Posts Tagged ‘Strategy’

by Richard Martin

Readiness is the ability to anticipate and absorb changing conditions so you can come out on top, or at least maintain your position or objectives.

The Readiness Mindset depends on the following characteristics:

  • Don’t assume you know everything you need to know. As I learned on peacekeeping duty in Bosnia, first information is often, even usually, wrong, so don’t overreact!
  • You can never eliminate uncertainty and its attendant risks.
  • Keep your overarching objectives and purposes in mind. Momentary setbacks are normal and must be overcome.
  • If you try to defend or attack everywhere, you end up defending or attacking nowhere. Assess opportunities, risks, and threats in terms of their likelihood and potential effects and put your main effort on the highest priority items.
  • Always keep the morale of your team and self in mind. Morale is the willingness to sacrifice and persist despite setbacks and obstacles to achieve your aims.
  • Shape your competitive conditions as much as possible so you can seize and maintain the initiative. That is the essence of an offensive mindset and action.
  • There is always more than one way to achieve an aim. Strategy is about assessing and balancing ends, ways and means to come out on top.
  • Power people: Brief your people, get them in the loop, delegate responsibility, keep them informed on the changing situations, ask for advice.
  • Tell your people what you’re trying to achieve and let them figure out the best way to get there. Give them the “what and why,” let them find the “how.”
  • Use time to your advantage. Bring people into the loop early and often so they can anticipate and prepare.
  • Nothing is fulling sequential. Run things in parallel. For instance, you can activate your team for a forthcoming change or mission; while you plan, they can prepare and increase your overall readiness.

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.

In my last two posts under “Ideas” I introduced the concepts of the S-curve and Power Law (a.k.a. Pareto’s Law, Zipf’s Law, or the 80/20 rule).

In this post I discuss the concept of self-similarity. I view it as an adjunct to the S-curve and Power Law that multiplies their effectiveness for anticipating change and other dynamic interactions in society, businesses, and other forms of organization.

According to Wikipedia: “In mathematics, a self-similar object is exactly or approximately similar to a part of itself (i.e. the whole has the same shape as one or more of the parts). Many objects in the real world, such as coastlines, are statistically self-similar: parts of them show the same statistical properties at many scales.” The term fractal is also frequently used to characterize self-similar structures.

Furthermore, self-similarity is characterized by scale invariance. Again according to Wikipedia: “In physics, mathematics, statistics, and economics, scale invariance is a feature of objects or laws that do not change if scales of length, energy, or other variables, are multiplied by a common factor.

(My emphasis in both quotes.)

In practice, this means that it is difficult or even impossible for an observer to detect the system level depicted just by looking at a picture. As mentioned above, coastlines are the paradigmatic illustration of this phenomenon. You can look at satellite image of a coastline at various scales and, barring the presence of a scale indicator (e.g. a boat or a human on the picture), you can’t determine the scale with any certainty. Moreover, this is also a statistical effect, as the underlying math is the same or very similar at all levels of magnification.

There are many phenomena in nature and society with this characteristic structure. However, for business and strategy, the most crucial realization comes from the self-similar (or fractal) nature of power curves and s-curves. Take any distribution governed by a power law. If you hone in on any particular segment of the distribution, you find that it is also governed by essentially the same power law. In other words, the distribution looks basically the same at all levels of magnification, or scale. The follow diagram shows this effect.

self-similarity-in-power-laws

No matter what you’re measuring or tracking–it could be total sales, the performance of your salespeople, the relative impact of your clients–you are likely to notice a power law working at all scales. This was illustrated in my Power Law article last week by the example of real estate agents in the Greater Toronto area. I’ve reproduced those two graphs here, as they show how a power law is in evidence at two different scales.

treb-6-and-under treb-gif

Although not as stark at the level of agents with only 0 to 6 deals, we can see that the two scales are broadly similar. What about practical applications? Well, for one, we can see that the effect is likely to be similar at all levels and in all categories of agents. For instance, if you break out each category (7-12 deals all the way to 201 plus deals), you will probably find the same pattern. A small number of top performers skewing the results of the group upward.

This type of distribution plays havoc with our basic assumptions of normally distributed performance or effects. If we were to assume a normal distribution (Gaussian distribution in technical statistical terms) for real estate agents, we could easily be fooled into thinking that there is an “average” performance, a “typical” real estate agent. But this could not be further from the truth. In a normal distribution, the mode, median, and mean are all very close to having the same value. This means that the arithmetic mean could give a false understanding of the performance distribution for a sales group. In actuality, the mode (most frequent value), median (the middle value), and the actual mean could be different, with the latter possibly heavily skewed in the direction of the highest performing class of sales people. This is what we see with the distributions of real estate agents above.

