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The “War Room” – When Innovation Intersects Strategy

Slashing innovation and R&D programs during the downturn may leave organizations and the leadership responsible for making decisions to drive performance at a competitive disadvantage and poorly positioned to capitalize upon opportunities as good times return. That’s the key message of a new report from the world’s leading innovation website, which incorporates advice from some of the world’s leading innovation experts. The report provides a valuable set of best practices and strategies that companies can use to help maintain their innovation initiatives during the current global economic downturn. As part of this study, a collection of innovation experts and practitioners were contacted to learn more about the strategies they recommend for maintaining innovation during challenging economic times. Respondents include Damian D. “Skipper” Pitts, business strategist with The Bison Group consulting firm in Philadelphia, PA and some of the best and brightest innovation authors, bloggers, consultants, and practitioners. Pitts was asked to take part in the study demonstrating his firm’s philosophy for intersecting innovation with military and battlefield strategy. This valuable article is available for free by downloading the attachment. A copy of the innovation report is available by sending an email to: Solutions@thebisongroup.com. Additional information on the topic can be seen by visiting his web address: http://www.thebisongroup.com. Questions? Please send an e-mail to dpitts@thebisongroup.com.

There are three ways to react to an organizational crisis. One way is to turn your head to ignore the situation and hope that it will fix itself (best of luck!). Another way is to run around in a panic-induced cost-cutting frenzy that could seriously impair the organization’s long-term growth potential and future state. The third and, of course, smartest method is to recognize the impending threat to both your top and bottom line, and quickly adapt the organization’s strategic outlook and business model to the new environmental conditions. So, the question to answer is this: “what are the decision makers within your organization currently doing? Are they connecting the organization’s strategy with its innovative approach to meet a successful Future Picture?” But what if you, as the leader, are having a difficult struggle to influence others to your point of view and get them to rethinking and reinventing the organization’s strategy forward as circumstances and economics rapidly change. If you are experiencing this challenge, here’s some advice to help your people to win the battlefield of transition.

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I have continued to state enthusiastically over the last few years that, in a world where the pace of change has gone hypercritical, today’s most important race is the race for transformational leadership and organizational renewal. It is the race to change as fast as the environment is changing around you; the race to influence positive organizational behaviors and the race to reinvent your strategy and your business model before they become obsolete. When the economy is in a state in flux, most organizations tend to postpone their professional development efforts and favor cost cutting as the strategy that will preserve the future. This is a grave mistake that will affect the future of the organization in ways that will likely kill the very spirit the leadership teams are hoping to preserve. Their efforts during the challenging times will only prolong the inevitable; ultimate demise once the current crisis is diminished. The lesson here is this; a successful business model will break almost overnight when the waves of the ocean start crashing against the pillars of the pier if leadership does not remain on a continuous, yet discontinuous approach to train the organization’s greatest asset – the people.

So what exactly is Strategic Organizational Renewal (SOR)? Organizations undergo change to enhance their productivity. Changes can be effected in several areas of the organization including culture, strategy, mission, teams and organizational structure. SOR is a framework that defines the role, responsibilities, and performance of human capital across the organization and the planning for it must only take place in the organizations “war room.”  To explain the war room concept, leadership appoints a specific room that will be specified as the location where the organizations strategy is planned. This location must remain under lock and key to ensure the organization’s intellectual capital offers an uncompromised agenda that influences positive outcomes. SOR is the resulting effect that is birthed from the war room. This is only possible when those appointed to the war room each understands the importance of establishing the organization’s “Memorandum of Understanding” (MOU) – the principles to achieve professional mastery.

Establishing Principles to Achieve Personal Mastery – People First, then the Organization

You now have before you the opportunity to take the steps that achieve a high level of professional mastery that achieves organizational growth. It requires the adoption of a “code” as a living, breathing organism to each level of the organization. How can people build awareness, use their experiences to implement a new approach to deportment and develop a strategy, which includes resolve and ethical conduct? This is the task that lies before them.

