is one thing to hear someone say things about action and quite another to actually see the action being performed.

One of the greatest weaknesses in business today is the effective execution of strategy.  There are many organizations that even lack a realistic strategy to execute.  Experience has shown us there is a lot of talk about vision, strategy and direction but little in the way of meaningful action.  Conversely, there is tremendous action with little to no vision and accompanying strategy.  As John Wooden once said, “don’t confuse activity for accomplishment”.

In almost all cases, there is first a vision or dream followed closely by a concept of how to make the vision or dream a reality.  But eloquent action goes beyond simply acting on the work at hand.

There are many ways to envision “action is eloquence”.  We can think of actors or ballet dancers that mesmerize us with their performances, with their actions.  We can think of stonemasons who built the Lost City of the Incas, Stonehenge, Easter Island or the Great Pyramids.  The great painters like Michelangelo, Monet, Van Gogh and Rembrandt.  Then there is of course Mother Teresa and Gandhi.

Their vision was exemplified by the energy, spirit and grace applied to their actions.   These qualities are what separates the mediocre from the exceptional.

In the definition for “eloquence” is the term fluency – flowing, graceful, easily changed or adapted – pliant.  This is sort of the holy grail for life, work and love.

This concept of flowing and graceful action extends to how we interact with others.   I find this particularly true when the interaction is between parties with dissimilar backgrounds.   I have seen many a clash between information technologists and the actual business units when flow and grace were not present.

For profit or not, business today is dependent on two key factors – adaptability to change and the actions they take.  Charles Darwin once said “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives.  It is the one that is most adaptable to change”.

When our actions are eloquent we empirically demonstrate our respect and pride for those around us and the products, services and solutions we provide.  We strengthen relationships, we build trust and, most importantly, we galvanize the concept of a team or partnership.

We may have taken Shakespeare’s verbiage a little out of context but that’s why there are so many adaptations to his plays.  Many a director has found new ways to convey the works of Shakespeare.  They have also found new ways to interpret various aspects of these works.

And so it should be in business.  We should always look at what lies ahead from varied perspectives or interpretations to optimize our actions and refine the eloquence within.

IT Governance aka Information Management

It’s not hard to be overwhelmed by all the reports, books, blogs and articles related to information technology (IT) Governance, IT project challenges, and overall IT service delivery. In many cases the data continues to show the alarming trend of high tech projects with high overruns in both expenses and time. Moreover, the final solution will often lack many of the features and functionality originally promised.

Whether we call it IT Governance or Information Management, the primary goal is to achieve clarity in our actions and bridge business needs and business value with timely information access and delivery.

Information and communication technology can be very complex for both the products and services as well as their integration. Einstein’s quote is appropriate for we are often in discussions where IT is expressed in over-simplified terms or portrayed with exaggerated complexity. Reality can be elusive.

Whether a large or small business, profit or non-profit, information technology is expensive. This expense is nonlinear as the size of the organization grows. That is to say, wasted IT expenses grow exponentially in larger organizations. A portion of this waste is a result of multiple systems with poor integration, lack of knowledge for the IT strategic road map, and IT projects missing timelines, functionality and general budget overruns.

Bent Flyvbjerg and Alexander Budzier of Oxford’s Said Business School conducted a study and found average project overruns were around 27% although this number masked an alarming trend. They found one in six projects studied were black swans[1], with cost overrun of 200% on average, and a schedule overrun of almost 70%.

The term IT Governance seems to cause anxiety for those who feel it’s simply a synonym for complexity and analysis paralyses. Others may argue governance can appear incongruent with productivity or performance. Still others feel the term “governance” is applicable only to large corporations. Perhaps they mean large bureaucracies. So what is the definition for IT Governance?

[stextbox id=”123″]The IT Governance Institute states “IT governance is the responsibility of the board of directors and executive management. It is an integral part of enterprise governance and consists of the leadership and organizational structures and processes that ensure that the organization’s IT sustains and extends the organization’s strategies and objectives.”

