With so many changes happening in your organization in the past year, there’s a very good chance that your strategic plan no longer fits your organization. Even without a year of a global pandemic, too many plans never really take hold. What are the signs that your strategic plan is no longer working, and what questions should you be asking yourself?
Sign #1: The strategic plan is forgotten as soon as everyone goes back to “real work”. It gets dusted off when it’s time for a board meeting or for the next retreat, but in-between no one really remembers what the plan says.
The underlying cause. There’s a good chance that your team never really owned or believed in this plan.
Questions to ask yourself:
Sign #2: Only the executive team really talks about the plan.
The underlying cause. It’s likely that your plan isn’t really embraced by anyone else in the organization. The team had a great time planning during your retreats and thought they saw lots of enthusiasm when they announced the plan at the town hall meeting, but now you are having a very tough time moving things forward.
Questions to ask yourself.
Sign #3: You just aren’t getting enough traction with the new initiatives that the plan outlines. A couple of initiatives are moving ahead, but others haven’t even gotten started.
The underlying cause. Like many plans, yours may have been too ambitious, unfocused, and maybe not grounded in the reality of your organization.
Questions to ask yourself:
Sign #4: Your competitors are outpacing you. You aren’t gaining market share or increasing your impact.
The underlying cause. You may have created a plan that was too “status quo”, and you may not have looked deeply at what your customers want and need now.
Questions to ask yourself:
Sign #5. The plan has no relationship with the current reality. You planned that revenue and impact would be on track to increase 25% or more but the world changed a lot in the past year. You don't believe that you can hold your team accountable for a plan that no longer works in this new world.
The underlying cause. The world DID change!
Questions to ask yourself:
If you are seeing even one of these warning signs, you should be rethinking your strategy. Sure, it’s challenging to find the time to do this work, and right now, it might be hard to imagine what the future will look like. But especially now, it’s important to find the time, the focus and the energy to plan your strategy. You’ll be glad that you did.
Likeability: A Tale of Two Women
It’s the day after the US election, and like many, I’m trying to understand the surprising results, and what they mean for all of us. There are many dimensions to any political race, any contest between two humans. But the one I find myself thinking a lot about is likability. “Well, Hillary just isn’t likable." "Voters on the edge couldn’t vote for her because she isn’t likable.” How many times have I heard that? But what does it really mean? Two and a half years ago, when this picture was taken, I was lucky to attend a small education conference where Hillary Clinton spoke. She wasn’t yet a candidate for office, but she was close to declaring. On that day, with a tiny crowd, and an affable host and interviewer who was also her friend, Hillary was unguarded. We felt as if we were in her living room. She was funny, self-deprecating, and warm, and she was unbelievably smart, experienced, insightful and informed. That day, I think that everyone in the room (Democrats and Republicans, men and women) were blown away by her. We respected her AND we liked her. So, over the course of the past two years, I’ve often wondered, who is this other woman, this other Hillary we saw much more often on the campaign trail, the one who frowns so much when she speaks, who can seem stern and cold? What is it about her that makes people want to attack her and to hate her so deeply? Sure, there are political reasons, and legacy reasons, and age reasons. But I think a lot of it is about our discomfort with women in leadership. This comes in two waves: the discomfort women leaders have in being themselves instead of what is expected of them, and the discomfort that others have in watching them in action. Both have painful consequences. A lot has been written about women in leadership, but there’s a lot more to be written. Can a woman leader be both liked and respected? Can she be vulnerable? Can she be nurturing? As leaders, women often have to put on a defensive face in order to be seen as capable and strong. And then we are criticized for being inauthentic or calculating. Even now, there are very different standards applied to women and men leaders in all settings, when we observe the same behaviors. Here are some words we use: With Men/With Women: Shrewd/Shrew Warm/Weak Smart/Calculating Incisive/Cold Kind/Mother Hen Strong/Nasty Along with