Great Planning CAN Save a Bad Strategy and 19+ Questions to Answer in a Strategic Plan

Strategic-Plan-Execution-Plan-Leadership-Todd-NielsenI have seen a lot of failed strategies with companies, as I am sure you have as well. These strategies come in many shapes and sizes. Sometimes they are an idea on the back of a napkin. Sometimes they are a copy or slight modification of a competitor’s strategy, sometimes they are a fancy PowerPoint full of charts with hockey stick curves. The same is true for the personal strategies to get us where we want to go in life.

It is easy to get excited about an idea or a strategy that you just “know” is going to work and make you successful. It is easy to rush in and start executing on that strategy to bring it to fruition as soon as possible. On the other end of it all though, it is not a pretty sight to see an organization, or person, fall flat on their face, after being filled with so much hope and grandeur of success.

When an idea comes about and you just have all the confidence in the world that it is a great strategy, create a plan, DO NOT rush into it without getting things figured out. In the technology industry, where I have worked with a lot of organizations, I have seen many organizations, get into some new technology, association, service, or other supposedly great idea. They often will rush into it and then realize that on the backside they are losing money because of how difficult it is to support or bill the product/service. This is true across many industries and strategies.

When you begin to develop a plan for a strategy there are several things that have to be figured out:

  1. What is the market for the strategy?
  2. What niche(s) will you be focusing on?
  3. What is the viable target(s) within that market and niche?
  4. What is the expected penetration ratio for that niche? (Don’t do this: “If only .01% of the market buys our product, we’ll be making a killing…”) You need to look at research, talk to potential customers, and determine the true demand.
  5. How will you deliver on this strategy?
  6. What are the costs to deliver the strategy?
  7. What is the make-up of the offering for this strategy?
  8. What materials will need to be developed to sale and support the strategy?
  9. How will you support the strategy?
  10. What is your process for selling and marketing this strategy?
  11. How will you make money with this strategy?
  12. What is the true cost of the strategy?
  13. Do you have enough people, or the right people to effectively deliver this strategy?
  14. Do you have the right systems to deliver the strategy?
  15. How can you test the strategy to ensure it will work?
  16. How much work will be involved and at what cost to implement this strategy?
  17. Why is the strategy a good idea?
  18. How will you measure success of the strategy?
  19. Is this strategy in line with your mission, vision and values?
  20. and lots more…

Many of these points are for a strategy consisting of selling a product or service. Some of the questions still apply for other types of strategies. An acquisition strategy will have potentially hundreds of questions.

The point is you have to ask the right questions, and then answer them. The field is not always greener on the other side. By properly planning for a strategy, sometimes that planning will reveal that it is not a good strategy at all. In that case you can scrap it, and focus on more important strategies. If the plan reveals it is a good strategy, now is time to covert that strategic plan into an execution plan, and start executing.

Many people I’ve worked with on planning, think that planning has to be this long arduous task, and that if they took the time to plan out a strategy, the opportunity would pass them by. That is rarely the case. If that is the case with a strategy, you are probably already too late anyway. If you were to plan things out, you might realize that there are ways to modify the strategy to make it better than a competitor’s.

There are many types of plans, and a strategic plan is something to take seriously. No organization or person wants to end-up falling on their face, broke, and with lots of regrets.

Please share your thoughts in the comments section.

How To RSVP And Embrace Your Role As A LEADER!

Leadership-invitation-rsvpWhether you want to admit it or not, you have the desire to lead.  I believe we all do.  The challenge is that some can’t even define leadership and even some of those that can, struggle to find the right tools in their toolbox to be the leaders they were created to be.

John Maxwell says that “leadership is influence, nothing more, nothing less.”  He is right, but my question is, “What kind of influence do you have?”  I have discovered that to embrace your role as a leader requires not only an understanding of what it means to be a leader, but how to take what you know and do something positive with it.  This takes a process.  Let’s explore how this “RSVP” process works.


There are several questions that need to be asked when creating and casting a vision.  Unfortunately, many of them are often overlooked in the process.  Many times vision is identified by asking, “What do we want to achieve?” but there is much more to it.  Consider asking ALL of the following questions and see if you can add some clarity to your vision:

  • What do you want?
  • Why do you want it?
  • Where would you want to have it?
  • When do you want it?
  • How would your life be different if you had it? and my favorite …
  • Who would you become if you had it?

Have you overlooked any of these in creating your vision?  As a leader, you are responsible to cast a vision.  Simon Sinek said, “People don’t buy into what you do, they buy into why you do it.”  If you want others to follow you, they need to know both where they are going and why they are going there.


