Posts Tagged ‘strategy’

Strategic Readiness Bulletin Number 1 – 1 March 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.

What Is the Strategic Readiness Issue?

Asylum on Canadian flag.

Asylum on Canadian flag.

Recent events and fears in the United States are apparently pushing many resident aliens and immigrants in that country to reconsider their future there. In recent weeks, we have learned that hundreds of individuals and families, sometimes with very young children, have braved cold weather and harsh conditions to cross the border into Canada. They are arrested and detained, and then presumably further processed by Canadian government agencies after requesting refugee status. As many commentators have already pointed out, if there is a mini-surge of “walk-in” refugee claimants in the winter, what will happen when the weather improves up north (literally), and it gets worse down south (figuratively)?

We can think what we want of this situation, but the important question to ask is: Is this a risk, a threat, an opportunity, or some combination of these? Readers may believe that I’m being alarmist, but this is furthest from the truth. The essence of readiness—whether for defence or for profit—is anticipation. As the old military saying goes, “Time spent in reconnaissance is never wasted.” We can extend this by adding anticipation and planning as well. Readiness is a function of awareness, which in turn requires surveying your surroundings and making projections, highlighting potential outcomes and effects, and developing scenarios and contingency plans to react or act in a timely and effective manner.

Who Can Be Affected?

This is nothing but a quick list of businesses, organizations, and agencies that could be affected by a refugee or border crisis of some kind in coming months:

  • Manufacturers and other businesses that depend on imports and exports
  • Transportation and logistics companies
  • Federal, provincial, and local government agencies and departments
  • Ports and border-crossing facilities
  • Towns and villages near border crossings, official and unofficial, including their fire departments, schools, hospitals, and other medical facilities
  • Charitable and/or community organizations such as the Red Cross, the YMCA, local associations, NGOs, etc.

What Are the Risks and/or Opportunities?

Here are two simple scenarios to show how companies and organizations can be affected by a surge in refugee crossings and claimants.

Scenario 1: A small town near the Quebec border with the US is overwhelmed with refugees in the early summer. Available facilities are rapidly claimed by federal and provincial government agencies. There is a need to lodge, feed, and care for a relatively large influx people seeking to enter Canada as refugees. The town’s administration is overwhelmed by the influx and local citizens are increasingly enraged by the “threat to law and order,” people crossing their property, and perhaps even squatting.

Think this is far-fetched? Consider the following headline in a Globe and Mail article of 7 February 2017: “Manitoba town pleads for federal help with refugee influx.”

Scenario 2: A transportation company depends on cross-border shipping and logistics for a bulk of its business. The refugee influx gives rise to political actions by the federal government to control border access better. Even though people are crossing at secondary and tertiary border locations, or even unmanned areas, CBSA steps up searches and security at official crossings. This introduces long lineups and delays at border crossings. American officials do the same in the other direction for no logical reason.

Assessing Your Situation

You can look at any kind of disruptive scenario from two perspectives: defensive (as risk or threat) or offensive (as opportunity).

Defensive Assessment: Risk is the product of probability and consequence/impact. Reducing or eliminating the risk probability falls under the rubric of prevention. Responding to, containing, eliminating and recovering from the risk impact is called mitigation. I’ve illustrated this in the following diagram. As you can see, contingency planning is any preparation and planning you conduct to be ready for a risk should prevention fail. If prevention is your 1st line of defence against a risk scenario, contingency planning is your 2nd line of defence (recovery is the 3rd line).

assessing-risks-and-threats

Offensive Assessment: On the offensive side, it can sometimes be difficult to see what could be an opportunity, but it follows the same basic logic as defensive risk and threat readiness. Opportunities are thus the product of the probability of a positive event occurring and the beneficial consequences. In that case, your first wave of attack is the scouting and reconnaissance you carry out to detect the opportunities. These are then assessed as to their expected value (probability times benefit) and you can create various initiatives to develop them into full-blown offensive thrusts—the 2nd wave of attack—reinforcing successful ones and pulling back from unsuccessful ones—the 3rd wave of attack.

