Getting Ready for the ‘Planning Season’ – Part 2 (Your Team)

Getting Ready for the ‘Planning Season’ – Part 2 (Your Team)

It’s Time to Focus on Your Team

Part 1 – creatively titled “Getting Ready for the Planning Season – Part 1” – discussed that for many organisations, the annual cycle of planning and strategy formulation is uppermost in their minds in an endeavour to set themselves up for the coming year. However, traditional strategic planning (and the yearly round of off-sites) often fails to deliver intended objectives.

Here are the five ‘antidotes’ we discussed in Part 1

  1. Create a ‘Collective Ambition’
  2. Make the process robust
  3. Make it agile
  4. Be real
  5. Balance performance and health

The article also provided an overview of the concept of organisational ‘health’ or what McKinsey have defined as “the ability of an organisation to align, execute and renew itself faster than the competition so that it can sustain exceptional performance over time.”

The concept applies equally to teams, and in fact it could be argued that without healthy teams (particularly senior teams) the chances of your organisation being healthy are slim.

A Way to Help Create Success

In our work with various senior teams over a twenty-year period we have seen a lot of things that work and DON’T work!

Based on evidenced-based principles and our own experience in working across many industries, we have formulated a framework to help your team focus on the things that matter – the things that will help you engage in the strategy planning process in a fruitful way. By focusing on the key elements of the canvass, you will also give yourself the best chance of implementing the strategy and creating a sustainable and high performing organisation or unit.

Team Charter Canvass

Creating a high performing organisation starts with creating a high performing senior team that knows where it’s heading, how to get there, and importantly, who they are as a team.

Our Team Charter Canvas (TCC) helps guide senior teams to do just that. The framework helps ensure that teams engage in crucial conversations that will lead to long-term success, starting first with clarity about the organisational vision and purpose.

Figure 1: Team Charter Canvass

TCC Sept 2016


Those familiar with Simon Sinek’s work will be familiar with his tenet of starting with why may recognise the flow. Row 1 describes the WHY first, Row 2 the HOW and finally Row 3 is all about the WHAT.

This is in contrast to many planning processes that rush to the ‘what’ and the ‘how’ and don’t do justice to the ‘why’.  I have yet to meet a team that is sufficiently clear about all nine areas of the canvass and the detail that sits behind each. This can have serious consequences on achieving short and long-term objectives.

“I have yet to meet a team that is sufficiently clear about all nine areas of the canvass and the detail that sits behind each.”

Management solutions closing the gap to a business challenge as a businessman lifting a three dimensional cube to complete a wall with a group of organized objects as a project metaphor for leadership expertise.

This simplified version (the full version has some key diagnostic questions in each square) is linear and prescriptive in that a team should start with box 1 then move to box 2 then 3, etc (of course you may need to circle back to earlier boxes as you progress).

Any planning process needs to be firmly linked to the organisation’s vision and reason for being. The ‘how’ helps teams examine their operating rhythm, their values and how they will celebrate and recognise achievements while enjoying the journey along the way. And finally the ‘what’ helps the team achieve laser-like focus on what needs to be achieved and by when, including the current shape of the team (strengths to be leveraged and weaknesses to mitigated).

How Do I Use the Canvass?

There are many ways to leverage the power of the framework, however all methods should lead to the same outcome – creating a robust dialogue that creates new learning and new possibilities.

At a more practical level, here are some tips:

  1. Ask each team member to rate each box between 1 (Poor) and 10 (Excellent) live, calculate the average score and then focus on the three lowest rated boxes.
  2. Using the same rating system as above, conduct a confidential survey before the session.
  3. Start at box 1 and gain agreement on what it is, then move to box 2, then box 3, etc.
  4. Don’t skip any boxes because you think you have them nailed without an explicit agreement on what it actually means (assumptions are like termites in your strategy).
  5. Invite key stakeholders and even customers to enter in to some ‘box conversations’.
  6. Pressure-test your outputs with people who matter (i.e. people you need to be successful).

In order to have the type of robust, honest conversations needed, you will need to work on creating high levels of psychological safety.

Last November, Google published the five traits of its most successful teams – the first and most important was psychological safety, which has been described as a ‘‘shared belief held by members of a team that the team is safe for interpersonal risk-taking.’’  Psychological safety is a necessary pre-condition for meaningful planning.

