Archives For Effectiveness

Keeping an eye on the effectiveness of strategy is essential.  Clarifying what a win is and launching strategic steps designed to produce that win are essential to organizational success.  Evaluating effectiveness is just as important.

Have you ever slowed down long enough to evaluate whether your strategy is actually working?  Most organizations never really get around to it.  Why?  I’m finding Roger Martin’s The Design of Business very helpful in teasing out one of the most basic reasons.

It has to do with the fact that most organizations that have had any amount of success become really good at repeating the steps that led to their previous success.  In a sense, they’ve refined and perfected a set of procedures that successfully produce a certain product.  Martin refers to this as developing an algorithm (an explicit, step-by-step procedure for solving a problem).

The advantage that an algorithm offers is significant.  In the same way McDonald’s produces a quality product with very little variation, developing effective strategies that can be used again and again make it possible to repeat previous success.  The dependability of the algorithm reduces the risk that operator quirks will derail the effectiveness of the organization.  The organization can produce what the customers wants every time.

As long as what the customer wants doesn’t change.

What happens when what the customer wants changes?  You’d better go back to the drawing board and develop a new strategy.  What do most organizations do?  Keep running the same algorithm and hope the outcome was a fluke or that customers will come to their senses and return to seeing the world as it used to be.

“What organizations dedicated to running reliable algorithms often fail to realize is that while they reduce the risk of small variations in their businesses, they increase the risk of cataclysmic events that occur when the future no longer resembles the past and the algorithm is no longer relevant or useful (p. 43, The Design of Business).”

Scary?  Should be.  See yourself?  Hope not.  What do you need to do if you realize that your organization’s future no longer resembles the past?  Don’t hope for a mindset change on the part of the customer.  Go back to the drawing board.  Begin developing a better understanding of your customer.  Tip?  The people you’re currently reaching are not the customer you ought to be trying to reach.

What Is Your Element?

Mark Howell —  May 7, 2009


The Element, by Sir Ken Robinson,is turning out to be a really good read. What is the element?  It is “the meeting point between natural aptitude and personal passion (p. 21).”

Unfamiliar with Robinson?  I was too until I caught the video of his talk at TED in 2007.  Very interesting and turns out the foundation of the book.  You can watch his talk below.

Here’s the basic idea: “The element has two main features and there are two conditions for being in it.  The features are aptitude and passion.  The conditions are attitude and opportunity.  The sequence goes something like this: I get it; I love it; I want it; Where is it (p. 21)?”

Making Time to Make

Mark Howell —  September 6, 2008

I don’t know if you’ve tripped across Merlin Mann and 43 Folders yet, but if you haven’t you need to take a look.  In addition to being a really good interpreter of Getting Things Done : The Art of Stress-Free Productivity, Merlin is always a good source a variety of productivity related subjects.

If you’ve been "stuck" and haven’t been producing what you really hope to get to, take a look at Merlin’s new series of articles on creative productivity, or making time to make.  Bet you’ll find it as helpful as I have.

Need an Assistant?

Mark Howell —  November 27, 2007

Don’t know about you, but I’m always in the market for productivity help.  Don’t have an assistant.  Have enough attention deficit to always be interested in something just outside my peripheral vision, and love learning about new things.  Potentially a BAD combination.  So when I find certain things, new technologies, I love the potential.

Heard about I Want Sandy over at one of my favorite blogs today.  It’s an email-based, automated personal assistant that is very cool.  I can see how this will help with simple reminders and even scheduling.  Love my Treo.  Use it all the time.  But this looks like a good addition.  You can check it out right here…and it’s free.

Testing Assumptions

Mark Howell —  October 19, 2007

I’ve written a good bit about assumptions.  This is an important subject.  You may think you’re living in an assumption-free environment…but you’re not.  They’re there.  Apparently they’re in a kind of blind spot.

Kem Meyer’s got a great take today on testing assumptions.  Well worth a look.  Based on an interesting article  in Fast Company that is definitely worth reading.  Good stuff.

Where Is Your Focus?

Mark Howell —  September 17, 2007


I’m sure you’re familiar with Abraham Maslow’s Heirarchy of Needs.  Most of us have seen it.

It’s certainly not new information.  What might be new to you is that according to Chip Conley’s Peak, where you focus your organization’s attention (on the base or the peak), determines a lot about your ability to survive big challenges.


Simple.  If your organization only focuses on the base needs of your employees, customers or investors (this could easily be interpreted to mean team-members…paid and unpaid, attendees, and donors-of-record), you will have great difficulty keeping them in the game when the going gets tough.

