And how to get there
In his latest article for Hotel & Catering Review, Conor Kenny, Head of Hospitality Industry Consultants, Conor Kenny & Associates, takes a look at how to understand and create an effective strategy for you, your people and your business.
If an army were about to go into battle it is a reasonable to assume that they would have a plan. That plan would also have to be based on a clear vision. The realisation of that vision would be a fair assessment of whether or not it was successful and there would be measurable consequences to manage if that mission failed.
Business is no different, but do you plan? In fact, do you know where you are going? Or where it is you are trying to get to?
If the Generals in the tent have no idea what they are doing, where they are going, or how to get there, then what chance have the soldiers in winning the battle, let alone the war?
Before you can begin a journey, you have to set out where you want to go and then communicate that vision, image or picture to the people who will take you there. If you fail to paint the picture you will quickly run out of steam and your troops will be busy fools consuming energy, resources and profit.
But what is ‘vision’? It is the art of seeing what nobody else sees and it is the art of articulating and expressing that in a way that is understood. Oscar Wilde said;
“A dreamer is one who can only find his way by moonlight, and his punishment is that he sees the dawn before the rest of the world.”
But vision without action is a futile time consuming folly. As Joel Barker said: “Vision without action is a dream. Action without vision is simply passing the time. Action with Vision is making a positive difference.”
Vision then is painting a picture of your destination. Simply, it is where you want to be. It is what you aspire to.
Many organisations and leaders race off with an urgent need to develop a ‘strategy’ but, all of our Teachers were right when they said “Do not answer the exam question immediately. Pause, think and then begin to construct your answer” Our response? “Yeah right!” Funny thing is, those habits die hard.
Before you can even think about a new vision, a plan, or strategy, you must examine where you are at. What’s going on? Who is leading? Why so? What has changed? What are the implications?
Therefore, a solid strategy will consider this first, if you like, the take off point.
In simple terms, ‘the mission’ will set out the things you have to do to reach the destination, you know, that ‘vision’ place. To be effective it must ask several simple but revealing questions. For example, what business are you in? What makes you unique and stand out from the crowd? What is your unique legitimacy, or put it another way, why do you deserve to exist? Finally, the mission is the immediate road map of where you are going to travel. Simply, mission is how you execute and deliver your purpose.
Paul B. Thornton sums it up; “Without mission, there’s no purpose. Without vision, there’s no destination. Without values, there are no guiding principles”
Many businesses are in the same business, just like hotels. Many target the same customer and have similar propositions; many are more of the same. So what is it that marks out those that are more successful than others? Why is it that they have a higher repeat business ratio? Why is it guests say simple things like “they are just very nice people”? The answer? ‘Values’ it’s that slightly below the radar ethos, culture, and attitude that is interwoven in every organisation. It’s not obvious, rarely taught but ever present.Stephen Covey gets it about right when he says; “Principles should not be confused with values. Principles describe how things are and how they work, whereas values state where we aim to go. If principles are the territory, then values are maps”
Values are what you stand for, what you believe in and are, in some ways, the moral compass of your business.
In his book ‘Can You Manage’ Ivor Kenny describes strategy as” the step by step removal of removable constraints. Competitive strategy means deliberately choosing a different set of activities to deliver a unique mix of value” But beware, if your strategic discussion begins and ends with the present reality then you will take your people on a scenic undulating journey that will have set out full of hope and optimism but ended up in a cul-de-sac right by the road you started on. On the other hand, if you inspire, lead and motivate your people well and lift their eyes beyond the horizon away from the daily slog of fire fighting, it will quickly become a cheerful, productive and optimistic exercise.
Cynthia A. Montgomery defines strategy as; “Strategy is not just a plan, not just an idea; it is a way of life for a company. Strategy doesn’t just position a firm in its external landscape; it defines what a firm will be. Watching over strategy day in and day out is not only a CEO’s greatest opportunity to outwit the competition; it is also his or her greatest opportunity to shape the firm itself.
