THIS NEW YEAR MAKE THOSE RESOLUTIONS ACTUALLY HAPPEN

31 12 2015
o-NEW-YEARS-RESOLUTIONS-facebook

Pic: Huffington Post

Every year is the same; depending on which survey you read somewhere over 70%, 80% or even 95% of all New Year’s resolutions are doomed to fail. Where will yours stack up in that statistical pile?

Here are a few tips to ensure this year your resolution becomes reality.

I spend much of my time helping businesses, charities  and other organisations become more successful by helping them be better at strategy. This means not only better at delivering strategy but also, importantly, in establishing challenging but achievable targets to pursue in the first place.

And every year, where so many businesses fall short of their potential (and even fail), most of the population follow. Every year people set targets (aka New Year’s resolutions) they have absolutely no chance of achieving.

Key to your being successful in whatever you resolve to do in 2016 is to be smarter when you set your target now. By smarter, I mean SMARTER because it is an acronym you can test your resolution against:

S stands for specific. If you aren’t specific about what you want to achieve how can you honestly know when you have succeeded? “I want to lose weight,” simply won’t cut the mustard; “I want to lose half a stone” will. It is specific so that you know what it is you are setting out to achieve.

M stands for measurable. You need to be able to measure progress or you risk losing motivation. “I want to get fitter,” is a laudable aim but is hard to measure. “I want to be fit enough to run 5km without stopping” puts a measure on it and you can tick off 1, 2, 3 and 4 km as landmarks along the way to help keep you motivated.

A stands for agreed. If you are involving other people, they must all agree or you will fail. Beyond that people have a penchant for setting resolutions they think others will be impressed by instead of setting targets for themselves. Put another way, your resolution must be something that, deep inside, you agree you can and will pursue, you must agree your resolution with yourself! Half-hearted = half-arsed = doomed to fail.

R stands for realistic. You will know people (you might be one of them) who have big, often alcohol driven dreams every December 31st and who wake on 1st January to realise there is no way on God’s earth they will achieve their resolution and it bites the dust before it sees its first sunset. Unrealistic can mean plain crazy (eg I’m going to swim the Atlantic using butterfly) or ill-conceived such as committing to hit the gym for two hours every day when you know that work and family commitments will make one hour every other day far more realistic.

T stands for time-phased. In short; give yourself a deadline and, if it is a large undertaking, give yourself some time-phased check points along the way. So, if you are going to run to the top of Mount Kilimanjaro for charity it might be wise to have some progressive targets along the way as you prepare.

E stands for exciting. Does achieving your resolution excite you? If yes, great; if no, bin it and get another because if you aren’t excited by it now the further we get into 2016 the less you will be motivated to achieve it and that will lead to only one thing – failure.

R stands for recorded. Not just a record for yourself but a public record to which you agree to be accountable. This might be as simple telling your friends you are going to raise over £1000 for your favourite charity or it might be sharing your progress towards fitness, weight loss, giving up smoking or whatever else on a public blog. By recording what your resolution is you make yourself accountable for its success or its failure.

Whatever your resolution, good luck in achieving it. Have a great time on New Year’s Eve; see you the other side!

© Jim Cowan, December 2015

If you are looking for a challenge to make your aim for 2016, one which will test you, help get you fitter and help others, why not join me in doing the Rio 3 Peaks Challenge in November?

There’s plenty of time to get fit, raise funds and in doing so you will be helping Street Child United continue their fight against child homelessness.





HOUSTON: IT’S YOU WHO HAS THE PROBLEM!

17 12 2012

NASAIt is a line which became synonymous with the early days of space exploration and it fell into common usage as a term used whenever things were going wrong; “Houston, we have a problem.”

Only today it is Houston or, more precisely, NASA who has the problem. Why? The organisation used by consultants around the world as an example of quality Visioning has forgotten how to do quality Vision.

I am among the many Strategy Consultants who, when asked to cite a great example of what a Vision should look like has quoted NASA’s Vision originally stated by John F Kennedy on 25th May 1961:

“This nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to earth.”

As a Vision it had everything a good Vision requires. It was measurable, it had a clear deadline, it was inspiring and motivational, it was achievable and it clearly sign-posted the way for the focus of the ensuing NASA Strategy which ultimately led to its being achieved.

