by Richard Martin

Back in March I put out a Strategic Readiness Bulletin titled “Is Canada Facing an Incipient Refugee Crisis?

The situation has evolved to the point where the Canadian Forces have been tasked to set up a temporary reception centre near the Quebec-US border. Asylum-seekers are being temporarily lodged in Olympic Stadium and the old Royal Victoria Hospital in Montreal. The Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA) and RCMP have sent reinforcements south of Montreal to help with the overflow of migrants arriving on foot at the border. Most are of Haitian origin, but it seems that other nationalities may also be arriving and that the mix could very well change quickly.

You can surmise from reading my bulletin, referenced above, that this situation was entirely predictable, if not in its specifics, then at least in outline. I don’t think we’re at a crisis point yet, but that could develop rapidly, as we saw when the same thing happened in Europe two summers ago.

A crisis occurs when you lose control of a situation, and you are constantly reacting to conditions rather than shaping them. If at any point border crossings or reception and housing facilities are overwhelmed, then it will be a crisis.

The question at this point is whether plans and actions can be undertaken now to prevent and/or mitigate these possibilities. Organisations must stay ahead of events by envisaging various scenarios and possibilities and implementing plans and measures to cater to them, before they occur.

And this isn’t just a federal or provincial government responsibility. Municipalities, private businesses and non-profits can be affected. Some small municipalities are already being stretched by the demands of reacting to the situation.

If you are running a business, can this affect you? What if you are near a border area, or have clients in the US, or depend on shipments to and from the US? Could you be affected. I talk more about this in the bulletin, so you should definitely check it out.

Also, here are some other articles I’ve written over the years that you may find of interest, especially for interagency cooperation and planning.

Five Myths About Crises: Why we’re surprised by unsurprising things.

Crisis? What Crisis?: The type of crisis we’re facing, and how it is likely to unfold.

Mobilizing for Readiness: What you need to do to mobilize your team or organization.

Proven Techniques for Crisis Leadership: Leading effectively before, during, and after a crisis.

Battle-Proven Principles for Disaster Leadership: The focus of this article was disaster management, but there is a lot of good information, especially for public agencies.

© 2017 Alcera Consulting Inc. Reproduction and sharing permitted for non-commercial reasons.

by Richard Martin

  1. Velocity: Action is a vector. You can get to your objectives earlier by combining the right direction of movement with fast speed of execution.
  2. Decisiveness: Don’t wait for perfection; move when you can act and generate results that contribute to your aim.
  3. Opportunism: Accelerate execution and results by exploiting favourable events and conditions.
  4. Momentum: Consider changes carefully, as it takes time and energy to change direction and speed.
  5. Preparation, planning, and logistics: Use time judiciously (or make it) to prepare for action; consider all relevant factors, conditions, scenarios, and risks; develop courses of action to achieve your aim and select the optimal one for detailed planning; balance resources and priorities accordingly.
  6. Initiative and creativity: Tell your people what outcomes they are responsible for, and let them find the optimal ways to achieve them; give them the requisite authority and resources in line with their needs and overall priorities; make them accountable for their actions and results.
  7. Security: Protect your flanks and lines of communication through 360-degree situational awareness; validate your assumptions.
  8. Surprise: Don’t advertise your intentions, unless you can be almost certain of the results beforehand.
  9. Depth: Act in waves and phases; don’t put all your eggs into one basket; reinforce success and stop doing what isn’t working; don’t expect success on the first try, but be ready for it nonetheless.
  10. Reserves: Always keep forces and resources in reserve, because you can never foresee everything beforehand.

© 2017 Alcera Consulting Inc. Reproduction and forwarding for non-commercial use are permitted.

by Richard Martin

It’s Saturday morning and I’m sitting in my hotel room in Dubai. I’m here to conduct courses in strategic and operational management and leadership. I’m pondering the power of a vision and the means to achieve it.

I first was in the United Arab Emirates in December of 2002, as I prepared to deploy to Kuwait as the Canadian Forces Liaison Officer to the Coalition Forces Land Component Command prior to the invasion of Iraq. I was able to get into the city of Dubai on a few occasions with some of my colleagues for some R&R. The city has grown a lot in just those 15 years, and even since I started conducting courses here in 2014.

It’s gaudy and slick, hyper-modern and traditional, avant-garde and retrograde, all at the same time. If you like cutting edge architecture in the most bizarre locations with basically nothing around it, then you must visit Dubai. The skyline looks impressive from the sea, but when you’re in the city, all you see during the day is buildings, roads, and a haze combining humidity and dust and the beige-grey desert merging into the same coloured sky on a horizon that you can never quite make out. At night, it’s lights everywhere, sometimes quite pretty. Not as gaudy as Las Vegas, but still extravagant.