In this Strategic Readiness Bulletin, I wanted to point out the potential risks, threats, and opportunities that loom for companies, organizations, and agencies as they look at the unfolding refugee situation. It’s up to you to take steps to increase your offensive and defensive readiness.

picture1Richard Martin is an expert in identifying, assessing, and preparing for strategic risks, threats, … AND opportunities, so companies and organizations can exploit change, instead of passively reacting or succumbing to it.

Richard.Martin@alcera.ca

www.alcera.ca

www.exploitingchange.com

(514) 453-3993

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

What risks (or opportunities) are staring you right in the face? Are you doing anything about them, or are you just hoping that they will go away (in the case of risks and threats) or that they will miraculously come to pass (in the case of opportunities)?

Just off the top of my head, I can think of some major events and changes in conditions that could be risks or opportunities, depending on your perspective, needs, objectives, and readiness to defend them or exploit them:

  • An incipient refugee crisis in Canada: Think I’m being alarmist? Hundreds are crossing the border now and it’s winter. What might happen when the weather changes, literally and figuratively? I’m sure many in Europe didn’t anticipate how things could turn so quickly in the last two years. Forewarned is forearmed, but only if you think things through and have contingency plans do deal with the possibilities.
  • Global upswing in populist demagoguery and politics: This can lead to reactionary policies, official identity politics, closed borders, intrusive searches and surveillance, economic protectionism, et j’en passe
  • “America First”: This goes beyond Donald Trump as president. He isn’t the cause of the wave of nativism, protectionism, and bellicosity in the U.S., but he sure is riding it!

No matter what your role or mission, whether you’re a company, a government organization, a health care provider, educator, or non-profit, these events may affect you, your objectives, your profit, your revenues, even your viability and existence. You must assess these types of changes seriously and determine the nature of the risk and whether it’s a threat or an opportunity.

I’ve started working and putting out a new type of situational awareness and briefing document. I’m calling them Strategic Readiness Bulletins. I’ll be putting them out on an as needed basis to highlight events and changes in the global environment that can impact businesses and organizations in all sectors.

However, nothing beats actually thinking for yourself and putting brainpower into seeing how such changes can be absorbed or exploited, avoided or mitigated.

Oh, and I can help you with this process, any time, any place, quickly and efficiently. But you must contact me first…

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

Back in January I listed the actions and milestones for improving readiness over the course of the year. Here is what I highlighted for Q1:

  • 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.

Well, we’re over half way through Q1. Have you been progressing in conducting these reviews, forecasts and plans? Have you planned your annual strategy and forecasting retreat? Do you know who will be involved? Do you have an overarching goal and intent for this year and next?

Despite what many people say and believe, this doesn’t have to be a lengthy process. You need up-to-date financials and data and one day to conduct the retreat. If you’re disciplined about it, you will end the day with a unified understanding of your situation, the overarching vision (which is nothing more than your strategic goal), the organization’s mission, and the main and supporting thrusts and priorities to achieve this strategy, including positioning and differentiation and enabling capabilities.

I can help you with all of this. Call me for a Strategic Readiness Briefing now and we can discuss how to proceed quickly and efficiently.

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.

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.

 

I learned a valuable tactical lesson as a young infantry officer in the Canadian Army. We were on exercise in northern Norway, training to defend against a Soviet invasion (or incursion) as part of Nato’s deterrent stance.

My platoon was in a company that had to adopt a defensive posture against the forces simulating the enemy. As we rode into our positions in the company commander’s jeep, he told us that a quick and dirty technique to reconnoiter a defensive position was to drive into the area on the route we believe the enemy will take. That way, we get a view of the terrain from the enemy’s perspective and can incorporate that into our own positioning and planning.

It was a valuable lesson which I used throughout my military career, whether on the offensive, the defensive, or in peacekeeping and internal security. Always look at your situation from your enemy’s point of view. What is his objective? What is he trying to achieve? How is he likely to move and manoeuvre? What are his concerns and weaknesses? What are his strengths? You can apply this not only to an enemy, but also to a potential ally or any of the numerous stakeholders and bystanders on the modern battlefield.

