Archive for the ‘Readiness & Strategy’ Category

by Richard Martin

Copyright: Tomas Griger

After the magnitude 8.3 earthquake in Mexico last week, an acquaintance of mine was fretting about how these natural disasters couldn’t be a simple coincidence.

Of course, that acquaintance was referring to the apparently large number of violent systems in the South Atlantic this hurricane season in combination with an earthquake. I’m not sure what these phenomena have to do with each other. How are weather and geology supposed to be connected? Perhaps in the very long term, on the scale of eons. But over days or hours? Not likely.

Humans have a propensity to see causality and correlations where there is just coincidence. Most things happen for no reason at all. It’s easy to see patterns where there are none, especially in nature. If you see linkages where there are none, you can drive yourself crazy with anxiety and paranoia. Things happen. Sometimes they bunch up in time and place. Other times they are more or less spread out.

The trick to being prepared isn’t so much to predict specific causes or events, it’s to prepare for generic outcomes and effects. If you’re in a hurricane or seismic zone, you can’t predict when or where events will occur, but you know that they will occur with a certain frequency and power. For instance, every decade or two, there is a major hurricane in your zone. Every year there is at least a major tropical storm. Geological risks are much harder to characterize, but if you are in high-risk seismic region, then you have to prepare for the worst case.

Of course, preparedness and resiliency are largely a function of wealth. Storms, earthquakes and other natural events are a lot costlier in wealthy regions, but relatively less destructive of life and limb. In poor regions, the relationship is inverted; there are many more deaths and the destruction, although extensive, costs much less. However, the time to rebuild and recover are a direct function of wealth. The greater the capital resources, the faster and easier it is to absorb the costs of reconstruction and resiliency.

These factors also play into the perceptions of coincidence, causality and correlation. We must keep things in perspective when assessing probabilities and impacts. Human destruction is greater in poor countries and increases toward the past. Material destruction was less in the past and is continually increasing. This isn’t because of some connection between events. Rather, it comes from the increased investments in infrastructure, housing, and transportation networks. What was the damage along the Gulf Coast or in Florida prior to people building houses right on the water?

My name is Richard Martin and I’m an expert on applying readiness principles to position companies and leaders to grow and thrive by shaping and exploiting change and opportunity, instead of just passively succumbing to uncertainty and risk.

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

Strategic Readiness Bulletin Number 2 – 8 September 2017

By Richard Martin, founder and president, Alcera Consulting Inc.

Richard Martin issues Strategic Readiness Bulletins on an as needed basis to clients, key decision-makers, and other influencers, to highlight recent or evolving risks, threats, and opportunities for companies and organizations resulting from chaotic change as well as international and national situations of a political, economic, technological, or social nature.

It was my great pleasure to interview Dr. Sean Maloney on 7 September 2017 on the topic of North Korea and nuclear weapons. We explored a number of issues and questions:

Copyright : Michael Borgers

  • Does North Korea really have nuclear weapons?
  • If so, what kinds and how many?
  • Is the threat credible?
  • What are the means of delivering these weapons?
  • Who is most threatened?
  • How can this threat be countered or deterred?

Sean is an international expert on nuclear weapons and nuclear strategy. As you’ll hear, he doesn’t just parrot what you hear in the media. I’m sure you’ll find it most enlightening, no matter what your interests and point of view.

 

Dr. Sean M. Maloney is a Professor of History at Royal Military College of Canada and served as the Historical Advisor to the Chief of the Land Staff of the Canadian Army during the war in Afghanistan. He previously served as the historian for 4 Canadian Mechanized Brigade, the Canadian Army’s primary Cold War NATO commitment after the re-unification of Germany and at the start of Canada’s long involvement in the Balkans. Dr. Maloney has extensive field experience in that region, particularly in Croatia, Bosnia, Kosovo and Macedonia from 1995 to 2001, where he inadvertently observed the activities of the Al Qaeda organization and its surrogates. His work on the Balkans was interrupted by the 9-11 attacks. From 2001 Dr. Maloney has focused nearly exclusively on the war against the Al Qaeda movement and its allies, particularly on the Afghanistan component of that war. He traveled regularly to Afghanistan from 2003 to 2014 to observe and record coalition operations in that country and was the first Canadian civilian military historian to go into combat since the Second World War. He has authored fifteen books, seven of which deal with the Afghanistan war, as well as the controversial Canada and UN Peacekeeping: Cold War by Other Means, 1946-1970 and Learning to Love the Bomb: Canada’s Cold War Strategy and Nuclear Weapons 1951-1970.

You can find out more about Sean at his website www.seanmmaloney.com.

© 2017 Alcera Consulting Inc.

 

 

by Richard Martin

Here is an easy to use four-step to help in readiness for anything, any time.

Step 1: Mobilize

  • Confirm situation and mission
  • Do time estimate
  • Activate team and support network
  • Prepare equipment, dress, “ammunition”
  • Inform “troops”

Step 2: Reconnaissance

  • Terrain (market)
  • Objective (client, goal)
  • Enemy (competitors)
  • Weather (context, conditions)

Step 3: Plan

  • Aim, factors, options, decision, plan
  • Tactics: frontal, flanking, bypass manoeuvres
  • Exploit/protect centre of gravity
  • Economize and mass for optimal impact
  • Pit strengths against weaknesses, exploit gaps

Step 4: Deploy

  • Brief team, supporters, colleagues
  • Initial and final rehearsals
  • Update plan, develop contingency plans
  • Final preparation – material and psychological
  • Morale – How is your will to win?

