Is Transparency a Recipe for Innovation?

Innovation is a key driver in organizational sustainability, and yes, openness and transparency are a recipe for innovation. But, according to Tapscott and Williams, “when it comes to innovation, competitive advantage and organizational success, ‘openness’ is rarely the first word one would use to describe companies and other societal organizations like government agencies or medical institutions. For many, words like ‘insular,’ ‘bureaucratic,’ ‘hierarchical,’ ‘secretive’ and ‘closed’ come to mind instead.”1 And yet a few months ago, The Tesla Model S just became the world’s first open-source car. Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla Motor Vehicles, shared all the patents on Tesla’s electric car technology, allowing anyone — including competitors — to use them without fear of litigation. Elon wrote in his post “Yesterday, there was a wall of Tesla patents in the lobby of our Palo Alto headquarters. That is no longer the case. They have been removed, in the spirit of the open source movement, for the advancement of electric vehicle technology.”2

In the public sector, terms such as open government, citizen sourcing, and wiki government are also akin to the notion of open innovation and transparency. As Hilgers and Ihl report, “a good example of this approach is the success of the Future Melbourne program, a Wiki and blog-based approach to shaping the future urban landscape of Australia’s second largest city. The program allowed citizens to directly edit and comment on the plans for the future development of the city. It attracted more than 30,000 individuals, who submitted hundreds of comments and suggestions ( Basically, problems concerning design and creativity, future strategy and local culture, and even questions of management and service innovation can be broadcasted on such web-platforms.”3 The authors suggest that there are three dimensions to applying the concept of open innovation to the public sector: citizen ideation and innovation (tapping knowledge and creativity), collaborative administration (user generated new tasks and processes), and collaborative democracy (improve public participation in the policy process).

Download PDF: Is Transparency a Recipe for Innovation?

Strategic Grievance Management in Today’s Unionized Environment

The word “strategic” gets thrown around pretty loosely these days – it’s one of those business buzz words meant to instill confidence that we’ve thought this through and it’s all under control: trust us, we’ve got a strategic plan!

But there’s more to it than just calling something “strategic”.  The term “strategic” implies there is a thoughtful, organized strategy guiding your efforts; that a particular issue has been viewed in the broader context and your decision to proceed is based on the impacts that decision will have across the organization. More so than any other time in history, employers in today’s unionized workplaces need to view their union-management relationships, and their dispute resolution efforts, through a holistic, strategic lens. We can no longer afford to deal with issues and complaints in isolation. As bargaining agents become more sophisticated in using dispute mechanisms to further their corporate agendas, so too must employers.

There are three key elements to being strategic about conflict management:

  • Know where you want to be 3, 5 and even 10 years out in terms of your relationship with your bargaining agent partners;
  • Develop dispute resolution mechanisms and goals that help get you there; and,
  • Keep your eye on the end game – don’t be distracted along the way.

Analyze your response to each conflict or grievance in light of your future goals, and ask yourself the following questions:

  • What does this grievance tell us about the state of our relationship(s) at the local level?
  • Is the grievance really just an individual dispute, or does it represent a matter of principle to either party?
  • How is this grievance connected to other issues or disputes in the workplace?
  • Will settling (or pursuing) this grievance get us closer to (or divert us from) our longer term goals?
  • Might our response to this grievance jeopardize our relationship with the union?
  • Can we resolve the grievance in a way that results in an incremental change that will ultimately get us where we want to be?
  • Is this the right fact situation on which to arbitrate the issue – should we settle this and look for a more favourable set of facts to put before an arbitrator?
  • Could settling this grievance in the union’s favour represent an opportunity to trade off for something that is more important to the employer?
  • Rather than pursuing arbitration on this grievance, would we be better served by dealing with the underlying issue through dialogue with the union, whether through regular/standing union-management committees, or more formal mediation processes?

As valued strategic partners, labour relations professionals must be accountable for assisting clients to manage relationships with their unions. So make sure you’ve considered all the implications of a decision to settle, mediate or arbitrate – there’s just no sense settling a grievance if all it does is result in less clarity and further conflict. Look at every conflict as a potential opportunity to improve the relationship between the parties, or provide clarity to the principles and rules that govern the workplace. Now that’s strategic!

About the Author

Lori Aselstine

Lori Aselstine has over 33 years of experience with the Government of Ontario, most of which was in the human resources (HR) field. She held positions such as director of Ontario Public Service labour relations, director of Broader Public Sector labour relations and director of strategic human resources business. During her time with the Ontario Public Service, Lori established a reputation as a skilled relationship-builder and problem-solver. She retired in 2014 to work full-time on her organic farm.

The Way Forward in Employment Relations

The idea of co-operation seems to be one that exists only in children’s books with no real place in the business world. However, to survive in the times that we live in, the more successful organizations, and indeed nations, are embracing the values of co-operation. In my thesis, “Social Dialogue: The Way Forward in Employment Relations”, I studied a financial co-operative, whose founding principles are based on co-operation. The study sought to determine the relevance of utilizing the tools of co-operation such as social dialogue in a dynamic setting. The other variables under consideration were the existence of a very militant trade union as the employees’ representative, and environmental factors which were clamoring for a solid response from the organization to determine whether or not it would continue to exist. All of this in a developing country in the sunny Caribbean, with an economy that is dependent on the fickle fortunes of oil and gas.