Fast forward from the 1960s to the 2010s and things have drastically changed. Much of the discussion around the future of space flight appears to emanate from the private sector within the USA or from other nations not previously viewed as ‘space powers.’ NASA is slipping behind.

A recent report from the Space Foundation declared; “NASA’s 2011 Strategic Plan is no longer viable.” Others are declaring that neither NASA’s workforce, the US people nor the international community are inspired or motivated to achieve the goal previously stated of visiting an asteroid by 2025. (Source: Aviation Week).

In short, the pioneers and early pacesetters have flown off course. But why?

I would suggest that they need to do little more that look at their current stated Vision* and compare it to that of 1961. They should ask themselves; “is this measurable, does it have a clear deadline, will it inspire and motivate our people to strive for its achievement? Indeed, is it even a Vision?”

The answer will be a resounding no on all points.

While NASA need to look to their past to recognise a better route to their future, for businesses large and small around the world they still teach a simple yet vital lesson in Strategy, a lesson so many still get wrong:

The more specific and clearly stated your Vision, the easier it is to plan for its attainment, the more likely you are to achieve success.

It is a lesson which you forget at your peril!

*NASA’s current stated Vision is:

“To reach for new heights and reveal the unknown so that what we do and learn will benefit all humankind.”

It is classic bad Visioning; confusing Mission with Vision thereby omitting the very thing which gives Strategy direction!

 

© Jim Cowan, Cowan Global Limited, December 2012

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THE F.A. v JOHN TERRY – HOW BUSINESS CAN LEARN FROM F.A. POOR PRACTICE

14 10 2012

Learning for your business?

The dispute between the Football Association (the FA) and John Terry has received lots of media coverage and comment from both the well-informed and the ignorant alike and it is not my intention in this article to add comment on ground already covered. However, unnoticed by (it appears) everybody in the eagerness to report the headlines were a couple of instances of poor practice from the FA which, if other organisations were made aware of, could provide good examples of where common mistakes could (and should) be fixed.

Inward-Facing or Outward-Facing?

On the eve of the hearing John Terry issued a statement that the FA’s case against him made his position as an England player untenable and announced his retirement from international football.

The FA was, apparently, bemused by this decision. The Independent reported that the FA’s General Secretary Alex Horne was interviewed on 24th September outside Wembley by Sky Sports News and told them; “I don’t see how we’ve made it untenable – they’re two very separate processes. It’s something that happened in a match between QPR and Chelsea ….. That’s a very different process, from my perspective, from our England procedures. They sit in different compartments and I could separate the two in my mind. But unfortunately, it doesn’t look like he could.”

This is an attitude which is, frustratingly for many consumers, becoming all too commonplace in companies in all sectors. It is the difference between being an ‘inward-facing’ or an ‘outward-facing organisation.

What does that mean?

The inward-facing organisation understands its own needs, its own processes and its own structures but takes little time to examine how they appear, or even work, for the external party – for example a customer. As long as everything works for them, for their convenience the world is rosy. If the customer doesn’t understand, well then, it’s the customers fault or problem. We can probably all think of examples of this type of company.

The outward-facing organisation, on the other hand, examines all their processes and structures from the end-users perspective. The customer’s experience is at the forefront of all thinking and, as a result, the company is far more likely to be ‘user-friendly’ – a joy to engage with. Sadly, we can probably think or far fewer examples of this type of organisation.

Re-read Alex Horne’s comments to Sky Sports News and you see a typical inward-facing thinking process. What he effectively says is; “We understand our own structure and where one department ends and another begins. It is clear to me.” What he forgets is that outside the FA’s front door what most see is ….. the FA, not its various departments. I wonder how many times FA employees get frustrated with other organisations that operate in the same inward-facing way. Frequently, I’m willing to wager. I also wonder how frequently they equate their negative experience with other organisations with their own. Very seldom, if ever, seems a fair bet.

And what of your company, what of the organisation you work for? Which are you? How often do you look in the mirror and reflect on whether your processes, your structures are designed in an outward or inward-facing way?

Discriminatory Behaviour.

Interestingly, given the John Terry case had at its roots a serious allegation relating to an area of equality, the second piece of poor practice from the FA related to their ignorance in an area of ….. equality!