It sounds like the normal work that we all know and do so well. But be cautioned, it is not! When individuals combine the code with rules and regulations, reporting and accountability to force conformity to standards, they will fail – to oppose change by way of fear is not what is required. Rather, achieving professional mastery is a continuous pursuit of ethical behavior that ultimately manifests into a quest of improving the human spirit; to pursue good, to do the right thing in across the workplace. The code says that who ever should adopt it into his/her life, will possess a level of courage – both physically and emotionally – to execute the necessary task that drives performance to exemplify the highest level of personal and professional conviction.

Why establish a code to live by? The answer is simple; establishing a code or set of principles ensures a level of conduct (code of conduct) that extends the life cycle of the organization. This code of conduct is what I have been referencing – the “Memorandum of Understanding.” As a code of conduct, the MOU provides a resource to assist people in their personal development, growth, guidance, and assessment in the leadership of self. The MOU establishes a strict perspective for instructing successful practices, theories, and beliefs that drives people to achieve a successful future (how you intend to conduct yourself into the future for others to emulate).

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The Memorandum of Understanding is also designed for people to learn broadly; to inspire the service out of generosity for others; and to prepare them to lead systems courageously into the future. A MOU must encourage a perspective to become firmly grounded in the potential for successful growth using the following constructs:

§         The Cardinal Rules

§         The Guiding Precepts

§         The Forms of Disposition 

§         The General Orders

§         The Strategy Forward – Establishing Professional Mastery

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§         The Centers of Gravity

The Cardinal Rules. The Cardinal Rules are a set of guidelines that are invaluable for people and organizations to follow while planning and executing at the strategic or tactical level. These rules, once established by the individual(s) or teams are the rules that govern forward movement and must not change. 

The Guiding Precepts. The Guiding Precepts are designed to inform people what they should and should not be doing in accordance with executing a well designed strategy to win. They also inform of the reasons “why” an action must occur and the repercussions should the individual and/or organization fail at meeting such a task.

The Forms of Disposition. The Forms of Disposition offer a substantive transformation in “thought” about how people achieve a perspective on things in life. It refers to an orchestrated, systemic and revolutionary new world-view resulting in a “change” of societies, cultures, and marketplaces due to behavioral perspective. This is today often called “systems theory,” which sees a web of relationships coalescing to become something greater than the parts. Individuals must be able to look at things from a perspective that they are always changing and evolving into new forms – thinking “out-of-the-box!” We are doomed to a slow death unless radical change occurs in the way we think. Change your way of thinking or die a slow death.

The General Orders. The General Orders are broad, community-wide “need statements,” designed to encompass a variety of related issues in a person’s life or within the life cycle of an organization. These related issues are referred to as “Guiding Objectives,” which are specific items that need to be addressed. The Guiding Strategies (developed to fit current and future circumstance) are the methods identified for addressing the Guiding Objectives, and the Guiding Policies are the specific action steps that are recommended to implement the Guiding Strategies. The General Orders, all eleven of them, offer the ability to explore implications in an open and reflective manner and reinforce each other in providing a coherency and wholeness often lacking in life cycles.

The Strategy Forward – Establishing Professional Mastery. The traditional values are the foundation of the modern day; that was yesterday. Tomorrow, you have an opportunity to create commitment and the needed momentum to establish, publish, share, and teach a different set of life’s code, values, and ethics to journey into the future. After much hard work, you are prepared to develop a strategy to move forward and plan the next steps to target critical successes for winning the Future Picture. What a legacy you will leave when executed with personal and professional bearing for others to follow. This is the way of the future. This is a new chapter!  

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The Centers of Gravity. Just as time changes, so does the internal and external influence in your life and in the life cycle of an organization. The Centers of Gravity are the dynamics within a process that offer the greatest impact on the overall system when change happens. They offer a high level of “value” and return on your energy “investment.” When combined with the concept of parallel deposits (creating energy from various perspectives in a short period of time), the Centers of Gravity make possible the seemingly impossible task of realizing success in changing paradigms. The Centers of Gravity places significant influence on the five established epicenters of any changing system to receive desired effects: Leadership, Processes, Infrastructure, Population, and Action Units.     

