Archive for the ‘Powerful Ideas’ Category

We live in an era of quick fixes and tsunami-like trends and fashions. It’s easy to become enamoured of the latest management and leadership fads. The first one goes back to the 1950s.

First introduced and advocated by Peter Drucker, “management by objectives” was based on the idea was that roles and functions should be analyzed into separate tasks and components and then assigned to managers as clear results-oriented objectives.

It’s still the basis of most delegation and responsibility assignments. In the military it’s called “mission command.” Both are based on the entirely reasonable idea that initiative, creativity, and job satisfaction are maximized when people are told what to do (what is expected in performance/output terms) and the reasons for doing so. They then can use their freedom of action to find the best ways and means to achieve the objectives.

Unfortunately, management and business strategy are prone to bouts of fashion, imitation, and fads. One year it’s “blue ocean strategy,” the next it’s “edge” strategy. One month it’s “servant” leadership, the next it’s “holocracy,” or some other such facile characterization of organizational and business dynamics and challenges.

We need to get back to basics and adopt a perspective that operates from an underlying understanding of human behaviour and psychology. Management by objectives, mission command, or whatever you want to call these approaches, they all rely on parsing out responsibilities, authorities, and accountabilities on the basis of a rational analysis of projects and objectives. Everything else is noise.

© 2016 Richard Martin. Reproduction and quotes are permitted with proper attribution.

There was an article in today’s Wall Street Journal about learning from failure. I agree with most of what is said, but the article also includes survey results from the last decade which consistently show that the most important cause of “failure” is unrealistic or inaccurate objectives.

Unfortunately with this kind of result, we can’t ascertain how valid the original objectives were. I’ve often observed this phenomenon with my clients when we start working together. Objectives and goals are often vague, abstract or simply unattainable. I call this the “horizon problem”; regardless of how much progress you make, you can never reach the horizon. It’s always there, mocking you.

I advocate defining and aiming for concrete objectives. For instance, simply saying you want to increase revenues or profits is just a way of starting the goal-setting process. You have to then turn this into something specific. What is the dollar increase in sales you are aiming for? How many clients or products or whatever does that represent? What are the markets or segments you’re targeting? Within what timeframe?

You can always revise goals upward as you close in on them. But at least, by making them concrete you have to specify intermediate steps that are measurable and actionable. This way you avoid the “horizon problem.” You can also compare your progress against where you were when you started. If anything, this provides a more realistic basis of comparison and also helps in raising morale, because the progress and improvements are more evident.

Richard Martin is The Force Multiplier. He brings his military and business leadership and management experience to bear for executives and organizations seeking to radically improve performance, grow, and thrive in the face of rapid change, harsh competition, and increasing uncertainty.

© 2015 Richard Martin. Reproduction and quotes are permitted with proper attribution.

There is nothing wrong with conflict within a team. It only becomes a problem when it gets out of hand and prevents decisions on important matters or undermines performance. In addition, lack of conflict can be just as much of problem as too much conflict. It can be a sign of group think or unquestioning obedience to authority.

In fact, conflict is a sign of healthy disagreement and debate about important issues. If managed properly, through respectful dialogue and exchange, then it can lead to higher quality outcomes.

There are four basic types of conflict, and I’ve listed them below in growing order of criticality and difficulty of resolution:

  • Conflict about inputs, priorities, and resources
  • Conflict about courses of action and options to achieve an aim
  • Conflict about objectives and aim
  • Conflict about fundamental values

As long as internal conflicts are limited to the first two and are resolved by clear decisions and communications–which is ultimately a leader’s responsibility–then they are very manageable. Conflicts about aims and objectives are harder to resolve and may require difficult decisions and resentments. The final form of conflict is usually impossible to resolve without one or more parties to the dispute leaving the organization.

You’ll notice I haven’t mentioned “personality conflict.” In my opinion, this is really nothing more than disagreements about fundamental values.

I’m never too busy to discuss your needs or those of anyone else you feel may benefit from meeting or talking to me. So feel free to contact me at any time!

Richard Martin is The Force Multiplier. He brings his military and business leadership and management experience to bear for executives and organizations seeking to radically improve performance, grow, and thrive in the face of rapid change, harsh competition, and increasing uncertainty.

© 2015 Richard Martin. Reproduction and quotes are permitted with proper attribution.

I was recently discussing different approaches to strategy formulation and implementation with my good friend Phil Symchych. Phil is an expert in wealth building for owners of mid-market enterprises. When I presented some of the military principles of strategy, Phil enthusiastically endorsed them and encouraged me to create an approach around the four most important ones.

As a result, I’ve just developed a quick and easy model for applying military principles of strategy and tactics to achieve business success. I’m calling this new model, MOME. It stands for Morale, Objectives, Mass, and Economy. Naturally, I’ve leveraged these principles with my near decade-long experience of applying this philosophy to help businesses grow and prosper in the face fierce competition and rapidly changing wants and needs. Let’s look at each in turn and then at some of the ready applications for the model.