most women leaders, I’ve probably been called all of those words on the right hand side. It certainly hasn't been all bad; I’ve had a great career with plenty of support from women and men along the way. But I keep remembering back to one event that crystallizes a lot of the sexism I’ve seen over the years. I was lucky to be attending #CCL’s Leadership at the Peak, an immersive leadership training experience with only CEOs in attendance. We received 360 feedback, observed each other in action, worked intensively on the strategic challenges in our companies, and got to know each other really well. Towards the end of our week together, we were invited to give advice to each other. The comment I most remember was from a third generation President of a large family-run manufacturing company, a tall blond blue-eyed Nordic man with a kind twinkle in his eye. “You just don’t seem to be a CEO,” he said to me, “You’re much more like a wife. You’re nice, and you care about other people.” The rest of the CEO’s in the room (all men) nodded. The properly horrified facilitator quickly diverted attention elsewhere, and apologized to me in private later, assuring me that I had the chops to make tough decisions, and acknowledging that I had some hard times ahead. He was right; I did have many tough battles ahead, as a woman figuring out how to be myself and also the president of a growing organization. I don’t think those battles are getting any easier for many of us. On this day in particular, many of us are asking questions. “Will the hidden sexism in our society ever go away?” “What do I tell my daughters?” “Where are the role models for women?” “Do I dare to step up to leadership knowing that I might be savaged and hated?” “Or to urge my daughter to be a leader?” It’s an uneasy time, with no easy answers to those tough questions. As leaders, we need to find ways to be both ourselves and leaders, not to see those as contradictory roles. We need to keep finding the courage to step up and to take stances we believe in. For those of us who follow, the answer is to constantly question our assumptions and our innate prejudices. And for those of us who are parents, the answer is to teach our children well.
Creating an Ideas Revolution – Five Things that Define Truly Great Thought Leaders
Lots of smart people have inspiring ideas. Lots of people write books, do a TED talk, give speeches, create new products & companies, and are thought leaders who influence us. But the thought leaders who actually shake us up, who create new ways of thinking, who are founders of major enduring movements...those are more rare.
As a former President of a publishing company, I am lucky to know a lot of smart, inventive, creative and driven people. Over time, we published hundreds of books that reached best-seller lists, which meant that the ideas they contained were read and praised by tens of thousands of people worldwide. But what really excited all of us was discovering that rare and amazing author whose book sales actually grew over time. When the sales curve grew year over year, we all knew that something very special was happening, and the ideas within that book were taking hold and were having a unique power. The growth of such an ideas revolution are manifest in more than book sales. It is about the magic of a top-ranked TED talk, or a keynote speaker who gets asked back over and over again. It’s about the power of a set of ideas to inspire us and to change lives. It’s about movements that endure and grow and the brave souls who lead those movements. So what combination of traits, passions and abilities create a thought leader who leads an ideas revolution?
On a good day most of us learn something new. A friend flags a provocative article for us. We click on a link in Twitter that leads us to a great blog or insight from someone we respect. We find an inspiring blog or post on LinkedIn. We look at a TED talk that our high school friend posted it on Facebook. We have a conversation that leads us to a new place. Maybe we hit the meatiest chapter of a book that’s on our bedside table or on our Nook, and it leads us to think more deeply about something. And then there are the really good learning days, at a training session or a conference when we get to see Jim Collins @Level5leader talk about his newest research on leaders in schools. Or to hear about a new start-up with some amazing traction and a great new business model that we want to contemplate further.
But how in the world can we keep track of all of this?
There are a lot of techniques I use to track information. I take pictures of things with my phone. I tweet links – as much to give myself a learning history as to inform others. I compile lists and links in Pinterest. I create Excel spreadsheets and Word docs with embedded links. I take notes, lots of notes.