Case Study Background

The organization at the centre of the study is over sixty years old and has a long history of success through turbulent times and has outlived many more powerful predecessors. Over the years, while other financial co-operatives have developed a more corporate business model, this Credit Union has held strong to the Co-operative Principles. The Credit Union is now challenged by the need to comply with proposed legislation for the governance and supervision of Credit Unions which would require some significant changes to the way that the Credit Union operates. Additionally, fierce competition from other organizations in the financial services sector forces the Credit Union to re-examine its market positioning and determine strategies to ensure its survival. Ultimately, the Credit Union must achieve organizational effectiveness through stakeholder buy-in and participation in order to remain successful.

Download PDF: The Way Forward in Employment Relations

York Region Strategic Plan: Putting Theory into Practice

When I was tasked with leading the development of York Region’s 2011 to 2015 Strategic Plan, I sought out the Queen’s Industrial Relations Centre’s (IRC) Essentials of Organizational Strategy program. While I had completed components of organizational strategy process in the past – namely, organizational assessment and environmental scanning – I had no experience in the entire process and was interested to have some sense of theory and practice to rely on, as I undertook this project on behalf of the organization, Regional Council, and the residents of York Region. York Region is a confederation of nine municipalities, each having their own strategic plan. It was extremely important that the Region’s strategic plan aligned with our local municipalities; therefore, confidence in a thorough planning process was essential.

This article describes my experience with the IRC’s Organizational Strategy programming and the ways in which the theoretical and practical tools acquired in the programming helped to guide the development of York Region’s 2011 to 2015 Strategic Plan. I am hoping that my experience with formulating a strategic plan, with direction from the IRC’s programming, and Carol Beatty’s expertise, may prove to be a resource for other practitioners embarking on similar work. I begin by describing the four phases that guided the development of the Region’s strategic plan. Then, I describe some of the obstacles and challenges we encountered and my key learning. I close with a commentary on the IRC’s programming.

Four-Phase Development of the York Region’s 2011-2015 Strategic Plan

As part of my role in the Region’s 2011 to 2015 strategic plan, I led the business case for the plan. Successful approval of the plan was obtained from our Senior Management Team in late 2010, including the process and timelines to develop and complete the plan. The process approved by Senior Management included four-phases: Data Gathering, Strategic Direction Setting, Activity Planning, and Monitoring and Reporting.

Our first outing on a strategic plan was in 2009, with a two-year interim plan. That plan was strictly administrative in nature and used internally by staff to focus their performance planning to stay in line with our Council’s priorities. It was termed an “Administrative Plan” and served to incorporate certain fundamentals, such as sustainability, into our everyday language and practice across the organization, and began the collaboration necessary to tackle cross-cutting issues. We considered it a strong foundation for the 2011 to 2015 plan, a test for organizational readiness for this type of planning. Initially, the 2011 to 2015 plan was again to be inward-facing, but as the process gained momentum, that changed and we developed a fulsome, Council-engaged, and endorsed plan. I now describe the four-phase development of the strategic plan.

Phase I: Data Gathering

Our development phase included external and internal scanning. We looked at what was happening around and within the Region, how the findings might affect us positively and negatively over the coming years, and where we should concentrate our efforts. From the scans and Council feedback, we were able to identify quite clearly the areas of priority for the plan’s four-year timeframe. I am not sure if future years will be as easy to determine, but the scans this term were consistent across the board, and showed early internal and external alignment. Analysis from the scanning process set out six key areas that are in our final plan today; polished up and well-defined, they remain true to the initial analysis. This phase launched in February 2011 and was completed in mid-June 2011.

Phase II: Strategic Direction

Our Strategic Direction phase was settled fairly quickly with the addition of a seventh priority targeting Regional staff – a direct response to the findings of the internal organizational assessment in which staff voluntarily participated. We presented the findings to the Steering Committee at the end of June 2011 and targeted mid-July to bring the draft priority areas and objectives to Senior Management Team for their input. It was at this meeting that work began for the Activity Planning phase.

Phase III: Activity Planning

We entered the Activity Planning phase as a means of developing our “Indicators of Success” – how we intended to measure progress in each of the strategic areas. We assessed each of the strategic priority areas and determined what needed to take place in order to make progress. This helped to not only determine the actions required, but to also identify the “hubs” of activities that supported more than one area. Those “hubs” were looked at closely and, in turn, helped further focus and polish the strategic priority areas. From there, the Senior Management Team ratified the indicators of success they were willing to be measured against. By end of August 2011, we had a fully developed plan – structured, defined, and accountable; that solidly responded to the results of the environmental scanning done at the beginning of the process. The plan was approved by Regional Council on October 20, 2011.

Phase IV: Monitoring and Reporting

Upon endorsing the plan, Council also approved an annual reporting cycle. Each June, Council will receive a progress report. During these meetings, we will report on the plan’s progress and outlook, including any required amendments to the plan. We built the plan as a living document, so our monitoring and reporting process allows for adjustments, as required. Quarterly strategy review sessions have been set up with the Senior Management Team to monitor the in-year activities to ensure progress.