Sustained growth and achievement requires you to be clear on your purpose.  Your purpose, individually or corporately, is going to be fueled by your passion about what you are doing.  This passion comes from within and will provide the inspiration to succeed.  I have found that your purpose can be found at the convergence of three things:

  • What you are best at – your strengths.
  • What matters most to you – the things you love to do, and
  • What you want to do, who you want to do it with, and where you want to do it – your vision.

Identify these three things and your purpose will be found where all three are represented in the activity.


This is the area that I see the most mistakes made in executing a successful plan.  Quite often a strategy is developed that the individual or organization is not resourced to achieve.  There is a simple way to determine whether or not you have selected a strategy that will achieve your desired results.

Identify where you are currently investing your time and resources.  Picture it as if you were putting your life into these five buckets:

  • Family
  • Work
  • Community
  • Personal
  • Faith

Now look back at your strategy and see if you have the resources, possibly time or money, to execute the strategy you have identified.  Something else to consider on the road to success; is your strategy serving your purpose and vision?


I fully adhere to the idea that we need to start with the end in mind, however, without casting a clear vision, identifying your true purpose and creating the right strategy, you will struggle to attain your desired results.  Completing these first three steps will set you up for success.

Once you accomplish these, achieving your desired results will come down to identifying and executing a solid plan.  I suggest you use the SMART goal process.  In creating your plan, make it:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Attainable
  • Realistic
  • Time Constrained

Doing these things will provide a pathway to influence those around you in a positive way.  To embrace your role as a leader will take work and remember the goal is not the goal, the goal is who you become in achieving that goal.

These principles are discussed in much greater detail in my book, Leadership By Invitation, which happens to be launching this week, but if there is one takeaway for you to gain from this post, let it be that you have within you the ability to be a leader and make a difference in the lives of those around you.  Your challenge is to embrace that role and show up!

Please share your thoughts in the comments section.

Execution Explained – In a Tiny Nutshell

Execution-In-A-Nutshell-Todd-Nielsen“Everything is theoretically impossible, until it is done.” An American science-fiction author, Robert A. Heinlein, is responsible for capturing the essence of execution in these  eight simple words.

Execution is simply translating ideas into action. It is getting things done to achieve a goal, desire, or vision. People define success in business very differently; it might be by their profitability, their culture, their size, being “#1,” or a hundred other things. In the end, no success can be achieved if people can’t get things done.

Going from “A” to “B” in real life is never easy, or we would all be accomplished in our fields. So what are the specific steps of executing a purpose? Well for a business it can be complicated and far reaching, but if I had to throw a process that can take months into a nutshell it would consist of these basic actions:

Write Down What You Want To See Happen. Make it as plain and detailed as possible. Write it all down, then try to simplify and clarify the goals as much as possible.

Prioritize Your Goals. Which one is most critical? Which one will have the biggest impact? Start with that one—not the one that is easiest, or most familiar to you. Don’t assume you can do it all. It is better to focus on what you can achieve.

Evaluate And Examine It. Visualize this goal as a destination on a map, while you examine routes to get there. Which routes are possible, and by what means? Are the impossible routes really impossible? What if you were to create a route—be a trailblazer? Continuing this analogy, look at the landscape. What are the obstacles (the competition)? Where are your fallback routes? What or who do you need to reach your destination?

Research And Collaborate. Talk to people who know more than you do. Talk to people who think differently than you do. Get all the perspectives you can on your destination.

Make A Plan And A Timeline. Be specific. Write down everything, create your map. You can always modify the details later, but you cannot modify what you haven’t written down.

Break Down The Plan Into Small, Doable Actions. The biggest problem with execution is that most people look too far ahead when they need to be watching the road right in front of them. Break down everything; when things will get done, who will do them, how you will determine if you have achieved the small actions. A series of small steps can lead a long way toward your destination, if you have done all the preparation beforehand.

…and finally,

Don’t give up. Change of course if you have to, change vehicles when necessary; but if you’re ever going to get there… keep going.

Execution is what makes the world turn, and its what turns companies into huge successes. If you tell your spouse that you love them, but you don’t execute on those words and show your love, then its doomed. The same goes for business. You just gotta execute!

Patient Centered Healthcare: Conditioning Your Culture To Go the Distance

Conditioning-Your-Culture-To-Go-the-Distance-leadership-Susan-ThornWe are now knee-deep and headlong into Obamacare and the Affordable Care Act. The Main Event is set, at least for now, on January 1st, 2014. This is when purportedly all Americans will have purchased their tickets to seek admission to the insured affordable healthcare match. Healthcare organizations, doctors’ offices, and community clinics will begin to see and treat a population of folks that has historically not had access to insurance, and they come sicker than we  have seen before. Our operation, fiscal, and quality outcomes resources will be challenged like never before. If your fight card does not include a pound for pound approach to strategy and culture, get ready for a TKO! In this time of focused patient centered care delivery models and innovative transformational approaches to healthcare, there is a real barn burner about to begin.