A few years ago, I was an editor working with a local sales rep and we were visiting college professors together, interviewing them about their students, their courses, and their own inclinations to write books. After about a dozen great conversations, the rep stopped suddenly in the hall, and said “I need a computer with me every minute, one that can record all of this great input and can sort it for me in the right buckets!” “That’s your brain,” I said. “Your brain is constantly sorting through all of this information and making sense of it. You just need to be sure that you take some quiet time to think, absorb and sort through what matters. I call it curation time.” If I remember right, that sales rep (a mom with a newborn) looked at me as if I was crazy. Curation time, or any time to think or sort, is never easy to find in our lives.
Was my advice useful? Sure, our brains are marvelous things, and their job is to process and store lots of information. But we are asking them to hold more and more information as technology – and the pace of life -- can deliver pertinent knowledge to us constantly, and at a rate that sometimes defies easy personal curation.
What are your best tricks for Personal Learning Curation? Do you have tools or techniques that really work for you? New technologies that really work to build portfolios of learning? I’d love to hear what works for you.
3 things that are changing and 2 that aren't. Observations on ed tech from the ASU/GSV conference.
This week’s ASU/GSV conference was another big success. As in prior years, there were inspirational presentations, lots of investors, and even more start-ups hungry for attention and money. The theme that emerged from the conference was personalization...how technology is helping teachers & trainers to create and serve up specific learning to individuals. Here are some of the things that have changed…and some that are still the same.
Three trends worth noting:
1. A move towards corporate learning. In the past, the conference was dominated by K-12 and (to a lesser extent) Higher Ed innovations. This year, there was much more attention on corporate learning. With the absence of the now struggling private universities, there was a gap not quite filled by other innovative HE organizations. A lot of the K-12 and HE start-ups are having a very tough time getting to market, and there are pivots into corporate learning, where (for now) there is more money being spent. The MOOCs are the obvious ones, with Udemy moving into business, and @Udacity moving towards microdegree programs. But even newer startups like Mursion are finding more traction in healthcare and business.
2. Bigger, bigger, bigger. Last year's ASU/GSV conference maxed out at 2500 participants. This year there were at least 40% more...with 3500+ people in a larger hotel in San Diego with people sprinting from location to location. Our fitbits were happily clocking up the miles. Everyone said that things felt less intimate, and it was harder to run into people you know. There were 350 (!) companies presenting...too many to track in 3 days, even if you tried. Will this growth last? That was the obvious question everyone was asking.
3. More diversity. Deb Quazzo proudly announced that 35% of the organizations represented were founded or led by women, and 26% by entrepreneurs of color. That's a great statistic, and it's clear that she and Michael Moe really work to feature those entrepreneurs. But still the audience seemed to be dramatically white and male, and there were many pleas for entrepreneurs to pay more attention to equal access when they develop products and services.
And what's still the same?
1. A gap between the entrepreneurs and those they serve. It is incredible to see so many Harvard and Stanford MBA's, so many smart and dedicated people in one place, all focused on improving learning. But just going to school doesn't make you an expert on education, and just being in a workplace doesn't mean that you understand the battles that are faced every day in HR departments. There's still a big gap of understanding, too many start-ups trying to DO TO rather than to DO WITH. And there are still too many technology ideas that aren't as grounded as they should be in understanding how people learn, or how things really change.
2. Leadership still makes all the difference. Here are just a few examples: The leadership that Deb Quazzo and Michael Moe take in making an innovative conference happen, and their passion for inclusion in education. Bill Gates for his remarkable deep knowledge about education and the funding and research he and The Gates Foundation do that makes a huge difference. And there's huge influence and inspiration from great leaders who are driving innovation that goes well beyond their own organizations... people like Michael Crowe at Arizona State University, and Superintendent Alberto Carvalho who moved Miami-Dade to become one of the highest-performing urban school systems in just a few years. If more great leaders like these stay focused on what really works, the right kind of change will happen in learning.
Debra Hunter gets much too excited about leadership and learning and the junction between the two. For 14 years, she was CEO of Jossey-Bass, publisher of top thought leaders in those areas. She's also a mom, photographer, and consultant.