Posts Tagged ‘decision-making’

by Richard Martin
Well, we’ve just had our latest winter storm of the decade (or what it century?) in Eastern Canada. Among other events, Montreal’s roads were a scene of chaos and waiting, and waiting, and waiting….
The Quebec Department of Transportation (Ministère du transport du Québec, MTQ) has been heavily blamed for the chaos and poor response on the roads, especially on Highway 13, one of the two main North-South arteries through Montreal. To illustrate, hundreds of cars were stranded on the 13 from late Tuesday afternoon rush hour through to mid-day on Wednesday. Some people had to spend the night in their car. We’re lucky no one died or was seriously injured there. It was a distinct possibility given the harshness of the conditions, the fact that most people were ill equipped (i.e. not ready) for just such a situation, and that there were deaths and serious injuries in other areas.
But the worst reproaches have been directed at the MTQ. It has since come out that the ministry’s emergency plans and procedures appear to be overly complex, requiring numerous steps in the decision process for road closure and emergency response (actually, 94 steps, but that’s the entire decision flowchart). But that’s probably a red herring. Such decision processes always look complex out of context. The real proof of validity and effectiveness for any emergency/contingency plan isn’t what it looks like on paper, but its performance and execution once it’s put into action. It’s clear that the MTQ and probably many other government and municipal agencies were out of their depth and overwhelmed by the scale of the disruption.
Instead, I think the real problem was that of poor preparation and training, unclear activation processes, lack of well-defined readiness levels, as well as a lack of practice. Did the ministry ever conduct exercises? I’m not talking about a “tabletop” exercise with a few departmental reps. I’m talking about full-scale field exercises? Many of these problems would have come out beforehand if they had been exercised adequately. Also, what disaster and/or storm scenarios were envisaged? If appears that there was little understanding of the prior coordination and planning that are required to ensure interdepartmental and intergovernmental cooperation. Wildlife agents in the Québec Forestry and Wildlife Ministry are equipped and trained to conduct search and rescue operations in heavy weather and extreme survival conditions, but no one called upon that department to provide support. This is a clear indication that prior arrangements we’re lacking, either in terms of planning or in actually requesting and coordinating a joint response.
This is ALWAYS my biggest beef with any organization I work with on risk management and emergency/business continuity readiness: the lack of practice. It’s one thing to tread with care when you’re a for-profit business and any disruption to ongoing operations for the purposes of exercising can have serious impacts on production and client services. But when we’re talking about a public-service organization with a clear public safety mandate, you simply MUST exercise thoroughly and regularly. If it’s good enough for the military, firefighters, and airport operations and security organizations, then it should be good enough for municipal and governmental departments at all levels and in all domains, especially if lives depend on it.
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.

 

by Richard Martin

Conflict? Well, maybe that’s too strong a word. But I got your attention.

What I’m really alluding to is that readiness depends on considering varied points of view, a range of scenarios, especially ones you don’t like or fear, and a willingness to look at the consequences, negative and positive, of your future decisions and actions.

The best way to generate a full range of considerations, analyses, and options is to surround yourself with advisors and leaders who are not afraid of speaking their minds and whom you know for certain have divergent opinions, interests, and talents. Doris Kearns Goodwin wrote a book about Lincoln’s leadership and his cabinet, called Team of Rivals.

The title says it all. Goodwin makes the case that Lincoln was more interested in generating disagreement and, yes, even a healthy amount of conflict and competition, between his cabinet members. That way he was assured that he could get a variety of heartfelt opinions, and not just sycophantic agreement with his own ideas.

Contrast that with the pictures we regularly see of the North Korean dictator surrounded by his minions. They’re all holding their little notebooks and pencils, ready to jot down the “dear leader’s” every thought and wish. The forced rictuses of these supposed advisors and senior military commanders reminds me more of the dominated chimpanzees in a troupe who are trying to avoid the wrath of a despotic alpha male than the confident stance of generals and leaders of men.