ISO 38500 defines it as “the system by which the current and future use of IT is directed and controlled. It involves evaluating and directing the plans for the use of IT to support the organization and monitoring this use to achieve plans. It includes the strategy and policies for using IT within an organization.”

vi-strat-ess defines Information Management as the combination of technologies and processes that efficiently meet the needs of the business and customer community with dynamic and sustainable strategy, risk management, clear and consistent multi-directional communication and well formed performance metrics.[/stextbox]

Primary focus is on organizational information. Technology is merely one of the tools used to access and distribute information. Technology for technology sake is meaningless. Technology for information sake should be the reason IT professionals exist.

Again, the opening quote attributed to Einstein is quite appropriate. Let’s add another quote…

There is an inherent excitement in understanding business needs and finding practical and strategic solutions. The healthier the communication the better the results. Unfortunately, I have seen many an IT organization get wrapped around an axle, generate hidden agendas and start understating or overstating status and reasoning. Even with the best intentions, that is a very slippery slope and “intent” is anything but pure.

We often hear the phrase “doing the right things for the right reasons”. While it sounds great, it is also very vague. I would suggest performing well defined actions for well defined reasons. What is right or wrong can be, and often is, very subjective. It also becomes easy to rationalize the right things and right reasons (back to that slippery slope). Performance metrics become better defined when our methodology and reasoning are crisply defined. After all, precise performance metrics is one of the best ways to hold IT accountable.

There is a story where Alfred P. Sloan asked his board of directors if the plan presented had any downside. With no downside presented, Mr. Sloan tabled approval for the following week so to give the board a chance to identify risks and issues.     Leadership, Processes, well defined performance metrics, strong analytics and risk management contribute to a healthy framework for IT Governance or Information Management. The following represents this concept. Note the Deming Wheel[2] or Shewhart Cycle[3] or kaizen[4] terms of Plan – Do – Check – Act

As shown below, larger organizations will likely have larger teams that interlink to produce the required structure for IT Governance. Smaller organizations may have the same functionality albeit with single individuals serving multiple roles.

The abbreviated overall concept is to have a keen understanding of the critical success factor’s (CSF) for organizational achievement. We then look at both the financial capability and the various means by which to achieve the direction. We identify the best strategic approach that fits our financial model and then establish key performance indicators (internally and externally) to validate we are on the designated path. Remember, even if you’re on the right track you’re going to get hit by a train if you’re facing the wrong direction or don’t move. KPI’s will also aid us in making the necessary adjustments to reach the intended goals.

There will always be some formality to any approach taken. If for no other reason, you want to keep track of what worked and what didn’t. More importantly, you want to understand why it did or didn’t work. Strong, repeatable processes and the appropriately shaped organizational model also creates the necessary environment for consistent and uniform management and delivery of information.

Nothing substitutes experience. Information management has numerous threads woven together to form the fabric from which the organization can optimally perform and grow. Weaving accomplished by the right mix of talent and structure produce quality products that stand the test of time.

On a final note, balance in the approach taken for effective IT management can be challenging. The black swans had numerous telltale signs of missteps and problems, some even before the work began. A model that’s too weak or too strong will cause major problems. It is important to have appropriate KPIs and a methodology already established for the quick but thorough examination of any suspect progress and results.

“Keep it as simple as possible, but no simpler”

  1. [1]a term coined by Nassim Nicholas Taleb to describe high-impact events that are rare and unpredictable but in retrospect seem not so improbable
  2. [2]William Edwards Deming was an American Statistician, professor, author, lecturer and consultant. He is most noted for his work in Japan where we was awarded Japan’s Order of the Sacred Treasure – Second Class, the second highest award Japan gives to civilians. It recognized Deming’s contributions to Japan’s rebirth using his quality control techniques
  3. [3]Walter A. Shewhart (shoe-heart) was an American physicist, engineer and statistician and known as the father of statistical quality control and sometimes referred to as the grandfather of Total Quality Management (TQM)
  4. [4]Kaizen is Japanese for “continuous improvement” or “change for the better”. It is said “kai” means “to change” and “zen” means “good or for the better”. It requires that everyone in the organization be involved in the improvement process to include executives, management, and the line staff

The Problem With Vision

The vision of an individual or team is only as good as their ability to effectively represent the vision to others.    This delineation may be to stockholders, the board of directors, the management team, clients or the overall organization.  It must be to any and all that will have a role, no matter how small, in contributing to that vision.

