Monthly Archives: June 2010

On the Red Sox and Strategy

Last night my wife and I were in a skybox owned by the Boston NBC affiliate watching the Red Sox play Tampa Bay. These boxes are stocked with food throughout the game, air conditioned with a wide-screen TV and leather furniture inside, and have 20 tiered seats outside, where you can take your food and watch things al fresco. We had a great view on the third base line midway to home plate.

The stadium was packed, as was the suite, and my wife’s comments (example: she found the players looked sloppy and unprofessional with their pants hanging over their shoes, and that David Ortiz looked out of shape and fat) drew astonished stares from the suite’s usual habitués.

In any case, the game was a scoreless tie in the fifth, when Boston managed to get runners on second and third with two out, and who walks to the plate but Ortiz, who’s the designated hitter (my wife is not inaccurate) and batting about .250. The crowd goes wild and Tampa Bay does what opposing teams do in trouble—they call time out, at which point the manager and every infielder converge on the mound. There are seven people there, which are six more than it takes to write Hamlet, compose music for The Lady Is A Tramp, or fly a billion dollar jet fighter.

Everyone in the ballpark knows the strategy being discussed: First base is open with two out. Throw Ortiz four awful pitches. If he swings, which he’s been known to do, fine. If he walks, who cares, because then you have a force at any base and Ortiz isn’t going to hurt you hunched over first base.

The umpire finally breaks up the convention, everyone returns to their places, and the pitcher winds up and throws the baseball. Ortiz promptly hits it 400 feet into the right field stands. The right fielder is lucky he wasn’t able to catch it, because it probably would have killed him, it was hit that hard. Red Sox 3, Tampa Bay 0 (the Sox would go on to win 8-5).

Strategy is useless without proper implementation. You can talk all day, draw fancy charts, create color-coded, 3-ring binders, invent funny acronyms, cite “vision” and “mission” and “goals” and “objectives” until the cows come home.

Nothing helps unless the people who didn’t set the strategy are able and willing to implement what the strategy requires.

That’s why consultants are even MORE valuable in assisting with implementation post-strategy, why so many strategies fail, and why anything looking out more than two years might as well be a horoscope. Make sure you include these arguments—and value—in your options and your fees.

Because no matter how good the right fielder is, he can’t catch anything screaming ten feet over his head at 100 miles an hour.

© Alan Weiss 2010. All rights reserved.

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Alan’s Monday Morning Memo – 6/28/10

Alan’s Monday Morning Memo’s mission is to help readers to thrive.

June 28, 2010—Issue #41

This week’s focus point: In school I ran the sprints, and we were taught to “run through the tape.” You can’t let up as you approach the finish, you have to pretend the finish line is ten yards farther down the track, so that you don’t slow down when your effort counts the most. That’s what the best athletes are doing in the World Cup and Wimbledon right now. And that’s what the best leaders and manager do. They run through the tape.

Monday Morning Perspective: Hope I die before I get old. — Peter Townshend (1966)

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Working From the Front

I was sitting in the truck whiling away my time as my wife shopped for flowers to plant. We have six acres, and we’re running out of planting room. But that’s another story.

It was too hot for the dogs to be with us, so I was taking in the surroundings, and became fascinated, as usual by the strange equipment and vehicles the nursery had on hand. (My son and I once laid plans to steal an asphalt reclamation machine at night and drive it for a hundred feet, and I’m constantly offering the fire chief here a chance to drive the Bentley if I can drive the pumper or aerial truck, so far to no avail.)

us_main_products_skidsteers.jpgOne of the nursery’s gorgeously gorgonesque machines was ingenious. It was a loader (technically a New Holland skid steer loader, which my technical genius team should be reproducing here somewhere) designed to operate in tiny spaces. The only way to get the front shovel to lift high enough was to put the other end of the mechanism all the way in the rear, and place the driver up front just behind the shovel! The action was right in front of the driver, but the power was way behind, with the driver in the midst of the action.

This innovative design struck me as wondrous, and I began to think of how it could be applied to my work, and what I teach, and how I coach. And then it hit me.

Many of you have trouble coordinating projects. Some of you actually tell me that you have too much work (no discretionary time, hence, no real wealth). Others have (GASP!!) turned down business.

So here’s the remedy for your healthy work loads: Work from the front. Have the client do a lot of the heavy lifting from the rear, before you even lift the shovel. In other words, set up your projects so that they are officially underway while the client sets the stage and the culture, and you don’t have to show up until much later, when your schedule permits. Examples of what the client can do early while paying you:

• Create schedules for interventions such as focus groups.
• Assemble a steering committee or stakeholder team.
• Develop documentation and historical information.
• Perform an internal survey.
• Request client’s customers’ approval of their involvement.
• Choose a pilot or starting area.
• Inform and involve key employees, management, board.
• Create liaison and involvement with unions.
• Have your subcontractors visit and observe.

After this work has begun and produced results, you can begin your direct involvement, site visits, or whatever. There’s no reason why you have to be available and on site from the time the proposal is signed.

Keep the power behind you. You do the steering.

© Alan Weiss 2010. All rights reserved.

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Alan Reaches New Lobster Personal Best

Our view from The Mooring in Newport and my 7-pound lobster, which I finished completely. A belated Father’s Day dinner!