On the other hand, this contrast shows what is needed for a team-of-rivals approach to be successful:

  1. The boss must be secure and confident in his/her leadership to not feel threatened by opposing points of view, especially from his/her advisors and delegated leaders.
  2. The advisors and subordinate leaders must have faith that they will be heard and listened to, that they will get their chance to put their point of view across without getting fired or otherwise reprimanded or humiliated.
  3. This entails loyalty both ways. The boss must be willing to hear divergent points of view, so long as they are debated “in camera.” The advisors and subordinates must accept that once a decision is made, they will carry it out as if it were their own decision, and this regardless of whether they were originally in agreement with it or not.
  4. If a subordinate or advisor can’t live with a decision by the boss, then he or she must resign.

How about you? Are you surrounded with advisors and subordinates who always agree with you, or do you have a “team of rivals,” people who will give you ground truth and stand by their principles? What’s more, are they willing to say what they want to say, and then execute the plan once the decision is made? Do you have the confidence and self-esteem to accept well-considered criticism and a divergence of opinions and passions? Can you take disagreement and even a certain level of conflict?

If you can count on the loyalty, integrity, and collegiality of your closest advisors and subordinates, then you have a great start on generating the range of understandings and options to propel your state of readiness to higher and more sustainable levels.

Remember Richard’s Business Readiness Process in 2017!

  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.

Call me for a Business Readiness Briefing in 2017!

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?

Feel free to contact me at any time to discuss your objectives and needs.

And remember… STAND TO!!!

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.

Rolling Barrage

by Richard Martin

Last week we looked at the “future paradox.” The further into the future one looks, the greater the uncertainty. Parallel with this, the lead time for complex initiatives and plans and the lag time between intentions and realization can sometimes be years. We must therefore commit now for things in the future even while not having a full appreciation of the conditions that will prevail when our plans come to fruition.

I’ve developed the following yearly planning framework as a cyclical process to offset future uncertainty and rapid change with regular performance assessments and updating of forecasts, assumptions, and decisions.

This leads to a rolling 3-year forecasting and planning cycle. Think of it as a rolling barrage that overcomes the future paradox. The cycle can shorter or longer depending on your environmental and organizational realities. (I assume that fiscal year = calendar year.)

January: Review the previous year’s results and compare them to what had been anticipated and planned. Prepare for the annual strategy and forecasting retreat.

February-March: Conduct the annual strategy and forecasting retreat. The aim is to confirm the current year’s plans, develop guidance for planning the next year (starting in 9-10 months’ time), and develop outline forecasts and plans for the following one or two years after next.

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.

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.

October: Senior leadership reviews year-to-date and issues guidance and direction to end of current year. Can hold a visioning and scenario-based planning retreat to identify potential opportunities and threats in next 3-5 years and to feed planning and preparation for next year’s forecasting and strategy cycle.

October-November: Organizational elements conduct detailed implementation planning and organizing to be ready to implement projects and initiatives in next year.

December: Overall review of cyclical process with recommendations to amend for improved efficiency and effectiveness in next year.

Remember Richard’s Business Readiness Process in 2017!

  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.

Call me for a Business Readiness Briefing!

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.

The “Power Law” is one of the most useful concepts for making predictions and decisions in business and management.

The power law shows how two variables–one dependent, the other independent–covary. Mathematically, one varies as a function of the other by being raised to a certain power (exponent).

The following diagram shows this type of relationship. Often these are depicted on log or log-log graphs, but I show the “power curve” as an asymptote on both axes of the graph to highlight the non-linearity of the relationship between the two variables.

power-law-basic

A concrete example will help. The great majority of earthquakes are of very low magnitude. High magnitude earthquakes are much rarer than low magnitude earthquakes. In fact, their magnitude varies in inverse exponential proportion to the total number of earthquakes. In practice, this means that there are literally thousands of earthquakes every day around the world, but magnitude 6, 7, and 8 ones are much rarer. The most powerful earthquakes of all, over 9 on the Richter, scale are very rare. They can happen only a few times a century, or even less. This doesn’t mean that the magnitude of any particular earthquake can be predicted. It does however imply that given a sufficiently large sample, we will eventually see a frequency-magnitude distribution that resembles the graph above.