When you think of it, though, this wisdom is just as applicable in business and management in general. I’ve been working as a volunteer with a non-profit to organize an upcoming event. I’ve been applying a similar logic to the people we want to attract to our event, as well as the potential exhibitors we want involved. What is their likely goal? What are their interests, concerns, values, and fears? What will make them comfortable in committing to participating or attending?

A colleague and friend of mine has had a long career in marketing, promotion, selling and business development. He says the key word in marketing and selling is “other.” What does the other person want? What are his goals and interests?

If we put ourselves in the other person’s shoes and look at the situation or the transaction from their point of view, we can gain a lot of understanding (and even empathy) and that will help us formulate better plans, strategies, and communications to reach them–and achieve our ends!

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.

change-takes-time

Now that a new year has dawned, we need to delve deeper into the temporal aspects of readiness so we can increase it in a timely and effective manner.

I call this the “future paradox.” As shown in the lead-in diagram above, the time lag between decisions and effects can short, medium or long. Depending on our periodization, this could be anything from minutes to years. Because of this, we must make decisions now to be ready in the future, but these commitments will restrict our future freedom of action.

While we can’t afford to be stuck in the present, the further out we look and plan, the greater our uncertainty. So, it is crucial that we achieve balance in both areas.

future-paradox-1 future-paradox-2

The military approach to this problem is to consider change and planning over three time horizons: the current operation, the next operation, and the future operations.

We will explore the business applications and implications of this framework next week. For now, suffice it to say that each of these time horizons corresponds to a level of planning and decision-making. Current operations are about short-term decisions and effects; these are mostly at the tactical level. Next operations involve medium-term decisions and effects; these are mostly at the “operational” level of management and leadership. Future operations look at long-term possibilities and scenarios, and what would be required to deal with them. This is mostly a strategic level of management and leadership.

In the meantime, ask yourself the following questions:

  1. What is short-term for you and your business?
  2. What is medium-term for your plans and organization?
  3. What is long-term for your business?

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!

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.

It’s that time again, when all the predictions and forecasts of gloom and doom—or better times ahead—come at us. In the interest of jumping on that gravy train, I make only one prediction for 2017:

There will be predictions, and most of them will be wrong.

A few will be somewhat right, usually something self-evident and not particularly informative: “The stock market will fluctuate.” Well, thanks for that…

Some will be a bit off the mark, but most will be completely wrong; a few will be wildly off the mark. This will lead many media commentators to lament in June that such and such never could have been predicted.

There are fields where there are reasonably accurate predictions, but they tend to be in the sciences. This is because predictions in physics, chemistry, meteorology, etc. are based on empirically-based, quantitative models, and they are put through a process of peer review to ascertain their effectiveness.

The question, then, is what predictions outside of pure sciences can be trusted. Not many, but there are still some precious metals in the pile of slag. You must make your own assessments as these forecasts come out and judge how much credence to lend them. Here are my six simple rules for evaluating the credibility of predictions and the prognosticators making them.

Rule 1—Consider the source (Expertise Rule). Do they have genuine expertise in the subject matter? Are they disinterested parties or participants in the predicted process? In other words, do they have a stake in the outcome? Psychology and common sense dictate that interested parties are seldom as objective as they claim.

Rule 2—Identify the theory or model underlying the prediction (Model Rule). Do they generate predictions based on an explicit explanatory model? Or, do they just seem to wing it, based on intuition and past results?

Rule 3—Determine how the model was developed and tested (Cherry-Picking Rule). Was the explanatory model created through purely statistical legerdemain? In other words, did they analyze a bucket load of data and then look for patterns, or did they instead develop a theoretical model and then see how the data conformed to their predictions. The first approach is called cherry picking; it’s like shooting at the wall and then drawing a target around the closest bunch of bullet-holes. The second approach is the only truly valid one.