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The Martial Arts of Language II

I also use a neat trick I call “identical differences.” It involves taking two words that many people assume mean approximately the same thing and differentiating them strongly, so that the other person says, “We’ve never considered that. We need you.”

Some examples:

Teams/Committees: These are entirely different structures, with the former requiring everyone to “win or lose” and the latter providing for some to win and some to lose. You can’t engage in “team building” with a committee.

Mentor/Coach: The former is reactive and situational, the latter is proactive and comprehensive. I can mentor a consultant, but no one has created the role of a baseball mentor for the team.

Preventive/Contingent: The first reduces the likelihood of a cause, the second attempts to minimize the effects of a problem. A sprinkler system is contingent, and so is an insurance policy. The fire marshal is preventive.

Problem/Decision: A problem requires a deviation from experienced performance with an unknown cause, and sufficient concern about it. A decision is a choice among options. Two entirely different starting points.

Oral/Verbal: “Verbal” communication is the usual umbrella for these, but that embraces everything to do with words. “Verbal” doesn’t mean “oral,” and it includes writing. These are two separate skills requiring two separate forms of development.

Strategy/Planning: The former is a picture of the future to which you aspire, the latter is an extrapolation of the present. Hence, “strategic planning” is an oxymoron, and a focus on planning will kill strategy.

You get the idea. You want the buyer to stop in place and consider the fact that this is “fresh air” and a new perspective, and needs to be heard and applied.

© Alan Weiss 2010. All rights reserved.

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The Adventures of Koufax and Buddy Beagle


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The Martial Arts of Language

I’ve often spoken and written about the sequence I discovered over a decade ago: language controls discussion, discussion controls relationships, and relationships control business. The problem is that so many professional services providers don’t use language well or underestimate its impact.

Here’s a specific example of just one of the techniques I coach and teach: changing content into process.

Situation: A buyer says to you, “We have four different insurance products that need promotion, but only enough staff and budget to promote two well, and we need help as to whether that should be a whole life, term, universal, or combination line.”

Don’t debate insurance products. Instead, reply, “It sounds as if you have a critical decision to make, and that will involve clear objectives, creative alternatives, and risk evaluation, as well as all appropriate stakeholders.”

What you’ve done is taken the insurance content and adjusted it to your process strength of decision making.

A buyer says: “We are seeking to improve our already strong ability to create just-in-time product response for our priority customers, especially in the home improvement division.” Your response could be: “My experience overwhelming demonstrates that ‘raising the bar’ as you’re trying to do, should involve four types of people and possibly two others, depending on your business. Would you like to discuss them in priority order?” You’ve taken a very technical delivery issue of a certain product line and changed the discussion into your process strength, consensus decision making (or project management, or whatever).

I call these devices “the martial arts of language” because they take the momentum of the discussion and allow you to alter it in the direction you need to close the business.

Never get sucked into the client’s quicksand of content. Learn to move all routes to your strengths and frame the conversation most beneficially to you. You’ll get to your destination—signed proposals—much faster.

© Alan Weiss 2010. All rights reserved.

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On Deductive Reasoning and God

Let’s see if I have this straight:

1. The French soccer team beats Ireland for a World Cup berth on the basis of an egregious and widely seen handball, an illegal and pathetic act in this venerated game. The French refuse to concede or do anything remotely honorable about this, despite an international outrage.
2. And, the same team then humiliates itself and its country, by gaining only 1 point, suffering through resignations, obscenity-laced player tirades against the coach, players refusing to practice, and a pitiful, virtual surrender on the field. They return home in shame, the objects of obloguy from their own countrymen.
3. Therefore, there must be a God.

© Alan Weiss 2010. All rights reserved.

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Beware the Passive-Aggressive

Passive-aggressive behavior, which seeks to hurt under the guise of help, is highly malicious and potentially damaging. (“Oh, your son was accepted into UCLA? Was that his second choice?”) In the June edition of HR Magazine, Signe Wilson offers these telltale signs that you’re dealing with a passive-aggressive personality:

• avoids responsibility
• performs less or deliberately underperforms
• misses deadlines
• withholds information
• uses communications other than face-to-face dealings
• arrives late for meetings
• gives lip services to suggestions which are not acted upon
• claims to lose or misplace important materials
• embarrasses others regularly, though seemingly inadvertently
• is constant in these behaviors

I’ve paraphrased, but beware of people who are deliberately inefficient and allow problems to grow if it means elevating them and degrading you.

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Alan’s Monday Morning Memo – 6/21/10

Alan’s Monday Morning Memo’s mission is to help readers to thrive.

June 21, 2010—Issue #40

This week’s focus point: A little action trumps a lot of words. In sports, weeks of “trash talk” fades when the game begins. In business and politics, tangible improvement (and even mere efforts) are far stronger than speeches, documents, “initiatives,” and reports. Small victories—and small efforts in the right direction—will build the momentum and commitment to support you in the long haul. Most plans sit in binders on shelves. Constructive actions are seen in the streets and remain on people’s minds.

Monday Morning Perspective: Who you are speaks so loudly I can’t hear what you say. — Ralph Waldo Emerson

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© Alan Weiss 2010. All rights reserved

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