Morale. Military strategists and leaders have long known that MORALE is THE critical human factor in war and conflict. However, it is also foundational for business and strategy. The simplest definition of morale is the “will to victory.” It is the willingness to make sacrifices, persevere, and focus on achieving one’s aims despite setbacks, obstacles, and opposition. Morale is driven by the quality of leadership, the mission, and vision of the organization, and the level of engagement of employees and members to its foundational principles and goals.

Objectives. All military strategists agree that selection and maintenance of the aim is THE most important of all the principles of war and conflict. You need a clearly articulated end state—what does victory or success look like—as well as a specific and concrete mission to get everyone aligned and working to the same end. Moreover, when you communicate these throughout the organization, telling people what outcomes to achieve and not how to achieve them, they become motivated to use their initiative and leadership to overcome obstacles and adapt on the fly to the inevitable changes in situation and conditions. This is why a business needs a concrete vision of where it is heading as well as an engaging mission for customers and employees. The important thing is to be as concrete as possible and to operationalize the vision into a hierarchy of subordinated goals and missions to maximize alignment and focus at all levels of the organization.

Mass. In the British and Canadian military, this principle is known as concentration of force, mainly because they are small forces. But in the US forces and other large forces, they simply come right out and talk about MASS. The fundamental point here is that you must put your money where your mouth is. You have to concentrate for the “big push” or main effort so you attain your objectives as quickly and efficiently as possible. Businesses must be aware of their strengths and weaknesses and focus them to out-manoeuvre competitors in order to offer greater value for targeted customers.

Economy. This is the flip side of mass and concentration of force. There are never sufficient resources to accomplish everything that you want. You have to prioritize. In fact, the best definition of economy is the one developed by economists: Economy is the allocation of scarce resources that have alternative uses. You may have to take a defensive or maintenance posture in some areas of your business so you can free up the resources to invest in the business lines where you want to be on the offensive. By the same token, you have support your objectives and lines of advance with adequate logistical and financial means. There is also the “economic” and financial aspect of your strategy. Whatever you decide to do, it has to be “economical” in the sense of presenting a strong and valid business case.

To see how the MOME model applies in practice, let’s look at the example of an acquisition:

  1. How will this affect MORALE and other group factors in the acquiring company and the acquired? Does this change the combined units’ fundamental mission? Who will stay on and who will be let go?
  2. What are the OBJECTIVES of the acquisition or merger? Have these been clearly articulated and communicated to all stakeholders? What outcomes are you expecting? Are they realistic or more like wishful thinking?
  3. Will the acquisition allow you to generate more MASS for high-growth opportunities or are you just throwing good money after bad? Is this just an ego trip or is it a viable opportunity? What is the main effort of the acquisition process and what are the supporting actions? What is your plan to out-manoeuvre and surprise your competitors, and to apply your center of gravity—i.e., your key strengths—to achieve your objectives?
  4. What are the ECONOMICS of the plan? Where do you need to ECONOMIZE in order to free up lower priority resources so you can create mass on the main effort? How will you prioritize these resources and what are the supporting functions and tasks?

These are just some of the specific questions your plan and strategy must answer so you can create the conditions for success and victory. You can’t leave anything to chance, and where there are uncertainties, you have to guard your flanks and rear areas with sound risk management.

How do YOUR strategy and plans measure up to the MOME model? How is morale in your company? What are your objectives? Do you have mass? Are you economizing in the right areas, and what are the economics of your business? I can help you answer these questions.

I’m never too busy to discuss your needs or those of anyone else you feel may benefit from meeting or talking to me. So feel free to contact me at any time!

Richard Martin is The Force Multiplier. He brings his military and business leadership and management experience to bear for executives and organizations seeking to radically improve performance, grow, and thrive in the face of rapid change, harsh competition, and increasing uncertainty.

© 2015 Richard Martin. Reproduction and quotes are permitted with proper attribution.

In battle the best way to defeat an entrenched enemy is to hit him in his weak spot or, even better, manoeuvre around him completely to make his position untenable (and irrelevant). By the same token, a company can outflank or bypass the competition through innovation and savvy market manoeuving. Here are some questions from Brilliant Manoeuvres to improve your ability to use the indirect approach:

  • Are there customers, segments, or entire markets that are currently inadequately served or ignored by established competitors?
  • Are there existing products and services that could be modified to better meet these needs?
  • Are there components or technologies that could be re-combined or suitably modified to meet these needs?
  • Could you effectively outflank and bypass the competition by exploiting these under-served or ignored needs?
  • What competencies and resources can you bring to bear to exploit these opportunities?
  • What financial, human, technical, marketing, and sales capabilities could you develop or acquire to bypass the competition?
  • Can you keep the risks within acceptable bounds? What means could you use to do so?