What is it about cities in the desert that makes them so attractive to adventurers and admirers alike? There is really nowhere to walk, as everything is designed around roads and a superb metro system. But even if you could walk, you wouldn’t want to for most of the year, as it’s extremely hot and humid. As I write, it’s forecast to go up to 45 C today, but the humidex is predicting 81 C!

The United Arab Emirates, of which Dubai is the most famous state, was founded in the early 1970s under the visionary leadership of Sheikh Zayed, ruler of Abu Dhabi. Abu Dhabi has most of the oil, but Dubai has the chutzpah and international reputation. The current ruler of Dubai is Sheikh Mohammed, who acceded to the post upon the death of his older brother in 2006, but who was also the de facto ruler for a decade before that.

It’s hard to believe, but as late as 1965, the city had a population of only 20,000. Most of these were huddled close to the Dubai Creek, a small inlet from the Persian Gulf. It was a marketplace, but the majority lived off fishing and pearl diving! Now, it’s a global trade and financial centre, and increasingly a manufacturing location and tourist destination. People from around the world come here to work, to make money, and to play.

Most of what Dubai is today, from Emirates Airlines (based in Dubai), the Burj Khalifa (the tallest freestanding building in the world), to the Palm Jumeirah (artificial islands shaped like a palm tree), is a result of the vision and leadership of Sheikh Mohammed. One of his many books is available for sale everywhere, appropriately titled My Vision. As prime minister of the UAE, in 2010 he issued a long-term federal vision for the country, called Vision 2021. Not many countries are led this way—essentially as an integrated organization.

It’s an interesting study in the power of vision combined with the resources to achieve it. Contrary to expectations, though, the city isn’t built on oil money. Exactly the opposite; it’s designed to avoid dependence on oil and natural resources. A possible example for many other jurisdictions around the world.

© 2017 Alcera Consulting Inc. This article may be used for non-commercial use with proper attribution.

by Richard Martin

It’s common to provide rewards and (occasionally) punishments to inflect behaviour. For instance, my daughter works on telephone sales. When they reach their weekly goals, they receive a monetary incentive. There’s nothing wrong in principle with that, but judging by the fact that she’s gotten the reward just about every week since she started the job indicates to me that the reward is actually part of the basic compensation.

The problem is that people start to expect the reward. It’s like that scene in Christmas Vacation, where Clark Griswold (Chevy Chase’s character) learns that the annual Christmas bonus, normally given every year, is not forthcoming. He was so sure it was that he put money he didn’t have on a down payment for a pool. Much hilarity ensues.

It’s much better to motivate people from the inside out, through intrinsic motivation and transformational leadership. It’s essential to find what makes people tick, and what will truly motivate them emotionally, from the gut. That’s what I mean by leading from the inside out. Instead of finding ways to reward them or, much worse, punish them, look for what they’re passionate and truly care about. Create an emotional connection that goes to the heart of their concerns… and interests. Alternately, create an enticing vision and give them outcome-based goals that let them use their intellectual abilities and are stimulating and engaging.

You can always provide rewards after the fact for a job well done or performance beyond expectations. But it you go into the mission with a pre-ordained reward for a set level of achievement, that’s all you may get. Leading and influencing others from the inside out will get you much further than anticipated.

© 2017 Alcera Consulting Inc. This article may be used for non-commercial use with proper attribution.

By Richard Martin

Business leaders must constantly decide on how much time to devote to future planning versus present action. The needs of day-to-day management and decision-making tend to swamp us as leaders and managers. We get caught up in immediate, tactical issues, and lose sight of the bigger picture, where we are ultimately headed, and what we will do once they we there.

Should we focus on immediate goals and problems, or should we live more in the future, even to the point of only considering our long-term vision and development of our organizations? At extremes, we could devote all our time and resources to the present or, conversely, we could be pure “visionaries.” In fact, wisdom lies somewhere in between, neither being purely myopic nor purely far-sighted. But how should we make this decision, and how do we determine when and how much they need to shift our attention from the near to the medium to the long term?

The key lies in what I call the “future paradox.” Some decisions and actions will have immediate or short-term results. Others will take longer to come to fruition, even to the extent of taking years before they are fully actualized and the results are in. This can generate a significant lag between decision, action, and results, between cause and effect. The problem comes from this lag.

We can’t afford to be stuck in the present, but the further out we look, the less the definition and clarity, the greater the uncertainty. Present commitments and decisions are essential to build future readiness and achieving distant objectives, but these may severely constrain our future freedom of action.

 

This is the future paradox: We must decide and act now to generate short-, medium-, and long-term effects, but we can only do this with increasingly fuzzy knowledge and information. In other words, change takes time, but conditions can and do change between our decision point and the time that our actions start taking effect.

