Right-Brain Thinking Increasingly Needed

By Jeri Denniston, Chief Marketing Strategist, Denner Group International  11/18/2011

Takeaways: Right-brain thinking is increasingly required as the world moves from the information age into the conceptual age.

The world is transitioning from the information age to the conceptual age. This means that left brain (predominantly analytical) thinking alone is no longer sufficient by itself to successfully grow a business.

A Whole New MindWhat is needed now is what Daniel Pink calls “right brain skills, like artistry, empathy, and big-picture thinking.”

Daniel Pink, a contributing editor at Wired Magazine, and a noted author and speaker, shares his philosophy in his book, A Whole New Mind: Moving from the Information Age to the Conceptual Age. You may purchase it from our store at the same price as you would on Amazon.com.

What he’s talking about is a whole brain approach to management – a systems thinking approach®. While the left brain skills of analysis, linear and logical thinking are still necessary, the world is evolving into a need for a more holistic approach, one that addresses not just product and price but contribution to society, design in terms of lifestyle and value, and emotional engagement.

Consider the Whole Customer

This means thinking about the whole person you serve as your customer – not just their pocket book. Whole Foods continues to do this successfully by focusing on whole health, organic products, delighting customers, supporting happy employees, and caring about the environment.

According to Pink, others like GM are beginning to do this as well, recognizing that creative input with an emphasis on world class design is necessary for future growth and success. Finding and hiring people who are motivated by their ability to create, by their desire to be part of a larger purpose, and not by money alone, will be the key as we transition from the information age to a conceptual one.

Companies that empower the artistic and creative talents in people will be more successful than those who only reward the routine analytical work of number-crunching, analysis, and jobs that don’t offer opportunities for independent thinking. Much of those analytical skills have been and will continue to be outsourced.

It’s the right-brain skills of design – be it industrial, graphic, environmental or even fashion design – that are becoming increasingly needed in organizations. Consultants will need to become literate in these skills in order to guide organizations as they reinvent themselves. Productivity in the workplace is increasingly impacted by workspace design and employee emotional engagement. This requires right-brain thinking to implement well.

Make Strategic Management a Game

By Jeri T Denniston, Chief Marketing Strategist, Denner Group International    11-8-2012

Takeaways: Think of fun, creative ways to engage your staff. Turn your strategic management system into a game everyone wants to play. It’s critical that the boss both communicate AND model the behavior he/she expects of everyone else.

The EMyth Revisted: strategic management as a gameIn August, I related a story Michael Gerber told in his book, The E-Myth, which described the unique experience he had (and continues to have) at the Venetia Hotel in the Redwoods outside San Francisco.

You may recall, the hotel went out of their way to make his experience memorable by anticipating his needs, including a brandy waiting for him before he turned in for the night, the brand of coffee he likes, and the newspaper he prefers to read in the morning. They had installed a strategic management system that anyone could follow.

Make Your Strategic Management System A Game

The question was “How did the hotel get the staff to actually follow the system?”  This is key. Many companies have policies and “systems” they’ve instituted but no one follows them. First, the owner took the business seriously – he viewed the hotel as a reflection of his personal values and who he was. Thus, if a staff person didn’t take their job seriously, it reflected on the entire operation.

He told the manager when he was hired, “The work we do is a reflection of who we are. If we do sloppy work, it’s because we’re sloppy inside. If we’re late at it, it’s because we’re late inside. If we’re bored by it, it’s because we’re bored with ourselves, not the work. How we do our work becomes a mirror of who and how we are inside.”

He continued, “Work is only an idea before a person does it. But the moment a person does the work, the impact of the work on the world becomes a reflection of that idea – the idea behind the work – as well as the person doing it. In the process, the work you do becomes you, and you become the force that breaths life in to the idea.”

The point being made is that the boss, the owner, took the time to explain the purpose behind the work that each person does in the hotel, broken down into three thoughts:

1 – the customer is not always right but whether or not he is, it is our job to make him feel that way.

2 – everyone who works here is expected to work toward being the best they can possibly be at the tasks he or she is accountable for.

3 – the business is a place where everything we know how to do is tested by what we don’t know how to do, and that the conflict between the two is what creates growth and meaning.