“Good business leaders create a vision, articulate the vision, passionately own the vision, and relentlessly drive it to completion.”  Jack Welch

Among the definitions for “vision” is ‘an experience in which a personage, thing, or event appears vividly or credibly to the mind, although not actually present’.  While unified support is strongly dependent on how effective vision is communicated, sustained morale is dependent on how strategy, goals, objectives and values are achieved.

There is often a difference in what the workforce desires to keep their job compared to what they look for when seeking a new job.  When seeking a new job most are looking for increased salaries, benefits and growth potential.  While with a company they want to feel appreciated, believe they can contribute and have a clear understanding as to where the company or organization is heading and how it plans to get there.  It is far more cost effective for a company to work hard and retain good employees.

The problem with vision is often cohesion.   Given the varied organizations where I have worked, I have often witnessed the “it’ll never work” syndrome.  People who will dismiss an idea or an approach at conception.  Like an acid, this negative perspective can eat through the best of ideas removing the shine and eroding the integrity.  Whatever the problem, on the path to the root cause we may likely find low morale, limited trust,  valid apprehension, hidden agendas or simple lack of understanding.

For our purposes, cohesion is the ability for all aspects of the organization to coalesce around the vision.  This is where the true dynamics of team work and optimal contribution can be realized.

For me, the best example of cohesion was when I served in the U.S. Marines.  Our unofficial mantra was “adapt, improvise, and overcome”.   We received a lot of hand-me-downs from the Army and we were not always the best equipped.  Despite this, we were successful against tremendous odds because of the cohesion of the team and the creativity forged from our success-based attitudes.

To foster cohesion the vision and mission must be confidently articulated.  It is most beneficial to explain the situation being addressed and how the vision addresses the situation and future.  Team members thirst to know the expectations and how they will participate.  It is in every ones best interest to know how effective the work is proceeding through well establish metrics.  Naturally, there will be many opportunities to make course corrections.  Well conceived and timely metrics will make such adjustments and refinements more accurate while contributing to a stronger architecture.

There are several components to consider when executing the actions necessary to make the vision a reality.  Below is a map of the key components which I will address in a separate post.  It is important to remember that it does not have to be a complicated or drawn out process.   It will be proportionate to the size of the task and organization – no bigger and no smaller.  Once it is done successfully a few times, the effort will become smoother and the morale and support much stronger.

Leadership Principles

Leadership is much more than just leading people. Leadership is how we make any endeavor successful. Regardless of education or experience, new jobs or new work will often require new skills, new knowledge and new relational interaction. We will certainly leverage our past experiences while advancing those experiences with new ideas, new approaches and new understandings.

This may look familiar to some if you have served in the Marines. I have slightly modified the Marine Corps Leadership Principles to be applicable to any organization. Unfortunately, there are some that view the leadership of the military, especially the Marines, as overbearing and heavy handed. While the discipline may be a bit more strong, the concepts of leadership are universal and proven in thousands of different scenarios. One could view the Marines as one of the most intense leadership schools in the world and not just for the military but for business in general.

Know yourself and seek self-improvement

Constantly evaluate yourself and determine your strengths and weaknesses. Work to improve your weaknesses while also finding ways to better utilize your strengths. Armed with the knowledge of yourself you can best determine the best way to deal with any situation.

Be strategically, technically and tactically proficient

Over the years you have developed notable proficiencies. The key is to maintain currency of the core proficiencies as well as on those proficiencies the work and role dictate. It is also important to remember a team blends their proficiencies to optimize their approach and solutions.

Develop a sense of responsibility among your team

When I was taking a dance lesson, the instructor made a momentous comment. She said “push or pull on your partner and expect them to respond poorly. Lead and guide them and you’ll have a rewarding dance”.

Team members, at all levels of the organization, will constantly demonstrate a keen sense of responsibility when they are guided and lead with trust and respect. Below is an acronym used to denote empowerment. All four elements must exist to achieve empowerment. Repeatedly we find “information” to be the one element most lacking when a person or team is empowered.

Make sound and timely decisions

To make sound decisions, i.e., competent or valid decisions, one will first make objective estimates of the situation. With that in hand our experiences, the experience of the team members, governance, directional alliance and risk analysis will enable sound decisions. The weight or impact of the decision will determine the magnitude of due diligence required.

This may all sound like a very elaborate way to make decisions but we are not talking about the run of the mill decisions. This is particularly true when we talk about Information Technology (IT). IT is typically expensive and requires the best decisions possible to leverage the limited dollars available. That is why IT governance and strategy is so important to ensure sound and enduring decisions.

