“This is as clear as mud…great!”

The more confusing the better (or ambiguity…I love it).

Clarity…it’s not terribly clear.
                                                                                        Whilst being in charge (ideally) requires clarity, lateral thought, creativity and a high degree of intellectual bravery, it is more often epitomised by fogginess, confusion and ambiguity. Most people will have aspired to clarity but hit the brick wall of obscuration on more than one occasion; indeed my experience suggests that the moments of clarity are only achieved by spending some time in the quagmire of confusion!

Don’t despair, this is quite normal. Indeed one might see this as a right of passage. My advice before going any further is to enjoy the ambiguity, immerse yourself in it…it’s your ally; never forget that the ambiguity is on your side.

Good stuff, this ambiguity.

If you’re running away from the ambiguity, getting confused by it, letting it beat and frustrate you, guess what your competitors are doing in their ambiguous situations? Yep, they’re struggling, they’re busily being defeated by it, being ground down and devoured by it. Well that’s good news. If you can raise your game, embrace the ambiguity and make the most of it, you’ll will beat your competitors at every turn. But how (?) I hear you say…read on.

Deciding what to do in any given situation is not really about the point at which the decision is made; it’s about the time spent in getting there, the journey. If the journey is completed thoroughly, then you will unravel the complexity and put yourself in a solid position from which an informed decision can be made. Better still, if your analysis is done in detail (considering second and third order affects), you’ll begin to second guess what might happen in your market, thus putting yourself in a position that allows you to mitigate circumstances that have not yet manifested themselves…how good would that be?

Let’s get one thing straight…

Before we can take this any further there is a fundamental that we need to understand, which will be crucial to the rest of this article. The fundamental I’m referring to is the difference between leadership and management. I’ll keep it simple: managers manage resources, leaders lead people. Why is this important? Well, if you don’t know what resources you have available to achieve your aims, then any decision you might make will potentially be flawed from the outset. Time must be spent mastering one’s craft, understanding the nuts and bolts of what comprises your resources, be it people, cash, buildings, vehicles, intellectual property etc. Knowing what your resources are is one thing, you must also how much of each you have and what they can do. Of course the best decisions will be made by leaders who also manage; those people that understand the capabilities of their resources and the abilities of their people.

Assuming we’ve got the fundamentals in place we’ll move on.

And another thing….

It goes without saying that what comes next is aimed at leaders who want to the very best in their field. Inherent in what follows is an understanding that planning is done collaboratively. Many heads are better than one, use them, draw on other’s expertise, knowledge and creativity. None of this is meant for you to use isolation.

OK, got that, where do we begin?

The would be leader and de facto decision maker must begin their analysis by understanding the environment in which they find themselves. Forget the ‘exam question’ your boss has set you just for the moment. What I want you to do is sit back and understand where you (and your organisation) are, take the time to do some thinking. Some of you may be breaking the habit of a lifetime…hitherto you have been fire-fighting, dealing with the ‘shark nearest the boat’, well that stops here. Henceforth you will no longer have to fire-fight, you’ll be one step ahead, but you need to understand where you are before we can go any further.

Before we get going on the detailed analysis, get the team ‘on the same hymn sheet’ by doing some preliminary work; try this:

Understand the time you have available and decide how your going to use it. In it’s simplest form this could be the ‘time now’ and ‘time complete’. Within this you may wish to establish a number of milestones or points at which things need to be done. You should also be cognisant of other timings (many of which will be beyond your control) that may impact your planning. These might include end of financial or calendar year, general election, seasonal variations in your sector and so on.
Examine your organisation, warts and all. A good tool for this is a SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats) analysis. This will broaden your team’s knowledge of your own organisation and help you to not pursue the unachievable. If something can’t be done, you need to know at this point, not 75% of the way to making a decision.

Now we start the real work. The detailed analysis is what follows. I advocate the following steps to unravel the complexity:

1. Ask yourself: what’s happening in my world? What is the market/industry doing? What are the competition doing? And most importantly you must ask why? Asking why is the single most important thing you will ask at any point in the process. It happens throughout. I refer to it as ‘the so what?’ process. Every deduction, every discovery requires a ‘so what’ after it. It is the ‘so what’ process that allows you to unravel the complexity.

2. Understand what you have been asked to by your boss/the board/shareholders. Once again establish why you have been asked to do it. Think about where you fit into the grand scheme of things within the broader organisation.

3. What effects do you want to have in order to achieve your objective? If you understand your world and organisation you will begin to see what may be required even at this early stage. The more you practice your craft, the more intuitive you will become. Hence the more intuitive leader will be able to short circuit the process and potentially start to make a decision at tis point. This is about what you want to do (effects) not how your going to do it (activity), that follows at 4.

4. What do we need to do to achieve the effects listed at 3 above? This is the activity that allows you to achieve the effect. Let’s say an effect you are seeking is increasing market share. There will be myriad ways of doing this, however the activity that might deliver this could include, a marketing plan, increased brand awareness or review if pricing policy.

5. Decide the resources you need to achieve the activity and therefore effect. Don’t look at this holistically; look at each activity in turn. If you don’t you will allocate resources you do not have! It is highly likely that you will end up with a shortage of resources. Don’t despair, that’s quite normal. If that happens you will need to consider how you sequence or synchronise the use of those resources. See below.

6. Establish when and where (and with what) you want things to place both in time and space.

7. Do I need to put any control measures in place. Think of this geographically. If you have decided that one of the effects you wish to achieve is increasing your market presence, you may choose to have people on the ground in a given area or territory. By giving your sales team territories your are putting place control measures that will allow you to maximise your resources. Failure to control your assets may result in all of your sales team heading in the same (easiest) direction.

8. What are the options (possible plans) for achieving what I have to do? At this point you will have options. You as the leader will still need to make a decision…after all that’s what your paid for!

There’s more

The 8 steps above will help unravel the complexity and get you to a point where you can make an informed decision, but the really good bit is yet to come…

If you can afford to let some of your team plan in isolation, not from your perspective, but from that of your competitors, you will get to the point where you may be able to see what’s round the corner. This needs to be done credibly. If you are to encourage some of your team to think from a different perspective don’t select junior people who don’t yet have any influence. Chose credible, knowledgeable people who are prepared to challenge. Perhaps your deputy or a divisional leader – your call, but do it properly.

With the competition in place I would advocate that you rehearse your plan, seeking the input of the opposition i.e for each of your actions what is their reaction etc? This will allow you to second guess the competition in your market, get there ahead of them and mitigate anything that they might throw at you…wouldn’t that be useful

Of course to get to this point one must first embrace the ambiguity, unravel the complexity and make a decision or 2!!

leadership, planning

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