Rule 4—Look at the data (Secret Knowledge Rule). Do they provide their inputs and data, or otherwise reveal what and how empirical information was used in formulating their predictions? If they don’t, then how can their models be validated and tested?

Rule 5—Consider the timeframe (Horizon Rule). Some predictions turn out reasonably accurate as to amplitude or outcome. They just never specify WHEN they will come to fruition. I predict that the Dow will hit 25,000… eventually. Makes a big difference.

Rule 6—Compare past predictions to actual results (Performance Rule). This one is self-evident, but the usual case is that past predictions are quickly forgotten in the rush to generate and consume new ones.

You’ll notice that none of these rules gives you an exact answer. That’s because there rarely IS an exact answer, except in tightly constrained situations. Business, finance, economics, politics, sports, and military strategy are all highly complex and somewhat chaotic. Beware the prognosticators who claim inerrant accuracy and foresight.

We may not know precisely what will happen in the future, but we can be better prepared.

That’s why we all need the readiness principles and prudential approaches that I write, educate, and consult on.

Here are some of my other thoughts on these matters:

What Goes Up: The S-Curve and its Many Applications

Trend or Bandwagon?

Beware the Prognosticators

Let’s Have Some Perspective

Stop Predicting, Start Experimenting

Surprised by the Normal

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 if you would like a 90-minute Business Readiness Briefing in early 2017!

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.

I wish to take this opportunity to wish you a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. May we all live in interesting times, and find opportunities to grow and thrive.
It’s always good to take stock when readying for the future. In the interests of sharing some of my recent observations, I provide this list of my “lessons learned” from 2016. Not all directly related to business, but still enlightening I should think.
  1. We need demanding goals. In late 2015 the Trudeau government committed to admitting 25,000 Syrian refugees quickly. Initially, it was by the 31st of December 2015, then by the middle of February 2016 (or something to that effect). The initial timeline was missed, but it appears the second one was mostly met. There were plenty of nay-sayers, but ultimately, the goal was achieved. Had Trudeau set the goal at 5,000 refugees, we probably would have struggled to meet that. He had the guts to set a high goal, which put everyone into overdrive. Kudos!
  2. It ain’t over… till it’s over. Yogi Berra’s favourite saying about baseball games was very true this year, especially in the political arena. Donald Trump’s presidential campaign was declared dead and buried several times since mid-2015, but he always seemed to rebound. Whether you like him or not, he stayed until the end and proved a lot of people wrong.
  3. Homo homini lupus. That’s a Roman saying: “Man is a wolf to man.” As we saw in Syria, Turkey (Kurdish terrorism), Northern Iraq, France (Islamic terror), Europe (with the migrant crisis), and other hotspots around the world, there is no lack of barbarity these days. I like to think of myself as a political and strategic realist. People are capable of great feats of generosity and hope (see point 1), but atavistic tendencies can also surge in a heartbeat.
  4. Geography still exists. Geopolitics and geostrategic interests are the main drivers of international conflicts and tensions. European countries are dependent on Russia’s oil and gas. Consequently, they don’t want to upset Russia too much. Russia wants to control the Crimea because that’s its only guaranteed access to the Black Sea. By extension, Russia and Turkey are in a rapprochement because the only access to the Mediterranean is through the Bosporus and the Dardanelles. I could go on; these are only two examples in one region of how geography continues to dominate international politics, economics and strategy.
  5. Leadership matters. Who’s in charge and how they’re leading and managing the situation make a major difference in performance and events. It’s evident in politics, but we can also see it play out in business. For instance, Microsoft is becoming a leader again after floundering for over a decade. That is largely attributable to the outstanding leadership of the new CEO Satya Nadella.
  6. Elegant scientific theories still need evidence. Without much notice, two of the most cherished theories in physics appear to be on their respective deathbeds. Many physicists have staked their careers on finding dark matter and proving supersymmetry. The first supposedly makes up about five sixths of all the matter in the universe, but efforts to observe it are leading nowhere. The second is needed to make the sub-atomic world comprehensible and is one of the key explanations of dark matter, but the Large Hadron Collider in Europe has eliminated all but the most unlikely candidate models. Things are going to change in a major way in the coming years and decades in physics, possibly as fundamentally as the relativity and quantum revolutions (which gave us microelectronics, nanotech, and nuclear energy, among many other things).
  7. The universe is mind-bendingly big …and inhospitable to life as we know it. We learned a few months ago that there is an earth-like planet in orbit around the nearest star to our solar system. But unlike in science fiction, it would take well over 100,000 years using current understanding (and likely future technology) to reach it. Heck, it took 9.5 years for the New Horizons spacecraft to reach Pluto, and it is the fastest spaceship ever launched. Suspended animation anyone? There is still no sign of life on Mars. Getting there would probably kill any life form, just because of solar radiation. Maybe we should cherish our presence here on earth a bit more…
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 if you would like a 90-minute Business Readiness Briefing in early 2017!

