Archive for the ‘Strategic Thinking’ Category

The Veteran’s Dilemma is Our Country’s Dilemma

After a 15-year career with IBM, I had the good fortune to be one of 12 founding members of a Joint Venture.  Success for the company came fast and furious. My years with IBM provided excellent tools, but I learned more in the first couple of years with the new venture than I thought possible.

About the time of my three-year anniversary I found myself in a meeting with an IBM executive with whom I had a close professional relationship. In a candid discussion I asked him, “If I were ever interested in re-entering IBM, what weight would my current experience carry in opportunities afforded me?” His response was immediate and revealing. He said, “Your time away would be viewed as nothing more than a gap—it would count for nothing.” Even though I had developed important skills in this new company, it was completely discounted by my former employer.  From his perspective I might as well have been in a coma for three years.

That is how I believe many veterans feel when they leave the military looking for ways in which they can put their hard-earned skills to productive use. We are bombarded daily with platitudes regarding how veterans should be honored for their service. Our politicians admonish us to take care of them; many employers create HR programs to do just that. So what’s the problem?

The problem, first and foremost, is that the loci of these programs cater to the least common denominator. If there is one thing the Washington Elite should have learned from this last election cycle is that this is a flawed approach. Republicans and Democrats in Washington offer rhetoric regarding the need to help the “middle class”, but their policies and actions are aimed at the least common denominator. For example, we hear about raising the minimum wage as a way to help the middle class. Last I checked, our middle class typically makes more than minimum wage. Their problem isn’t minimum wage. There problem is ever diminishing opportunities to succeed.

Similarly, employers and politician too often view our veterans as victims looking for a meets-minimum job, so we can “help” them assimilate back into the civilian world. Our veterans weren’t in a coma while serving! The vast majority of them were developing highly coveted, and much needed hard and soft skills that translate exceedingly well in civilian life. These talented young men and women are looking for opportunities to put those skills to work as productive citizens. They do not want our “help”. They want to be honored for what they have to offer. Anything less is at best ignorance, and at worst arrogance, on our part.

So, the next time we thank a veteran for his or her service, maybe we should ask how he or she is now serving, and whether our collective investment in his or her personal and professional development is being put to good use.  Our veterans are not museum pieces to be put on a shelf and admired.  They are valuable assets that this country needs in order to remain an innovation powerhouse.

Building HPTs Rule #3: Strategic Fit is a Must

The late George Harrison frequently paraphrased the Cheshire Cat in chapter 6 of Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland by saying, “if you don’t know where you are going, any road will get you there.” He often used this phrase when describing his good fortune in knowing as a small child that he wanted to play guitar. The most casual music lovers know of George Harrison as one of the Beatles. More serious aficionados of 70s music also know him from his solo career, from his earliest works (Wonderwall Music and Electronic Sound) to his more notable contributions (All Things Must Pass, The Concert for Bangladesh, Living in the Material World).

What few people recognize is that Harrison was one of the greatest guitarists of his time. His studio collaborations were numerous, including co-writes and guest appearances on recorded songs with well-known singer-songwriters such as Eric Clapton, Bob Dylan, Dave Mason, Billy Preston, Dave Lynne and Tom Petty, to name a few. In referring to Harrison, Tom Petty said, “He just had a way of getting right to the business, of finding the right thing to play.” Rolling Stone founder Jann Wenner described him as someone who “played exquisitely in the service of the song”. Said differently, Harrison understood strategic fit within the purpose of the song.

This brings us to rule #3 for building a high-performance team (HTP): When considering new programs we will challenge each other to ensure a proper fit within our strategic map. I will offer a simple 3-step approach for implementing rule #3.

Step 1 – Develop an easy to remember optic to describe the strategic map for the team—the simpler you can make this, the better.  When building Drexel University’s Baiada Center for Entrepreneurship we defined our primary focus as having two desired outcomes regarding entrepreneurship; creating interest and passion, and promoStrategic Map Opticting thought leadership and best practices. Once that was determined we created a simple chart with interest & passion on the Y-axis and thought leadership & best practices on the X-axis. Once complete, we looked at every prospective program relative to if/where it fit on the map. This accomplishes two things. First, it ensures that we expend effort only on programs that fit within the map. Secondly, if a fit exists, it also informs where on the map it fits, allowing us to build complementary programs.

