Curt Fowler | Fowler & Company | Fowler, Holley, Rambo & Stalvey
Last week we talked about the three questions that create the pillars for a great strategic plan: Where are you now? Where are you going? and How will you get there? Today I want to give you the details on how to determine where your organization is at today. Another name for this part of the process is “face the brutal facts.” The brutal facts are those things in the organization no one likes to talk about. If you are in leadership, these are the things that keep you up at night. You keep them to yourself because you don’t want to scare everyone else!
Don’t worry about scaring everyone. Transparency creates trust and your team will come up with ideas you could have missed. Your team is probably worried about the same things or something bigger they dreamed up. Be transparent and let the team find solutions together.
Facing the brutal facts is required to get a clear understanding of where you are at as an organization. You cannot build a solid plan on a sugar-coated version of your company. You must get the bad stuff out in the open and nobody wants to go first when talking about the bad stuff.
How can you get your people and your leadership talking about the issues no one wants to talk about? There are several methods you can try. Focused anonymous surveys can be an effective tool. The surveys must be extremely focused, or your people will skip over the hard questions. Why will they skip over the hard questions? Because they are pretty sure there is some way for leadership to determine who said what. That is where having a third party conduct your surveys can be very helpful.
Don’t forget to ask the Net Promoter question as part of this process or as part of your annual employee survey. It is a simple measure you can use to track the engagement of your team.
Focus groups are another great tool that allows an independent third party to have candid conversations with your team. Focus groups beat surveys because a skilled facilitator can create the trust needed for openness and can dig deeper when they discover an issue. If everyone trusts the facilitator and there are no managers (or tattletales/manager’s pets) in the room, you’ll be amazed at the candid feedback you can get out of a focus group.
Your customers and suppliers are also great sources of information about your organization. When you have a trusting relationship with your customers and suppliers they will tell you the bad news. The best customer or supplier you could hope for is someone who cares enough to tell you the hard truth and gives you a chance to fix the problem. Cultivate these relationships and your suppliers and customers will help you build a great organization.
Leadership 360’s can provide great feedback on the state of leadership in your organization. People quit their leaders, not their jobs. You will have bad managers in your organization at some point. Someone will slip through your hiring process or a once great manager will go rogue on you. Stay in business long enough and it will happen to you. When it does, those rogue leaders are great at hiding their problems from their leaders. They can deliver outcomes for their leader but be a dictator to their staff. Despite their apparent strong performance, these leaders are a cancer to your organization and must fixed or moved out.
A leadership 360 is an anonymous survey that seeks feedback on a leader’s performance from their staff, their peers and their leaders. The feedback from their leaders is rarely exciting. Great leaders are continuously coaching their team on their performance. The interesting feedback will come from their peers and their staff.
Another huge part of where you are at today is found in your financials. Sometimes the data you need is not in your financials which means you have a systems problem. You’ll need to fix your accounting system, so you can get the data you need. You want to look at trends in all areas. Are you burning through cash as you grow or generating cash? What are your margins by customer segment, product and service? What kind of returns is the business generating on equity and on assets?
We’ve covered getting data from our people, customers, suppliers, leaders and financials. The internal picture of where you are at today is starting to look pretty clear. Next week we’ll dive into getting the information from our external environment that we need to make great decisions.
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Curt Fowler is President of Fowler & Company and Director at Fowler, Holley, Rambo & Stalvey . He is dedicated to helping leaders create and achieve a compelling vision for their organization. He is a syndicated business writer, keynote speaker and has an MBA in Strategy and Entrepreneurship from the Kellogg School. He is also a CPA and a pretty good guy as defined by his wife and four children.