This type of relationship is ubiquitous in nature, and that includes our human and social natures. There was a whole book written on this topic–The Long Tail, by Chris Anderson–with emphasis on the right side of the graph. In his book, Anderson described how the internet has made many businesses or ideas viable which would not previously even have been known. He called this the long tail because there are musicians, artists, artisans, crafts workers, professionals, etc. who can provide their productions and services to people around the world, even though they can’t compete with the more traditional providers who dominate markets by occupying the left side of the power curve. This makes for much more diversity and many more opportunities to get known and appreciated, and to develop a following because it lowers traditional barriers to entry and long-term viability.

This type of relationship is also depicted in the following diagram. I show the relationship between number of clients and the number purchases, interactions, or value of each category of client that characterizes the market and product distributions of most, if not all, companies (including my own clients).

power-law-of-clients-and-value

For instance, I’ve been working with a banking client. This graph shows the relationship between number of clients and the number of products/services that each client has with the bank. The total market size for this bank is about 80,000 potential users of its services. Of these potential users of its services, the great majority, about 85 %, have no business relationship with the bank. Of the 13,000 or so that do use the bank’s services, the majority only use less than 3 of over 20 products and services. As we move to the right, there are less clients, but their interactions with the bank are more intensive. In other words, there are are many fewer clients in categories to the right, but they use many more of the bank’s services, which in turn generate much greater value. On the other hand, there are no actual clients who do all of their banking and meet all of their financial needs and objectives, much less use all of the bank’s services. This is why we can depict the lower right part of the curve as an asymptote. You never actually reach complete saturation or use.

We’ve all noticed these types of power-law relationships in our professional and personal lives, our management and business experiences, and even in some natural phenomena. This relationship is often referred to as the 80/20 law, Pareto’s Law, or Zipf’s Law. It shows up in such truisms as: 80 % of my problems are caused by 20 % (rates can vary) of my people; most of my sales and profits come from a small number of sales reps; only a few of my clients provide most of my revenue and profits; this product category accounts for 45 % of my sales, but 70 % of my profits; etc., etc.

The following diagram is a further illustration of the principle. It comes from an online article by Mark McLean of the Toronto Real Estate Board (TREB) and shows an almost perfect example of a power-law distribution in the number of deals done by different categories of real estate agents who are members of TREB.  We can see that only a very small number of agents in TREB can be considered highly successful, prolific even.

treb-gif

Of those agents having completed 6 or less deals in a year, a similar relationship holds, although it’s less stark:

treb-6-and-under

Whatever we wish to call them, power-law distributions and relationships underlie much of the correlations and dynamics that surround us. We can use them in making general predictions and, along with the S-curve phenomenon I described in a previous post, we have two very powerful tools and concepts for understanding the world around us. Moreover, power laws and S-curves are not only ubiquitous, they tend to show what’s called “self-similarity,” or a fractal pattern. I’ll discuss that third powerful concept next week.

© 2016 Alcera Consulting Inc.

This article may be forwarded, reproduced, or otherwise referenced for non-commercial use with proper attribution. All other rights are reserved and explicit permission is required for commercial use.

Monday STAND TO!

By Richard Martin, Expert in Business Readiness and Exploiting Change

“Stand to!” is the order given to put troops in a high state of readiness. It comes from the trenches of the First World War, when forces on both sides would stand ready for action at the parapets just before dawn and just after dusk in case of surprise enemy attack. The practice continues to this day, although adapted to the realities of modern warfare and conflict. The order to “stand to!” encapsulates the whole theory and practice of military readiness, which is about awareness, anticipation, and preparation before, during, and after operations, in war and in peace.