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

 

by Richard Martin
Readiness depends on gaining and refining as exact a picture of reality as possible. Without a realistic picture, we can’t know if our preparation is-literally-realistic. Our plans and readiness measures may be highly detailed and precise, but we may end up being precisely prepared for the wrong things.
Here are some principles to guide in developing and refining a realistic understanding of conditions:
Multiple Viewpoints: This is analogous to the triangulation technique in orienteering or navigation. You take a bearing on 3 or 4 known landmarks and then plot their reciprocal on a map. (Incidentally, this is how GPS works, but with satellites instead of landmarks.) If the multiple perspectives lead to similar results, that is a strong hint that you’re reading of the situation is realistic.
Converging Evidence: Analyze problems and conditions using different methodologies. Continuing with the analogy from navigation and orienteering, triangulation is one methodology to find your location. Analyzing topography and relating it to a position on a map is a second methodology. Calculating one’s position from dead reckoning-i.e., based on previous distances and orientations-is a third locating methodology. If all three methods converge on the same result, then you can be as close to certain as is reasonable about your actual exact location. If the results of the various methods diverge, this is an indication of a fundamental uncertainty in your assessment of actual conditions.
Independent Analysis: Ask different people or teams to analyze the problem or situation. Keep them separate during the analysis then compare their independent results to see what the commonalities and differences are. This gets around group think and uses the competitive spirit inherent in any cooperative or collaborative endeavour.
Dissenting Opinion: Analyzing dissenting opinions is exactly what Google DIDN’T do with the recent firing of a software engineer who openly questioned the company’s so-called “diversity” policies and practices. Whatever you think of the guy’s opinions, it’s rather ironic that an organization that boasts about its openness and innovativeness felt obliged to quell a clear example of reasoned dissent. You don’t necessarily have to agree with the dissent, but it surely deserves at least to be studied to see if it’s substantive before taking such a radical counter-action.
Skepticism: Skepticism is often equated with systematic disbelief and dissent. In actuality, it is an attitude of questioning inquiry beyond dogma, doctrine, and established truths. Just because you’re skeptical doesn’t mean you must reject accepted beliefs. But nor should you accept them blindly without considering the results of multiple viewpoints, convergence of evidence, independent analysis, and dissenting opinions.
Self-Doubt: This is probably the most important one of all. It’s okay to be confident and to believe in yourself, as long as it’s based on something substantive. The following quote by Nobel Prize winning physicist Richard Feynman says it all: “The first principle is that you must not fool yourself-and you are the easiest person to fool.”
© 2017 Alcera Consulting Inc. This article may be forwarded and reproduced only for non-commercial use with proper attribution.

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

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.

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).

By Richard Martin

This is a well-known phenomenon in the study of critical thinking and rationality. Confirmation bias results when we look at a situation or conditions around us with a view to confirming existing views or beliefs instead of trying to determine what is actually the situation. We look for evidence confirming our pre-existing beliefs, rather than evidence that might undermine them.

To a certain extent, we can never come at a situation with a fully neutral attitude. There is always some predisposition or prior belief colouring our interpretation of evidence and context. We can even say that “facts” depend in large measure on the perspective and attitude we bring to our view of the world.

Understanding and accepting confirmation bias are critical to generating and maintaining an open mind in the face of change and uncertainty. This underlies the theory and practice of readiness. The great majority of crises and setbacks, opportunities and threats, breakthroughs and hindrances, are self-evident when viewed through the rearview mirror. The trick is not to predict, though, for that is impossible; it is to anticipate possibilities and question current assumptions.

There are assumptions and necessities that underlie the coming to fruition of any scenario or plan. We must identify the weaknesses and strengths of these and question our assumptions. By confronting the full range of possibilities, we can be better prepared–more ready–to achieve our goals and overcome setbacks, obstacles, and opposition.

The most effective questions in this respect are: “What would make this scenario/plan come true? What would make it not come true?” Skepticism does not stem from pessimism; but rather from a spirit of inquiry and realism.

New Testimonial

“Richard has been instrumental in getting me to draw on my hard-won experience and ideas to turn them into marketable intellectual property and products. His disciplined, systematic approach has already led to several significant accomplishments for me. Whether you’re just starting out as an entrepreneur, or working to get to the next level, Richard can boost your productivity and organizational effectiveness. Be forewarned, though. There is no magic formula, just systematic thinking, disciplined execution, and… Richard Martin.”

Caroline Salette, Owner and President, RE/MAX Royal Jordan Inc. and Salette Group Inc.

Richard Martin’s Business Readiness Process:

  1. Ensure vigilance through situational awareness.
  2. Do preliminary assessment of tasks and time.
  3. Activate organization or team.
  4. Conduct reconnaissance.
  5. Do detailed situational estimate.
  6. Conduct wargame and decide on optimal course(s) of action.
  7. Perform risk management and contingency planning.
  8. Communicate plan and issue direction.
  9. Build organizational robustness.
  10. Ensure operational continuity.
  11. Lead and control execution.
  12. Assess performance.

Contact me to apply the whole thing–or just a piece, as needed–to improve your strategy, your readiness… and your results!

Did you know that an infantry battalion only needs about 3 to 4 hours of prep and planning time to be battle ready? What are you waiting for to get the same benefits for your outfit?

Why Sunday and What Does “Stand To” Mean?

Sunday? I want you to get my insights and advice first and fast, so you can prepare and up your readiness and results before others even know what’s happening!

And Stand To? It’s the order used in the military to get forces to man the parapets and be in a heightened state of situational awareness and, yes, readiness, so they can face any threat or undertake any mission.

My name is Richard Martin and I’m an expert on applying readiness principles to position companies and leaders to grow and thrive by shaping and exploiting change and opportunity, instead of just passively succumbing to uncertainty and risk.

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