The objectives, mission, and goals will determine the people you need. The people will fit the structure and the structure must be the most efficient use of skill, ingenuity and resource available to you.
Structures must be simple and avoid complexity, hierarchy and confusion. Then, the people fit the structure, not the other way around. But beware! Structures should not inhibit growth, thinking, change or more importantly, innovation and outside the box thinking. Edward DeBono said; “We need creativity in order to break free from the temporary structures that have been set up by a particular sequence of experience.”
Many years ago a kind and wise boss dispensed a piece of wisdom I have never forgotten “Conor, never design the job around the person” It has stood me in good stead. Many people fall into the trap of ‘accommodating’ what the person needs rather than what the job requires. It can be fatal and costly. Every strategy will create a basic set of criteria or fundamentals. In turn, that creates the structure and the people simply slot into that framework.
However, this is not a call to panic because, in most cases, the people are right under your nose. Talent is not some magical imaginary ‘perfect’ manager outside your business, they are already within. The trick is to identify them, move them, develop them and encourage. After all, no plan will go anywhere without a motivated, trained and clear team.
It’s not much good having a map if you have no measure. Imagine a petrol tank with no gauge? Not much use and sooner or later you will run out of fuel and probably when you are least prepared. It’s not a bad dictum to state “Measure everything” By measuring things we know how we are doing. By knowing how you are doing you can test how well you are performing against your standards. But, standards, and especially the dreaded SOP manuals, need to be tested, revisited, updated and challenged regularly. There is very little chance that the standards you applied a few years ago are still relevant today.
When Ed Koch was Mayor of New York he was keen to know how his performance was perceived. He shunned his state car and took yellow cabs everywhere. He wanted to stay in touch. His famous question every time he got into the cab? “How am I doing?”
Finally, the very essence of ‘standards’ is the fundamental of consistency. Beware then of the sentiment that Andres S. Tannenbaum pointed out when he said; “The nicest thing about standards is that there are so many of them to choose from.
Control does not mean autocracy or even dictatorship. Control, in this context, means how do you know if you are off course or have derailed. In any plan it is imperative that you have a ‘plan B’ and a method for checking your progress.
Every plan will change once activated. New forces, dynamics, and unforeseen events will challenge the direct route you so easily imagined. That is the norm, not the startling exception. Plans change, full stop. A successful strategy recognises and prepares for that. Good leadership stays calm and works around the problem. Bad managers keep relentlessly banging their head against the unforeseen roadblock. It takes time to realise it is not going to shift - precious time, and certainly not a good use of energy, fuel and resources!
Organisations and people imitate their leaders. Culture comes from the top. If the leaders have a bad attitude it will cascade throughout the organisation. If your attitude to service and customers is hostile and exploitative, your customers will sense that very quickly too, and so will your staff.
Real leadership is a combination of character and competence. Character is who you are; competence is what you can do. In Ivor Kenny’s ‘Can You Manage’ there is a useful paragraph which can act as a wise safety valve. He says; “There are two kinds of people in the world, builders and pirates, and pirates never ought to be promoted to a high rank”
Perish the thought then of a bad leader in a stormy sea. Leadership and leaders define your business. If you get it wrong you will struggle to recover, get it right and you will plough through the waves. As John Quincy Adams once said; “If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader”.
A few years back I had the privilege of doing some work with Diageo in their London office. The conversation and meeting were dynamic, creative and cheerful. At the end of a long and rewarding meeting, I finally got to look at the caption under the poster that had been in front of me all day. It was simple, effective and memorable. It quoted Abraham Lincoln,
“I walk slowly, but I never walk backward.”
Come to think of it, isn’t that exactly what a good strategy should be?
Conor Kenny is Head of Hospitality Industry Consultants, Conor Kenny & Associates.
For more information, or an informal chat, log on to www.conorkenny.com