Implementation is the Achilles Heel

We know that around 80% of change fails and that globally a high percentage of Chief Executives are dissatisfied with their strategies and the results they create.

While it is relatively easy to produce a beautiful looking strategy document, it is how those ideas are realised that makes the difference. By default, ‘implementation’ means that change will be necessary (unless you have a no-change strategy that has already been implemented in which case you should be updating your strategy!).

Implementation and change leadership is out of scope for this article, however it needs serious attention as part of the overall planning and strategy process. This is where the real work begins.

Find out More

We are specialists in working with senior teams to bring the Team Charter Canvass to life. We do this through working with leaders and teams to create high performing and healthy teams and organisations.

If you’re interested in learning more about these programs and how we may be able to work with you to achieve outstanding results, then you can:

Getting Ready for Planning Season part 2 Cover


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Getting Ready for the ‘Planning Season’ – Part 1

Getting Ready for Planning Season – Part 1

It’s Planning Season!

It’s that time of the year when many organisations turn their minds to the new year. Planning and strategy formulation is an important part of the yearly cycle which helps set executive teams and their organisations and respective units up for success. This is the focus of this article while Part 2 will focus on senior teams and what they need to do to effectively lead the organisation (or their unit/division).

In this article, I will discuss how traditional strategic planning (and the yearly round of off-sites) often fails to deliver intended objectives. While many experience a sense of satisfaction (for many a kind of sugar-hit) at having come up with a plan, the glucose soon runs out and you’re suddenly faced with a plan that doesn’t accurately represent the current context or perhaps no longer even provides a useful pathway for the future. Think about, for example, the last plan (of any type) that you created or contributed to – and now think about how long that plan was a true indication of the prevailing context. Did it last three months? Two? One month?

The Illusion of Strategic Planning

Most of what we know to be ‘strategic planning’ is simply an illusion – one designed to make us feel comfortable about the year ahead, but often doesn’t bear much resemblance to how the year ahead plays out.

“Traditional methods of planning simply don’t work.”


happy or sad. what mood i have todayThe highly regarded management thinker, Henry Mintzberg, once mused:

Strategic planning is an oxymoron”.

What he meant was that planning is analysis, while strategy is synthesis, and that the former cannot produce the latter. Planning gets you a plan, not necessarily a strategy.  It’s also hard to be truly ‘strategic’ given the constant changes buffeting businesses.

So we subject ourselves to the yearly planning process in an attempt to position the business for the new year. However, some global surveys of CEO’s indicate that around 80% are not happy with their strategies, while a study in 2015 of 400 CEOs found that executional excellence was the number one issue (out of 80 issues) for Chief Executives around the world. In other words, the actual standard planning format and/or the execution of the plan is fundamentally flawed.

Five Myths About Strategic Planning

1. The way you plan is engaging and productive

Well, actually, for many people it’s probably bit of a yawn. It may feel like ‘here we go again’ and not particularly engaging because it fails to capture the hearts and minds of people.

2. The process is robust

As discussed above, many processes are flawed because they fail to sufficiently take in to account the organisation’s context or the linkages between that context and the organisation’s own vision, mission (reason for being in business), strategy, operational plan and people.

3. It’s agile

Too often the plan is approached in a way that over-estimates stability and predictability. In reality, most plans need regular revision and either major or minor course corrections. Would you rather row a boat across the Tasman with one course correction or several?

4. You’ve nailed it

In just about all aspects of life, we unwittingly suffer from a myriad of distortions, deceptions and biases. One of the most devastating is ‘optimism bias’ which is the belief that the future will be much better than the past and present – or what I call ‘sunflowers and rainbow management’.

5. It’s balanced

Unfortunately, many organisations focus too heavily on the finish line and forget about building and maintaining the engine. In another words, there is too much emphasis on performance (the end game) and not enough on building team and organisational health (the engine). We need to invest much more time and effort in building a pathway to get there rather than focusing so intensely on the ‘there’.