It might seem sensible if handing out a ruling on an equality issue to ensure that the way in which that ruling was published was itself not discriminatory.

The ruling (published here) was written from start to finish in a ‘serif’ font – that is one of those fonts with the little lines above and below letters (like Times New Roman or Courier). I’m sure you are thinking; “yes Jim, just like hundreds of documents I read every day,” and you would be right. But while those documents might also discriminate, they are not publishing rulings on a case relating to equality, the FA was and should have been aware.

In publishing the document in this style the FA had given scant consideration to those who are dyslexic, recognised as a disability under the 2010 Equality Act. The British Dyslexia Association’s style guide suggests using a plain, evenly spaced sans-serif font such as Arial and Comic Sans. Alternatives include Verdana, Tahoma, Century Gothic, Trebuchet.

Not uncommon mistakes but now you are aware (as the FA should have been) you can act to make your own communications far more easily read to a significant minority of the population. Not to do so would be inward-facing, putting your own convenience ahead of your customer and potential customer (is changing font really that difficult?). Not to do so would potentially cut the reach of your communications possibly reducing your sales. Now that you know, not to so would also be discriminatory.

In publishing its ruling in the style that it did, the FA broke its own Equality Policy, it potentially discriminated against a group of people defined by the law as disabled. But then, as an inward-facing organisation, they can read their own communication, what does it matter if some others can’t?

What about you and your business? Are you any better? Have you checked?

 

(Dyslexia, dyscalculia, dyspraxia and colour-blindness are all closely related. Together, an estimated 10% of the population have one or a combination of them).

© Jim Cowan, Cowan Global Limited, October 2012

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STRATEGY AND TACTICS – THE DIFFERENCE AND THE RELATIONSHIP

7 07 2012

For many, when talking about strategy what they actually mean is tactics. For some, one is applied but not the other while for others the terms are used interchangeably without full comprehension.

Matters are not helped when, as I found at a recent talk, some consultants and coaches use the terms incorrectly. It struck me that a plain English explanation of what each is and how they inter-relate might be useful…..

Let me start by disposing of a common myth; that strategy is the ‘what’ while tactics are the ‘how’. While this sounds convenient and is repeated in a number of articles on various websites and in a number of books, it is incorrect.

The ‘what’ precedes strategy; it is the vision, the goal or the aim. It is a clear description of what success looks like. While vital to successful strategy, it is not the strategy itself and is not what I am explaining today.

The definition of strategy I use is; ‘a plan or design for achieving one’s aims.’ Note that the aim(s) is (are) already defined, that the strategy is the plan, the ‘how’ which describes how that aim will be achieved.

A good vision will look to the long-term and therefore the strategy which delivers that vision will describe the journey over the medium to long-term. In doing this, there is a point at which planning in too much detail is pointless. The variables become impossible to describe, define and decide between. Therefore strategy tends to the bigger picture elements of ‘how’ deliberately overlooking fine, detailed planning.

That component of the strategy is best done short-term when variables are known and more easily managed. This element of the ‘how’ is called tactics. The definition of tactics is; ‘procedures or set of manoeuvres engaged to achieve some end or aim.

The tactics are a component of strategy, they are not separate. Where strategy is the big picture plan for delivering success, tactics are the detailed components which ensure the strategy stays on course and on time.

For many organisations the short-term planning, is all they do. For others the big picture is where planning begins and ends. For others the vision, the picture of success is vague leading to ineffective planning, whether strategy or tactics or both, in pursuit of an ill-defined aim.

Think of it like building a house. Before you can start you need to know what the finished article will look like. This is your vision. In order to build it you need to know what order things need to be built-in, where the walls go, how high the ceilings will be, how the eventual owner will access it and more. This is your strategy. However, before the house is complete and will ‘work’ you need more detail; central heating, double glazing, wiring, gas connections, lights, maybe a letter box, door handles, security features and more. These are your tactics.

In your business you should be able to describe what long-term success looks like (your vision). Without, what are you planning for? In pursuit of that vision you should have a plan or plans addressing the main elements that must be achieved and in what order (your strategy). Without, how will you achieve your vision? How will you know what you should be doing and when (to any purpose)? To ensure that strategy becomes successful strategy you should break it down into detailed plans which leave no stone unturned (your tactics). Without, you have no more than only a general idea of what to do but without specifics.