Would the arithmetic mean of this distribution truly represent the average or typical performance of a real estate agent in the Greater Toronto area? Obviously not. If we look at the numbers of deals, 0-6 is the modal value, and represents about 50% of the total number of agents! This means that the largest number of real estate agents are actually sluggish performers, and even don’t participate in any deals at all! If you’re looking, say, to providing products and services to real estate agents–at least in the Greater Toronto area in 2011–then you’d be better to look at the actual performance distribution at varying scales so you can segment the market properly.

These relationships tend to hold across time and space for any particular phenomenon. We can safely assume that the distribution of real estate agent performance is broadly similar no matter when and where you build your sample. While it’s ultimately a question for empirical investigation, in my experience, self-similar power laws are ubiquitous in market dynamics and human performance. You can apply this insight to all market and performance numbers and you will get similar results. This enables much better analysis, planning, and strategy to gain and sustain a competitive edge.

I’ll explore scale-invariance and self-similarity in s-curves in my next “Ideas” post. In subsequent ones I’ll also look at the broader implications of self-similarity, particular as they relate to hierarchy in organizations, specifically what I call “nested hierarchical planning” and “nested hierarchical vigilance.”

© 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.

In the field of military strategy, it is well-known that the capacities to recognize changes in the environment and to react quickly thereto provide a considerable, if not essential advantage. The same capacities apply to business strategy.

I call these capacities strategic flexibility; they demand that one continually observe the environment in order make strategic corrections. Businesses that rest on their laurels or that ignore this need can be overtaken both by events and by their competitors.

This implies a quick, accurate method to make adjustments to strategy. Therefore, I propose a model of strategic flexibility I call the 7-M method. The method refers to the following: mission, market, mark targets, mass, manoeuvres, morale, and marketing. To these must be added the plan of action that successfully unites the efforts of stakeholders both upstream and downstream of the business in question.

  1. Mission is the distillation of what you offer the world and its value.  It’s what defines your unique competence and motivations and the needs you meet. A mission statement must communicate your intentions in a short, precise manner that can be understood by all concerned:  employees, customers, suppliers, and even competitors. The mission, therefore, serves as the guiding star for your business.
  2. Market represents the potential clients for your goods or services who might buy from you since you can meet their needs with good value in your products or services. Market include the target groups among your clients and their needs. Market also includes an analysis of current market suppliers and of the decision-making processes of potential customers in terms of their long-term, mid-term, and short-term goals. This permits opportunities to be exploited and possible risks to be minimized or avoided.
  3. Mark targets provide concrete objectives that can be measured as part of your action plan. The ultimate target for your business constitutes your vision of where you want to be, say, in a year- and-a-half or two years hence. From this vision one can identify a hierarchy of goals, tasks, and results to be obtained.
  4. Mass refers to the most economical and effective ways of concentrating resources in order to meet goals as quickly as possible. This requires an analysis of your key strengths and weaknesses in order to permit success in your market.
  5. Manoeuvre refers to the operations according to the elements of the action plan including ensuring that the necessary tools and resources are available to permit successful operations. This includes the delegation of responsibilities such that people have sufficient margin of manoeuvre so they can respond successfully to opportunities and threats in the environment.
  6. Morale refers to the willingness of people to persevere in order to reach goals. While the welfare and the happiness of employees is important, it is not the be-all-and end-all of your business. Clear vision, mission, and plans are the key to good morale. As well, clear-headed analyses of risks to the execution of strategy and action plans along with contingency plans permit the prevention and minimization of possible risks to success.
  7. Marketing is the last, but certainly not the least part of flexible strategy. It requires clear messages of internal and external communication. There are three elements to a good marketing plan: general marketing vis-à-vis the overall brand and image of the company; marketing campaigns designed to meet customer needs within given geographical territories; plans for business development and sales that will permit successful, long-term and repeated relationships with customers that also will lead to establishing a solid reputation and possible new clients.

The action plan is the key to success because a vision without the required resources and concrete actions is only a hallucination. The essential elements of a good action plan include: a description of the situation being addressed such that readers will understand the purpose of the plan; the mission statement; detailed activity and resource plans; support and administrative requirements; internal and external communication plans; and the assigning of responsibilities to key personnel.

