Strategy I: Indicators

Strategy is a huge and fascinating subject. It starts though internally, operationally and very simply with a question: How is your organization performing?

Without first understanding where you are, how can you possibly determine how to get where you want to be?

That last sentence is more significant than it may appear. When starting to think strategy, think action. How are you going to get there – practical things, doing words, actions.

Strategy is often listed as a collection of goals, targets and aspirations. Good strategy is a coherent group of actions that deliver short term goals, in turn long term targets and finally the aspirations of an organization.

So where is the organization now? And the related question that is always worth adding to this step of strategy – how did we get here?

Where you are can always be summarized by a series of indicators, making them useful is the hard part. Let us start with a few simple guidelines:

  1. Indicators should be easily available
  2. Indicators should summarize many things into one place
  3. Indicators should be reviewed regularly

Exploring these in turn then; easily available (most of the time). This means you don’t have to work too hard to get the information. There are points for an organization (financial year end being an obvious one) when indicators are produced with a good amount of effort. Producing the accounts will probably take a good amount of work. But you don’t want to be running reports, analyzes, completing surveys and compiling masses of data all the time.

Summary data – it’s a good thing. One indicator that tells you about many parts of your organization. An example here is probably a good thing – so consider monitoring staff utilization – how much time to staff spend delivering the things the organization does? This one number often expressed as a percentage will perhaps indicate whether internal processes are too cumbersome or if demand for services is high or low. But it can’t do this alone – more on this in a moment.

Regular review – it’s essential. Without a regular review you have little or no idea whether the indicators you have generated are good news or bad news. For example – Utilization this year is 75%. So what. Then consider utilization is 75% this year on average but only 50% when considering the last two months. Now you can investigate and ask that most powerful of questions so popular with my kids: Why?

At this point I have advocated for easily available indicators that summarize many things that you review regularly. Now how about building a complimentary set of indicators? Up to this point you have obtained data. The trick here is to turn data into information. Going back to our utilization example – add to the trend data we have these things:

  • Staff turnover and numbers
  • Service inquiries per month
  • Complaints made per month

Clearly it is not too hard to imagine the insight you can now obtain. These four data points plotted together on a simple graph might allow you to identify how utilization dropped, after some staff losses that seemed to be linked to complaints and a further drop in service inquiries. Remember though take one of these alone and the comparative assessment isn’t possible – you can’t tell the story.

This last example is that extra question – how did we get here?

Only by understanding where you are through meaningful indicators, can you tell that story of how you got to be where you are and only then can you decide to take action to change it.

Think about your organizations:

  • Are you tracking the right indicators?
  • Are you reviewing them regularly?
  • Do they give you a good indication of how the organization is performing?
  • Can you pick out some stories? – if not it’s probably time to change.

Work Management I: You, yourself and them

Very specifically this post is not about Time Management.

Unless were are messing about with rather high speeds Time should be considered as something that moves along just fine without us and it’s certainly not something to manage.

Work on the other hand. It uses up time and is very manageable.

The excellent Seven Habits of Highly Effective People explains with eloquence and a passion to which I can only aspire how Time/Work Management can be assessed. I offer my thing based alternative to aid this post and discussion.


The principle behind this matrix is simple to explain. Make sure you spend time (it’s a resource you know?) working on things that are in the top two boxes.

Life happens, placing you in the top left quadrant.

This is fine so long as you don’t spend too much time there.

Spending time in the top right is good. Providing you clear the emergencies and crises and get back to working in this area the number of emergencies will reduce.

Now clearly the bottom right is a bad place, avoid it.

While the bottom left takes some discipline to avoid.

Consider these examples:

  • Email notification pops up
  • Phone rings
  • Some one comes to you wanting to discuss a thing

What your the reaction?

If you stop what you were working on you have just reduced your task efficiency. But if you were down in the bottom right perhaps this interruption has just stopped you wasting more time?

Think back, or imagine, 1996 and a small company. Email was dial-up, faxes were logged and still a key form of communication, and phones went through an office manager.

Compare this to 2016, a small company. Email is everywhere including personal email, faxes have gone and people regularly take calls while in meetings.

So here’s my recommendation – manage time by time travelling.

Channel the wonders of 1996, email that was checked when you were ready. Phone calls with a filter. Meeting protocols observed and respected.

You can leave the faxes but try these other steps and watch yourself begin to manage your work/time effectively.

Application of this simple structure can be useful when working with other people in an organization. As colleague, mentor or supervisor help review where people are spending their time.

Simply review this plot with people and ask them to keep a log of their working week and then take the time to review that record.

Think of the value you have just created in this simple top right quadrant activity. You’ve helped a person assess their time expenditure and given them the tools to make a positive change – or the granted them the confidence that they are working in a balanced and effective way.

So DeLorean free time travel that can change your working life, not bad for four hundred and seventy two words.

Let’s get started – communication

In a week where dolphins can teach everyone something about good communication deciding where to start was simple.

Communication is the transfer of information. – Simple.

Maybe we should think a little more?

Communication is the transfer of information seen from one person’s perspective through a medium to other people with different perspectives.

Not so simple.

But, here is the trick. The over-whelming majority of communication in business occurs within the organization – and one basic step will help ensure you have been successful. Your message has been received, understood and shared.

You simply ask.

Verify your message was received. In practice this means:

  • When talking with others, ask how they interpret what has been said?
  • When sending email, follow up with a call or lead the email to set the scene and check again after the message is sent.
  • When sending reports to a wider audience sample from that group to ensure the message has got across.
  • In ALL FORMS of communication state clearly the key points. Executive summaries don’t just exist in documents – have one for your phone calls too and definitely for meetings.

The communication equation must ensure that the message going in survives the medium through which it is delivered to arrive with the recipient as intended.

Practical steps to ensure you balance the equation:

  1. Plan your message (what are you trying to say? to whom are you saying it?)
  2. Select the right medium (written, verbal, visual)
  3. Verify your message was understood as you intended

Lastly, know the rules for effective writing (available in many other places) they do really help, even if they are actually quite hard to follow on occasion.