Define Structure. Make it Fun.

The boss took the time to create a clearly defined strategic management structure based on how to behave in the world – a values system – through which the staff can test themselves and be tested. For all intents and purposes, he made this People Strategy a game.

The game symbolizes the idea the owner has about the world and his/or her contribution to that idea. The degree to which your staff “buy into” playing the game depends entirely on how well you communicate AND EXEMPLIFY your idea, your value system to them. You do this through new staff orientations, an Operations Manual, your organization chart, job descriptions, and written Performance Appraisals.

But most of all the owner or “boss” communicates this through his or her own performance and actions. It has to be seen and experienced before the staff will voluntarily perform in a similar manner.

In the next article I’ll share Gerber’s Rules of the Game. In the meantime, think about how you model your expectations of your own staff. Are you living and acting the values and behavior you expect of them?

Customer Service Explained: Match, Mint, Coffee

By Jeri T Denniston, Chief Marketing Strategist, Denner Group International   8-24-2012

Takeaways: Michael Gerber relates an example about customer service and strategic management – focused on pleasing the customer. Ask questions and listen to the customer. Then take action to serve the customer and anticipate his/her needs.

 Customer service explaqined: Michael GerberI’ve been re-reading The E-Myth by Michael E. Gerber.  In the chapter about management strategy, he describes an experience he had with a boutique hotel in the California redwoods country. It’s a message about customer service and management systems.

Here’s a brief synopsis:
He stops for the night after a long drive on his way to San Francisco. As he walks into the lobby he describes how inviting it looks – large, comfortable over-stuffed sofa; a table as you enter holds a large, enticing bowl of fresh fruit ; a warm fire is blazing in the fireplace; the décor expertly blends together to provide a welcoming feeling of home and warmth.

The woman at the front desk wore complimentary colors and style, a matching ribbon in her hair, and a badge that showed the hotel logo and colors. She welcomed him, checked him in, and within 3 minutes the bellboy was ushering him to his room. Amazing!

His room was equally tasteful  –“ understated opulence” is how he described it – with a four-poster king size bed taking center stage. He noticed the fireplace was prepared and ready to light, thinking that would be nice after dinner. When he checked in, he asked about restaurants and the desk clerk suggested one on the hill a short walk away. She made reservations for him as he was being shown his room.

Customer Service: Learn the Customer’s Interests

There was a well-lit path between the hotel and restaurant. The restaurant was crowded with several people waiting when he arrived, but when he announced his name, he was immediately shown to a table. The meal was “delightful” and the service excellent, encouraging him to linger over a glass of after-dinner brandy.

As he returned to his room he noticed the lights on the path had been turned up to make it more navigable after dark. He was thinking about lighting the fire and having a brandy before turning in. When he got to his room, the bed was turned down, a mint was on each pillow, the fire was crackling in the hearth, and a glass of brandy was beside the bed with a card that read, “Welcome to your first stay at Venetia. I hope it has been enjoyable. If there is anything I can do for you, Day or Night, please don’t hesitate to call. Kathi.”

The next morning he awoke to gurgling in the bathroom and when he arose to investigate, the coffee maker was brewing his favorite brand of coffee. A card read “Your brand of coffee. Enjoy! K” And it was HIS brand of coffee. He heard a knock at the front door, and when he opened it no one was there. On the doorstep was HIS newspaper, the New York Times.

How did they know?

When he checked in, the desk clerk asked him what his favorite newspaper was. He gave it no thought. At the restaurant, the server asked what his favorite coffee was when he ordered coffee after dinner. The server probably also noticed he enjoyed a glass of brandy after his meal. They asked, noticed and listened. And they communicated between the hotel and the restaurant. This experience has been repeated every time he visits that hotel.

What did they do differently that makes this possible? They had developed a system and written it down in an Operations Manual so anyone could replicate it regardless of who was in charge. It was a series of color-coded checklists for each person at the hotel.  Each support person was responsible for eight rooms. When they arrived every morning, they had eight packages of checklists in their mailbox- one for each room they were taking care of. As they completed each one, they signed off on the package.  To sign off and not complete the work was grounds for dismissal.