Obviously, doing all the above without the aid of an experienced expert in strategic and operational planning and leadership will be difficult. I invite you to contact me with your questions and suggestion of businesses and people that might benefit from application of the 7-M method. In the meantime, start with a description of your mission statement and an analysis of your potential markets; performing these steps alone should provide you with immediate benefits.

© Alcera Consulting Inc. 2016. We encourage the sharing of this information and forwarding of this email with attribution. All other rights reserved.

The answer is an unequivocal YES! It IS possible to create a plan of action in a single day, whether individually or as a team. You require focus and discipline to develop the following, which I call the 6 Ms of planning:

Mission – What is the unique value you bring to your clients and the marketplace?

Markets – What do you offer? To whom do you offer it? When do you offer it? Why do you offer it? Where do you offer it?

Mass – What is your key strength, your centre of gravity? What is your main effort to leverage it and what do you need to STOP doing in order to free up the ressources to do focus on it?

Manoeuvres – What are the specific actions you must take to achieve your aim? Who does what, when, where, why, with whom, and with what ressources?

Morale – Do you believe in your mission and vision? Do you have a will to succeed no matter what? What non-material limitations must be taken into consideration in your plan?

Marketing – What is your strategy and plan to reach out to your clients with your offers? How will you go about doing this?

Whether you need to come up with a strategy, an operational plan, or a tactical plan, I can help you get it done in a single DAY!

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

December is already upon us. If you haven’t already done so, now is the time to make your plans for changes and new initiatives in the new year.

Here is a distilled version of the military planning and readiness process that you can apply to your own needs. I’ve been helping my business clients with this type of “battle preparation” for close to 10 years now.

This is a proven method to get through any challenging period and come out on the other side with outstanding results.

  1. Determine or confirm the problem to be solved or the change to be made. This leads to a clear and concrete statement of the end state or vision and its supporting objectives.
  2. Do a time estimate to determine how much time is available before launching the change/operation and the tasks that must be achieved before D-Day.
  3. Plan and execute reconnaissance in order to discover and assess the terrain (market), weather (economic, political, social conditions), objective (customers), and enemy (competition).
  4. Analyse your tasks and responsibilities as well as the overarching strategic framework to create a clear and concise mission statement for the change/operation.
  5. Give everyone brief overview of the mission and operation/change to come, including any preparatory tasks and work.
  6. Plan the change/operation.
  7. Communicate your plan in sufficient detail to give everyone involved to understand the overall context, intent, and their specific tasks, responsibilities, outcomes and resources. Leave sufficient time for subordinate elements and managers to conduct their own “battle readiness” procedure.
  8. Execute the plan while controlling progress.
  9. Evaluate interim results.
  10. Make adjustments and update plan as needed. Communicate and control changes.

Feel free to contact me at any time for the this or any other strategic, leadership, and performance improvement needs.  Ask me about my “Battle Procedure Briefing” for business, which is one of the means I use to bring powerful results to my clients. I also speak and facilitate sessions on leadership, initiative, morale, strategy and using military wisdom to win business battles.

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.

Since the IS-perpetrated terrorist strikes in Paris there has been surge of “advice” and debate on the best strategy to adopt against the Islamic State in the Middle East. The problem is that most of the discussion confuses tactics with strategy and then presents these as mutual exclusive. Air strikes are not effective. No, air strikes are the way to go. No, we need to put boots on the ground. Actually, no. We need to concentrate on humanitarian action.

In reality, all of those approaches are needed in order to create dilemmas for IS and its operatives. You have to take the fight to the enemy by seizing and maintaining the initiative. Air power must be combined with ground forces in order to achieve maximum synergy and effect on the battlefield. You can knock out a command post, but that only creates a delay and temporary confusion. You can buy a bit of time, but it’s all much more effective when you can hit a command post and use the ensuing confusion to launch a ground assault. Moreover, you have to realize that a command post is a physical entity, but a headquarters with its commander and staff are a team. Command, control and communications (C3) can be degraded, but it is much harder to eliminate them entirely, especially if the enemy has a very decentralized structure with competing factions.

