Making Business Plans Work
The CEO of a medium-size company was frustrated that few managers had executed the previous year’s business plan – a plan that he had spent endless hours writing with the Chief Financial Officer. I was asked to try my hand at producing the new plan. Instead, I turned that request into preventing last year’s problem from happening again.
- First, I studied last year’s plan and concluded that it was too comprehensive and too ambitious. That made it difficult to translate expectations into achievable departmental objectives.
- Second, Interviewing managers revealed that they had tried to implement the plan but let “tyranny of the urgent” interfere. Most important, there were no repercussions for failing to execute.
- Finally, individual performance objectives did not dovetail with the master plan.
Getting Managers Back on Track
Note: For confidentiality reasons, I cannot describe specific case studies on coaching. Instead, let me explain the approach I have taken to some challenging assignments.
Coaching is a valuable component of executive development. However, coaching can often involve resurrecting senior managers whose style — attitude and behavior – are disruptive to an organization.
Sometimes those individuals went off-track because they were put into leadership positions without having developed matching skills. And sometimes, turning around their troubling situations can be formidable because their organizations have already given up on them before a coach is assigned.
To enable the individual to realign with the organization requires that he or she move through three stages of behavioral change. The first two stages usually take me a few weeks to achieve for clients; the last stage can take the individual a long time.
Read the full case study here
Rethinking Codes of Conduct
A management team at a multi-billion dollar, global electronics manufacturer had produced a Code of Conduct after considerable thought, benchmarking, and word-smithing. While the Code instructed employees on how to act, management wanted a supplemental Values Statement as a philosophy behind that Code. I was asked to formulate the document — a rather routine assignment so it would seem. But not for me and my team.
Our first concern was that the Values Statement would fall to the same fate as the Code of Conduct: that is, as a dull, don’t don’t-do policy and not a stimulus to change behavior. Besides, employees see themselves as ethical, responsible people with personal values and, therefore, think they don’t need guidelines on how to behave. Perhaps others do, they think. And there were other points of resistance
Restructuring for the Market
A core of smart engineers had founded a company based on solving a market need with an ingenious, simple and affordable product. Over 10 years the company grew rapidly. Engineering and customer service became hallmarks. Vigorously selling products and responding to every customer request were paramount. However, when I arrived as the new organizational and communication executive, I realized that the company had lost sight of what had made – and was needed to make – its business successful.
I found that doing the business (production, etc.) and managing the business; getting business (marketing) was not. Selling was assumed to also include marketing. Moreover, being customer-reactive is not necessarily the same as customer service. I set out to coax management to rethink and restructure the company to be truly market-driven and not mostly customer-reactive.
Executive Plant Visits
Good Intentions but …
Senior management of a company with scores of plants worldwide worried about losing touch with employees. In response, a capable, well-intended staff director created an ambitious program to “increase executive visibility around the company and their [executives’] knowledge of the company’s people, products, processes and problems.” Schedules were set, and plant employees spent days, often weeks, sprucing up the facilities for the visits.
As the new director of global communication, I, too, saw the program’s enormous potential for encouraging dialogue and exchanging ideas. Yet, I could see that form preceded function: the program’s structure was hindering its purpose. I set out to diplomatically explore and suggest changes.
Stepping Outside the Comfort Country
My client-turned-employer had dominated the global electronic connectors market for decades. The company had operated internationally from its U.S. base until the Board selected a new CEO who had spent years running the company’s Asian business. His first objective was to shift the company’s focus from U.S.-centric to truly global. That meant separating corporate functions from operations in the Americas region and appointing an Americas president.
That also meant that I, as the head of communication, and my team had to reshape employees’ thinking about the business from being run by Americans to one in which all regions were equal.. But, would American employees interpret the globalization decision as exporting of jobs? How would I redefine the role of my Corporate Communication staff’, which was primarily focused on the U.S. with regional coordination. The challenge was certainly disruptive but ultimately doable.
What seemed like a simple move to increase production efficiency at a telecommunications company resulted in tension between management and employees. A software program had replaced a mostly paper system for documenting processes and products. The switchover made sense to management, and they expected employees to adapt and comply with the new procedures. The production folks had a different view. To them and their colleagues, the new system was confusing and onerous. What seemed like a good idea in corporate offices became a mess on the plant floor, production team leaders said, and they had to clean it up. They felt that they were being blamed for system problems, and no one was listening to them. Many were angry. As the new Vice President of Organization Development, I owned the problem. I had to get others to own the solution.
Was this a matter of resistance to change? Had management become so wed to a seemingly efficient system that they failed to see the human side of the program? Were there broader concerns that the documentation issue represented?
The explosive growth of start-up, local telephone exchange carriers following deregulation of the telecommunication industry in the late ‘90s brought intense demand for a test equipment maker’s products. Everyone at the company was scrambling to fill orders. Then the frenzy subsided. Consumed by getting products out the door, systems had taken a back seat, as had planning for the next stage of growth. Unfortunately, there were no forums in the company for exploring ideas and exploiting opportunities. The executive group, for example, met infrequently, was too large to share confidential information and be decisive, and was too easily distracted by immediate and non-business matters. As a result, too many decisions defaulted to the CEO.
My job was to frame a decision and feedback system that could encourage creation of a new generation of products. I knew that structure can bring clarity and efficiency if done correctly but can add confusion and delay if not handled carefully.