Posts Tagged ‘organizations’

Santa Claus and VUCA

Monday, December 15th, 2014

The Holiday season set me thinking.VUCA and its impact on strategy

One of the traditions in our version of the Holidays is the letter/email from each child to Santa Claus, the determination if the child has been naughty or nice and, assuming the latter, the resulting delivery of gifts on Christmas morning.

To execute successfully, Santa manufactures or purchases the gifts then packages and delivers them.

These operations take place in his workshop and distribution centre, located at the North Pole and staffed by elves.

This much we know for fact.

This year, however, there’s a question around Santa’s strategy which is of fundamental interest to all strategy consultants.

What is the impact, if any, of VUCA (volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity)?

Academics and key figures in the consulting world appear to agree that VUCA exists. But that’s about it.

Because, while some say it has made strategy and strategic planning redundant, others argue it has no impact whatsoever on the need for an organization to develop and execute a coherent strategy.

It’s important at this point to determine Santa’s KPI’s.

The 2 critical performance factors are accuracy (the right kid gets the right toy) and on time delivery (the toys are delivered during the night on Christmas Eve). Quality is irrelevant because kids spend more time playing with the wrapping than with the presents.

It’s assumed that Santa has availed himself (I’m assigning a male orientation to the incumbent. A discussion of the suitability of other genders for the role is a topic for a future post) of all modern processes and technologies.

Lean manufacturing; warehouse management systems; mobile computing; performance-based compensation for elves; and video monitoring of child behavior, with NSA input on social media patterns; the use of ‘big data’ etc., etc., are all givens.

And Santa’s strategy is tried and tested over many years.

So the only variable is VUCA.

The only way we can be sure of the outcome is to wait until Christmas morning and conduct rapid research by monitoring social media trends and conducting structured telephone interviews with a representative sample of the population.

Now, I am not given to making predictions.

But, given the season, I am going to break this habit. I predict that Santa’s performance this year will be at least on a par with previous years.

Which means that VUCA will have had as little impact on his need for a strategy as it has on the needs of every other organization.

Happy Holidays!


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Jim Stewart is the founding Partner at ProfitPATH. He has been working with business owners for over 16 years to increase profits and improve the value of their companies. LinkedIn


Culture Eats Strategy for Breakfast

Thursday, September 15th, 2011

This week’s guest blog post is provided by Kate Erickson.  Kate has over twenty years experience in professional services including organization design consulting, human resources leadership and employment law.  She was the head of HR for Coca-Cola, did the HR start-up for Ontario Power Authority (OPA) , and is currently working with Walmart Canada to effect culture change.

Over the years, the statistics are consistently grim – 70% of change efforts fail and 70% of business strategies are not executed.

Yet we know from John Kotter’s 11-year study of high performing organizations that great corporate culture has a significant impact on a company’s long- term performance, resulting in:

  • 4 times higher revenue
  • 12 times higher stock price and
  • 756 times higher net income

So if culture is so critical to success, why don’t we have it handled?  Here are 5 things that leaders can do now to narrow the cultural divide.

1.  Be honest about what your culture is now.
Arrange for an objective assessment of your culture and be prepared to make the necessary changes.  No matter what your particular Achilles heel is, whether your people lack focus, drive or a commitment to excellence, you can upgrade to a culture of teamwork, accountability and stellar results.

2.  Consciously design your culture
By now, everyone knows the story of Zappos’ meteoric rise.  The company was  chronically losing money until its owner brought on a young entrepreneur, Tony Hsieh, as its CEO.   Within 12 years the business was bought by Amazon for $1.2 billion.  Tony credits this extraordinary success to focusing relentlessly on creating culture as his top priority.  Under Tony’s leadership, nothing went forward unless it supported Zappos’ strong culture of WOWing customers. As a result Shieh’s strategy of year-over-year earnings gains has been successful since 2003 and the Company gives tours so others can learn from its experience.

3.  Treat culture as your North Star
Nordstrom is also well known for its laser beam focus on customer service.  Legend has it that one day a new customer walked into Nordstrom’s shoe department and asked to try on various pairs of shoes in two sizes.  It turns out one of his feet was a full size larger than the other.  When he found the shoes he wanted, he stepped over to the cash and prepared to pay for two pairs of the same shoe, one in each size.  However, the Nordstrom’s salesperson, well trained and empowered to create customer loyalty, made the decision to sell both pairs for the price of one, telling the customer, “It’s not your fault that Nordstrom’s didn’t have a single pair of shoes to fit you.”  At Nordstrom, a culture of accountability for stellar customer service makes it easy for people at all levels of the organization to make the right decisions for the business.

4.  Recognize the importance of social relationships

From the last Ice Age to the current time, humans have survived and prospered because we rely on each other.  Ancient tribes recognized the value of diverse strengths –  hunters, gatherers, toolmakers, medicine men & women – and combined forces for the good of the group as a whole.  Successful organizations today can also structure for powerful collaboration.  A great place to begin is with small groups.  Get them working on projects that have meaning for them and for the business, and add people as it becomes obvious that other strengths and skills are required to achieve more.  In organizations that do this deliberately and well, results jump a factor of 300-500% as employees naturally form well-rounded and collaborative teams.

5.  Measure the Results
Currently, the most widely used people metric is Employee Engagement which measures individual employees’ concerns about their leaders, their compensation, their best friend at work.  Zappos and other top employers whose engagement scores were high, don’t do these surveys anymore because it doesn’t tell them anything they need to know.  As you build a vibrant culture, trying to measure progress through an Engagement survey is like putting a bicycle speedometer on a Ferrari – it quickly becomes irrelevant.  What is important to measure now is the stage of your culture, the quality of work relationships, and the results produced by people working in vibrant collaboration.

These tools and methods are readily available and those who take advantage of them now will have a competitive advantage.

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