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.

© 2016 Alcera Consulting Inc. This article may be used for non-commercial use with proper attribution.

I had started graduate studies in military history and was participating in a seminar on First World War strategy. The professor was an expert on French-British relations during that war. We were discussing the effectiveness of the French Army’s commanders, generals like Nivelle, who planned and commanded a major offensive in 1917. Like most other offensives at that point of the war, it failed, with massive French casualties. This failure was one of the causes of a near revolt in the ranks and a refusal of a large number of French generals to continue prosecuting the war in what they felt was an ineffective manner. The professor, like many historians before him, said that Nivelle was like many of his colleagues. He had no respect for the life of his soldiers and was willing to squander resources on futile and brutal frontal attacks. Now, I wasn’t an expert on the particular battle under discussion, but I did point out that it is easy to question decisions and leadership from the sidelines. In football that’s called Monday morning quarterbacking, right?

One thing that was drilled into us during our professional military training was that how plans would actually perform in battle was pure conjecture. If there is one thing that we learned from military history, it was that the best laid plans could go awry at the worst possible time, sometimes for the most inane or innocuous reasons. In war as in so many other highly risky endeavors, we seldom achieve our ends with perfect precision, and there are many random and non-random factors that can throw us off our game.

The French experience in the Great War colored the after war lessons learned and planning for the next war during the 1930s. Just like the British and Commonwealth forces, the Americans, Russians, and Germans, the French drew many valuable lessons about tactics, technology, strategy, planning, and logistics during the war. Just like the others, they also experimented a lot, until they found methods and formulas that got results. But the lesson the French seemed to learn above all others was “never again.” After all, the Great War was called the “War to End All Wars.” For four long years, most of northern France—the country’s industrial heart—was amputated and under harsh German occupation. The French high command was determined that they would never again fight a war on French soil, and allow its occupation by a foreign power. The crucial lesson of the Great War was therefore the absolute necessity to fight the war outside France, and the best place to do that was in the Low Countries of Belgium, the Netherlands, and tiny Luxembourg. Mostly flat and open, the terrain to the north of France would allow the wide, sweeping maneuvering, and mechanized battles that had not transpired in the First World War in France between late 1914 and mid-1918, between the initial German Schlieffen plan, a wide flanking maneuver meant to encircle the main French forces between the eastern border with Germany and Paris. That it had failed was testimony to French resolve in 1914 and the “heroes of the Marne.” By mid-1918, everyone was exhausted, materially and psychologically, except the Americans, Canadians, Australians, and New Zealanders. British and Commonwealth forces were using tanks and other mechanized forces in greater numbers, and a war of position and attrition suddenly turned mobile again.

It was this traumatic experience that underlay France’s resolve to defend itself by forcing a future fight with Germany as far north as possible, even into Belgium, Holland, and Luxembourg. So when the country invested in the massive and technologically wondrous Maginot Line, the idea wasn’t to cower passively behind it to absorb the Germany assault. It was rather an attempt to pin down German forces on the French-German border, while maneuvering further north with the bulk of the French Army’s elite mechanized divisions. The German army’s assault in May 1940 was a masterful combination of maneuver and subterfuge. The Germans knew they couldn’t possibly get through the Maginot Line. They also knew that simply replaying the Schlieffen Plan from 1914, which had already failed once, wouldn’t work.