We have a current reality and we articulate a vision of where we want to be in the future. This vision is nothing but the overarching objective of our undertaking. To speak in military terms, it can be to win a war or achieve an peaceful outcome in our nation’s interests. But it can also be to capture a road crossing and then be ready to face a counter-attack. In business, it can be a strategic goal, for instance to launch a major international expansion, or it can be much more mundane and tactical, for instance to win a contract with a new client. It is the future vision that drives most of our decisions. The gap between the objective and the current reality is the fuel for planning and decision-making. It frames our actions in the short, medium, and long terms. Over time, we should approach—and eventually arrive—at our ultimate destination, our vision, or overarching objective.

Some things we can do relatively easily and quickly. These decisions lead to short-term plans and actions. Others take more preparation and lead time. These are our medium-term plans and actions. Finally, some things we must start right away, with a view to gaining results only in the longer-term future. For instance, we can be facing a decision on whether to invest in a new factory. We must secure the capital and start the building or acquisition process now, but it can take months or years before the new facility comes on line. This requires a long-term plan and actions.

To make matters even more complex, though, the definition of short, medium, and long terms depends on the scope of responsibilities and roles. For a large company, the long-term can be, in some cases, decades. For a sales person or a production team, it can be tomorrow or next week. It is the scope of activities and effects that determines the extent of the time horizons under consideration.

© 2017 Alcera Consulting Inc. This article may be used for non-commercial use with proper attribution.

Image  —  Posted: July 9, 2017 in Readiness & Strategy
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by Richard Martin

Strategy is the set of actions undertaken by any entity that is striving to survive and thrive in the face of change, uncertainty, risk, and opposition.

There are two basic strategic postures: defence and offence. Defence consists in temporarily conceding the initiative to an opponent to buy time and reconstitute one’s forces.

Offence consists in seizing and maintaining the initiative to achieve one’s ends through:

  • confrontation (i.e., direct action against antagonists to resolve a conflict or otherwise achieve one’s objectives);
  • competition (indirect action against antagonists by letting a third party decide in a competitive arena); or
  • cooperation (combining forces with other actors to achieve mutually compatible or synergistic interests and effects).

These four basic options–conceding, confronting, competing, and cooperating–constitute the building blocks of any strategy.

This is important, because it entails that there are always options when confronted by opposition, resistance, or obstacles of any kind. We can build a strategy that leverages our strengths while mitigating our vulnerabilities and that is not limited to confrontation or aggressive posturing.

So, before embarking on a strategic decision, you should always consider the four options with their potential benefits and costs, as well as their possible and probably consequences.

© 2017 Alcera Consulting Inc. This article may be used for non-commercial use with proper attribution.

by Richard Martin

That’s the title of a song popularized and sung by Nat King Cole. Here in Canada, and especially in Quebec, things tend to get lazier, hazier, and yes, even a bit crazier, in the summer. I think it has to do with our (he says clearing his throat)–shall we say–interesting climate? Canadians spend most of the year fighting against the weather, so when it gets nice for about 2 months in the summer, we tend to let things ride a bit more. Unfortunately, a lot of people kick back so much that they put everything on hold. “Too many key people are on vacation.” “We’ll get to this after the summer.” “Nobody’s thinking about this right now, so don’t be a party-pooper.”

Well, life goes on. We can’t just pretend that business and life stop because it’s summer. In most areas of the world, summer is actually when things get done and life gets more hectic. Back in January I kicked off the new year with a list of the steps for ensuring the continuous and continuing focus throughout the year on building organizational and strategic readiness (See this link.). Not just once or twice, but actually incorporating a readiness mindset into all your processes and systems on a regular basis.

Here’s what I suggested for the 2nd quarter:

April-May: Issue guidance for next fiscal year so that the entire organization can identify their planning focus and prepare to hit the ground running when the next year starts. These plans should be briefed up the “chain of command” so they are fully aligned with the strategic and operational guidance and direction.

June: Review performance of first half and adjust plans and focus to end of current year. Submit initial budget forecasts, especially for funding of special projects, new product development, marketing initiatives, etc.

And for the 3rd quarter:

July-August: Senior leadership reviews long-term plans and projects under the 2-3 year forecasting framework. Budgets and plans at all levels are reviewed and adjusted in accordance with strategic forecasts and intent for next fiscal year (starting in 4-5 months).

September: Senior leadership confirms overall budgets and plans for next fiscal year and issues updated guidance and direction to organization. Subordinate elements of the organization adjust their plans and forecasts to align with this guidance.

Well? How are you doing so far? It’s not too late to get caught up on the 2nd quarter tasks. As for July and August, these are the perfect months to look ahead and gain a sense of where you will head at the start of the next year.

Seems a bit premature? Actually, it’s when people are focused on other things, on their vacations, and the fine weather, that you should be thinking ahead. You probably have a bit more time to reflect and plan, and to prepare for the post-Labour Day rush (see September above).