The hotel had a strategic management system in place that could easily be followed by anyone.

But how did they get their people to use it? That’s the subject of the next article.


Strategic Management Building Blocks

 By Eric Denniston, Managing Director, Denner Group International 1/30/2013 

Takeaways: Strategic Management building blocks include Leadership, thinking, planning, and action. They each deserve study, practice and mastery particularly if you strive to become a highly effective manager or executive.

Lead, Think, Plan and Act are the natural building blocks of sound and effective strategic strategic management building blocksmanagement. Simply put, looking back on nearly 30 years engaged in business planning, we recognize that it is a well-accepted best practice to be disciplined in using this structure in tackling virtually every life or business challenge that presents itself, but particularly those that have long-term horizons. And, yes, it works!

There is, of course, a lot of sub-text to each element of Lead, Think, Plan and Act. In other words they each deserve study, practice and mastery particularly if you strive to become a highly effective manager or executive, or even to create a fuller, healthier and happier life for yourself and your family. There is good reason the Association for Strategic Planning has adopted “Lead-Think-Plan-Act” as its motto, to reinforce this simple but comprehensive set of principles for successful management of long-term initiatives.

Leading is a Skill

Leading is not just about being the boss or leading one or more people in a particular direction. It’s about mastering leadership skills. These include leading yourself. You might notice that people that stand out as leaders demonstrate that they are exceptionally capable at self-discipline and demonstrate a high skill level in the activity they are engaged in. It could be sales, it could be public speaking, it could be solving complex math problems or it could be communicating with children. Those leaders have first mastered personal skills, thus gaining credibility and then they have mastered skills to lead others. They do this by demonstrating how to do things, by teaching, by facilitating, and just as importantly, by coaching. These folks also generally stand out as good communicators. They have developed good public speaking skills and the ability to put forth thoughtful but brief written communications. They have also learned to distinguish the key roles of those involved in planning and change management to effectively leverage them in achieving the desired outcomes.

Therefore, leadership is really a fairly broad combination of skills, practiced and implemented in concert with one another or by themselves, and mostly focused in the outcomes desired by others. At the highest level of performance, leaders help create shared desired outcomes and facilitate the achievement of those outcomes.

Thinking is both strategic and analytical

Thinking cannot be pigeonholed into brief expressions like “outside the box” or a higher level or being philosophical. In reality, Thinking is also about mastering a set of skills.

Today, the business world looks at thinking in two styles, both equally important. One is tactical or analytical thinking. The other is strategic or systemic/systems thinking. One way to consider the distinction between these two styles of thinking is that tactical or analytical thinking focuses on breaking a problem down into its parts and then solving for each of the parts, thus making the parts the priority. This is valuable because it is highly effective for short term solutions and it helps to remove possibly critical problems. When working on long-term horizons, we need to recognize an important paradigm of analytic thinking, which is the tendency to ignore whole overarching sets of issues that may lead to some avoidable unintended consequences.

Strategic or systems (systemic) thinking on the other hand, focuses on solving for the whole and the overarching set of issues; therefore, the whole is primary and the parts are secondary. The skill set here includes using a combination of the many structures and procedures that the business community has developed to maintain discipline and focus on those long-term objectives, create change and manage it, and often to leverage the collaboration of varied and geographically-dispersed groups of people.

Planning Processes

Planning may at first glance tease us into considering long-held beliefs about planning exercises and how they are conducted. In fact, the skill sets for planning have benefited from substantial innovation in process and constantly improving sets of tools, including SAS tools that must be practiced and added to the tool box of every manager and executive. The structures provided by disciplines in project management and the Balanced Scorecard ® system are often integrated into a broader strategic management system to ensure the common clarity of purpose individuals and teams must have to execute day-to-day tasks in concert with the long term objectives. It is not simply coincidence that high-performing organizations have adopted and adapted these skill sets with careful attention to molding them to their culture, and more importantly, making constant adjustments with a focus on the future.

There is a wealth of sharing going on in the business world about how planning is being conducted and how organizations have met their specific challenges. This being the case, getting up to speed is a bit easier than 20 years ago, but it still takes concentrated work and vigilance to craft plans that will succeed and have useful metrics to gauge progress and trigger the need for changes.