It is not wise to plan tactics too far in advance, tactical planning should be conducted no more than 12 months in advance, often less. Beyond that, the landscape is too changeable and unspecific, detailed planning becomes less reliable.

In summary, strategy is how you deliver success and, far from being different or separate, tactics are key components of every successful strategy. With strategy alone, with luck you might just get there, with tactics alone you are doing no more than being busy for the sake of being busy.

Or, as Sun Tzu put it 2500 years ago; ‘Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.

© Jim Cowan, Cowan Global Limited, July 2012

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IMPROVE YOUR PLANNING; LISTEN TO THE CHESHIRE CAT

23 06 2012

Online, in person and in print; there are any number of places you can seek advice on developing sound strategy but in the rush to get on with the planning, don’t overlook the importance of properly defining what it is you are planning for…..

Lewis Carroll’s novel ‘Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland’ (commonly called Alice in Wonderland) was first published in 1865. It is generally considered to be one of the best examples of a genre known as ‘literary nonsense.’ And it is probably reasonable to think of it as nonsense as it tells the tale of a girl called Alice who falls down a rabbit hole and who then meets a number of strange anthropomorphic creatures. However, behind its enduring popularity lies Carroll’s ability to use logic to relay significant parts of his tale.

Consider the moment when Alice, lost, comes across the Cheshire Cat:

“Excuse me sir,” Alice enquires, “could you tell me which road to take?”

Wisely the cat asks, “Where are you going?”

Somewhat dismayed, Alice responds, “Oh, I don’t know where I’m going sir.”

“Well,” replied the cat, “if you don’t know where you are going, it really doesn’t matter which road you take.”

The Cheshire Cat imparts sound advice not only for Alice but for anyone involved in strategic planning. The temptation is to rush to the planning, to start describing the journey, the ‘how’ part of reaching the destination.

But pause a moment and consider the sage advice of the cat; if you haven’t taken the time to get a clear picture of what success looks like, to properly define and describe your desired destination, then how can you accurately plan to ensure you arrive at your desired destination?

Having a strategy is not the key to success many think it is; the key lies in having a good strategy. And without a clear defined destination no strategy can be considered good.

But don’t take my word for it; ask the Cheshire Cat!

*I am grateful to Richard Smith of the Internet Consultancy.com from Redhill (UK) for pointing out to me that the original of this blog contained an error in that I assigned the quote to the caterpillar and not the Cheshire Cat. Thank you Richard, quality feedback is always more than welcome.

© Jim Cowan, Cowan Global Limited, June 2012

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FACEBOOK TIMELINE IS TWO WEEKS AWAY – WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW…..

18 03 2012

Guest Blog by Danny Bermant of Brainstorm Digital.

There are only two weeks to go until the Facebook Timeline changeover happens. This means that your branded Facebook page will completely change in appearance. Make sure you don’t get caught out.  Here Brainstorm Digital’s Danny Bermant shares the seven key things you need to know.

Bye bye landing pages.

Up till now you were able to automatically send new visitors to a customised page with a special offer. From March 30th, you will no longer be able to do this. All visitors will automatically be taken to your Timeline.

Instead of five thumbnail photos, you will have one large photo at the top of your page.

You will need find a landscape image that illustrates what your business is about. It could be an image of your staff, or it could be an image of your products. The ideal dimensions for this are 851 by 315 pixels. The thumbnail image that sits beside status updates is 180 x 180 pixels. If you want to find some good images for your Facebook account, go to http://www.fotolia.com. (see visuals). Images sell for as little as £1.

The section that used to be buried in the “Info” tab on your company page is now front and centre along its very top, so make sure you fill it in!

Keep it short and to the point; think mission statement rather than an entire company biography. Ensure you have a completed profile. Missing information looks unprofessional. E.g. If it’s a company page, make sure you fill in: About, Overview, Missions, Products / Services, website address etc…

Control how your posts are displayed.

With Timeline, you can pin a post to the top of your Facebook page for up to seven days to highlight popular or relevant content. You can also change post dates, which will help you prioritise up posts that you want to keep at the top of the page. e.g. An ongoing event or promotion.