Obstacles and Challenges

The obstacles were minimal in developing this strategic plan. The benefit of having stuck our toe in the water in 2009 on a strategic plan helped. We also did a year’s worth of work with our Leaders group in 2010 that let us know that we had the organizational readiness for this type of collaborative planning process. Our Chief Administrative Officer encouraged us to build a wave of interest behind us to have the desired effect. Throughout 2010, we explored the concept of “integrated planning and budgeting” using the 4D process facilitated by Brenda Barker Scott. Together, we determined the three criteria necessary for us to be successful in integrated planning and budgeting: having strategic direction set in advance of the budget process (as opposed to during); having measures and targets to know where we’re going and whether we’re making progress; and, having decision-making ability along all lines of the organization. These criteria mesh completely with the concept and practice of strategic planning. With the support of the larger senior management group behind us, we moved forward to incorporate strategic planning into our organization, fitting it between our long-range planning (our draft vision, Vision2051, spans forty years) and our annual department and operational planning and budgeting.

While there were not, as noted, many obstacles to developing the strategic plan, some challenges did, however, arise regarding terminology. The Region has an established and award-winning reputation for long-range planning. Initially, it was a challenge to differentiate and include the long-range vision in the short-term plan. Many municipalities function with twenty to forty year plans, not unlike the Region. Strategic planning can, and does, cover a wide timeframe; a three to five year plan is included in the broader definition of strategic planning. We discovered the two can live in harmony. We chose to look at the desired state proposed in our long-range plan, and use it to help determine the course of action for this term of Council that would take us closer to that vision. We asked ourselves some fundamental questions: Are we doing today what we need to do to get there? What is happening today that is keeping us from getting there? What can, and should, we do about it? Thus, the initial challenge was quickly turned into a benefit, as it provided us the “big picture” to map the current day trends and issues and therefore determine a short-term focus.

Personal Learning

My first key learning point was the deeper understanding that the Region is a conglomerate. We have lines of business that most people wouldn’t put together: transit and public health, nurses and inspections, sewers and road systems, early childhood intervention and immigrant settlement programs, just to name a few. I learned a lot about the businesses we’re in.

As an organization, however, we learned that we need to work together on these very complex issues. We did an exercise with the Steering Committee that had them drawing lines of interrelation between the priority areas. Each of the seven priority areas is strongly linked to at least one of the other priority areas. There is a tight weave between all of the areas, and therefore a tight weave in how we will respond to the issues. The interplay between our areas is actually where our work lies. What had been typically been viewed as disparate lines of business, is now seen from an “interdisciplinary” approach to solve problems. This approach is new and refreshing for the Region, a powerful outcome of the strategic planning process.

My second key learning point is that the implementation of the plan is probably the trickiest part. The inner workings of the organization are changing and adapting to the new plan, the new way of thinking and working together. Our systems that have traditionally been separate and apart from one another are now moving and fusing at the right points. Using the facilitative and supportive nature of our Council, we’ve aligned the corporation with the goals expressed by our Regional Chair and Council. This alignment is captured through the Senior Management annual goals process, and that is now cascading down and across the organization. We’ve amended our performance management system to include mention and communication of the plan as a means of ensuring linkages are made between all levels of the organization in delivering on the priorities of our Council.

We are using, for the first time, a digital dashboard to house and track the plan. The “dash” requires a great deal of front-end work to delineate the milestones and load the dashboard so that we can accurately account for our progress on the plan and intervene on issues in a timely manner. We continue to have strong buy-in across the organization, and are spending the majority of our time in this phase, as we touch enshrined systems and processes, and create together the new way of working. A great deal of change management principles and practices are being employed, along with a high degree of face-to-face communications and assistance. Our next steps are to complete the data call for the dashboard to monitor 2012 actions. We are also preparing to deliver our first progress report to Council in June 2012.

Advice/Guidance for Practitioners

Based on my experience with developing the York Region’s strategic plan, I offer the following advice to any individuals in a similar role:

  • Strategic planning is a process. Everyone wants to see their issues highlighted and profiled; a strategic plan doesn’t work that way. A strategic plan tells you the areas that require dedicated and unwavering focus toward a particular end. It can be a challenge not to include everything in the plan. The organizational strategy process is not meant to focus on everything, but rather reveal where departments should put their focus.
  • Be inclusive and build support. Not every organization can take the time we did to determine organizational readiness; however, I strongly suggest having some investigation of this area before you embark on the process. And from there, choose your degree of collaboration. By the time we had the final plan before Council for approval, well over 800 staff had participated in one way or other in the development of the plan. We are an organization of approximately 2,800. That degree of staff participation gave both Senior Management and Council a high degree of confidence in what was in the plan and our ability to execute on the plan.

The IRC Experience

Prior to joining the IRC’s Essentials of Organizational Strategy program, I really didn’t know what to expect from the course; my learning objectives were fairly wide open. I was hoping for either theory or practice that I could take back and apply to the project. As well, I was looking for a bit of validation of what I had been doing thus far. By the time I came to the course, I was already three months into the project and was quite nervous that I might have to backtrack considerably.