Action – getting things done

Acting is generally considered to be about getting things done, right? But let’s understand it better in the context of strategic planning and strategic management, neither of which is really linear in nature, but actually cyclical. This means that long-term planning and managing long-term objectives must be conducted in cycles that fit the time horizons of the projects or initiatives that we have at hand.

Act is also in fact the final building block to be addressed in the cycle. Note here the emphasis on the concept of cycle. There is in fact no single ending act that puts a ribbon on any project or initiative, but instead each project or initiative that ends leads to either another stage or a new project or initiative that builds upon the prior one. The coordination and risk management to ensure high performance of the actions being taken are the responsibility of top executives and strategy practitioners.

Act includes consistent tracking of the key success measures of the initiatives and projects and coordinating appropriate reactions to reinforce the positive outcomes and adjust those that are not measuring up.  The skill sets required include a clear understanding of the roles of the various players in the process, organizational structures and cultures (most businesses have more than one of each), and diligent tracking of the progress of the initiatives. Act also involves skills in facilitation, coaching, conflict resolution and the use of the best tools available to track progress and keep all the stakeholders informed.

Each of these strategic management building blocks of effective long-term planning deserves substantially more conversation, and we explore them in more detail in our daily work. If you would like to learn more about this, please visit our website for more information on consulting or training engagements and upcoming webinars.

It’s Hard to be the Boss and a Coach Too

By Jeri T Denniston, Chief Marketing Strategist, Denner Group International    8-8-2011

Takeaways: Sometimes, it’s hard to be the boss. There are certain things a boss should never say. You can’t share everything, even with family and friends. It can cause confusion or jeopardize your reputation in your staff’s eyes.

Sometimes it’s hard to be the boss. The axiom “It’s Hard to be the bosslonely at the top” is often very true. As the boss, there may be things you are privy to that you might want to share with your staff, but you know you shouldn’t or can’t.  You have to walk the fine line of being friendly and supportive as a mentor and coach, without being too chummy. In the case of a small business owner or entrepreneur, this can be challenging, especially if your co-workers are family and friends.

So what do you share and how much?

Best practices show that the more your staff understands about the business – including the revenue and expenses – the more likely they are to feel that they have a role to play in its success. “People support what they help create” is a key premise we share with our clients.  It helps them take ownership of the actions they are responsible for executing. But how much is enough?

In privately held companies frequently the actual revenue and expense numbers aren’t shared, just percentages in the form of graphs. This at least lets the staff understand how their department is performing this year vs. last year or last month, and whether or not revenues and expenses are up or down. It’s up to you, the boss, or financial manager, to explain how they can make adjustments individually and within departments to help improve the bottom line.

Beyond that, other things you should not share with your employees include:

  • Never share how much each person is making – it’s no one’s business except that of the employee and the boss, and legally needs to be kept confidential between the boss and the employee anyway.
  • Don’t share anything really personal about your life and family – your employees are not your friends and confidants; they work with and for you. It’s necessary to maintain a fine line between being friendly and being the boss. Crossing that line jeopardizes your reputation as a leader in your staff’s eyes and can cause confusion among employees who begin to feel everyone’s on equal turf and there is no ultimate decision-maker. The higher you go in an organization, the lonelier it gets, because as a boss you have access to more confidential information that often can’t or shouldn’t be shared with all your staff equally.
  • Never share anything told to you in confidence by one employee with any others. To do so destroys trust, is disrespectful of that trust, and ruins your ability to mentor and coach your staff.
  • Don’t spread rumors about other staff members, other departments, or even your competitors. It’s your job to set the example of a wise and considerate leader. Your employees look up to you. While it might be tempting to feed the rumor mill, especially if the tidbit is about a colleague or competitor you personally don’t respect, it demeans your reputation, not only in the eyes of your employees, but that of your other colleagues.
  • Don’t say or do anything that you wouldn’t want to see in print or on the internet. That’s always a good rule of thumb not only for you, the boss, but for your staff as well. Once it’s out there, it’s very difficult to make it disappear, especially from the internet.