In summary, I see the Memorandum of Understanding (once established for the organization), as an opportunity to free up the actions of people as servants, but develop them as encouraged opportunists. It is empowering, it is enabling, and it grounds people in a public way on the fundamentals that they all must share to benefit the organization. There is no ethical malaise. It is important to realize that the new is not a finding from what has been lost. Rather, it is like the journey of the scarecrow in the Wizard of Oz in search of a brain (brain power in this context), the tin man in search of a heart, and the lion in search of courage. People’s value system is intact and in most cases, has been during the journey of personal growth. The MOU simply articulates and reaffirms the core value and behavioral perspective that already underlie their personal and professional appearance and conduct to achieve significant growth. And, all of this is stimulated from the affects of the war room; hence, the influences that lead to significant strategic organizational renewal in the end.

The Memorandum of Understanding is designed to help an organization answer four fundamental questions in order to develop and execute an effective strategy forward plan. These questions are:

§         Where does the organization want to be in the future?

§         What will the organization apply its resources against to achieve the Future Picture?

§         How will the organization apply those resources?

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§         When and under what conditions will the organization exit from their current strategic plan?

It’s the act of dynamically adjusting business models and strategies to the deep changes at work in the external environment. Above all else, this requires innovation and the Memorandum of Understanding definitely offers an innovative perspective to most organizations. In a 2003 article in Harvard Business Review entitled “The Quest for Resilience,” Gary Hamel wrote, “Strategic renewal is creative reconstruction.” It’s all about dissecting the traditional business model and examining it for imaginative ways to reconstruct it to create significant intellectual and emotional thought space for value creation to positively influence the internal and external customers of the organization. This becomes all the more urgent in challenging times, when customer needs and market conditions swiftly and dramatically change.

As in the case of the New Covenant Church of Philadelphia organization, where the senior pastor and Chief Executive Officer Bishop C. Milton Grannum, set aside a specific room on the same floor of the building as his office for directing the organization’s strategic organizational renewal efforts. The organization’s new “war room” had the same critical importance as Winston Churchill’s cabinet war room in London, used to direct military strategy during World War II. Bishop Grannum’s Innovation War Room was a simple, but highly effective device that guided the New Covenant Church of Philadelphia’s appointed leadership team to focus on establishing the strategy forward to reinvent the business model and find bold, new growth opportunities. And, its impact on the organization’s strategies – and, ultimately, its performance – is still being felt today.

Late in the month of November 2008, even in the face of formidable pressures and economic challenges, New Covenant Church of Philadelphia braved the climate and made the decision to bring in yet another trainer, speaker and author Dr. David Ireland from the region only to learn that they were on the right path to extend the organization’s life cycle. The New Covenant Church of Philadelphia continues to be one of the most progressive thinking faith-based organizations in the region. The reason; the CEO fully understands that the time to input integrated talent management to boost the organization’s human capital is when most organizations are calling on “cost cutting” as its strategy in the face of adverse conditions.   

Very few organizations, for-profit and not-for-profit, can claim to have a specific innovation war room somewhere on location. But, what every organization can and should do – right now! – is organize a serious, high-level strategy forum (at least call it the “Innovation War Room” where innovation intersects strategy) to begin exercising transformative thinking and rethinking their business from the customer backward. One of the fundamental questions the leadership team must ask is this: “how do we get the people to buy-into the organization’s new perspective of transformational thinking to experience upward movement in a market where people no longer have financial resources?” And, in a nutshell, it is my perspective that in answering the question, these people should take a look at the slogan of Royal Bank of Scotland: “Less Talk!” “Start engaging the necessary requirements to strategically execute flawlessly to influence the organizations Future Picture.” Innovation powers us out of everything and must be taken seriously as a strategy that wins.

The absolute worst thing any organization can do during the greatest of challenging times is to assume they can go on with “business as usual – and to go along with the status quo.” Instead, they must conduct themselves as great leaders do and get busy working to understand how organizational clients’ (internal and external) priorities may have changed and quickly realign the organizational business model to address their new needs. Reading through a past edition of the Wall Street Journal, most of the advertisements (for luxury watches, exorbitant real estate, and fabulous vacation resorts) looked embarrassingly inappropriate in view of the ongoing national economic crisis that the United States of America has been facing in the past few years and the next years to come.  