The tools, resources, and learning that I took away from the IRC’s Essentials of Organizational Strategy program contributed significantly to the development of our plan. For example, the Five Question Process taught in the course is the backbone of our plan. When you can provide simplicity to the process, people will better engage. There are basic questions that need to be answered when developing a strategic plan: What’s happening around us? What business are we in and how are we doing? What is the deliberate path we need to take? How will we get there? How will we know we’ve arrived? Answering these questions will provide you with a solid, executable strategic plan. There were a couple of Steering Committee meetings where we had to remind the group that our role was to work the process, to ask the questions, whether people liked the answers or not. The book provided in the course, The Strategy Wall, was a wonderful resource. In general, the course and its takeaways ensured we left no stone unturned in the development of the plan, such as industry and customer focus. All the learning provided tremendous value and insight. I used the templates provided in the course as the practical means of executing the process.

Our plan also benefited from the program theory. The underlying purpose of a strategic plan is to differentiate yourself in some way from others like you and to leverage that difference to increase your value. By learning and understanding the concept of “value proposition” through the academic foundation portion of the course and the program’s simulation exercise, we were able to answer that fundamental question for our organization. We now have a better understanding of our value proposition, and our customer focus. York Region is one of many municipalities mandated by the province to absorb large amounts of population growth over the next ten, fifteen, twenty years. To grow communities, you have to build and that requires relying on third-party deliverers to get the infrastructure and services in place, as well as attracting businesses and industries to employ the population and contribute to the overall economic vitality of the Region. These growth municipalities are vying for many of the same contractors, services, businesses, and industries. It is good to understand those you are contending with, determine what sets you apart, and give those companies and investors confidence that they are doing business with a focused and aligned partner. All of this essential information is baked right into our plan.

The entire IRC program was relevant to me and our organization. The timing couldn’t have been better – right in the middle of developing the plan. The theory and the practical exercises both served their purpose, and having the real-life project on my hands helped transfer the learning. The simple and highly-relatable way in which the course is designed and taught helped me, and subsequently York Region, tremendously. In a time where government is coming further under the microscope to find and prove efficiencies and effectiveness, a strategic plan, its process and outcome, more than responds to that analysis, internally and externally. Our strategic plan is a commitment from our Council to our residents that we are doing the right things, at the right time.

Learning from the IRC’s programming will continue to be applicable and a solid resource for my work. For example, I will once again turn to The Strategy Wall in 2014, when we ramp up to develop the 2015 to 2019 strategic plan for the Region.

In closing, I thank you for the opportunity for me to relay my experience in developing York Region’s strategic plan. The IRC’s program helped York Region tremendously. The Five Question Process kept my team focused as we dealt with competing interests and issues. Understanding strategic planning as a process, and I think having learned this from a qualified and well-regarded institution’s programming, enabled the development team to sit in the process and accept whatever results were coming our way.

To read York Region’s 2011 to 2015 Strategic Plan and learn more about The Regional Municipality of York, please visit For more information regarding organizational strategy, please consult Carol Beatty’s (2011) article, Demystifying Organizational Strategy.

About the Author

Heather Beairsto

Heather Beairsto is the Program Manager of Corporate Initiatives in the Office of the Chief Administrative Officer at the Regional Municipality of York in Newmarket, Ontario. Her main portfolio is strategic planning. She is responsible for leading the development, implementation, monitoring, and reporting of the strategic plan for the Region. She is also responsible for the Leaders program – an annual program that addresses leadership issues for approximately 100 of the Region’s senior-level staff. In addition to that work, Heather takes on special projects that deal with organizational performance and effectiveness. Heather has served with York Region since May 2005, after nearly seven years with the Ontario Public Service.

Mastering Organizational Design with the IRC

About seven years ago, while working in our human resources branch, my manager recommended that I take a couple of the Queen’s Industrial Relations Centre (IRC) Organization Development (OD) certificate courses. Thus began a journey, which this year, culminated in me being awarded a Queen’s IRC Master Practitioner in Applied Organizational Development certificate and standing as a Master OD Practitioner. The Queen’s IRC’s programming has been invaluable to my work, and I want to take this opportunity to share my perspective on the value of the IRC’s programming and the ease with which the tools, resources, and learning can be applied to the workplace.

Over the past seven years, I have moved out of the HR field and into various management positions that allowed me to utilize the knowledge acquired in the IRC’s programming and hone my skills around strategic business planning and organizational design. The knowledge that I gained through the IRC’s OD programs enabled me to apply specific approaches and processes to our business challenges. In particular, when working in a branch that was broadening the scope of its business, I was able to lead the management team through a process to build a branch vision and to develop a three-year strategic business plan that included key priorities, outcomes, and specific areas on which to focus. Using the collaborative process I learned in the IRC’s programming, our management team reached consensus on the future direction of the branch; a considerable ‘giant step’ forward from our previous path.

In that branch, I also led a team focused on achieving certification under the Excellence Canada (formerly National Quality Institute) Progressive Excellence Program. Following a four-step program, we achieved Level 3 Quality certification and a Canada Awards of Excellence Bronze certificate as a quality organization. Again, the organizational effectiveness and team building skills obtained in the IRC’s programming contributed to my ability to facilitate our success.