Understanding Change as a Game We Play

By Jeri T Denniston, Chief Marketing Strategist, Denner Group International 

 Takeaways:  Change is one of many games we humans play.  Games have similar characteristics, including purpose, rules, time boundaries, spatial parameters, roles, and prizes.

Leadingat the Edge of ChaosIn his book, Leading at the Edge of Chaos: How to Create the Nimble Organization, Daryl R. Connor describes change management as yet one of many games humans play. All our games, he says, have certain characteristics in common:

  •  Purpose – they all have a point regardless of whether they are frivolous or serious.
  • Rules – they all have explicit or implicit directions for how to play. Implicit may be the unspoken rules around friendship, for example.
  • Time boundaries – some are brief and others take a long time. Personal development, for example, is a life-long process.
  • Spatial parameters – some games are played in a small physical space, such as your computer, or in a large workspace, like offices or the global marketplace
  • Prizes – all games have rewards of one kind or another, whether it’s a promotion and salary increase or a ranking as winner
  • Intensity – some games are fun; others serious, such as competing for a hard-get customer
  • Emotional reactions – some games are pleasurable, such as achieving financial success, or mere obligations, such as paying taxes.
  • Prescribed number of players – some games are played with older or younger people, or they may be solitary, such as meditation or prayer.
  • Intentionality – participation in some games is conscious, such as dating, while in others it may be totally unconscious, such as intimidating coworkers.
  • Language – most games use terms or symbols to convey specific meanings that are only relevant within a specific context, such as might be created when a team comes together to focus on an innovative new product or idea.
  • Roles – most games include roles everyone plays; there’s always a leader and other types of participants, such as spectators, rookies, experts, or artists.

Managing Change

If we look at managing change from the perspective of gamesmanship, we see that this is just another game we play, and it incorporates all the elements described above. As the pace of change continues to increase, organizations find they must be continually changing to keep up or stay ahead of the competition. This requires leaders at all levels who are nimble and understand how to play this game.

Because businesses and organizations of all types are continually changing and have been doing so “for as long we humans have been building hierarchical structures”, says Connor, the game of managing change has become more and more sophisticated. A new paradigm has been born that forces us to look at this managing change game from a new perspective.

According to Connor, paradigms are created as a response to people trying to make sense of the world around them. So as the world has continued to change and humans try to understand the implications of these changes, new questions and challenges arise, creating a new paradigm.

Ten years ago, for example, few people anticipated the impact the smart phone would have on daily lives. Yet society globally has become more and more mobile, and people are doing more shopping and internet browsing from their phones rather than their desktop computers. This has, and will continue to create, dramatic implications for businesses of all types. It has implications for broadband service providers and cable companies. It has implications for organizations selling their products and services online. It has implications for retailers with physical store locations as shoppers scan QR and bar codes in the store to find better pricing elsewhere.

Yet, despite this consumer trend, fewer than 5% of all websites today are mobile phone friendly, let alone tablet friendly. This is a new paradigm shift in the global marketplace game.

As leaders we need to stay abreast of these trends and consider the implications they have for our own businesses. Are we still trying to use the old set of rules to play in this new sandbox? Or are we adapting and changing the rules of the game to meet these new challenges?

Mobile smart phones and tablets have altered the global marketplace. What are you doing to meet this new challenge in order to play in this new game space? 

9 Tips to Managing Virtual Teams Successfully

By Jeri T Denniston, Chief Marketing Strategist, Denner Group International    6-8-2011

Takeaways: Managing virtual teams is becoming more common as companies are widely dispersed geographically. Trust, communication, high touch, and soft skills are some of the key areas to incorporate in order to build and maintain successful virtual team performance.

Managing virtual teams is becoming more and more common, especially with today’s technology which allows teams to meet via the internet and web conferencing. Nevertheless, it presents its own set of challenges that are different from teams who meet face-to-face.  In her book, Virtual Team Virtual Team SuccessSuccess-A Practical Guide for Working and Leading From a Distance, Darlene DeRosa offers some practical tips on putting to work the six hardest lessons virtual teams face:

  1. Focus on people issues: Virtual teams rise or fall on the human interactions: communication flow, trust and productivity. The leader needs to create ways for people to interact-mix your task teams, find ways to shine a spotlight on individuals and celebrate your team’s successes as a team. 

