Quotes for Strategic Planning

I can’t fully explain why I love quotes so much, but I find them invaluable as I facilitate strategic planning sessions. Quotes are succinct and summarize key points in the planning process in ways that add insight, and sometimes humor. I try to remember good quotes so I can spontaneously use them at the right occasion. Here are a few of my favorites:

 Strategic Planning

 “Plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.” Dwight Eisenhower

“In the face of uncertainties, planning defines the particular place you want to be and how you intend to get there.” Peter Drucker

“To achieve great things, two things are needed: a plan, and not quite enough time.” Leonard Bernstein


Where there is no vision, the people perish.” Proverbs 29:18

“Vision is the art of seeing things invisible.” Jonathan Swift

“When I was growing up I always wanted to be someone. Now I realize I should have been more specific.” Lily Tomlin

Strategic Priorities

“If you have more than 3 priorities then you don’t have any.” Jim Collins


Strategy is not about competing for the present, but competing for the future. It’s about understanding that non-linear change means anticipating & appealing to customer discontinuity.” Vijay Gvindarajan

“The essence of strategy is choosing what not to do.” Michael Porter

“A great strategy is born of constraint.” Terry O’Reilly


“A goal should scare you a little, and excite you A LOT.” Joe Vitale

“A goal is a dream with a deadline.” Ken Blanchard

 Action Plans

“When it is obvious that the goals cannot be reached, don’t adjust the goals, adjust the action steps.” Confucius


 “However beautiful the strategy, you should occasionally look at the results.”  Winston Churchill

It turns out there is a name for people like me who love quotes – a quodophile!  Happy quote collecting.

Ode to 2016

lionDecember is a great time for, as Jim Clemmer would say, “a checkup from the neck up”. I am grateful to my clients and colleagues for the opportunities to learn together. Some of my greatest learning opportunities this year came from unexpected sources:

  • I was invited by the Refugee Sponsors’ Coalition of Calgary to design and facilitate a workshop where sponsors could share learnings and resources. The planning team and participants opened my eyes to the challenges faced by refugees and sponsoring groups alike in this humanitarian work.
  • I completed a MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) on Igniting Your Everyday Creativity. This was my third MOOC and I am thrilled with this mode of learning. In particular, I am energized by the opportunity to interact with students from around the world, giving and receiving feedback on our thinking and projects. If you have not explored the world of MOOCs, visit Coursera or EdX to see the breadth and quality of free courses available.
  • My husband and I travelled to Namibia for three weeks in November. It was a new experience in so many ways from navigating the country on our own to seeing the impact of drought on people and animals to witnessing a new (1990) democracy. We will be processing our learnings from this trip for a long time.

2017 will be a special year as Canada celebrates its 150th birthday and I celebrate 20 years of consulting.

Thank you for your interest in my business and blog. I wish you all the best and a healthy and happy 2017 for you and your family.

Thinking about Systems Change

Early in my career, I taught and believed change was a linear process. Implicit was the idea that we could plan, organize and control change as well. My views changed as I was exposed to systems and systemic change.

One of my first exposures was reading Margaret Wheatley’s Leadership and the New Science. For the first time, I saw organizations and communities as living organisms best understood through scientific lenses such as biology, chaos theory and quantum physics. I didn’t (and still don’t) grasp all the concepts, but I understood you cannot “change manage” a system.

I attended a talk by Peter Senge who, to explain systems, said, “When you flush, it goes somewhere.” Now this I could understand, and it made me think about the ripple effects over distance and time that change can create, as well as unintended consequences.

I had the honor of attending a training program in Orlando led by Dr. Deming. Understanding Systems was one of the four pillars of his System of Profound Knowledge. Rather than organizational charts, we used systems maps to understand organizations. I learned a system:
• Consists of inter-related and interacting parts
• Exists in an environment with which it also interacts
• Has a purpose or “aim”
• Is ever changing and needs to managed effectively
• If parts of a system compete or strive for optimal performance on their own, the performance of the whole system suffers and this is called sub-optimization.

Deming’s famous Red Bead Exercise reinforced powerful learnings such as:
• If you pit a good person against a bad system, the system will win every time.
• If you change out the people without changing the system, you will not change the results.

At a practical level, when I work with an organization, I start with a systems lens and the premise that the organization is perfectly operating as a system to get the results it is getting. In other words, the structures, policies, processes and relationships inside and outside the organization are interacting to produce the current organizational outcomes. To improve outcomes, you need to approach change through a systems lens.

How do you do that? These Seven Lessons for Leaders in System Change are helpful:
1. To promote systems change, foster community and cultivate networks.
2. Work at multiple levels of scale.
3. Make space for chaos and self-organization.
4. Seize breakthrough opportunities when they arise.
5. Facilitate – but give up the illusion you can direct – change.
6. Assume that change is going to take time.
7. Be prepared to be surprised.

Systems change is not for the feint of heart.

Do you mean what I mean?