Five Antidotes to Make Your Strategic Planning Fly

1. Create a Collective Ambition

This is a term first coined by Douglas Ready and Emily Truelove (see HBR Dec. 2011) to capture what successful companies did and can be thought of as a summary of how leaders and employees think about why they exist, what they hope to accomplish, how they will collaborate to achieve their ambition, and how their brand promise aligns with their core values. These companies didn’t fall into the trap of pursuing a single ambition, such as profits; instead, their employees collaborate to shape a collective ambition that supersedes individual goals and takes into account the key elements required to achieve and sustain excellence. The example (below) is from the Four Seasons Hotel Group.


Coll Ambition

Source: Ready and Truelove, The Power of Collective Ambition, HBR Dec. 2011

In a way, the model used is arbitrary. What matters is that these core components are picked up in some shape or form. It is surprising how many senior teams are not clear about these important areas. Yours will look different to this one of course, but the fact that people are aligned around these core areas is important.

2. Make the process robust

The process can be made more robust and valuable by ensuring that there are overt links between the macro (i.e. the external context, the organisation’s ‘reason for being’ and its vision) with the micro (how you organise and convert your ambition in to actions).

3. Make it agile

While you will have a core strategy based around your core business – you may choose to invest in a number of initiatives that are smaller in the investment required but could be considered experimental. This may be for example a new market that is left-of-field from the norm or a product or service that has higher inherent risks but potentially big pay-offs

4. Be Real

Create an environment and the necessary team skills to be able to challenge, challenge, challenge each other to create and then agree on the best options. Don’t be seduced by the notion that what you successful in the past will make you success in the future. Innovation is key here (learn more here) as you learn to let go of initiatives and ways of working that no longer serve the future.

5. Balance Performance and Health

This is the biggie. Far too many organisations focus too heavily on performance to the detriment of building a healthy, thriving organisation. For companies to achieve sustainable excellence, they must be ‘healthy’. This means they must actively manage both their performance and their health. In a 2010 survey of companies undergoing transformations, it was revealed that organisations that focused on performance and health simultaneously were nearly twice as successful as those that focused on health alone and nearly three times as successful as those that focused on performance alone.

Organisational health is about adapting to the present and shaping the future faster and better than the competition. Healthy organisations don’t merely learn to adjust themselves to their current context or to challenges that lie just ahead; they create a capacity to learn and keep changing over time.

Building Organisational Health

According to research and my own experience, you can build a healthy organisation by building in the following in to your strategic planning process:

1. Consider all nine capabilities of organisational health

Direction; accountability; co-ordination and control; external orientation; innovation and learning; leadership; culture and climate; capability and motivation.

2. Determine what “healthy” looks like 

What would ‘healthy look like for your organisation in view of your change vision (which 3-5 capabilities will you become distinctive in?).

3. Uncover the root causes of mindsets

What are the root causes of mindsets support or undermine organisational health and reshape the work environment to create healthy mindsets?

4. Equip leaders to lead from a core of self-mastery

How will you ensure your leaders lead from a strong core of self-mastery while having the ability to mobilise people in a constructive way in service of common objectives?

5. Ensure your Executive Team and other key teams are high performing and healthy

By ensuring your key teams are at their best, you will be fuelling the organisation with ‘Premium’ rather than ‘Standard’ or even worse – ‘Sub-Standard’ fuel.

Healthy Team, Healthy Organisation!

The architects of everything discussed thus far is the Executive Team and other senior teams in the organisation. In Part 2, we will share and discuss a robust Team Charter Canvass which guides teams through a journey of nine areas, beginning with ensuring the organisation’s mission and vision is clear (which should be the case if you have followed the Collective Ambition framework) – or if you’re not the top team, ensuring a high level of understanding the mission and vision and then linking to it effectively.

More information

If you would like further information about how we may be able to support you and your own organisation and team, then feel free to contact us on 1300 100 857 or at

Download the ebook

Getting Ready for the Planning Season


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Design Thinking – Trick or Treat?

What is it?

According to Tim Brown, president and CEO of IDEO:

“ Design thinking is a human-centered approach to innovation that draws from the designer’s toolkit to integrate the needs of people, the possibilities of technology, and the requirements for business success.”