  2. No trust, no team: This was one of the key differentiators between high-performing teams and the rest of the pack. Make sure your team is empowered to make decisions and let them act on those decisions. Help manage conflicts before they create permanent rifts. 

  3. “Soft skills” are essential: DeRosa and her partner Rick Lepsinger found that interpersonal skills make a huge difference in virtual team performance. Teams that have been through team-building and interpersonal skill development activities perform better than those that haven’t. Training as a group seems to matter, individual skill development doesn’t always help the team. 

  4. Watch out for performance peaks: Teams that have been together a long time (more than three years) tend to be more successful than teams working together for less time. Yet many teams peak  after a year and then performance levels off or even declines. Clearly define team roles and accountability. Periodically examine the team’s performance by getting feedback from various stakeholders and share that feedback with the team. 

  5. Create a “high touch” environment: Technology has made virtual working possible, but isn’t a perfect substitute for human interaction. If you can get the team together physically, even once a year, do it. In the meantime, use a variety of tools and use rich tools like webmeetings and videoconferencing when it’s appropriate to remind people that those other team members are real live humans as well, not just screen names. 

  6. Virtual team leadership matters: Their research shows that leadership does, in fact, have a statistically significant correlation with team performance. Effective virtual team leaders overcome the limitations of distance by being especially sensitive to interpersonal communication and cultural factors. Real conversations have real benefits.

Three tips to keep in mind when managing virtual teams.

Building trust.
It’s important to have the first meeting face-to-face so team members can bond. Following that, meetings can be held virtually. Also ensure that all team members are responsive to others on the team, responding promptly to emails and phone calls. Accountability and follow-through are important as well in building trust among the team.

Team member selection.
Look for members who are both technically proficient and have good interpersonal skills. Communication is especially important to help virtual teams feel connected. Comfort with technology becomes an important concern as well.

Managers should maintain constant communication with team members via phone, email and even social media. Set up a private social media site where team members can share updates, challenges, and successes.

Culture of Dreams Creates Employee Satisfaction

By Jeri T Denniston, Chief Marketing Strategist, Denner Group International   6-12-2010
Takeaways: Helping your people achieve their personal and professional dreams helps the business, too. People are more productive and feel more connected to the company and their work when the employer helps them achieve what they want in life.

Have you ever wondered why some companies are having extraordinary success and others aren’t? Look beneath the surface. Are the employees engaged in their work? In other words, are they passionate about what they’re doing? Or do they just show up to earn a paycheck and go home? According to Matthew Kelly in his book The Dream Manager, “the great majority of people in the workplace today are actively disengaged. People don’t feel connected to their work, the organizations they work in, or the people they work with.” Building a culture of dreams in your organization can change that.

A 2007 study of 550 Human Resource managers by Monster states that “the next 20 years will witness a dramatic change in the U.S. workforce. The Baby Boomer generation, 72 million strong, will reach retirement age and have the opportunity to leave the workforce. Successive generations of workers are proportionally smaller, leaving a potential gap in the number of workers versus the number of workers needed to maintain the expansion of the U.S. economy. The ability to effectively manage worker knowledge is becoming a critical core competency in an era when knowledge is the primary resource for delivering organizational value. The chasm that exists between a firms’ most valuable asset, knowledge, and the lack of formal management of this asset represents key opportunities for organizations to gain a competitive edge.”

Worker shortages projected

How does this relate to helping people achieve their dreams? Companies need to find ways to reward and train employees to help them become the best they can be. In doing so, these workers stay longer and help the organization become the best it can be. With a shortage of available workers coming online in the next 10-20 years, it is ever more critical that companies start acting today to get the current generation trained and focused on helping the company achieve its future vision. This means aligning HR policies, training, and procedures with the company’s future vision and mission.

Bottom Line Results

When organizations help their employees achieve their dreams, they get numerous positive results that affect the bottom line. This creates a culture of dreams within the organization.