Here is a non-exhaustive listing of other thrusts in the strategy:

  • Economic warfare to disrupt the enemy “home front” such as it is,
  • Financial warfare to disrupt and interrupt the flow of funds, because gold is the sinews of war,
  • Humanitarian aid to support the non-belligerent population and refugees,
  • Psychological warfare against foreign and home-grown terrorist threats,
  • Information warfare to degrade the enemy’s psychological and media warfare capabilities and build up domestic and foreign support to fight IS, and
  • Numerous other aspects of combat, kinetic and non-kinetic.

The basic point here is that you need a strategy that attacks and “pinches off” IS wherever it tries to operate. IS combatants in a theatre of war must be treated as prisoners of war, while those who have perpetrated war crimes and crimes against humanity must be treated as such. IS and allied terrorists operating in other nations must be treated as criminals.

Another critical point is to realize that there is no such thing as a “war on terrorism.” You can fight an identified enemy, opponent or belligerent group. You can’t fight a tactic, much less a vague concept.

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.

A version of this article has been previously published in Canadian Defence Review, Vol. 20, Issue 6 under the title “The Future Ain’t What It Used to Be.”

My financial advisor and I were discussing how our respective clients tend to ignore their future financial and business well-being and focus almost exclusively on the present. David Maister, an expert in professional services, calls this the “fat smoker” syndrome. Some people continue to smoke, overeat, or laze about, instead of adopting healthy habits and lifestyle. Psychologists haven’t fully elaborated the reasons for this, but they have made headway in naming it. It’s called “future discounting.”

In most cases, people—that means you and me—view the future as a realm of wishes, possibilities, and potentialities, some of them hopeful and some of them threatening. The far future is abstract and nebulous. The present and near future are concrete. We can see menaces and opportunities starting us in the face, so we act with less hesitation.

This problem also exists in military strategy and tactics, but military planners have devel­oped ways to overcome future discounting and paralysis in the face of uncertainty. There are three key concepts that are particularly relevant for business strategy and tactics.

The first and most powerful of these concepts is to plan and operate over three temporal horizons: current operations, future opera­tions, and future plans. Current operations are about executing the commander’s existing plan. Future operations are about developing the next steps after the immediate objectives are attained. Future plans are devoted to the development of contingency and follow on plans after the current operation and its im­mediate successor is complete.

But it’s not enough to have three time ho­rizons. You also have to put “troops to task” to ensure you have people focused on the present, others focused almost entirely on the immediate future, while still others explore the more distant future.

While the chain of command works on executing plans in the present, there are staff officers preparing the next phase of the operation. They are busy analyzing the current situation and adapting plans for follow on actions (and reactions). Their time focus ranges from the next few hours (for a battalion) to the next few months (for, say, an expeditionary force).

There is a smaller group of analysts and planners developing enemy and friendly sce­narios over a more extended time scale. They are also looking at ways to “shape” the future battlespace, so that friendly forces are in the best position to impose their will on the enemy (or stakeholders and belligerents, if you’re talking about peace-support or low-intensity operations). Leadership is critical for the three time horizons. The commander exercises his will in the present, while considering advice from, and providing guidance and direction to, his future operations staff and future planners.

The second key concept comes from the fact that there are always multiple ways of achiev­ing the aim. Too often military planners, as well as business executives, get in a rut. They continue doing things in the same old way because that’s how they learned them. But, as Marshall Goldsmith says, “What got you here won’t get you there.” The strategies, methods, and tactics that generated your current suc­cesses (or failures) won’t necessarily work (or fail) in the future.

Leaders and their staffs must analyze condi­tions and the factors that impinge on them so they can generate a range of options. Each of these options must then be weighed against the enemy’s (or competitors’ and buyers’) potential actions and reactions. The optimal course of action becomes the basis for the main plan, while lesser options provide the basis for contingency and follow on plans.

The final concept that military planners have developed is scenario-based planning. This is a whole field unto itself, but in essence the idea is to look at the strategic, operational, or tactical environment as a spectrum of alternate realities. Each scenario paints a picture of a more or less altered world, which can then be explored to identify and qualify their implica­tions from a variety of perspectives and in a number of dimensions.

Scenario-based planning is particularly relevant the further out in time you look, where the intricacies of cause and effect and cascading developments can be assessed and evaluated. The findings provide input for shaping the future of the organization and its impact on competitors, markets, and other stakeholders.

There is no silver bullet solution for future discounting and hesitation in the face of un­certainty and risk. Unfortunately, trying to convince people to be virtuous is a bit of a lost cause. The military approach to this problem provides a range of methods and ideas for dealing with the “fat smoker” syndrome.

© 2015 Richard Martin