The Power of Planning

On June 16, I had the opportunity to be a guest on the Leadership International Talk Show hosted by my colleague, Maria Berdusco. Maria is an author, speaker, leadership strategist, facilitator and professional coach who started Leadership International after twenty years of Fortune 500 management experience in the science and technology fields. (See the Guest Corner for an excerpt from her book How to Think Like a Leader.)

During the show, Maria and I examined strategic planning and thinking as a leader's most critical imperative. The research behind two of the questions that we discussed has always been of interest to me so I thought I'd share a little more detail here.

Why does strategic thinking differentiate great leaders?

Strategic thinking involves the ability to see ahead clearly and to anticipate future events and their impact on an organization. In addition, it requires broad perspective and knowledge. Unfortunately, research has shown that these kinds of capabilities are not common in the leadership talent pool and that strategic thinking is hard to develop. When someone comes along with this tool set, he or she can usually make a difference in a company and create breakthroughs.

Where does strategic thinking fit relative to overall leadership skills?

Strategic Thinking has been shown to be one of the key competencies that predict performance agility and growth potential across all levels of leadership. It is a foundation skill — many things grow from the ability to think strategically — but it does not stand alone. To do strategy work well, leaders need additional competencies such as being comfortable with ambiguity, the ability to manage innovation and creative processes, the ability to do basic planning and goal management, and the ability to articulate an inspiring vision to a wide range of stakeholders. Except for the ability to plan, most of these success factors are not easy to develop. They come from having a wide range of experiences where these kinds of capabilities can be tested and learned.

You can download a podcast of the discussion by visiting the Talk Show page on the Leadership International website.

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A Survey is not a Survey is Not a Survey

For the third time in as many months, I connected with an organization that decided to design and administer their own in-house employee "satisfaction" survey. The companies were perplexed when the response rate was low and the survey results were not easy to interpret.

I often advise clients to implement a survey process as an important component of their overall talent strategy. However, I encourage them NOT to take the "do-it-yourself" route unless the company has specialized internal capability to do so. It is enticing when there are tools like SurveyMonkey available but a DIY survey will, at best, deliver mediocre results or, at worst, cause significant organization harm.

There are several critical success factors to effective employee surveying. First, you need a solid understanding and definition of the constructs you are trying to measure. Employee "morale" or "satisfaction" are very fuzzy concepts that, even when they are well defined and measured, do not have much relationship to important business outcomes. In contrast, employee engagement or perceived organization culture are predictive of outcomes like retention, customer value, innovation, and financial performance.

The survey must supported by a robust business case. If there is not a well thought out, agreed upon reason for why the organization is asking for input then the survey response rate will be low and no one will care about the results or want to do anything with them. Surveying for surveying's sake is never a good idea. You must begin with an end in mind.

The survey instrument itself must be constructed in manner that delivers reliable results across different employee segments and at different times. Survey questions and the rating format must be designed and tested so that the internal consistency of the survey is confirmed. Otherwise, any results will be blurred by measurement error. A corollary to this requirement is never to undertake a survey project thinking that you will only take one measurement. A survey is most beneficial when it is viewed as a part of a continuous improvement process that includes repeating the survey after feedback and action planning has occurred.

Survey respondents need to be guaranteed some level of anonymity or they will not respond or be candid. Unless the level of trust in an organization is very high, employees tend to be suspicious of internally administered surveys. As a result, fewer people will respond to an internal survey or you will only hear from those with the most radical of opinions. Free on-line services tend to encourage self- administered surveys. If you decide to go that route, you will get your moneys worth.

Having the ability to slice and dice survey data is another key requirement. You must have the capability to ask a number of questions of the data and to explore links in the results. Just looking at averages, cross tabs or overall response category percentages does not always provide a complete picture. Deeper analysis might indicate, for example, that even a small improvement on a positively rated item could provide more bang-for-the-buck than focusing an item with low ratings.

My guidance to companies interested in surveying is to avoid the DIY route. Either go to someone who makes surveying their business to help develop an effective measure or tap into one the many professionally developed survey products on the market.

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Using Good Judgment
By Maria Berdusco
Strategist, Leadership International

Life is a series of decisions from inconsequential to significant. From selecting a business initiative, a beverage, or a life partner, and from minor to momentous, it is the collective effects of your decisions that constitute your lifetime. Over time, and with increased responsibility, the impact of your decisions have greater magnitude, and sometimes far-reaching and long-term effects. Some of the decisions you will be making today and tomorrow can have critical outcomes for you.

Peter Drucker indicated �Effective executives do not make a great many decisions. They concentrate on what is important. They try to make the few important decisions on the highest level of conceptual understanding. They try to find the constraints in a situation, to think through what is strategic and generic rather than to solve problems.' Drucker described an executive decision as being about impact, and not just technique, and that it should be based on principle. He outlined simple steps and a sequential process that includes understanding compromise, ethical considerations and deciphering right from wrong. Throughout your life, you have had opportunities to observe the influence that leaders have on outcomes for large groups of people, and you have observed acute implications. Effects range from overwhelmingly positive, to severely detrimental.

In the book, Predictably Irrational, Dan Ariely suggests caution in decision making because of the unpredictability of the human mind making irrational decisions in a complex world. He says the mind gets what it expects, but that this often defies logic. The world is complex, and so is your thinking. How you decipher stimuli in response to previous input and biased data is not automatically straightforward. A cautionary message is to watch your thinking and decisions very closely. So many issues and information come into play for you; some of which are reliable and some of which simply are not. People often limit themselves and their potential by thinking narrowly, not broadly, in their decisions, and as a result limit possibilities for themselves. The carefully crafted decision is the more reliable decision. Consider your major decisions, and trivialize the decisions that are exactly that. Try to find the difference between the two. �Much ado about nothing' often reigns, but much ado about something is imperative when impacts are substantial. Consider your decisions wisely.

Excerpt from How to Think Like a Leader � and Why your Thoughts Matter by Maria Berdusco, available from Amazon.com. Leadership International specializes in talent development and leadership strategy for individuals and organizations. Visit www.LeadershipInternational.com or call 412-221-3376

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