  • Dramatically reduced turnover (employee turnover costs a company 150% of each person’s salary, and can be as high as 250% for sales and managerial positions)
  • A reduction in unauthorized absenteeism (in 2005 the average per-employee cost was $660; today it’s likely much higher)
  • Increased loyalty to the company
  • A new culture of empowerment and possibility
  • A motivated staff where everyone is part of the sales force talking to friends, relatives, customers and prospects

As a business owner or manager, can you really afford NOT to pay attention to your people’s dreams? The answer is no, not when companies worldwide are facing shortages of both management and skilled labor over the next 10-20 years. By 2012, the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) estimates there will be 165 million jobs and only 162 million people available in the workforce; 19 percent (30 million) of those available workers will be age 55 and older.

Culture of Dreams connects hearts and minds

Why haven’t more companies done something about this? Many companies aren’t using a Systems Thinking Approach® to their strategic planning and management process. The strategies they have in place don’t connect with the future reality of the workplace and the hearts and minds of their employees. By focusing primarily on the bottom line, too many companies have forgotten that it’s the people in the organization that make it succeed or fail. They haven’t fostered a culture of dreams.

The modern employee is looking for more than just a decent paycheck. People want work that is interesting and challenging, but more than that, they want to feel appreciated and valued for the contribution they make. Younger employees also want to work for companies that are socially responsible, and one way to be socially responsible is to help your employees achieve their dreams.

Put the Dream Manager to workSo how do you as a manager or business owner implement a plan that reaches the hearts and minds of your people? According to Matthew Kelly, in his book, the Dream Manager, begin by hiring a Dream Manager to work with each person individually and help them create plans for achieving their dreams. Survey your employees to find out what drives them, what dreams they have for their own future. The answers may surprise you. Then work with each person to create a plan that helps them achieve the smallest dreams first, and then the successively larger, more challenging dreams later, after they’ve succeeded in achieving their initial dreams. The very fact that their company takes the time to help them succeed, will turn their attitudes around and get them re-engaged in helping the company succeed.

You can download my full article on this subject here.

What is Strategic Management?

By Eric A Denniston, Managing Director, Denner Group International 2-20-2013

Takeaways: Strategic management encompasses planning, culture change, operational flexibility, stakeholder involvement, and periodic future environmental scans. Planning and change are two key roles of every leader.

Strategic Management encompasses several areas in managing and leading an organization. Planning certainly is part of the process. Without a well developed strategic plan to act as a road map of where you’re headed, you’re just shooting in the dark hoping one of the shots will hit the mark. And the plan must start with a future vision, mission and values. These will provide a compass for identifying the future direction of the organization, the organizational culture you want to create, and an understanding by Antique Compass - a key to strategic managementyour employees, stakeholders and customers of what you do and why you’re in business.

So you’ve created a 3-year or 5-year strategic plan. Are you done until the time rolls around to dust it off and update it three years from now? Hardly! The plan is a living document. Every year you update the plan and add another year. That way you are continuously working on your strategic plan while you work on the day-to-day activities that need to get done to move the business forward.

Your 2010- 2013 plan you create this year becomes your 2011-2014 next year and so on. Then you have every division and department in the organization create 1-year business plans that support the 3-year strategic plan. We call this the Parallel Involvement Process, for which there are many tools. Each division’s goals and objectives are the same ones identified in the strategic plan, but the actions and initiatives they are accountable for will be different from department to department. That way you ensure that each department and everyone within the department is doing their part to ensure the strategic plan is implemented.

But strategic management doesn’t stop there. It also includes attention to your people. After all, it’s the people in the organization who make it work. Involving them in the planning and implementation is critical to ensuring you have buy-in and stay-in for your planning process. Each person’s performance review should be tied directly to how he or she contributes to achieving the objectives and values identified in the strategic plan. This also helps you create the kind of culture you want in the organization.

Ultimately, strategic management is about change…creating and leading organization-wide change. This needs to be accomplished in a successful manner so everyone understands how they contribute to implementing the change. As a leader, two of your key responsibilities are planning and change. Understanding how to lead and manage the change process, and what structures and processes to put in place to ensure a successful implementation, are all part of strategic management.

