It’s Time to Mind the Gap

By: Jim Dezieck
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[Today’s Tuesday Reading is from Jim Dezieck and Jack Wolfe of MOR Associates. They may be reached at jimdezieck@morassociates.com and jwolfe@morassociates.com.]
 
STRATEGY AND ITS IMPORTANCE
 
This year showcased both the huge value that our higher ed IT brings to academia and the world class performance of which our IT teams are capable. The crisis that IT quickly turned into opportunity was followed with a more extended period of support, responsiveness, and uncertainty. Now, the time is right for leaders and their teams to lift their heads to see where their north star is in the three years ahead. It’s time to reinvigorate strategy through crafting strategically impactful goals. From our combined time developing strategy with companies young and old, from manufacturing to biotech to higher ed, we offer a familiar tool and lessons we have learned in creating strategy that works.
 
A MOR maxim: You can never make up in tactics that which you lack in strategy.
 
Every MOR program presents the MOR strategic process – fundamental, succinct and applicable from team to university scale.  In this step-by-step sequence:
 

  1. Scan the environment – what trends are out there in the world. Which might affect us, and how? Consider the economy, demographics, technology, competition, etc.
  2. Define your Desired Future State – in 3 years where do we want to be in what and how we deliver?
  3. Assess the current state – how are we performing now?
  4. Do a gap analysis – what is missing between our current and future states that would need to be addressed? What do we need to do to “bridge the gaps?”
  5. Develop strategic goals – what key objectives do we need to identify to go from our current state to our desired future state?
  6. Implement – how do we transform our strategic goals into reality?


 
MINDING THE GAP
 
We honor each step above.  However, we have observed that steps 2 through 5, affectionally known as “the gap,” cut to the heart of an inspiring, focused strategy. The gap in question, as you can see in the slide below, is the distance between where the team is today - in its performance, goals, and potential - and where it aspires to be three years from today. Clients find the overall concept easy to grasp, the sequential steps sensible, and the answers it requires exacting and inspiring.

Here’s a rundown step-by-step:
 
Step 2: Desired Future State. Within your larger organization’s vision, what is your team’s vision? From where you stand today what heights might your team reach three years from now? Might you deliver a major new product or service, broker game-changing partnerships with clients, boost productivity in selected areas, or deliver cost-cutting and work-saving processes? Your team will generate many such good options. This is your version of “shooting for the stars.” We challenge you to reduce these to no more than five core ideas, your most vivid constellation within a galaxy of possibilities.
 
Our experience is that teams often emerge from this exercise featuring some balance of product, people, financial, and service goals.
 
Step 3:  Current State. Looking down from that desired future, apply a SWOT analysis to take the measure of where you are today. Here are the SWOT categories and questions:
 

  • Strengths: what’s in your team’s current performance and potential that will help create tomorrow?
  • Weaknesses: Within the team, what is missing or yet too weak to get you to reach orbit?
  • Opportunities: Looking beyond the team and across your organization and the world beyond.  What resources, dynamics, technologies, trends and probabilities, both near and far, likely or just possible, might show up as opportunities to help you achieve your desired future state? Consider the results of your environmental scan here and in the definition of your desired future state.
  • Threats: Which amongst the forces and opportunities above threaten to block or deflect your advance? Again, examine the results of your environmental scan here.

 
A good SWOT exercise will generate many ideas. The long list shortens first by combining like ideas and ensuring that everyone understands them.  The list is reduced by giving team members a few votes each to distribute amongst the ideas such that the compelling items stand out and low-vote-getters do, too; the latter can then be dropped.
 
We have found a well-done SWOT to be a great tool, one that can clearly define where we are today.  It also builds engagement, inviting and involving each team member’s wisdom.  Team-building as a shared group portrait emerges, and then enrolling the team’s commitment in the challenging implementation work ahead.   
 
Step 4: Identify the gaps. You know where you wish to be; you know where you are today – what a terrific start! The next step is to identify the major gaps between the two that need to be bridged. If you plan a major new financial system for your university three years from now, do you have the team and the tools to do that? If not, those are gaps to be bridged. Your job here is to identify (think BIG!) the primary shortfalls (gaps) between today and tomorrow!
 
Step 5: Define the Goals: Few, focused, and abundantly clear – all designed to bridge the gaps! Each requires a lucid and measurable goal statement that specifies the goal and defines the primary strategies needed for its achievement.  When you reach this, you will have the ignition required to launch your strategic plan.  You need not plot the detailed path there for that belongs to the implementation process and those who will take us on that part of the mission.  And no more than five strategic goals to keep the organization focused and on task - we salute those who beat that number!
 

WHAT HAVE YOU DONE? WHAT’S NEXT?
 
You’ve just laid out the framework for your strategic plan, and in most cases, you and your team have done it in one-three days of effort, or thereabouts – defining tomorrow in a FEW and FOCUSED ways, defining today, identifying the gaps between, and defining the GOALS that bridge those gaps - well done to you all! The next steps are developing your team to execute, laying out your implementation plan, aligning folks to it, and then EXECUTING… watch this Tuesday Reading space next week for more on all of that!

 

This Week's Survey

Which step do you find most difficult in strategic planning? Defining…

 

From Last Week
 
Last week, we asked: What makes for the most energizing 1:1s you experience?
  • 45% said being fully present
  • 29% said personal connection
  • 16% said solving problems
  • 10% said both parties being prepared
Relating last week’s survey to this week’s topic, this data provides some suggestions as we consider how to energize others toward strategy we are advancing.  Top of the list is being fully present during these discussions – actively listening and truly understanding where others are coming from to generate alignment for strategy.  Relationships are currency, and personal connections are foundational to working with others to solve and address your most pressing strategic concerns.
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