What Do The Exceptional Do Differently?

One question keeps coming up. People want to know what the successful among us do differently.

Anyone can be accidently successful for some period of time—you can have your fifteen minutes of fame. Leave success to chance, however, and you are more likely to never reach your goals.

Purposeful long-term success is never an accident.  The people and organizations that achieve long-term durable success do things differently. Specifically, they do five things:

  1. They engage in the planning process.
  2. They set goals and objectives.
  3. They develop plans for achieving those goals.
  4. They prepare for opportunities and contingencies.
  5. They measure progress and hold people accountable. 

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For signed copies of books by Tom Collins, go to the Unsigned print and ebook editions are available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and other online bookstores. For an audio edition of The Claret Murders go to Ebook editions are also available through Apple iTunes’ iBooks Store and
Published by I-65 North, Inc.

Luck Favors the Prepared


Change (especially uncertain change) is the stuff of opportunities—provided you have developed a way of thinking that prepares the firm to take advantage of whatever the future brings.  The French scientist Louis Pasteur said it in one short sentence: “Chance favors only the prepared mind.”  If Pasteur had been English, the quote would have been, “Luck favors the prepared mind.”
When consulting with a midsize law firm a few years ago, I suggested that the partners adopt the practice of meeting monthly for a half-day session where they did nothing but think about things that could happen and then thinking about how they could happen differently.  The mission would be to identify strategies that would allow the firm to benefit rather than suffer from these events.
Suppose, for example, that a member of the law firm is arrested for unsavory activities unrelated to the law firm.  What steps should the firm take?  Suppose a major local corporation with significant legal needs loses its general counsel unexpectedly.  How could the law firm respond in a way to take advantage of the situation?  Suppose a single-payer health system is adopted by the U.S. government.  What problems and opportunities occur if Mexico nationalizes American businesses? How would the firm respond to another Enron?  What happens if outside investors are allowed to own U.S. law firms?  Suppose a major client of the law firm contemplates moving its headquarters to a state where your firm doesn’t currently practice?  How should your firm respond to a news release that a major U.S. corporation is relocating its headquarters to your area? What if events similar to those that destroyed Arthur Anderson occur with respect to a U.S. mega law firm?
Could the firm have anticipated the events involving Big Tobacco, the rise of the overnight letter business, the advent of, or the wave of refinancing sparked by falling interest rates?  Could the firm have been better positioned to take advantage of Sarbanes-Oxley?  Is the firm prepared for the next Katrina? Does the fact that 3.6 million Americans will turn 65 in 2012 open opportunities for your firm?  Can the firm take advantage of a major changing of the guard in corporate America?
If the firm follows my suggestion, that “thinking outside of the box” exercise is likely to become the firm’s vehicle for rapid response to real-life events which will position the firm to capitalize rather than suffer from uncertain future events.  Chance, Luck, Opportunities—whatever you call it—it can best benefit those who are prepared.  Practice prepares a business team to take advantage of events that surprise others. 
Mysteries by Tom Collins include Mark Rollins’ New Career, Mark Rollins and the Rainmaker, Mark Rollins and the Puppeteer and the newest, The Claret Murders.   For signed copies go to Print and ebook editions are available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble and other online bookstores. The ebook edition for the iPad is available through Apple iTunes' iBookstore.

Count the Teeth

Planning is not an intellectual forum for speculating on the determinable.  The Teeth icon is a reminder of the story about two Roman citizens debating the issue of how many teeth were in a horse’s mouth.  A slave overheard the debate and suggested they count the teeth.  They killed the poor knave on the spot for upsetting their enjoyable debate.
The excellent manager should insist that the teeth be counted not debated.  Who is buying our competitor's products and why are they buying theirs, is a question that can be answered by counting the teeth—don’t speculate!  Counting the teeth often means asking for answers.  When you want to know “how to do it better” or “what customers really want,” counting the teeth means asking.  However, you only get answers when you listen.  Too often organizations ask in an effort to validate their own view.

Do you really think those political surveys we receive in the mail are designed to get our input?  Excellence in management means asking—and listening to—customers, employees, vendors, etc. 

Novels by Tom Collins include Mark Rollins’ New Career, Mark Rollins and the Rainmaker, and Mark Rollins and the Puppeteer and the newest, The Claret Murders.   For signed copies go to Print and ebook editions are available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble and other online bookstores. The ebook edition for the iPad is available through Apple iTunes' iBookstore.