Millenials Play by Different Rules

By Eric A Denniston, Managing Director, Denner Group International  6-26-2012

Takeaways: Millenials could be the “next greatest” generation like the Baby Boomers. Generational issues exist around trust, independence, competition, rebellion, individualism, collaboration, a sense of community and “optimistic, team minded players.

I have written before about Systems, or Strategic, Thinking as a management tool that has gained substantial ground over the past 20 years or so throughout all kinds of organizations. Led by companies like General Electric and Toyota, applied by non-profits, government organizations and the military, the discipline of Systems Thinking is helping to improve performance globally. I have also illustrated the impressive positive effects the skilled application of Systems Thinking has on the long-term performance of those organizations that incorporate it into their culture in order to align daily actions with strategic initiatives.

Among the processes that have proven to be valuable in sustaining that alignment between daily actions and strategic initiatives is that of continuously scanning our external environment. Many organizations perform that scanning activity within the framework of a SWOT analysis, delving into an organization’s Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats. This SWOT exercise is valuable because it provides important insight into key aspects of an organization that support the development of strategic objectives and actions.

I have found, however, that a SWOT analysis is lacking in one key respect:  it tends to keep us rooted in thinking about today and the trends that have recently affected our organization. Using a SWOT analysis means you are scanning past results that have been affected by trends of the past and, therefore, cannot influence any future outcomes. If we are to be thinking strategically and with a more systemic discipline, we need to root our thinking in the future, on issues whose outcomes we can influence because we can plan for them.

More specifically, it is important to focus on the horizon window we are working on for our strategic objectives and our overall strategic plan, such as the typical three or five-year plan. Through a mentor of mine, Stephen Haines, I have learned some valuable techniques to maintain a forward-thinking process to scan the environment using a “future-rooted” framework.

One element of that framework is to scan future trends in the context of sociodemographic issues. These issues can have a profound influence on how we manage employees in our organizations. How we hire and train them, how we guide their growth, and how we coach and guide our managers to read and adapt to developing sociodemographic trends that are cultural in nature. Scanning these trends that in the future will be affecting our organization should take into account the traditional issues of age groups in our workplace, education levels and career trends, skill levels, compensation trends, hiring costs, etc. But there are other issues, perhaps a bit more subtle, but nonetheless just as valuable.

Generational Issues Abound

I just mentioned cultural trends because I recently read a transcript of a commencement address delivered by noted demographer, Neil Howe, at the University of Mary Washington on May 12, 2012. In his address he makes a point of outlining with great clarity how each generation tends to impose a sense of “Because this worked for me in my generation, it will work for you in yours.”

He points out how various recent generations have both adopted and rejected some of their parents’ attitudes and preferences and gives his take on why, today in particular, it is important to recognize that there is a good chance that today’s college grads could very well be the next “greatest generation” like the one that begat we Baby Boomers. Mr. Howe talks clearly about generational issues of trust, independence, competition, rebellion, individualism, collaboration, a sense of community and “optimistic, team minded players”.

Think about this for a minute. Today’s managers in every organization are challenged by young employees whose sense of interaction and communication is driven by current technological and social trends.  More often than not the resulting behaviors between managers and employees are in conflict without any guidance for resolution to improve overall performance. This conflict is rooted in what Mr. Howe is talking about – older generations being more than a little unaccepting that younger generations have a brain, too. They are likely better educated than the older generation in the sense that they have been exposed to more and different things simply because of the internet and improved global communications.

We Baby Boomers and Gen-X’ers should feel compelled to make some changes in ourselves to leverage the talents of the younger generation, rather than continue this generational habit of attempting to impose our approaches and mindsets on theirs. You might consider how this applies to serving your clients, too!

I recommend everyone read Mr. Howe’s commencement address, From Millenials to Baby Boomers, and see what we can do to change ourselves to help create that next “greatest generation”. And help them learn Systems Thinking too, of course.

You can read Mr. Howe’s commencement address at this link, which in turn came to me from John Mauldin, a respected investment counselor, whose newsletter convinces me that he, too, is a skilled systems thinker. I also encourage you to share this address with every college age person you know.