A View from Blue Grotto

Friday, December 19, 2014

Glass half empty, or glass half full?

I had to laugh when John Davis used the words ‘coping strategies’ in the very first sentence of his article about management styles in family businesses for the November 14 Harvard Business School Working Knowledge newsletter. How appropriate, I thought – because coping strategy is a term often used in dysfunctional families.

What he went on to say in this installment of a series of articles on Managing the Family Business was that the traits of optimism and pessimism are both important to the success of a business. But in a family business, how members of the team react to and respond to these leadership styles is what is important.

It was especially interesting to me, an admitted optimist, to read his thinking on the how the two traits conversely affect everything from operations to strategic planning to investment. Not every family illustrates dysfunction. Many family businesses run smoothly because of their innate ability to balance perceptions and personalities.

In response to a slow economic recovery, Davis writes: “When the news is bad and likely to get worse, a pessimist is your best ally because pessimists thrive on fixing errors.”  There is the need to balance these two traits, too. Davis found, “When testing strategic plans, deploy defensive pessimism, imagining all the things that can go wrong in the future. But when the task requires flexibility and had work toward uncertain goals, build teams with optimists.”

The Working Knowledge series by Davis includes topics of Firing the CEO, Entrepreneurs Needed for Long-Run Success, and designing Leadership Roles for success in your family’s business.

Even though it should not be, leading, managing, and governing a family business is arguably different. Personality traits aside, glass half full or half empty, the operations of family businesses – mom and pops or multinationals – are different from other business structures.

Davis’ articles give reflection to the strengths and capacity of family businesses. The Blue Grotto team has been lucky enough to work with several family-owned and operated businesses. One of the things that fascinates me most about family businesses is that even though, generationally, family members’ perspective – on the business, their industry, innovation, and the changes in things like social media – may be radically different, they share in a commitment to the success of their company and the personal responsibility for the health and livelihoods of their employees, their customers, their vendors, and even the communities in which they operate.

Thank you, to HBS and John Davis for continuing to highlight those strengths and opportunities of family business leaders.

A link to the Pessimism versus Optimism article: http://hbswk.hbs.edu/item/7513.html

I, myself, am a product of family businesses.

My grandfather, George Hammond,

founded St. Paul-based Awards By Hammond

more than 60 years ago.
Email me with your perspectives on the nuanced styles of family business leaders.

As a matter of disclosure, I, myself, am the product of family business leadership. Many generations of my family have served as sole proprietors, opened new businesses, and turned struggling businesses around. And optimism is met with pessimism in any family J.

Yvonne Hundshamer
President, Blue Grotto Inc.


Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Does Your Organization Need a Strategic Planning Overhaul?

What do you think of when you hear the term ‘strategic planning?’ Does dread fill your mind? Does the term conjure up images of middle managers stuck in a window-less room, droning on about SWOT analysis, goals and tactics, and ultimately a document that would collect dust for the next three years until it was time to go through strategic planning, again.

What if strategic planning could result in tools that helped you to develop a formula for continual evaluation and course correction if necessary, and, more importantly, develop an organizational capacity to replicate success and address uncertainty? You’d say “sign me up!” Right?

As I led a client’s leadership team through strategic planning this past fall, I decided to work toward the outcome of developing that formula for decision-making informed by their strategy. What I really wanted was for them to actually use the strategic direction once they had it fleshed out. No reams of paper necessary, I expected to produce a single sheet that influenced how they made tactical decisions - a simple game plan that helped them to commit to what their team would or would not focus on in the coming months.

I forewarned the team about my intent to refrain from taking the easy way out - establishing a series of goals they would be pretty sure at which they could succeed, along with a tactic-heavy work plan. And, instead, I would be asking them to consider how they would leverage their strategy to create a cultural advantage and replicate success. Hoping the team would be receptive to this change in approach, I assigned some relatively light reading as homework.

Dana O’Donovan and Noah Rimland Flower of the Monitor Institute tackled the topic for Stanford Social Innovation Review with The Strategic Plan is Dead. Long Live Strategy. In today’s fast-changing world, why freeze your strategic thinking in a five-year plan? They advocated for developing a plan that is adaptive and simple.

For Harvard Business Review’s blog, Roger Martin instructed very simply that there are Five Questions to Build a Strategy, treating strategy-making as developing a set of answers to five interlinked questions.

One simple takeaway: debating tactics that may or may not be relevant in even just a few short weeks feels like a waste of time. Prioritizing what your team wants to focus on as an organization for the next twelve months and identifying the best practices you can rely on to guide the decisions made by everyone from the front line customer service to the corner offices makes perfect sense.

Email me with your own anecdote about how strategic direction makes a difference in your day-to-day work. Or, with resources you found helpful in making the case for more effective strategic planning.

Links to the articles: http://www.ssireview.org/blog/entry/the_strategic_plan_is_dead._long_live_strategy
Stanford Social Innovation Review Nonprofit Management The Strategic Plan is Dead. Long Live Strategy. In today’s fast-changing world, why freeze your strategic thinking in a five-year plan?
By Dana O’Donovan & Noah Rimland Flower

Harvard Business Review Five Questions to Build a Strategy By Roger Martin

Yvonne Hundshamer
President, Blue Grotto Inc.