Do plans need to be in writing?  Yes, but in a form that serves its purpose.  That is not as a bound volume that resides on a bookshelf never to be referenced once the creators have “finished” their planning task.  It is a communication vehicle—best conveyed in words, phrases, short paragraphs, charts, key performance indicators, and pictures.  It should be in a form easily changed and updated.  It should not be burdened with the niceties of a literary quality.  Its purpose is to have every member of the team guided by the same “playbook.”
In this age of advanced communications and technology, the playbook should be maintained as an integral part of the enterprise’s internal systems.  Those internal systems should serve as the enterprise’s command and control center.  Their purpose is to empower members of the team by giving them the clarity needed for the confidence to make decisions and take action on the frontline.  Management is about achieving objectives through others.  It follows that maintaining and refining the “playbook” is job one for the leader.  In today’s world, the “playbook” isn’t one thing—it is the leader’s blog, the organization’s intranet site, it is periodic video conferences or planning retreats, it is the business’s key performance indicators, its bonus, commission, and reward plans.  Wherever possible, words are better than phrases, phrases are better than sentences, sentences are better than paragraphs, and paragraphs are better than pages.  That is because the excellence company communicates so frequently and so clearly, that words and phrases become triggers conveying much more extensive content.  The use of words and phrases makes the job of constantly communicating, refining, and changing the dynamic plan easier. 
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Planning is a circle of activity—a dynamic continuous process of setting and revising temporary targets and developing strategies and tactics for achieving them.  Any endeavor or enterprise can be accidently successful for a short period of time—they can have their Andy Warhol fifteen minutes of fame.  However, it is even more likely that they will simply fail without ever achieving their fifteen minutes of success.  The important question is what do purposely successful companies do that sets them apart from the rest of the pack.  The answer is they intentionally do five things: 
  1. Engage in the planning process 
  2. Set goals and objectives 
  3. Develop plans for achieving those goals 
  4. Prepare their team for opportunities and contingencies 
  5. Measure progress and hold people accountable 
Only a few organizational teams achieve excellence.  Or in Jim Collins’ vernacular, only a few go from good to great.  As for the rest, either they don’t plan at all, or the production of “the plan” (a well written an attractively bound document) has become the goal itself.  The problem, of course, is that the best thought-out plan resting on the bookshelf serves its purpose about as well as a broken watch tells time—it shows the correct time twice every day.  Some general is said to have barked “all plans are good until the first bullets are fired. Then it all goes out the window.”  Plans produce targets based on assumptions.  Assumptions are inaccurate estimates about the future.  Thus planning for the future would be impossible if it were not so absolutely essential for survival and success; therefore, the purposefully successful enterprise’s most important plan is the plan to change the plan.
Planning is a continuous ongoing process.  It is not some bound book.  The plan shapes the decisions and actions of the team by establishing temporary targets—and the team’s actions and decisions made on the front line change the plan.
It is a dynamic process illustrated in part by the Opportunity Wedge.  As time advances on the future, assumptions become more accurate.  Decisions and actions made on the front line close in on a target that moves from a Cone of Uncertainty to a clearer target.  For such a dynamic process to work it must be a state of mind, a way of thinking and communicating, where the team is nimble and quick on its feet, constantly adjusting and refining the plan to changing conditions and expectations. 
Mysteries by Tom Collins include Mark Rollins’ New Career, Mark Rollins and the Rainmaker, and Mark Rollins and the Puppeteer and the newest, The Claret Murders.   For signed copies go to  Ebook editions are available on Amazon for the Kindle, on Barnes & Noble for the Nook and in Apple iTunes' iBookstore for the iPad.  Paperback editions are available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble and other online bookstores.

Management Cycle

Management Cycle

Management is about achieving objectives—be it at the enterprise, department, or individual level.  It applies to life as well as business.  It is a process—planning, organizing, acting, and controlling.  It is a continuous cycle of processing input, taking action, collecting feedback, and repeating the process.  “Nothing happens until something happens.”  When the action significantly effects the organization, its people, it processes and its customers, it requires the specialized steps of Change Management.  But management is more encompassing and requires more tools and skills than just Change Management.  Management is not the same as supervision.  Supervision may be involved in an individual's managerial role but, again, management is more encompassing.

While many modern day jobs do not involve overseeing the performance of subordinates, they do involve a high degree of individual authority and accountability pushing those jobs into the category of management.  These are jobs where the individual must “manage” relationships with customers and with internally accessible resources and specialty areas to accomplish their assigned objectives.  In order to do their job competently they must plan, organize, act, and control continuously processing input, taking action, collecting feedback, and repeating the process.  Thus management concepts apply to these jobs as much as they do to those responsible for organizational groups, units, departments, divisions, companies, or broad based enterprises.

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