Peter Drucker said “Culture eats strategy for breakfast”. If that’s the case, where then do we put our efforts? Strategy alone will not be enough. If healthcare organizations expect to come out the winner in the next decade, they will need to condition themselves to go the distance in both culture and strategy. As we begin to see a population that has not had access to routine healthcare for many years, or ever, the strength of our strategy and culture will be put to the test.

Operationally our strategies need to include a focus on culture as it relates to leadership excellence, the empowerment of our workforce, consistency in the delivery of quality service, and creative innovation. Walt Disney did a great job of this. Walt effectively demonstrated with great heart and passion that the actions of one leader, multiplied be the actions of many, can re-shape a culture and an organization. Operationally we need to invest in our leaders, empower them, and hold them accountable to creating a healthy and conditioned workforce that has been well equipped to meet the challenging needs of the populations we’re tasked to serve. Operationally we need to invite every person in our organization that has anything to do with patient care to take part in finding innovative ways to do things better and leaner.

One often missed leadership strategy in creating great operational outcomes is by inviting your customer into the ring. Who are your customers? Remember, everyone is your customer when it comes to operations. Anyone that has anything to do in your organization is a customer. This includes your management team, billers, coders, housekeepers, those that answer the phone, and the patient! Everyone is your customer. Your entire team of customers should be given the title of Personal Performance Partners. Invest in them as a strategy and the organizational  culture will win in every round.

Everyone is your customer.” – Susan Thorn Tweet this!

What about the organizational level of fiscal fitness? The promise of more in the way of budget cuts and payment denials has the fight purse getting smaller and smaller. As the purse gets smaller, our number one strategy needs to include a fully engaged culture. Organizations that look at their bottom line without understanding the impact of culture on it will suffer. Culture is like the wind, it is invisible to the eye, but felt by all. Culture is built by the values expressed through its leadership. If you want to assure that you will be at your ideal level of fiscal fitness then your battle cry needs to be “Culture is our bottom line”.

What about outcomes? We are now being held to a new level of accountability when it comes to creating favorable healthcare outcomes for the populations we serve. If we don’t do it well, we are as good as a white-collar boxer, we don’t get paid! As a healthcare leader and consumer I have seen both sides. Quality in outcomes with the resources availed to us will take new and innovative approaches if we expect to go the distance. We are already seeing hospitals partnering with community clinics to prevent hospital remissions. Healthcare organizations are beginning to move toward a case management model approach for the high-end users of our healthcare systems. Population based case management for our most vulnerable populations’ results in a unanimous decision in adding to the way we can all deliver better and leaner quality in healthcare.

So where does your organization weigh in on culture and strategy? If your strategy and culture don’t touch knuckles before the opening round, somebody is going to get sucker-punched. Make cultural competency your organizations biggest innovative strategy to win in healthcare!

Culture Inhales Strategy for Breakfast… Then Spits it Out!

Culture-Strategy-leadership-breakfast-Joan-de-winnePeter Drucker, often considered the inventor and  father of modern management stated, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” This saying explains why many people in a formal leadership position are struggling to obtain the results they are looking for. It also explains why so many change programs fail, even when they are supported by a clear and compelling vision.

To realize a vision and obtain desired results, we need to develop certain strategies, objectives, and processes. This is the part most managers are very good at. What is often forgotten, however, is that other road to be followed. Indeed, there’s also the culture of the company, the organization, the division or the team to take into account. Culture is defined by the common values, the individual behavior, and the attitude of the people working in the organization. This is where managers often fail – perhaps because they’re simply unaware of the cultural aspect’s importance, perhaps because they don’t feel comfortable with it or because they don’t have a proper road-map at their disposal.

I’d like to suggest to you a clear road-map, based on 3 simple principles: come out of your office, tell stories and focus on behavior.

First Principle: Management by Wandering Around

‘My door is always open. Whenever you feel the need to address any issue, feel free to come talk to me.’  This is what managers very often enjoin on their employees. Just as often, though, they find themselves surprised that when problems do arise, causing friction on the work-floor or even financial loss, no-one came to them beforehand. Many managers advocate the ‘open door policy’ but they too often see it as a one-way communication. They forget what it’s all about: when the door is always open, people can come in and talk to you, indeed, but you can go out and talk to your employees and team members yourself just as well! Don’t be an “undercover boss”.