In order to acquire standing as a Queen’s IRC Master OD Practitioner, I had to complete a practicum that employed the Action Learning Research Consulting Process, a component of the IRC’s programming. Due to the change in vision, our branch now needed to reconsider our structure in order to align ourselves to better deliver our services. I relied on the four-step design process—Define, Discover, Design, Deliver—a tool that I acquired in the IRC’s OD programming to lead a transition team of senior and frontline managers to a decision about how we needed to be organized. This was the second time that I was able to utilize this process within our organization and both times the resulting frontline manager buy-in and agreement on direction and structure was impressive.

Recently, I have been able compare these results to another significant internal ‘transformation’. This time, little thought was given to change management during the planning phase and there was minimal or no collaboration with senior and frontline managers. In the end, the new organizational design is not a bad one, but the process to get there has been long and arduous, with significant loss of leadership credibility and trust. Decision makers must ask themselves if the time saved by not consulting upfront with those impacted is worth the loss of many long-term staff and the effort it will take to re-engage those that remain.

Personally, what I have learned through these experiences is the importance of asking the right questions—because we cannot ever know all of the answers—and the importance of having a specific framework, based on consultation and collaboration, to follow when undertaking these major initiatives.

Patricia Allen is Group Manager, Strategic Partnerships & Program Policy Division for the Ministry of Finance. She was recently awarded a Queen’s IRC Master Practitioner in Applied Organizational Development certificate and standing as a Master OD Practitioner.

Demystifying Organizational Strategy

“Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.”

— Albert Einstein

People management professionals are often exhorted to become more knowledgeable about business strategy but many are discouraged by the jargon and the apparent complexity of the field. While it is true that a radical rethink of your organization’s strategy involves creativity and specialized skills, most regular strategic planning exercises do not require that level of sophistication. In this article, I will follow Einstein’s advice and aim to demystify the organizational strategy process by removing the jargon and boiling it down to five simple questions. Answer these questions and you will be able to meet the challenges of most strategic planning situations.

Your strategic planning group should set aside uninterrupted time to discuss and come to consensus on these simple questions:

  1. What business are we in and how are we doing now?
  2. What’s happening around us? Are there any serious dangers in staying where we are – i.e. sticking with the same business and strategy?
  3. If so, is there a better place for us to be?
  4. How do we get there?
  5. How will we know we have arrived?

Question 1: What business are we in and how are we doing now?

What business are we in? This question appears basic but your group may be surprised at how little agreement exists initially about your business definition. It is as though we live in the “same, different” organization. Moreover, if there are new participants at the table or if you have not had this discussion in some time, agreement on what business you are in is essential before proceeding further.

Start with your mission statement unless it is too lofty or theoretical. Or start by discussing the following sub-questions.

  1. What do we do?
  2. For whom?
  3. Where?
  4. How?
  5. What are the key success factors of this business? (What do we have to do extremely well to satisfy clients and succeed over the long term?

For example, at a recent strategic retreat of the Board of Directors of a Canadian not-for-profit organization, participants decided their business definition was:

We examine/evaluate the evidence on medical equipment and drugs to provide credible advice to decision-makers at various levels of Canadian health care. Guided by the priorities of these decision-makers, our reports, recommendations and tools are used to choose the right drugs and technologies and are consulted by health funders, providers, institutions and patients.

In order to deliver on this business definition, the retreat participants decided the following key success factors were critical: Trusted/Credible; Relevant/Useable; Independent; Timely; and Affordable.

How are we doing? There are many approaches to assessing organizational health. The simplest and fastest way is to take the key success factors that you have agreed upon and review how well the organization is delivering on each of them. If you are in a high-tech business, for example, one of the key success factors might be getting new products to market before the competition. If that’s the case, you need to measure how fast your organization invents, produces, and markets its new products compared to others in the industry. Each business will have different key success factors and so this assessment is based on having a thorough understanding of your own.

Another approach to organizational assessment is the Balanced Scorecard, which uses a number of categories to rate organizational health (these vary depending on the industry and sector). Or you could use industry or sector specific benchmarks that the leadership group considers relevant comparators. For example, in one municipality, benchmarks were established using the National Quality Institute’s Public Sector Criteria for excellence.

Finally a more thorough approach is to conduct an organizational audit. An audit involves a comprehensive review of all important operational and strategic areas of the organization. It can be conducted through questionnaires or interviews with stakeholders or undertaken by the leadership group. The categories for review can include: organizational structure, culture, leadership, managerial climate, human resources, communications, technology, financial, capital and other resources, market share and customers, intellectual capital, relationships, and key result areas.

The approach you use will depend on the time available and the comprehensiveness desired. If necessary a consultant can be hired to provide an objective and non-threatening way to obtain input from stakeholders, especially staff members.

Question 2: What’s happening around us? Are there any serious dangers in sticking with the same business and strategy?

A scan of the relevant environment, both internal and external, helps to identify whether there are serious dangers to the organization in staying where we are – i.e. sticking with the same business and the same strategy. What are the driving forces affecting the organization now and in the near future? If your group does not take them into account, flaws in thinking and logic can too easily sabotage the quality and implementation of the strategic plan. If this scan is considered too technical or time-consuming for internal members to undertake, a consultant can be hired to assist.