When possible, solicit feedback from the team to include their identification of risks and potential mitigation.

Unnecessary delay or reservation in making a decision can impact costs or enervate confidence at various levels of the organization. Timely decisions should also provide team members with adequate opportunity to successfully complete their supporting plans.

Set the example

There was a defining moment while serving in the Marines related to leadership. A young Marine approached me and was very upset because of the type of work I had assigned him. We were toe to toe in a “discussion” when he asked why he should respect me. In my inexperienced, immature way I responded “you don’t have to respect me, you respect what’s on my collar”. This of course referring to my rank insignia.

I knew the second those words escaped my lips I had said something very moronic. I turned about, walked out of the area, shut the door and proceeded to have a very long and not so nice chat with myself. I then went back into the room, called over the young Marine and again we were standing toe to toe.

Marines probably have a different sort of way to actually apologize. I looked in right in the eyes and with a loud voice said “you and I know I just said something incredibly stupid. I want you to appreciate my rank but respect me as a leader.” As we turned to go back to our work the young Marine stopped and said “that’s why I do respect you”.

Know Your Team and Look Out for Their Welfare

First and foremost, your team consists of those that may work for you, those which you may serve with, the leadership above you and those which you serve such as the various business elements.

The best way to know your team is to make sure you create and contribute to healthy communications. Healthy communication starts with healthy listening. Woodrow Wilson once said “The ear of the leader must ring with the voices of the people”.

You should know the strengths, weaknesses, and aspirations of your “team”. This knowledge greatly increases your ability to be effective and contribute to the overall success of the organization.

Looking out for their welfare is accomplished with open and timely communications, clearly defined objectives, clearly defined roles and responsibilities and supporting them with any additional education or training they may require. It also means knowing the capabilities of everyone on your team.

Keep Your Team Informed

While with a large energy company in Pennsylvania, I served on committees attempting to implement Business Process Re-Engineering (BPR). The consultant we hired stated repeatedly and quite clearly that we must ensure timely and consistent communication.

We provided poor communication. The feeling was that it would be much better to communicate only when we had more solid plans and could thoroughly answer all potential questions. That concept alone almost guarantees no communication. As a result, we had many good people resign, morale took an all time low and trust at all levels became strained.

Teams are creative and enjoy taking initiative. Morale is highest when teams are achieving meaningful successes and truly feel they are making a difference. Teams that are ill-informed are also ill-prepared. I would rather communicate what we didn’t know in order to find golden nuggets of sound ideas.

Seek Responsibility and Take Responsibility for Your Actions

The health of an organization depends on each and every team member to be responsible based both on your role and organizational expectations.

This square-rigged tall ship is an excellent example of how we exercise our responsibilities. The effective and efficient operation of this incredible ship is only possible when the crew executes their prescribed responsibilities in a timely, professional manner. The missed timing or incomplete execution by one will cause others to try and compensate if they are to optimize the wind and keep their bearing and speed. This ship also exemplifies the challenges and complexities we often encounter. The crew or team of this ship must be vigil and step up to the responsibilities necessary to permit the ship to successfully reach its destination.

Seeking responsibility is not just about finding new responsibilities. Seeking responsibility is also improving how we perform current responsibilities.

Without reservation, we must take timely and unequivocal responsibility for all in our charge or all that we influence. If we are to expect our team to be forthright and take responsibility, we must then create an environment where the team feels safe and confident in our desire to find solutions and not find fault.

Ensure Assigned Tasks are Understood, Supervised , and Accomplished

Remember ARIA from above? I = Information? We live in a world of abbreviations and truncated communications used all in the name of expediency. That expediency often widens the gap between intention and interpretation.

We must be clear in our expectations and equally clear in our information delivery. The military addressed this my introducing the concept of five paragraph orders. In fact, in military court they would often as if a five paragraph order was provided.

W. Edwards Deming once said “You can expect what you inspect”. This is the concept behind ensuring tasks are supervised. You want to inspect how tasks or projects are initiated as this establishes the course of action. You also need to inspect the processes being followed. Periodic review will permit improvements for future undertakings. In a healthy organization, such supervision also demonstrates leadership’s commitment to the team.