You can “star” a post to feature it more prominently, increasing the size of the post to take up the full width of your Facebook page.

This is great if you want to post YouTube videos. But this means you want to use higher res photos that end up on your Facebook page; you’ll need them sized at a minimum width of 851 pixels so they can be featured as a “starred” post without pixelating.

You can add company milestones.

You’ll be able to create company milestones on your Timeline, which gives you an easy way to promote key events in your company history to Facebook. You can also feature events such as client briefings or product launches.

You can control posts on the activity log:

This admin panel lets you hide and reveal posts, “star” posts to feature them, and change post dates. For example you may have a repeating event. Rather than advertise the same event as a new post, you can resurrect an existing post.

The new Facebook layout may be harder to customise but on the plus side it’s far more visual, enabling you to post large images and videos far more prominently. For Facebook audiences, photos and video say a lot more than reams and reams of text, so I think that ultimately, Timeline will be a change for the better.

Danny Bermant is Director of Brainstorm Digital an online marketing agency that trains businesses how to profit from social media. Brainstorm Digital are members of Branduin Business Support Limited.

 

© Danny Bermant, Brainstorm Digital Ltd, March 2012

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KNOWING YOUR OUTCOMES FROM YOUR OUTPUTS

9 02 2012

When you consider that a good strategy has to act as a communication tool, one that is understood by all those involved in its direction, management and delivery, the fact that some of the language of strategy can be somewhat confusing seems contradictory. 

At Cowan Global, our advice is generally to use plain English, to think about the language used by those to whom you wish to communicate and therefore be understood by. Simplifying the name of something does not alter its function but by making it easier to understand can vastly improve the chances of strategy becoming successful strategy.

Of course, if others are using these confusing words and expecting you to understand, you need a definition.

This confusion applies to the distinction between ‘Outcomes’ and ‘Outputs’. Here is our explanation of their meaning along with some more ‘user-friendly’ terms for applying them.

I will begin by confessing to having made an assumption in the title of this article; I have assumed that you know what an Objective is. So perhaps the best place to start is with some definitions:

An Objective is what you are aiming to achieve.

An Output is what you actually deliver.

An Outcome is what you gain from your output.

In general, if you can see it, feel it or move it about, it is an output. If it is a level of performance or achievement it is an outcome.

On a practical level in business outcomes generally come down to one of two things; increased revenue or reduced overheads however how the business goes about achieving and measuring these will vary greatly.

In simple terms that company might seek the outcome of increasing revenue via the objective of implementing an online sales site, the establishing of which will be the output.

In real terms it is rarely that simple. That same company might have recognised that satisfied, motivated staff have a positive impact on production and sales and will therefore seek to achieve the objective of improved staff satisfaction. This objective will need to be broken down into a series of processes (outputs) in order to deliver it including (e.g.) staff appraisal, reward and recognition, benefits provision, etc. The improvement of staff satisfaction can then be measured (the outcome) against (e.g.) the number of staff achieving set standards on the reward and recognition programme.

Outside the business sector outcomes may be more diverse than those attached to commerce although it is worth bearing in mind that the two given (increased revenue and reduced overheads) will impact positively in all sectors.

A non-business sector example might be the objective of both past and present governments of getting more people physically active. The output might be people taking up sport and the outcome would be how many more people take up which sports. It could, of course, be argued that in fact even this example comes back to the two business outcomes in that more people being physically active should have a positive impact on UK plc’s bottom line, e.g. in savings for the NHS.

To return to where we began, what impact does knowing your outcomes from your outputs have on the successful delivery of strategy? As long as you know what you want to achieve, what it should look like and how you should gain from it, the terminology is nice to know not need to know.

Strategy is (or should be) about how you go about achieving your vision, a plan for achieving one’s goal. The better that strategy is communicated, the easier it is for all involved to understand, the higher the likelihood of success. Understanding the terminology is important on an academic level but in the real world success is measured by what you achieve and communication by what is understood.

Perhaps I should have titled this article ‘knowing what it is you want to achieve, what it looks like and how you will know when you’ve arrived’ for in understanding that we can design strategy which has far higher chances of becoming successful strategy.

© Jim Cowan, Cowan Global Limited, February 2012

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