On the other hand, if you’re focusing on the peak needs (much more about inspiration and aspirations) keeping your team, customers and investors in the game will be much more likely.

This book has big implications.  You can order your copy of Peak right here.

Choosing What TO Do

Mark Howell —  August 13, 2007

We’ve talked before about choosing what NOT to do.  There’s a really good series going on over at that deals with the opposite idea:  What would you do if you had 30 Days to Live.  How would you be different?  What would you be sure to do?

Interesting questions, don’t you think?

In the opening lines of the first week this question was posed as a tool for determining what commitments to take on:  "Would you say ‘yes’ to this [commitment or activity] if you only had 30 days to live?"

Now THAT is a very helpful question.

I highly recommend that you watch the video.  Very thought provoking.  You can access week one right here.

Does it matter if one part of your organization is firing on all cylinders and the rest are misfiring?  What if all but one part is really humming and then one part is so clogged it’s not even operational?

According to Peter Drucker, “What matters in any system is the performance of the whole; this is the result of growth and dynamic balance, adjustment, and integration, rather than of mere technical efficiency (March 29, The Daily Drucker).”  On the question of how to strengthen the weakest part of your organization he said, “the best way to strengthen a system may be to weaken a part — to make it less precise or efficient.”  Can you imagine doing that?  I can kind of hear the discussion.  “You want to do what?!!”  What Drucker was talking about though, had more to do with a highly efficient accounting department that was determining for everyone else what was even possible.  I get that, having been in a place that worked that way.  You have too.  Think “bylaws”.  Think budgets based on historical precedent rather than strategic opportunity.

A great understanding of Drucker’s idea can be found in UNSTUCK by Keith Yamashita and Sandra Spataro.  The concept in the diagram is that for your organization to hum all the component parts must be in balance and orbit around your purpose.  One of the best metaphors is that when any one of the five parts (strategy, structure and process, culture, metrics and rewards, or people and interaction) get out of balance the result will be poor performance.  You could even see one of the five parts becoming what the organization orbits around (again, think “bylaws” and structure).

Taken that way, what do you think about Drucker’s idea that it may actually pay off to weaken the most efficient or highest performing unit in order to bring the organization into balance?

Find these ideas helpful?  Take a look at More on Operational Effectiveness for more on this important topic.

Listening for Success

Mark Howell —  May 6, 2007

How would you rate your listening skills?  Are you an active listener?  Or are you actively looking for your next chance to get a word in as soon as possible?  Maybe already formulating what you’re going to say as soon as anyone takes a breath!

According to Marshall Goldsmith, "80 percent of our success in learning from other people is based on how well we listen."  Sound too passive to really account for 80%?  That’s because listening well is really an active process.  Not enough to just stand and wait for a chance to talk.  It’s important to actually do three things to listen well.

  • Think before you speak.  Don’t just stand there!  Focus your attention on what is being said.
  • Listen with respect.  Lean in.  Give your attention fully.  Be totally engaged.
  • Determine whether your response is "worth it".  This is the key step.  Goldsmith describes this as listening two steps ahead, almost like playing chess.  Stop to "consider what the other person will feel after hearing your response."  Now that is a challenging move.  Expending the effort to determine whether your response is worth it helps you to "consider: (a) how the other person regards you, (b) what the person will do afterwards, and (c) how that person will behave the next time you talk."

I have to say, this is an exercise that I will be working.  If listening well is 80% of success…I want to learn how to be a world-class listener.  Starting today.

How are you measuring progress along the way?  Do you have a way to keep score on the factors that will make a difference later?  Or do you only find out later that you missed your goal?

I don’t know if you’ve found yet (if you haven’t, you need to check it out).  I came across an interesting article in this week’s e-newsletter by Michelangelo Celli, What Every CEO Dashboard Should Be Tracking that has a helpful take on how to track the really important.

Some of you may be saying, "What does this have to do with me?  I’m not a CEO!  And I’m not in sales!"  But hold on a moment.  Think about this dashboard and see how it might be tweakable to reflect something you do need to track: 

  • Money budgeted toward promotional programs that will drive people who don’t know you… to know you.

  • The rate at which these new folks are flowing to you.
  • The rate at which these new folks are then converting into sales leads.
  • The rate at which these new folks are then converting to presentations, proposals, and sales.

This is easily converted to a dashboard that fits your situation.  The key to the idea is to identify the variables that it will make a big difference to know sooner…so that you can adjust the way you’re going about what you’re doing now, rather than at the end of the year…when you didn’t accomplish what you hoped to accomplish.

Make sense?  I wrote about the idea of performance measure in an earlier post, Re-thinking Goal-Free Zones.

Be sure and check out Celli’s whole article right here!