Richard Martin is The Force Multiplier. He brings his military and business leadership and management experience to bear for executives and organizations seeking to radically improve performance, grow, and thrive in the face of rapid change, harsh competition, and increasing uncertainty.

I’m never too busy to discuss your needs or those of anyone else you feel may benefit from meeting or talking to me. So feel free to contact me at any time!

© 2015 Richard Martin. Reproduction and quotes are permitted with proper attribution.

I just read an article in the Globe and Mail about how to manage so-called “Millenials.” Never has so much navel gazing led to such hot air with so little logic or evidence to back it up. But other than that I don’t feel strongly about it…

The problem I see with the whole Gen-X, Gen-Y and other assorted generation alphabet soup claims is that they are based on (re)discovering things that have always existed. Young people today supposedly need meaningful work and only respond to good leadership. When was it ever different? And moreover, isn’t that what all people want, at least in some measure?

As an officer in the Canadian Army from 1985 to 2006, I saw a transition to more meaningful and transformational leadership, but it applied to everyone, not just Gen-Xers and Gen-Yers. Someone in their forties or fifties was no more accommodating of incompetent leadership and asinine work than someone in their teens, twenties, or thirties. I know I always wanted meaningful work and a sense of belonging.

Anyone who has read Plato will know that elders have been harping about the supposed lack of respect for authority or their impatience with traditional ways of doing things of the younger generations since at least the 5th century BC. And it’s been going on ever since. Remember the Monty Python skit about the “Young People Today”? It came out in the early 70s, before they’re were Millenials, or Generation Alphabet Soup.

And what about all those previous generations of dreamers and rebels who wanted to change society and intergenerational relations? Weren’t they looking for meaningful work, a sense of belonging, and other intrinsic motivations? Didn’t they respond to competent, transformational leaders who sought to influence them through intrinsic motivation, the power of example, and challenging goals and responsibilities?

The sooner we get off this generational hobby horse, the sooner we can get back to sound principles of leadership, which I’ve written about extensively. People of all ages, backgrounds, and cultures respond to inspirational and competent leadership no matter what the circumstances. No one likes to follow an incompetent leader, except perhaps out of pure curiosity. I know, I’ve had the practical experiences leading soldiers and civilians, business people and managers, around the world in all environments.

Richard Martin is a Master Strategist and Leadership Catalyst. Richard brings his military and business leadership and management experience to bear for executives and organizations seeking to radically improve performance, grow, and thrive in the face of rapid change, harsh competition, and increasing uncertainty.

© 2015 Richard Martin. Reproduction and quotes are permitted with proper attribution.

Call this concentration of force, a key principle of war and strategy.

  • What strategies, initiatives, tactics are getting results?
  • How can you reinforce these to seize and maintain the initiative over detractors and competitors?
  • What are you doing now that is not getting results and that is taking up significant results?
  • Are these activities worth continuing because you’ve only just started them, or have you been putting in significant effort for piddling results?
  • What would be the impact of cancelling or transferring these activities in order to free up the resources so you can focus them on the successful initiatives and incursions?

Richard Martin is a Master Strategist and Leadership Catalyst. Richard brings his military and business leadership and management experience to bear for executives and organizations seeking to radically improve performance, grow, and thrive in the face of rapid change, harsh competition, and increasing uncertainty.

© 2015 Richard Martin. Reproduction and quotes are permitted with proper attribution.

There’s a principle of defence that distinguishes between vital ground and key terrain. In a nutshell, vital ground is the position or ground that you must defend to the last man, and if you fail in that task, then the whole defensive line will fall apart. Key terrain includes all those areas and positions that allow you to slow down or channel an attacker or challenger and that make the defence of vital ground that much stronger. If you lose control of key terrain, then that jeopardizes your hold on vital ground.

Whether it’s with our followers, employers, clients, suppliers, or anyone else for that matter, it’s important to distinguish what is vital ground from what is key terrain. In some cases, you can give up key terrain by trading space for time, but it’s easy to confuse ego or a false sense of superiority for vital ground, when it’s just key terrain, or a way to put some distance between ourselves and others. If we confuse the two, we can get caught up in fighting battles we can’t win or using up all our ammunition in pyrrhic victories.

Richard Martin is a Master Strategist and Leadership Catalyst. Richard brings his military and business leadership and management experience to bear for executives and organizations seeking to radically improve performance, grow, and thrive in the face of rapid change, harsh competition, and increasing uncertainty.

© 2015 Richard Martin. Reproduction and quotes are permitted with proper attribution.

The best way to defeat an entrenched enemy is to go around him, exposing weaknesses and gaps in the defence, and exploiting them to go beyond his defences in order to threaten his whole position.

