Strategic Planning – 2 Keys to Success


All executives know that strategy is essential, business schools have been emphasizing it for decades.  Still, most people find it discomforting because it forces them to confront a future they have to “guess at”.  Worse, strategic planning facilitates making decisions that explicitly cut off other possibilities and options.  Executives may well fear that getting strategic decisions wrong will wreck their careers or company.  These fears are well founded, strategy setting is a high stakes process.  You have to be able to see both the forest and the tree, at the same time.

Key 1 – The Difficulty of Contention

forest and treesA common result is companies avoid the process, and especially the difficult components.   The outcome of avoiding strategy development is companies fail to grow, stay opportunistic (chasing whatever opportunities that arise),  and stagnate.  Over time, competition turns business into a grind, as the organization fails to develop any strategic competitive advantages.  The services and products become commoditized (widely available at the same quality/price) by competitors and your profits evaporate.

A common approach is to tame the challenge by solving the problem with “tried and tested tools”.  These tools translate into weeks or sometimes months preparing a comprehensive plan for strategy.  These structured processes sterilize the planning process down to a methodology.  They seek to avoid the need to discuss the “disagreeables”.   Disagreeables are simply the discussion topics where people disagree, see it differently.  The problem is the aversion (often culture based) to disagreeing eliminates the possibility of discovering the best alternatives.  The truth is that it upsets most of us when people disagree with us.  The outcome is the organization makes poor decisions because viewpoints that are in opposition to the leaders or the current one being considered are suppressed, either by individual choice or by the leaders ego need to be right, unchallenged, “large and in charge”.  Having personally been on many sides of the table, I cannot stress enough the degree of difficulty this presents, and the importance it plays in developing effective strategy.  So, what’s the answer to this issue? 

The executive team needs to develop emotional intelligence skills to enable them to engage and disagree without becoming disagreeable.  If you are at the executive table and are not willing to express what you believe is a better alternative, you are doing your organization a major dis-service.  If your organization suppresses the opinions of its executives (either implicitly or explicitly), you are in an organization that will very likely fail to sustain competitive advantage.

The hard truth about the process is it is often very uncomfortable to work through.  I’ve seen organizations fall back to a passive approach even after experiencing materially positive results from the process.  It is very challenging for us humans to learn to manage our emotional needs, aka, egos during the process of business debate.  I’ve also seen business school literature back away from teaching harnessing contention directly.  There has been a shift to teaching the softer learning curve through emotional intelligence.

To manage contention instead of suppressing it, building a common understanding of how to conceptualize the strategic issues is useful.  Engaging the most contentious issues after developing a common foundation increases the odds of success.

Strategic planning is about placing bets and making hard choices.  The objective is not to eliminate risk but to increase the odds of success.   The key process is interactively thinking aloud (discussing) what it would take to achieve what you believe the “intermediate future” market wants, then assessing whether it’s realistic for your business to develop the capability to deliver it.

Key 2 – Learning how to “Discover the Future”

At its roots, effective strategy is dependent on discovering the future, not inventing it, and certainly not predicting it.  Mapping your current and proposed organizational capabilities to current and future market needs is the essence of it.   All you have to do is figure out where the market will be and make sure you are there.  Sounds easy right?

A well educated executive team will often look at the future very differently member by member.  The wide range of perspectives often undermines the planning process’s foundation from the beginning.

This is why I use the teachings of a futurist to build the foundation for effective strategic planning.  Joel Barkers teachings on paradigms equips the executive team with the conceptual foundation to learn how to “Discover the Future”.

The goal is to be able to conceptualize and agree upon a working set of possible futures, aka, scenarios.



With these 2 keys providing a foundation for the process of  strategic planning, you will experience far better results.  Without them, you are more or less just going through the motions, you may even have given up on strategic planning, wondering why anyone would invest the time.  When your strategic planning is ineffective, you expend all your resources, time, money, energy taking the wrong hill.  The result stunts your growth rate and prevents your from achieving your strategic goals.  Sympatico Resources offers Strategic Planning facilitation services to help you succeed in this critical area.  Call for a no obligation consultation.


Why CRM Deployments Often Fail

Change-ProductivityIt’s likely you have seen the statistics, which routinely state fifty percent or more of all CRM deployments fail to be adopted by users one year after the “go-live” date.  A quick internet search will lead you to study after study, so I’ll spare you the links.  However, if you search for why they fail, you will find success recipe’s by the dozens, but little insight into the actual root causes.  Gaining a deeper understanding of these root causes is essential while building a foundation for success in a CRM deployment project.
Routines or “habits” are hard to change, we all know that well from our attempts to change our own.   Organizational habits are a collection of individual habits, increasing the degree of difficulty exponentially.  It’s not that business people don’t like change, as is commonly echoed, it’s that people become frustrated by the loss of productivity during the process of change.  Especially when they are on tight deadlines and/or are reaching for stretch goals, which is just about always.  Poorly planned and executed new system deployments put people in the position of not being able to complete what they were able to yesterday, right when they need it done today.  If you have ever been the business “user”, you are very aware of the resulting high level of frustration.  When faced with this situation on a repeating basis, business people find their own work arounds, ones they can depend on.  Workarounds add to their resistance to adopt the new system, almost sub-consciously, as they seek to maintain their productivity.  Similar to a life preserver when lost at sea, the work arounds are for survival, people are quite resistant to give them up.  Depending on the percent of the overall team operating in this mode, the project can fail as everyone quietly decides the new system will never work.  Why invest the effort?