Figure One is a helpful pictorial representation of the most common strategic change drivers that you may want to consider in this part of your strategic planning process. Some may not be relevant to your organization; likewise some may be missing, depending on your industry and sector. Before committing a lot of time scanning widely, establish which areas you will pay most attention to. But beware, you may be blindsided by developments seemingly coming from nowhere you if your scan is too narrow.

After your group has decided on the most relevant areas to scan, answer the following questions:

  1. What are the major events, developments, and trends happening in this part of our environment that will have an impact on our organization? Which are most critical for us to deal with in the near future?
  2. What are the characteristics of our industry (commodity or high value? growing or declining? diversifying or consolidating?). Are these characteristics shifting? If so, what are the implications?

The answers to questions about the industry/sector and general environment will likely involve research. The choice of how to gather information for this assessment is a key one. If you measure the wrong things, you will miss opportunities and may be blindsided by problems that seem to come out of nowhere. Good sources of information can come from:

  • Commissioning formal reports
  • Researching via press, web, or other published data
  • Chartering a team/task force to do the research and produce a report
  • Engaging industry associations
  • Meeting with the employees who liaise directly with a specific group of interest
  • Inviting an expert or representative of the relevant industry group to speak at summits or meetings
  • Holding a regular environmental scan meeting
  • Putting yourself in the shoes of a specific group (such as customers or competitors) and imagining their responses to the questions
  • Doing a mind map with a cross-section of members of your organization to tap into their collective knowledge

After you have completed your scan, a SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) matrix can be used as a tool to summarize your deliberations (see Figure Two below).

Finally your group should consider the second and most important part of our simple question. Namely, are there serious dangers in staying where we are and sticking with the same strategy? Is the business you are currently in a viable one in light of what’s happening in the environment? Is there a good fit between the present strategy and the environment? A changing environment might mean that your present business model and strategy are becoming problematic.

Figure One: SWOT Matrix

Strengths Weaknesses
Opportunities Threats

Question 3: Is there a better place for us to be?

If you have concluded that you are in some danger or that there is a wonderful opportunity, either now or in the near future, and that a change in strategy is desirable, the next step is to agree upon changes in strategic direction. Do you need to make a radical change in the way you complete? Or do you need to modify our value proposition – a smaller change in direction? Do you want to change your mix of services/products/markets served in order to grow or at least stop decline? Or does your current strategy merely need tweaking?

This part of the strategic planning process is probably the most difficult and the one that requires the most creativity. Given all you know about our internal capabilities and challenges from the organizational assessment and all you know about the external environment right now, how can you create a sustainable advantage for your organization?

There are several approaches and tools that can help your group think through this part of the strategic plan, depending on how radical the change in strategic direction must be. The most radical is a change in generic strategy, or the way in which you compete for the loyalty of your customer/clients. Can you create more value by changing some aspects of our generic strategy? The generic strategies are :

  1. Winning through cost:
  2. Winning through great products or services:
  3. Winning through customer intimacy:
  4. Winning through choosing a profitable niche.

On the other hand, if you have a viable business model but find that your growth has stagnated, consider growing the business by choosing one of four following strategic changes:

  1. Same products/services, same markets. This strategy involves increasing our market share by taking business away from our competitors.
  2. Different products/services, same markets. This strategy involves creating new products or services adjacent to those we currently offer and marketing them to our current customers.
  3. Same products/services, different markets. This strategy involves entering new markets (for example, crossing international borders) with the same product/service mix.
  4. Different products/services, different markets. This strategy involves entering new markets with new products/services both at the same time.
  5. It should be noted that these strategies are listed in order of risk from least to most. Few organizations have been able to successfully implement the fourth strategic direction.

A third possibility, and one of the simplest strategic changes to make, is a decision to retrench to the core of the organization. This strategy is most appropriate if you have taken on too many products/services or have responded in an ad hoc manner to opportunities that have arisen. It is usually a problem for smaller or younger organizations that have struggled to survive and grow, although this situation can occur in huge conglomerates that have tried to manage a number of unrelated businesses. This strategic refocus involves deciding on which activities are both profitable and essential to the identity of the organization and ceasing to engage in those that do not meet these two tests.

After your group has come to consensus, summarize the strategic direction chosen as follows:

Our Strategic Direction:

In the next 3 years, we will focus on____________________________________________________________

in order to ______________________________________________________________

Our Strategic Goals:

The following are the stretch goals to reach this Strategic Direction. (No more than five)

Our Strategic Vision:

What will our organization look like when we achieve our Strategic Goals?

Question 4: How do we get there?

Having a vision and goals at a high level is good, but you will not arrive at the destination without more detailed planning. You must translate the broad strategic goals into specific objectives and action plans to be carried out in the near term. Without these, the entire strategic planning effort can turn into a mere theoretical exercise. The goals should be detailed into clear objectives that can be measured, assessed, and revised if necessary. The objectives are then assembled into action plans that include specific activities that must be undertaken, measurements that will be made, deadlines, persons responsible for carrying out the activities, and follow up that will be undertaken. Each of the strategic goals can be summarized by using the template offered in Figure Three (note that a separate template will be necessary for each goal).