Step 2 – When making day-to-day decisions regarding programming and strategies, it is important to consider those decisions in the context of the strategic map. More importantly, that consideration should be made aloud.   This helps to reinforce the team’s sense of purpose, vision and mission daily, and also provides an ongoing compass.

Step 3 – Encourage each member of the team to challenge one another regarding strategic fit. Each member of the team falls in a different spot along the spectrum between discovery and delivery skills. For example, I am stronger in discovery skills. As such, my tendency is to continually conceive new ideas for programs to offer our constituents. I am also good at convincing myself that  my idea is stellar, which they are not, making it important that I shared my brilliant idea with my partner expending delivery effort. My partner would earnestly listen to my idea,then often question the strategic fit in a professional manner. This process always resulted in one of two outcomes—both good. In some instances it gave me an opportunity to explain the strategic fit, providing my partner a better perspective of our vision. In the early days this occurred with about 2% of the ideas. The majority of instances (98% of the time) it helped me to quickly see that my brilliant idea was not strategic.  Another interesting outcome was that over time, my partners understanding of our vision was so complete that if she challenged the strategy, 99.8% of the time it was not a good fit.

Starting With Common Objectives May Be Overrated

Most would agree that when trying to develop effective strategies to drive transformative change it is helpful to start with agreement regarding objectives.  After all, if we are each working toward a common objective, how hard can it be to reach agreement?  Look!  It’s a bird.  It’s a plane.  It’s a Debt Ceiling!

The current debt crisis in the U.S. provides ample evidence that starting with common objectives may be overrated.  I would like to believe that there is a common objective to which every member of Congress can agree.  Oh, I don’t know.  How about something like, “we all agree we would like to maintain a AAA bond rating?”  The problem is that finding a common objective that becomes the common denominator is often too far removed from strategies to be useful.  Said differently, the more abstract an idea, the farther it is from concrete strategy or policy.

Over the past two days I was involved in a strategy advance (as opposed to a strategy retreat) with a group of my colleagues at Drexel University.  At the beginning of the first day the facilitator asked each of us to reflect on past meetings or strategy sessions that were particularly productive.  She then asked us to recall if there was an essential ingredient that made it successful.  Upon reflection, I settled on one ground rule that I feel is essential–complete transparency of objectives.

While it is not necessary that we start from a common objective, it is essential that we be honest and transparent regarding our objectives.  Said differently, there should be no hidden agendas.  Often, facilitators argue that everyone must check their egos at the door.  One can check one’s coat at the door.  One can check one’s purse at the door.  One can even check one’s smart phone at the door.  But it is very difficult to check one’s ego at the door. Even if we could, it could prove dangerous.  All those very large egos would likely block the exit, creating a fire hazard! Furthermore, our passion, creativity, drive and intellectual power is often fueled by our egos. How transformative would our strategies be without passion, creativity, drive and intellect?

During those two days, I witnessed a diverse group of very bright, passionate, creative people working together in an energetic and collegial fashion to tackle tough issues toward positive, transformative growth.  As a result, we were able to celebrate the victory of a great start on a long journey.  One reason for the success is that we established realistic ground rules up front.  Not the least of which was to ensure complete transparency of objectives.

© Mark Loschiavo

Can Music Promote Social Change?

When my son was in middle school he got involved in a program called Children’s International Summer Villages (http://www.cisv.org/about/history.html).  A woman who believed that if children could learn to relate to kids from other countries it would promote world peace started CISV shortly after WWII.

In my travels, I have found music to be a common denominator—the universal language.  Whether it was singing along to a Beatles tribute band at a table in Roppongi with two Koreans and six Japanese, jamming in a karaoke bar in Tokyo with musicians who spoke no English, or jamming with an outdoor market vendor in Bangkok for 45 minutes, playing a stringed instrument called a Thai Pin, that I picked up for the very first time that day, connections were made.  The Thai vendor and I couldn’t communicate with each other in any other way, but we became brothers that day.  When my business associates finally found me they were relieved to learn that I was NOT abducted–just distracted.

I am privileged to serve on the board of LiveConnections (http://liveconnections.org), an organization dedicated to providing innovative music education programs to build bridges and connect cultures.  It was started by a group of people who are passionate about music, but more passionate about making a difference in the world through music.  Now, that is something to sing about!

If this is something that resonates with you, please go to http://liveconnections.org to make a donation.

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