It’s time for a change. My book Brilliant Manoeuvres came out in the fall of 2012 and since then I’ve been issuing Brilliant Manoeuvres just about every Monday morning to help, you, my faithful readers manoeuvre successfully to achieve outstanding growth in your business and leadership capacity.

I’ve decided to change my focus to generating and building your business readiness. This is also in line with my latest writing project, tentatively titled, Stand To! Military Readiness Principles to Thrive in Business and Propel Your Growth.

Why is military readiness relevant for business? In my practice as a business consultant, I’ve noticed that many, if not most, executives and entrepreneurs are well prepared to fight the last war, but not well positioned to fight the current one, much less the next one. They frequently have limited situational awareness, poorly adapted decision-making, planning, and communication processes, and are sluggish in leveraging opportunities, responding to threats, and mitigating risks. After all, change is permanent; the real question is whether a business can exploit it and shape it to its advantage, whether it is positioned to seize and maintain the initiative or to reel from successive blows of evolving markets and competition.

From Awareness to Robustness–What Is Business Readiness?

Business readiness is the capacity to exploit change by maximizing opportunities and minimizing risks and threats in order to grow and thrive.

The first level of business readiness is situational awareness, which I define as the ability to discern an organizational shock or environmental change that may lead to crisis, and to take a measured approach to avoiding, leveraging, or resolving it.

The second level of business readiness is preparedness. A well prepared organization is one which has identified a number of risks and threats beforehand and has taken measures to mitigate or even eliminate some of these through active prevention. Many organizations have contingency plans to deal with various disasters, emergencies, and crises due to technological or natural hazards. The quintessential ready organization is the fire department, which has a well-defined set of threats and risks and is structured, trained, and equipped exactly for that purpose. There are others, however, such as airports, hospitals and other health-care facilities, law enforcement agencies, etc. Firms such as builders, manufacturers and mining companies also must have plans and procedures in place to deal with accidents, technological hazards, competition, and socio-political opposition.

The highest level of business readiness is robustness, which I define as the ability to absorb change and shocks by shaping the environment and leveraging the inevitable risks, threats, and uncertainty. Not many organizations operate at this level of readiness. Military forces come to mind as singularly robust and they can be used in a number of areas beyond combat because of their built in resiliency, flexibility, and access to logistical and human resources anywhere, at any time. While they can provide a useful example of what is possible, the reality is that most organizations are currently not very capable in this regard.

What all of these levels have in common is a certain level of resiliency, the ability to bounce back from adversity and shock and to continue functioning adequately. Further to that, however, situational awarenesspreparedness, and robustness are functions of increasing flexibilityredundancy, risk-taking, resourcefulness, and individual/collective initiative. All of these capabilities can be built into an organization and inculcated into its leadership and employees.

I hope you’ll join me as I develop this theme over the coming weeks and months. Feel free to contact me at any time with suggestions, questions, or comments.

And remember… STAND TO!!!

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

Everything has advantages and disadvantages, and no amount of hype and fashion-mania can eliminate that basic law of nature.

I’ve been reading (and rereading) books by Vaclav Smil. He’s a professor at University of Manitoba who is a world renowned expert on energy, energy flows, and modern industrial society. He analyzes claims about various industrial processes and energy conversions and uses in terms of their technicalities. More important, though, is that he highlights the advantages and disadvantages of each of these options and practices. There is no “perfect” energy conversion or industrial process. All we have are positive effects and negative effects, cost and benefits, opportunities and risks.

This resembles the way I was trained to develop and assess tactical, operational, and strategic plans and manoeuvres in the Army. You first must know what your realistic options are. Then you develop them sufficiently to identify key advantages and disadvantages, costs and benefits, and opportunities and risks. There is no free lunch, much less a perfect option or plan.

If someone comes along telling you they’ve got the perfect solution or a cost-free alternative, you’re better to treat them as a snake oil salesman, because what they’re selling is akin to a perpetual motion machine.

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

I’ve developed the following model to guide leaders in when and how to be decisive, delegative, consultative, or participative.

Decisive-Participative Matrix
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.