Douglas R. Conant, former CEO of Campbell Soup Company and author of the book ‘TouchPoints’, talks about how he implemented this very principle in his own company in an interview with Jon Katzenbach, leadership expert and Senior Partner at Booz & Company.

Second Principle: Corporate Storytelling

Storytelling is a very powerful tool to influence an organization’s culture and its employees’ behavior.

Eric Van Zele, CEO of Barco and elected ‘Manager of the Year 2012’ in Belgium, swears by the storytelling principle. “I am a conceptual  with a synthetic mind. Talking to everyone around me, provides me with the answers our organization needs. It’s not that difficult, really – you just need to listen. Focusing on the essentials, I then build up a good story and communicate it. The key to  a good story is understandability – everyone should understand your story, be it a Chinese worker, an American engineer or a Belgian HR person “.

The basics of storytelling are summarized very nicely by Sigrid Van Iersel, a Dutch expert in this field:

  1. The wish: Almost all stories begin with a dream, an ambition or a deep desire to put the story in motion.
  2. The obstacle: The main character takes action but is confronted with a barrier, an obstacle.
  3. The solution: In the end, a solution is found  and the obstacle is overcome.
  4. The result: And so ….  (Fill in what the result of this solution means for the organization, the team or the employees.)

Not all stories have a permanent solution or a crystal clear happy ending. The ‘result’ may also be  an  insight gained.

Third Principle: Focus on behavior and attitude

Douglas R. Conant  also asserts that “Behavior matters”Dick Brown, former CEO of Electronic Data Systems Corporation once said: “A company’s culture is really the behavior of its people… leaders get the behavior they tolerate.”

You may find changing someone’s behavior a harsh job – just think of all the times you already tried it with your children, partner, employees, or colleagues. Perhaps, though, you were unsuccessful only because your approach was rather clumsy.

The simple four-step method  outlined below will help you putting this third principle into practice.

Step 1: determine very precisely which kinds of behavior contribute to the realization of your
company’s vision. Do so by translating your company’s values ​into clearly defined behaviors.

Step 2: define which kinds of behavior are counterproductive and unacceptable.

Step 3: set a good example by complying with the defined rules of conduct yourself.

Step 4: consistently reward positive behavior and immediately address unacceptable behavior.

 A company’s culture is really the behavior of its people… leaders get the behavior they tolerate.” ~Dick Brown Tweet this

Try it out these three basic principles. You’ll be amazed at how they will contribute to developing the desired organizational culture your reaching for.

What other methods do you use to build a better culture in your organization? Please leave a comment below to share your thoughts and experience.

Differentiation & Vanilla Ice Cream | The Leadership Book Corner

DifferentiationI know I am an odd one, but I actually like vanilla ice cream, in fact it is my favorite flavor. Yet, even vanilla ice cream has a lot of varieties, and there are a few brands that are greatly superior than the others. Whether your business is about ice cream, candy, technology, widgets, or some other gadget …differentiation is one of the things that separates the good from great!

In order to have great differentiation, you have to have a great strategy. Tweet This!

Steve Van Remortel, takes on this subject in his book Stop Selling Vanilla Ice Cream: The Scoop on Increasing Profit by Differentiating Your Company through Strategy and Talent. As the title implies this is not another book about differentiation through innovation, branding or marketing – but through great strategy development and talent development.

In this book Steve explores 4 phases of his, “Stop Selling Vanilla Ice Cream” process, these are:

Phase 1: Planning Process Preparation – This phase is focused on building a team and making sure everyone on the team is in the right place where they will bring the greatest value. It involves collecting the content that is needed to make sure the strategy development is effective.

Phase 2: Building the Team and Strategy Development Preparation –This phase is focused on various models and exercises to build and develop a team and improve the team communications. It delves into laying the foundation for greater strategy development.

Phase 3: Strategy Development – As the title implies this is where the actual strategy is developed and defined. In this process the team discusses and analyses the organization’s competencies and target market, and then create a strategy based on those results.

Phase 4: Strategy Implementation – This is the one I am big on …the execution. Steve takes the reader through more planning to make sure that departments and individuals can now implement the strategy.

I really liked how he used a real company, Connecting Cultures, Inc.  throughout the book to explain the process from beginning to end. It helped to conceptualize how the process would look and be deployed in an organization. The book includes access to online templates and resources to help you in your own implementation as well. Even if you do not implement the process, there is some great knowledge on strategy that would be valuable for any leader.

Steve’s book was just launched last week, go pick-up a copy today!