We vacationed in San Jose Del Cabo this winter. One day as we sat by the pool, an older gentleman started talking with my husband. I noticed a lady sitting and watching nearby. I went over and asked, “Is that your husband talking with my husband ?” “No”, she said, “I am his traveling companion”.

Well, that had me stumped. What exactly is a traveling companion, I wondered? We talked about other things but that interaction has haunted me, and made me think about the power of language.

Let me explain. Had she replied “Yes, that is my husband”, I would have immediately “checked off a box” in my mind, saying to myself, “Yes, husband and wife, just like Gary and me”. Instead, her precise and provocative language caused me to think and invited many questions (which I did not ask at the time).

Language has the potential to open up dialogue and at the same time, language can dull the mind. In our busy lives, language can be a form of shorthand, where we hear one word and like a magnet, the word draws all sorts of assumptions and meanings in our mind, which we do not take the time to test. How often have you been in meetings discussing “engagement”, “accountability”, “leadership”, etc. without checking whether everyone shares the same meaning?

Dave Snowden, an expert in social systems complexity, describes how he and his colleagues worked on a body of theory and practice for over two decades and named it “Cynefin” deliberately to ensure this work would not be easily dismissed as a “decision support matrix” or another “theory of change”. But do we have to go so far as to make up new words to prompt dialogue and clarification? I don’t think so.

Language in the workplace can be a minefield of misunderstandings. We can take simple steps to ensure we are aligned:
• Do not assume that you associate the same meaning to words that others do.
• Ask, “Tell me more…” to seek to understand others. And then share your perspective.
• Develop glossaries.

A spirit of inquiry will serve you well.

Why I love volunteering with TELUS

This past week, I volunteered along with 20,000 other people from across Canada for TELUS Days of Giving, themed this year as #TheGivingEffect. What might surprise you is that I resigned from TELUS almost 20 years ago but still feel tremendously proud to be a TELUS Ambassador. What surprises me is how few companies recognize the competitive advantage of maintaining positive relationships with former employees and retirees.

How does TELUS promote such loyalty and commitment? In my case,
• My resignation was handled well, and I always felt welcome to visit and reapply should I change my mind about consulting. Other companies make it clear that you are persona non grata for leaving the organization.
• TELUS makes it extremely easy to volunteer and stay connected through the TEAM TELUS Cares website and TELUS Ambassador newsletter.
• TELUS amplifies the volunteer work I do by annually matching my charitable donations and providing Dollars for Doers, financial donations to charities based on the hours I volunteer.
• TELUS lives up to its promise of “Giving where we live” with strong local chapters of volunteers and TELUS Community Boards, comprised of local leaders who direct TELUS philanthropic funding to meet local needs.
• TELUS makes me feel valued and appreciated at each volunteer event, not only with t-shirts and refreshments, but also warm welcomes and thanks.

TELUS has received many awards for Community Investment and Social Responsibility, which contribute to TELUS’s reputation as one of Canada’s most admired brands. Doing good in the communities where TELUS employees live and work is part of the TELUS culture and its brand promise – The Future is Friendly ®. Doing good in the community is one way TELUS attracts and retains its customers and employees.

Organizations who ignore or alienate former employees and retirees do so at their own peril. Organizations like TELUS are catapulting ahead, powered by the goodwill and volunteer efforts of armies of former and current team members.
group 3 TDOG

Is Your Cup Overflowing?

Are you exploring new ideas and methods? Is your organization trying to change and innovate? Consider this story:

“There was a man who was determined to become enlightened.  After many years of sacrifice and study, he felt ready to visit a very holy man in India.  He journeyed far and long and finally reached the holy man’s home.  The holy man invited him in and offered him a cup of tea after his long journey.  The man held his cup while the holy man poured tea from a pot.  The man was surprised and then shocked when the holy man continued to pour more and more tea, causing the tea to flow out of the cup and over the floor.  The man asked, “Please holy man, why do you keep filling my cup?”  The holy man paused and then said, “You have come to become enlightened but your mind is full.  Like the cup, your mind is so full that my words will just flow over and away from you.  To become enlightened, you must unlearn some of what you believe to be true.  You must empty your mind to allow new ideas in.”

To learn, we must first unlearn, and give up what we know “for sure”. We must have a beginner’s mind, meaning an attitude of openness. As Zen Buddhists would say, “In the beginner’s mind, there are many possibilities. In the expert’s mind, there are few”. [1]

But this is easier said than done. How can we empty our cup so that new information and insights can take hold? Here are a few ways[2]:

  • Take one step at a time, without trying to pre-determine the outcome.
  • Celebrate failures as well as successes for their gifts of learning.
  • Question all your “should”s.
  • Let go of being “the expert”.
  • Face your fear of failure.
  • Focus on questions, not answers.

Like stripping old paint, letting go of old paradigms and habits makes room for the new. Happy spring-cleaning!

