In the early weeks of the year, the Rhythm of many organizations is “Strategic Planning Meetings” – otherwise known as “…wonder what the heck do we do now?” It is the place where the realities of last year, the current market assessments, and the dreams of the future come together to set out goals for this year. Similar to “Feeding the Bear”, well-run organizations have what they projected for “this” year from last year’s “5-year plan”, and can simply reorient that to what is now happening. But particularly last year has probably thrown that up in the air… or has it? Who sees over the horizon that you need to find?
Strategic planning is built on the relationships you have between the parts of your organization…and the leaders that make that happen are more successful than those that don’t. It builds upon all of the other practices we have been discussing, and it is no wonder that many organizations don’t do it well. Without regular peer conversations, or leaders that force the ‘interdependence’ Rhythm to bring teams together regularly, “offsites” are often a series of soliloquies that at best end soon, and at worst, can demonstrate where the real gaps in the relationships are most pronounced.
The only thing more distinctive than Bo’s guitar beat … is the guitars themselves. It is well known in the folk world that you can build a guitar out of a cigar box… and in fact, the Diddley Bow that was imported from Africa was basically that. A string attached to a stick that went into a gourd, box, or if you were really sophisticated, an animal hide stretched over a ring – which we now know as a banjo.
As Bo described, “I made one when I was a teenager; its pickup was the part of a Victrola record player where the needle went in. I clamped it to the metal tailpiece to pick up the vibrations. I wasn’t able to buy electric guitars back then, so I built them, and they worked pretty good. Somebody stole the square guitar I built, but in 1958 Gretsch made me one with DeArmond pickups”. In that season, you needed some “hook” to get people to remember you, and Diddley used different guitar shapes to be distinctive.
He partnered with Guild who is much better known for acoustic guitars (think John Denver) but for a time built a number of electric guitars, including a Jet Thunderbird (which you saw in the videos early in the week). His guitar actually ended up in the hands of Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top and that encouraged Gretch to release a Billy-Bo signature model – with both their names on it.
If you wonder what any leader, particularly you, can do to make the process less painful, don’t wait to do this once a year. For your function, there should always be a future vision you are working towards – imagine that everything went perfectly, where do you want to be in 1, 2, or 5 years? In engineering, I always set a metric that we needed to be at least 10% better every year, so we constantly had ‘improvement’ projects underway. In Product Management, similarly, there was a target for where the products would start to converge and work better together or with other partners’ solutions.
And… we talked about them at least quarterly, so the “strategic planning” was just another quarterly meeting. And in the peer/partner discussions, similarly, we would weave that into the fabric of our conversations enough that it was not a surprise that the plans appeared coordinated… so the “bear” would be “fed” with an integrated strategy and plan… mostly 😉
But who helps you think about things way out “there” in the land of wonder? The key is that somewhere in your organization is – where NO one goes… and often may or may not communicate well. They ask difficult questions, point out weaknesses, have crazy things to show you….AND… you need to figure out how to listen and incorporate their wild, wonderful visions into your plans. Yes, it will change things, but for the better. Just focusing on execution alone, you would miss things like, oh, the Internet – which Microsoft completely overlooked… Many companies about a year back had someone asking “how can we work more from home….only to get the standard “we can’t do that”…
Ellas didn’t let the lack of having a guitar stop him from being a guitar player… and one that changed both the style and shape of music. He was able to revisualize both, and thankfully, others were around to help him bring that wonder to us. Look around you – somewhere there are people like that, and your Strategic plans, while amazing, need you to catch them… the Road Runners.