They war gamed their options and came up with a novel solution. Send a significant armored force into the Netherlands and Belgium to create the impression that they were replaying the Schlieffen Plan, while sending token forces against the Maginot Line. The bulk of the German Army’s elite Panzer divisions meanwhile threaded their way through the Ardennes Forest in southwestern Belgium. The French High Command had estimated that such a maneuver was possible, but highly unlikely. French air force reconnaissance reported on the movements, but the French high command continued to evaluate the Ardennes thrust as a fake and the thrust through the Low Countries as the real deal. They quickly learned that it was the exact opposite. The Germans played on the French unwillingness to fight on French soil. They drew them north by playing to French expectations about the Germans’ intentions. Nazi Germany was a monstrous regime, but there is no denying that the Germany campaign to conquer the Low Countries and France in 1940 is one of the most creative and daring military maneuvers in history.

So, who learned the most from the experiences of the Great War? Can either side, France and its allies, or Germany, be said to have prepared exclusively for the last war? The situation is complex to the point that facile comparisons and pithy bromides can’t fully encapsulate the real lessons for both sides. Germany and France learned and adapted subsequent to the Great War, but they learned different things, in a different way. The difference wasn’t so much in tactics, operational art, and logistics, although these were factors. The real insight is that France and Germany had different mindsets when it came to readiness. The French were ready for a set-piece battle, orchestrated at the highest levels, and with little opportunity to reorganize on the fly when faced with a radically different battlefield situation than had been anticipated. There was little robustness or flexibility to adapt in a timely manner to German moves. When they realized what had happened and what was continuing to happen, the French high command and government became totally demoralized. Could they have continued fighting? Possibly. But they lost in their minds more than on the battlefields of northern France and the Low Countries. They were materially ready, but not psychologically or morally ready.

Conversely, the Germans had so much to lose going into the campaign that they had no choice but to be bold and take massive risks. That the risks paid off is a testament to the flexibility, resolve, and initiative of German leaders and commanders at all levels. The French military was larger, better equipped, had more and better tanks, guns, and aircraft. What the Germans lacked in materiel, they more than made up for in superior training, initiative, and resolve. They weren’t as ready as France materially, but psychologically, they were more than ready. That is what differentiated the two countries’ armed forces and, more importantly, high commands.

 

wheels-within-wheels 

Step 8: Issue Plan and Direction

Modern military forces aren’t made up of automatons mindlessly attacking in waves. By the same token business organizations can’t consist of mindless worker drones if they’re going to compete and grow in a demanding environment. Initiative, creativity, leadership, and boldness within the framework of common goals and plans hold the secret to success. But to achieve that, everyone on the team must understand what is expected of them, when, with what resources and effects, and why.

Successful execution is built on delegation and the exercise of initiative at all levels. Effective delegation in turn depends on the time available, individual and team capabilities, situational awareness and understanding, and the degree of motivation and engagement in the “ranks.” Tell your people what to achieve and why it is important, and leave the detailed development of the how to them. This encourages freedom of action, the exercise of initiative, and creativity in planning and execution, and it optimizes flexibility, adaptability, and resilience in the face of adversity. It is also much more satisfying and motivating for everyone.

The plan should be organized and delivered following a standard format. I recommend using the military SMESC template I learned in the military and that I’ve adapted for business and not-for-profit organizations. SMESC stands for Situation; Mission; Execution; Support; and Command, Control and Communications (C3). The aim isn’t to put a straightjacket on people, but rather free them by making common procedures, expectations, and objectives explicit and mutually reinforcing. Mission-based plans and distributed leadership can only thrive when everyone understands the big picture, where to go and what do achieve. This approach harnesses individual and collective initiative to the fulfilment of a higher purpose.

Recap of 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.

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.

© 2016 Alcera Consulting Inc. This article may be used for non-commercial use with proper attribution.