It seems obvious to ensure the tasks are accomplished. There are two points to be made here. First is the simple validation through a project report or inspection that the work has been accomplished and in accordance with any specification(s). The second point is to validate accomplishments so that you don’t forget to celebrate the success.

Train Your Staff to Work as a Team”

While working with a Bell Atlantic franchise on service delivery I found they were very proud of their team orientation. As we examined why it took so long to delivery a particular service we found the so called “team” was fragmented.

Like a river, a true team has natural flow. It is that very flow that should become the focus of any efficiency gains. Imagine all the engineering, labor, and materials used when trying to change the natural course of a river. Unfortunately, we often see people thrown together and declared a team.

The team is the cornerstone to achieving the vision and strategy. There are a variety of components in building a team but generally speaking, you need to find the natural flow or create the flow if this is a new function. Experience, training, passion, aptitude, etc. all go into the dynamic of team construction and subsequent performance.

Working for an energy company back east we had established an efficient team. The assignments were to the team, rarely to an individual. They worked out who was best positioned to perform the work and what support they may need {yes this does get close to self-directed work teams}. We also set up performance or merit increases so that 80% of the consideration was around team contribution and 20% around individual contribution.

Employ Your Team in Accordance with It’s Capabilities

We are speaking about both team utilization and the meaningful use of each team member.

I have witnessed organizations, especially large organizations, where groups assigned specific functions are not always utilized when that function was being performed. There are many reasons for it but in almost every case it is bad form. In the cases I have witnessed, the non-use of the designated team caused the organization to spend more money and continually miss the objectives core intent. If a team is responsible for particular functions – utilize that team.

Part of a leaders job is to understand the strengths and weaknesses of each team member. Morale, performance, quality and timing are all improved when we utilize our staff in accordance with not only their capabilities but also their potential.

The Leadership to Hire in Today’s Market (Under Construction)

statues of unemployed men standing in an unemployment line during the Great Depression at the FDR Memorial in Washington, D.C.

When I first moved to the west coast I had a difficult time finding a job and this was when the job market leaned in favor of the employee. The president of a consulting company called me one day and invited me to lunch. This was not to offer me a job but rather to explain the lay of the land.

During our luncheon, he explained that I would have a difficult time obtaining a job because I had too much experience.    WHAT?     How can someone have too much experience?

He went on to tell me how many of the CIO’s were promoted from within. I personally do not consider that a problem if they are the most qualified. The rationale also needs to be appropriate with the intent of matching the right person for the right job. Trying to promote from within as a reward or to avoid the expense of hiring from outside are more often failed approaches.

For me this was the first time I heard such a phrase. Of course when you first start in the workforce you fear not having enough experience. You long for the day you can add more experience to your resume. I have never heard anyone say “I better slow down on all this experience stuff before I have too much of it”.

Worse yet, many are advised to “dummy” down their resume so not to overwhelm the prospective employer. Let me rephrase that – we need to dummy down our resumes so not to look to smart or have too much experience or too much education or appear to have been too high up in the hierarchy of any organization. Still, we wonder why people have such a difficult time applying for jobs today. The only thing the employer and the employee (current or future) seem to have too much of is STRESS for being under-employed, under-valued, under-staffed and under pressure to do more with less. Does anyone else see a contradiction here?

I’m clearly not a psychologist although that won’t stop my analysis. One of the factors that has to influence stress levels is when the environment and/or our actions conflict with our potential, expectations, and personal architecture. An example would be unemployment. One’s potential is unrecognized and the expectation, such as finding employment, is is totally unfulfilled.

Phil Crosby once said “Selecting the right person for the right job is the largest part of coaching”. This is not just the core capabilities but also the energy that the person creates. Once I knew the capability to do the job existed, I always hired or promoted people that had a variety of experiences and in varied areas of industry. Notice how I phrased the concept of capability. “Once I knew the capability…existed”. A person may not have the actual job experience in the position description but possess a depth of experience that will deliver a higher positive impact to the organization.

I have often used the phrase “some people have a thousand different experiences while others have had the same experience a thousand times”. Often more varied experience creates more innovative ideas, permits greater adaptability and improves reaction times to problems that may arise.

I have been talking more about an individual and not an organization or company.
Yes, it is a drag in that it weighs us down and it literally makes us less efficient.