This organizational saga has been playing out all my career, likely since the invention of the organization, but it is more acute with CRM deployments.  Why?  It’s partially because many companies opt to deploy salesforce automation first, and sales people are hot wired to focus on productive activity.  Sales people that don’t think this way usually fail at their profession early.  Top notch sales people learn this early in their career, and adopt it as a philosophy.  Suggesting change is equivalent to suggesting taking a pay cut.  The new system deployment project sits opposed to their success philosophy.  Add to that some independence tendencies, and you get the picture of the root obstacles to successful adoption.

Fortunately, the marketing automation leg of CRM doesn’t have the same degree of adoption hindrances.  Still, a successful implementation of salesforce automation is a gold prerequisite for successful marketing automation implementations, especially in organizations that sell to other businesses.  Marketers are very motivated to adopt systems that will enable them to follow to conclusion the business outcome of the hard earned leads they generate.  If the salesforce automation adoption is successful, they will strive to integrate with it.  However, they do face the same initial productivity loss as the new system is deployed.

In chicken and egg fashion, the sales organization gets very motivated when they start seeing quality leads generated from a successful marketing automation deployment.  This is when they get motivated to learn deeper skills and go through learning curve 2.  If you can reach this milestone, you will succeed with sales force automation.

Customer Service, the third leg of CRM, benefits from information getting organized in one place from disparate systems.  Customer service reps readily adopt tools that enable them to view all the related information for a customer situation.  Adopting new systems that enable resolving more issues in less time comes naturally for people in this role.  Contrast this with asking your sales professionals to adopt systems that require them to start completing “additional” tasks and it’s obvious why customer service lead implementations fail far less often.  The initial loss of productivity varies, but is usually of short duration.

The antidote for the frustration is not complicated.  First you have to make the user community aware that they are going to suffer an initial productivity loss with the new deployment.  Second, you need to have enough expert support available to support new system users while they are going through the productivity trough.  And third, you need the learning plan activities properly timed for each phase of deployment.  And of course you must communicate these challenges up front so the team can see the bigger picture.

All CRM deployment projects that fail were initially expected to succeed.  Time and time again, the root causes that drive user behaviors are not surfaced, discussed, and aligned for success.  Realizing you would behave the same if placed in the same situation is a big first step to success.  This common lack of clarity regarding other’s perspective is a root cause of CRM failure.


The Challenge to Succeed – Where Business meets Technology

An introduction to this blog

Over many years, I have talked with scores of business leaders about their struggles to realize the economic potential of their business ideas. The storylines follow a common pattern. They have a good vision of where they want to go, they can see a path to get there, and they need technology tools to support their initiative. Then they run smack into the business technology (BT) challenge.

Mountain-Road“We saw the opportunity coming, we were ahead of the market, Bob went to IT and disappeared for three years, by the time he came back, the opportunity had been captured by our competitors”.

“We knew what we needed, hired consultants, did a study, compared the alternatives and carefully picked the solutions we firmly believed was the right answer for us. Then the implementation went on and on and on. The project has costs us five times what we thought it would and we are still not implemented”.

“We formed a committee, had all the right leaders on it, we bought the best solution on the market. We know it would help our organization go to the next level, but our people won’t use it”. It has become “ShelfWare”, or the new and improved, “CloudWare”.

“We bought the best solution for us in every category, front office, back office, ERP, CRM, LOB, etc. As our business has grown, we are forced to use more and more administrative time and people to keep the software’s working together, our vision has become a nightmare”.

“We are not finding the deals, not getting a seat at the table. We are barely visible on the internet search engines, my past experience with Adwords wasn’t very effective and got very expensive.”

I’ve heard versions of these quotes from many smart, motivated, successful business people. Are there really so many pitfalls and difficulties on the road to BT success? Are there people that know how to succeed with BT that won’t cost me a fortune?

“Yes there are!”, answers both questions. The roadmap to success must be well planned, constructed with clarity, simplified in a jungle of complexity, balanced properly for short and long term tradeoff’s, and guided by a trusted advisor that has the experience, wisdom, and the integrity to keep your best interest in front.

It is to address these challenges that led me to decide to start up the solutions division of Sympatico Resources and this blog. I will be sharing client challenges (anonymously), past experiences, and insights to help you capture opportunities and avoid pitfalls.  Some post will be more business oriented, others more technology, but the main focus will be how to successfully utilize technology to improve business results.