After the goals have been detailed into objectives, each of the objectives should be detailed into action plans that specify key actions required to reach the objective, each with its own deadline, responsibility, resources required, and measures of achievement. Once this is accomplished, a formal written ‘strategic plan’ should summarize the decisions of the entire strategic planning process.

Figure Three: Turning Goals into Objectives

Strategic Goal 1:

Objectives Time Horizons for Completion Lead person or group responsible for completion
1. 2. Etc. Year 1:


Year 2:


Year 3:


Question 5: How will we know we have arrived?

A specific follow-up system should be developed to ensure that the plans will actually be fulfilled instead of being put on a shelf to gather dust. Devices such as a monthly executive review, reports due, and yearly strategic planning updates should be decided by your group before you finish your plan. Measures of progress and success should be planned and rigorously taken. Monitor progress regularly, with strategies revised and annual objectives developed yearly thereafter, based on the progress made and obstacles encountered.

Final Thoughts

These five simple questions can guide your organization through strategic planning in most situations. Remember, implementers often complain that senior managers have a short attention span and do not continue their interest and support throughout the implementation phase. The statistics on successful implementation of new strategies are not encouraging, so don’t assume your tasks are completed after the plan has been written and communicated. The unwavering support of your strategic planning group and senior executives will be necessary to see it through to a successful outcome.


Treacy & Wiersema, The Discipline of Market Leaders, 2000

Michael Porter, The Five Forces that shape Strategy, Harvard Business Review, January 2008

Non-cash Incentives: How Effective Are They in Canadian Organizations?

The current operating environment, characterized by mandates to control costs, challenges organizations to find innovative ways to reward their employees. Motivational and compensation research indicates that money is not an employee’s primary motivation to work; firms, therefore, are turning to the practice of non-cash incentives such as incentive travel. This research examines the effectiveness of incentive travel in a Canadian context. It includes an assessment of the advantages and disadvantages of incentive travel from three perspectives: corporate (management/meeting planner), employee, and industry. As well, it considers incentive travel and motivation, evaluates a program at Company X, and discusses practical implications, providing advice on how to design a motivating program.

Download PDF: Non-cash Incentives: How Effective Are They in Canadian Organizations?

The Magic of Diagnosis – Part 1

At its core, facilitating organizational change is about energizing the right people to design and execute smart strategies. As sociologist Philip Selznik says: “Strategies take on value only as committed people infuse them with energy.” Read on for part one of an article that details how diagnosis lights that flame.

A few years ago, under the direction of a new plant manager, the HR manager of a huge Canadian company approached us to complete a whole systems operational assessment and develop a set of recommendations for improvement. We advised an alternative approach, suggesting that I would facilitate the work of a steering team who would guide this critical work and create the action plan. While the HR manager was intrigued with the approach, she declined, saying she had no time, that the new plant manager wanted the recommendations yesterday. Sound familiar?

We gave her the names of several consulting firms and the assessment was duly completed. Two years later she called us back and informed us that thousands of dollars later and with the consulting report in their hands, none of the recommendations had been implemented. I asked why, and her answer confirmed a deep truth about enabling change; in essence she said that because the senior managers and critical others were not involved with the diagnosis, they did not support or agree with their commendations. They had a strategy with no resources committed to making it happen.

We think experts are a very valuable source of information and encourage change teams to hear from different experts to educate, inform, and stretch their thinking. But what’s important is that they integrate information with their own. No outside expert can possibly know what is right for an organization.

Why do we as change leaders always want to jump past diagnosis and move right into strategy? Could it be that, as leaders, we are squeamishly uncomfortable with uncertainty and ambiguity? We need to rush to action, any action, because action means leadership? Or is that we simply do not appreciate that change is about learning, and if the right people are not involved in a discovery process that enables them to learn together, they will not be ready to facilitate collective actions?

Rushing into action has two main downsides. One is the high likelihood of an exercise in futility, just like the example described above. If we get our diagnosis wrong, by default our plan will solve the wrong issue. Let’s say for example, that the problem your team is confronting is that your organization’s strategy is not being operationalized. You might jump to the conclusion that your leaders are the problem; they aren’t competent enough to do what it takes. But when you make assumptions like this, you are likely to find yourself having déjà vu: no matter how often you coach or replace the offenders, the problem will recur again and again if you’re addressing the wrong cause.

The other problem with plunging reactively into action is that it shuts things down before the creativity that is in the system can be revealed. This may seem counterintuitive but by spending time in understanding the why behind issues, the what and how become much clearer. Quite simply, the more you diagnose and expand your perception of what is, the more you expand the possibilities for action.

Take the case of a team we worked with that was in the exploratory, diagnostic stage of an organizational design effort. The steering team members couldn’t stand the uncertainty of not knowing the answer, and felt the need to create something. So they sat down one evening and designed their organization based on what they knew so far.

Months later, we compared their early attempt to the one created after a proper diagnosis. It was very instructive. The first exercise yielded something along the lines of what had existed and wasn’t working. The next iteration, however, was a total departure from the traditional hierarchical structure, based on networks and relationships – just what the organization needed.