  • Are there customers, segments, or entire markets that are currently inadequately served or ignored by established competitors?
  • Are there existing products and services that could be modified to better meet these needs?
  • Are there components or technologies that could be re-combined or suitably modified to meet these needs?
  • Could you effectively outflank and bypass the competition by exploiting these under-served or ignored needs?
  • What competencies and resources can you bring to bear to exploit these opportunities?
  • What financial, human, technical, marketing, and sales capabilities could you develop or acquire to bypass the competition?
  • Can you keep the risks within acceptable bounds? What means could you use to do so?

Richard Martin is a Master Strategist and Leadership Catalyst. Richard brings his military and business leadership and management experience to bear for executives and organizations seeking to radically improve performance, grow, and thrive in the face of rapid change, harsh competition, and increasing uncertainty.

© 2015 Richard Martin. Reproduction and quotes are permitted with proper attribution.

We’ve all heard about the well-known generations X or Y, or about the children of the millennium, the so-called ‘Millennials.’ Young people, let’s say for sake of argument, workers under 35 years of age, supposedly are very different than us baby-boomers. Nevertheless, my experience and observations tell me there’s no truth to this affirmation. Young people seek the very same things that older people seek.

It’s been close to ten years that I’ve been working as a management consultant, coach, trainer, and public speaker. I continually hear talk about how more demanding young people are than we older folks were when we were young. Young people insist upon their holidays. They don’t like working weekends or evenings or graveyard shifts. They’re looking for challenges, responsibilities, and intellectual stimulus. They do want to work, but not at the price of their family or personal lives. They want to work in businesses or other organizations that are socially, politically, and ecologically responsible.

What strikes me the most is that young people have the chance of living everyday what their older siblings struggled to get, that is, balance between the commercial and social goals of their work organizations on the one hand, and their family and personal lives on the other hand. In short, they want the very same things that previous generations wanted, but without the social and political struggles, and without facing the same difficulties and obstacles that older workers faced.

Workers aged 45-65 slowly worked their way up through the ranks. Those who entered the workforce between 1975 and 1985 when unemployment was high had to content themselves with dry bread and water at a time when inflation was rampant and mortgage rates approached 20 percent. Furthermore, in those days, one didn’t question authority in terms of respect and conformity to rules. When I was in elementary school, no one asked me if I wanted to be an altar boy or receive the Catholic sacraments. Adults just assumed that you would follow orders or suffer the consequences. It is therefore a little frustrating for older people to see younger workers face an embarrassment of riches when it comes to choosing employment or imposing their own values, or at least to take them into account in their work and career.

Unemployment in some sectors and regions remains high, especially for people without the professional qualifications needed today. For those with qualifications, however, there are lots of opportunities. There are even some sectors where there is a current or coming shortage of labour. The mayor of Quebec City shouts from the rooftops that there is a serious shortage of candidates for many jobs. Jobs go begging in traditional trades such as plumbing, electricity, and others. Trucking firms advertise on radio, as do professional training establishments.

Under such circumstances, it is hardly surprising that a young worker who never has had job security nor had a family to feed, a mortgage, or a pension fund might be mobile and demanding. If a job does not suit him or her for whatever reason, it’s easy to look elsewhere. Lack of satisfaction with a job can have many sources, among them, working conditions and pay. One thing I often hear from young people is that the work is insufficiently satisfying, that the boss doesn’t know how to plan and lead, that employment conditions do not live up to promises. I’m a father of three young women, who often recount to me the incompetence of managers and supervisors. I hear the same things from my undergrad students in my university teaching.

In summary, work complaints, whether from young, old, or middle-aged, reveal the same malaise and feelings. I observe essentially a lack of leadership, planning, and communication. As a military officer, I learned that the art of commanding, above all, comes from the professional and leadership capacities of the leader. To this effect, the ten principles of military leadership are also applicable to business and organizational management. Read the following principles. They apply equally to young or to not-so-young.

  1. Develop professional competence.
  2. Know how to assess one’s strengths and weaknesses, and seek to improve oneself.
  3. Seek and accept responsibilities.
  4. Provide a good example to others, especially your employees.
  5. Ensure yourself that your employees understand your intentions, and direct them in the execution of your mandate.
  6. Know your employees, and promote their welfare.
  7. Develop the leadership potential of each of your supervisors and employees.
  8. Take the right decisions at the right times.
  9. Build the cohesion and effectiveness of your team, and use each employee to the maximum of his or her capacities.
  10. Keep employees aware of mission, changes of situation, and overall portrait of the organization.

Richard Martin is a Master Strategist and Leadership Catalyst. Richard brings his military and business leadership and management experience to bear for executives and organizations seeking to radically improve performance, grow, and thrive in the face of rapid change, harsh competition, and increasing uncertainty.

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