Lets Take a Step Back First…

Design as a “way of thinking” in the sciences can be traced to Herbert A. Simon’s 1969 book The Sciences of the Artificial, and in design engineering to Robert McKim’s 1973 book Experiences in Visual Thinking. Peter Rowe’s 1987 book Design Thinking, which described methods and approaches used by architects and urban planners, was a significant early usage of the term in the design research literature.

Rolf Faste expanded on McKim’s work at Stanford University in the 1980s and 1990s, teaching “design thinking as a method of creative action.” Design thinking was adapted for business purposes by Faste’s Stanford colleague David M. Kelley, who founded IDEO in 1991. Over the past 25 years, this practice has become most closely associated with the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design at Stanford University (commonly known as the ‘’).

A Deeper Examination

According to Brown (HBR, 2008), traditionally designers were asked to make an already developed idea more attractive to consumers, however now companies are asking them to create ideas that better meet consumers’ needs and desires. The former role is tactical, and results in limited value creation; the latter is strategic, and leads to dramatic new forms of value.


The approach brings together what is desirable from a human point of view with what is technologically feasible and economically viable (see figure below).


But I’m Not Creative!

Design thinking is a deeply human process that taps into abilities we all have but get overlooked by more conventional problem-solving practices. Design thinking relies on our ability to be intuitive, to recognize patterns, to construct ideas that are emotionally meaningful as well as functional, and to express ourselves through means beyond words or symbols. Nobody wants to run an organization on feeling, intuition, and inspiration, but an over-reliance on the rational and the analytical can be just as risky. Design thinking provides an integrated third way. It also allows people who aren’t trained as designers to use creative tools to address a vast range of challenges.

“Thinking like a designer can transform the way organisations develop products, services, processes, and strategy.” – IDEO

Bringing Together the three ‘I’s’

Design thinking consists of three overlapping spaces: inspirationideation, and implementation. Inspiration is the problem or opportunity that motivates the search for solutions. Ideation is the process of generating, developing, and testing ideas. Implementation is the path that leads from the project stage into people’s lives.

What About Results?

In assessing design thinking, it is clear that it is in fact a proven and repeatable problem solving protocol that any business or profession can employ to achieve big results. By using both analytical tools and generative techniques, organisations can see how their new or existing operations could look in the future — and build road maps for getting there.

There are many examples of big companies that use design thinking in their day-to-day operations, like Apple and Google. However design thinking can and does work for all types of organizations, big and small. The result can be new,  innovative avenues for growth that are grounded in business viability and market desirability.

Where is it Today?

In the September 2015 edition of the Harvard Business Review (Design Thinking Comes of Age), design thinking was described as a set of principles – empathy with users, a discipline of prototyping, and tolerance for failure chief among them. The article went on to say:

“…is the best tool we have for creating those kinds of interactions and developing a responsive, flexible organizational culture.” – HBR, Sept. 2015

The ‘Idea in Brief’ described in the same edition of HBR (below) highlights the critical role design thinking is now playing in many organisations.


So…Trick or Treat?

So based on my research, which included desk research (reading everything I could on the subject) and talking with many people in many industries, I formed the view (in my humble opinion) that design thinking is indeed a treat. It has proven itself to more than just a tool or even a process, but rather a way to manage and lead organisations.

Further Posts

I’ll be writing a series of posts centred around how design thinking can help organisations become more innovative, change ready, and agile.


Based on my conversations and research, I discovered a firm called ExperiencePoint – who in partnership with IDEO – offer innovative, challenging and fun workshops that teach design thinking in a very applied way by way of computer-based simulations that pack several months of ‘running a project or initiative’ in to a day.

The Leadership Sphere is now accredited to conduct these programs – ExperienceChange and ExperienceInnovation – with teams, managers or anyone interested in creating a high performing organisation through innovation, change and growth.

If would like to learn more about:

Work With Us

If you’re interested in learning more about these programs and how we may be able to work with you to achieve outstanding results, then you can call us on 1300 100 857 or email:


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Change Management Needs Change

Ron Ashkenas (Schaffer Consulting) recently blogged on HBR about the state of change management as a discipline, saying that while change management has been in existence for over half a century and despite the huge investment that companies have made in tools, training, and thousands of books (over 83,000 on Amazon), most studies still show a 60-70% failure rate for organizational change projects – a statistic that has stayed constant from the 1970’s to the present.

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