This is a perfect illustration of our need to hold on tight to structures and answers and get there quickly – and of how this limit sour ability to allow creative solutions to arise from a deep sense of purpose.

In contrast, taking time in the diagnosis phase lets you uncover what is going on – and that knowledge yields both the best solutions, and just as important, the energy for change. Deep diagnosis ensures that people will be committed to solving big issues and doing whatever it takes to make change happen. Having a solid appreciation and understanding of what is naturally enables people to make good decisions about what can be.

To read Part 2 of this article click here

Incentive Pay, Teams and Earnings: Evidence from Toronto Firms

The use of ‘high-performance’ workplace practices and incentive pay plans have received considerable attention from researchers. Little is known, however, about human resource practices in non-manufacturing and non-case study settings. Moreover, for incentive pay, few studies have actually observed compensation contracts. This paper examines the relationship between several workplace practices and earnings using unique employee-employer linked personnel data where the explicit nature of compensation contracts is observed.

Executive Summary

The use of ‘high-performance’ workplace practices and incentive pay plans have received considerable attention from researchers. However, little is known about human resource practices in non-manufacturing and non-case study settings. Moreover, for incentive pay, few studies have actually observed compensation contracts. This paper examines the relationship between several workplace practices and earnings using unique employee-employer linked personnel data where the explicit nature of compensation contracts is observed. The data covers 415 establishments from the Greater Toronto Area and is quite representative along several dimensions including industry, total revenues, and employee size. A key advantage of the data is that information on human resource management (HRM) practices is available at seven different levels of the firm hierarchy including: top executives, lower executives, middle management/supervisory professionals, information technology managers, non-management/non-supervisory professionals, IT staff, and clerical/support staff. The focus of the paper is on the interaction between teams and team/group-based incentive pay plans. In particular, I test whether teams are more effective — via employees earning higher salaries — when backed up with incentive pay that uses group or team based performance measures. The key findings are as follows: 1) when within-firm variation in HRM practices is used for identification, employees who work in teams earn a substantial premium, which increases further when a group/team-based incentive pay plan is applied; and 2) most cross-sectional earnings premiums associated with high-performance workplace practices (including annual bonus plans) disappear when within-firm variation is used for identification.

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High Performance Teams in Primary Care: The Basis of Interdisciplinary Collaborative Care

One of the fundamental challenges of Primary Health Care Reform is the establishment of collaborative health care teams to meet the needs of patients and society in a timely and effective manner. The characteristics of effective primary care team function have not been well studied. Millward and Ramsay (1998) used the Cognitive Motivational Model to develop a survey tool, first used in industry and subsequently in the health care field in Britain, to examine the characteristics of effective teams. In this study we investigated whether the Team Survey developed by Millward and Jeffries (2001) for the National Health Service in Britain was valid and reliable for use in predicting primary care team effectiveness in the Canadian health care context.

Executive Summary

One of the fundamental challenges of Primary Health Care Reform is the establishment of collaborative health care teams to meet the needs of patients and society in a timely and effective manner. The characteristics of effective primary care team function have not been well studied. (San Martin-Rodriguez et al., 2005)

Millward and Ramsay (1998) used the Cognitive Motivational Model to develop a survey tool, first used in industry and subsequently in the health care field in Britain to examine the characteristics of effective teams. (Millward and Jeffries, 2001) The Team Survey® was found to have acceptable psychometric properties in the National Health Service population. In this study we investigated whether the Team Survey® developed by Millward and Jeffries (2001) for the National Health Service (NHS) in Britain was valid and reliable for use in predicting primary care team effectiveness in the Canadian Health Care context.

The Queen’s University Department of Family Medicine consists of six practice teams, each with two to three physicians, one registered nurse (RN) or registered practical nurse (RPN) and a shared receptionist. Six secretaries, a Nurse Practitioner, two float RPNs, a nutritionist, two social workers, two liaison psychiatrists, a switchboard operator and six administrative staff support the practice teams. There is also a research team giving a total of 50 participants excluding learners.

All teams were invited to attend a focus group with their team or teams to complete the Team Survey® and an evaluation of the teams effectiveness. A focus group discussion was held to assess the validity of the tool and to address other issues relating to their team work. In this paper we report the analysis of the survey tool.

Sixty-one responses were included. Factor and multiple regression analyses revealed four factors with acceptable reliability, content and construct validity, three of which predicted team effectiveness: Metacognition of team goals and performance, (ß=0.47, p<.001), Team identification and communication (ß=0.42, p<.001) and Team potency (ß=0.40, p<.001).

The tool shows promise as a measure of characteristics that predict team effectiveness in this setting. The sample size was not large enough to determine a stable factor structure and the outcome measure used was subjective. The Team Survey® tool requires further testing with primary care teams in other settings and with virtual teams and with other outcome measures to determine its generalizability. If the factors identified in this study continue to predict team effectiveness, then interventions could be directed at improving team metacognition, communication and motivation with the expectation that these are not task or context specific.

Download PDF: High Performance Teams in Primary Care: The Basis of Interdisciplinary Collaborative Care

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