Leadership Re-Imagined – Why the lessons of the Past Are Not Enough!

Leadership Re-ImaginedLeadership Re-Imagined: The traditional barriers to entry in nearly every industry have fallen. Even brilliantly innovative ideas, products, and services – no longer secure a company’s competitive advantage. This is the reality of information diffusion and global commoditization. The new competitive edge is neither a product nor a service; it is the people who make them. While innovations can be replicated …innovators cannot.

The new barrier to entry is a cadre of leaders in an organization who inspire innovation as a way of life at every level and who can develop more leaders like them. To develop such a cadre of leaders, companies need to adopt three specific leadership tenets:

  • The ratio of leaders to employees has inverted
  • Old skills and competencies are insufficient for leadership effectiveness
  • Traditional programs for leadership development have become irrelevant

The ratio of leaders to employees has inverted

Let’s assume the following:

  • You define a leader in an organization as:  any individual who can further that organization’s objectives by influencing the behavior of others.
  • Many, if not most, activities that do not involve the influencing of human behavior can be performed by technology.

Those being true, then most of the people in your organization are capable, in some way or another, of furthering the organization’s objectives by influencing the behavior of others. The majority of your employees then, should be developed and managed as if they were leaders.

No longer are your leaders restricted to the C-suite or even the top 200 or 500. The majority of employees are probably leaders and can further your company’s objectives by influencing others whether internally or externally. Apple gets this, many other companies do as well – but not all.

Microsoft’s attempt to emulate Apple’s wildly successful retail stores didn’t seem to be working all that well when I took a walk through the Century City Shopping Mall in Los Angeles last week. The Apple store was teaming with excited shoppers; Microsoft’s attractive, large new store was empty except for its team of assistants standing by, waiting. Microsoft staffs its stores with competent salespeople, I am sure. But Apple staffs its stores with inspired leaders who know they are expected to further Apple’s objectives by influencing the behavior of others. These objectives go beyond “the next sale;” they are more about growing the Apple brand and co-opting new Apple fans. Appreciating the ratio of leaders to employees in your company is key to its growth.

Professor Bill George of Harvard Business School writes in his insightful February 17th article, A New Era For Global Leadership Development, that: “Rather than concentrating on the top 50 leaders, global companies need to develop hundreds, even thousands, of leaders comfortable operating in a variety of cultures…. IBM’s former chief learning officer recently estimated that IBM will need 50,000 leaders in the future.”

Skills and competencies are insufficient for leadership effectiveness

Traditional leadership competencies do not equip leaders for a global environment of accelerated change. Today’s leaders manage in paradox and for this they need agility, tenacity and unwavering values. They need the stature to connect with and challenge people simultaneously, inspire trust; and ignite innovation.

Great leaders won’t cut it any more. We need great human beings in leadership positions.

Some of the leadership paradoxes to optimizing existing operations while preparing for a future even they cannot imagine are:

  •  A business-unit focus …with an enterprise vision.
  • Authentic self-insight …with the cultural intelligence to adapt to different cultures and generations.
  • Inspiring innovation …while driving efficiencies.
  • Manage traditional lines of accountability …while embracing complex multinational, multi-functional and multi-cultural matrices.

Traditional methods of leadership development have become irrelevant

We need new thinking about leadership development. We need to grow people’s characters not just their competencies and help them achieve results by using their personal stature more than their positional status. Above all, if most of our employees are to be developed and managed as leaders, our training must produce leaders who know how to develop and manage other leaders – many of them – leaders of different generations and of different cultures.

Hours of classroom training yield limited returns. Exposing leaders to best practice and current thought leadership at best makes them as good as others. Business simulations sharpen leaders’ minds but do nothing for their stature and character.  Your leadership development architecture should be as innovative as your product development and indigenous to your own culture. It should focus on character not on competencies;  it is only through growing leadership character that you build leadership prowess.

Audit your current thinking on leadership development by asking yourself and your team 5 questions:

  • How do we define a leader in our organization?
  • What ratio of leaders to employees do we consider our company to have?
  • Is the way we develop our leaders as innovative as the way we develop our products and services?
  • Is our leadership development now, radically different from our older paradigms of thought?  How different is it from the programs of our competitors and peers?
  • Can our leadership development architecture become our competitive advantage going forward, and how easy would it be for others to copy us?

You might have a unique opportunity now to re-imagine your philosophy of leadership, re-engineer your leadership development, and forever set your company apart from its competitors.

Lets keep the conversation flowing. What do think about these new paradigms of leadership and the importance of innovation in leadership? Please leave a comment below.