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One ad, from NOKIA, stood out in contrast. The headline: “Can anyone provide cost cutting solutions that work now? My answer is YES. Now, there’s an organization that seems to get it. But wait a minute. Didn’t that headline sound more than a little like Barack Obama? NOKIA seems to have understood the lesson from the past month’s U.S. election between President Elect Barack Obama and Senator John McCain: Whether you’re overcoming organizational politics or training people to remain on top in their careers, the winners will be those who recognize that the game has changed, and that “same old stuff” just does not cut it any longer. The world’s processes have changed in ways that the world looks much different than it did a year ago (unemployment is up 47% from 2007 – 2008, home ownership is down 26% and the statistics continue to get grim). The way to make effective decisions require innovative thought and those who miss the opportunity to change will be left behind. The best quote that I teach from fits great here: “If people seek to achieve what they have never had, they MUST be prepared to do what they have never done.”

As a U.S. Marine turned business professional, responsible for leading a dynamic team of specialist into the lion’s belly when the team engages a client who is seeking to overcome business and process challenges, innovation takes precedent as our strategic starting point. Our team defines the importance of the war room, helps to identify its location and then the work begins – in the newly organized Innovation War Room. Without this component added to the mix, there’s no need to start because without it, the potential for failure rises incredibly. As we establish these critical strategy rooms, we teach companies to unpack their business model into five Centers of Gravity: Leadership, Infrastructure, Processes, Populations and Action Units. These five are used to influence positive organizational behavior from the leadership who is responsible for making the decisions to drive momentum: who they serve, what service they provide how they provide it, how they generate revenue and how they differentiate and sustain a strategic advantage.

Then we demonstrate how the Centers of Gravity are used to radically rethink each component using the “Six Lenses of Innovation” – the cutting-edge military-style ideation and methodology, “Battleplan for Preemptive Strike,” outlined in my latest book “Business WARFIGHTING For GREAT Teams.” So, we get the strategy teams to (1) Establish Achievable Aims; challenge deeply-held orthodoxies about who their customers are, how they interact with them, how they define their products or services, how they configure the value chain, and so on; (2) Identify Means; harness emergent trends and discontinuities to substantially change the way things are done in their industry; (3) Ensure Intelligence; leverage core competencies and strategic assets in novel ways to generate new growth; (4) Enforce Security; understand and address deep customer needs that are currently going unmet; (5) Engage the Strike; a deliberate Battleplan used by a strategic and numerically inferior power to head off a situation in which ultimate defeat would be inevitable; and lastly, (6) Flawlessly Execute the Exit Strategy; just as everything has a beginning, all things have an end. Leaders are instructed how-to establish exit points using 32 solution-centric precepts to face fierce challenges in short time frames using the process.

We believe that as organizations begin to reshape their cultures; it’s not hard to recognize how the principles found within the military-style ideation and methodology of the Battleplan for Preemptive Strike apply to the many burning platforms organizations are facing today. Isn’t it time you subjected your own business model to some “creative reconstruction,” aimed at making it better suited to today’s shifting customer needs and new economic realities?

Damian D. “Skipper” Pitts, A United States Marine turned business professional is co-author of Business WARFIGHTING For GREAT Teams (Book Surge Publishing, 2009) and Founder and Chairman of the Bison Group Corporation, a management consulting and training firm. He is the author The Process of LeaderShaping, a cultural transformational program and university course of study and has consulted or presented to numerous leading U.S. and foreign corporations, helping them to realize increased integrated talent management strategies, team building maneuvers, and decision-making skills to compete in today’s highly uncertain business environments. He has also authored four additional publications with his most successful title, The Art of Detachment: Breakthrough Principles to Transformational Leadership (Kendall Hunt, 2007). His works allowed him to be chosen as the technical, military and development specialists by the U.S. film industry to the feature film “Stateside” that released in theaters in May 2004 where he trained and acted onscreen with “A-List” talents Val Kilmer and Jonathan Tucker along with 75 -other actors, teaching them the principles of leadership, team development, and influence for the production. He is now teaching his programs at Temple University.

Published on 12/15/2008