[1] Suzuki, Shunryu. Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind. p. 21

[2] http://zenhabits.net/how-to-live-life-to-the-max-with-beginners-mind/


Psychological Safety

Many companies begin each meeting with a Safety Share to highlight safety risks in the environment. As a facilitator, I am equally concerned about ensuring the psychological safety of participants. Psychologically safe participants feel accepted and respected, and are willing to take risks.

I have learned not to underestimate the anxiety created in high-risk meetings. Will I be ridiculed or ostracized for my opinions? Will I come across as competent? Will people turn a blind eye to bullying and harassment that has become commonplace under the guise of humor? Will there be retribution later? For these and other reasons, I am committed to creating a psychologically safe environment.

Psychological safety starts with my contact with participants in advance of a facilitated session. In my one-on-one interviews, I ensure people know what they share with me is in confidence. Interviews help me prepare for the group dynamics and I coach each person to raise issues to the degree they feel comfortable.

To create a safe and productive environment at the start of sessions, I propose groundrules or rules of engagement such as:

  • Every person participates. No one person dominates.
  • Focus on the issue, not the person.
  • Respect each other’s views.
  • One person speaks at a time.
  • It’s okay to disagree but not to be disagreeable.
  • Peel the onion – go beyond superficial comments.
  • What’s said in this room, stays in this room (like Vegas).

I set the expectation that we all share responsibility for the quality of the dialogue and results of the session.

I use processes to “discuss the undiscussables” in a safe and respectful way. Depending on the dynamics, I might:

  • Post a summary of the themes I heard in the interviews.
  • Use “eyes closed” voting and then display the results to get the reality in the room visible to all.
  • Use a talking stick to ensure each person has an opportunity to be heard in their own way and at their own pace.
  • Call a pause after an emotional moment to enable people to reflect, recover and recommit.
  • Intervene to balance the power dynamics.

I am mindful of the wellbeing of the group and each individual. I have found the guidelines for the guardian’s role in the Circle Way by PeerSpirit very helpful.

Psychological safety is about driving out fear and enabling all parties to have the discussions they need to have in a productive manner. Work safely, my friends.

Because It’s 2015

When Canada’s new Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, was asked why he appointed a gender-balanced cabinet, he replied succinctly, “Because it’s 2015”. In other words, it’s time or well past time for change to occur.

In simple ways, 2015 has reminded me that my clients and their expectations are changing, and with it, some of my facilitation practices. Here are some examples:

  • Jeff Chase (@Chase_Jeff), urban planner and Senior Policy Advisor to Mayor Nenshi, tweeted that “parking lots” to capture off-agenda discussion items were “so 1990s”. Others jumped into the conversation and said they used terms like “conservation area” or “community garden” instead. As a result, I now use a “Bike Rack” flipchart, a small step to help me be mindful of the language I am using AND promote thinking about different modes of transportation.
  • For a December planning session, I proposed to one client that I include Christmas trivia questions throughout the day. She rightly reminded me of the cultural diversity of this team, and as a result, we used a rich mix of questions on multi-cultural holiday traditions and Calgary.
  • For many years, I felt that “groundrules” for meetings felt too parental. Jo Nelson (@JoFacilitator), a global hall of fame facilitator with the Institute of Cultural Affairs, instead uses “Working Assumptions” which I have adopted. This way of beginning meetings feels much more respectful and collaborative.
  • As an INTJ, I know that I am more process and closure oriented than many of my clients. As a MBTI practitioner for over 25 years, I understand the different types of work preferences but sometimes I forget and default to what is natural to me. This year, I became aware that there are times where it is necessary and good to leave things a bit messy and organic, as that is where innovative ideas can germinate.

These are some of my “Because it was 2015” learnings. 2016 will be a new palate. Thank you for reading my blog, and best wishes for the New Year.

Facing My Fears In Mongolia

A few years ago, I had the opportunity to work in Mongolia. This was my first trip to Asia and I was determined to enjoy every moment of this new cultural experience.

My client prepared me with orientation materials on the history and culture of Mongolia, business etiquette and security. As a new democracy since 1990, Mongolia is a country of contrasts -skyscrapers adjacent to Buddhist temples and gers, new Mercedes dealerships and orphans living in the sewers.

I was warned that crossing streets could be a life and death experience as Mongolians drive like they ride their horses, hard and fast. And, as you would expect in a country of “have’s” and “have nots”, there are gangs and organized crime.

I arrived in the capital city, Ulaanbaatar, excited but jet-lagged. I checked in at the Bayangol, a tired hotel built in the Soviet regime of the 60s. My room was comfortable but the internet service did not work. The only working WIFI was in the hotel lobby, so it was there I went early in the morning and late at night to catch up on emails.

The first night in the lobby was an eye-opener. About a dozen big, burly men were sitting around and shouting to each other in, what sounded to me, a rough Slavic language. They looked bruised and tough. Strangers came in off the street though the open hotel door, made phone calls at the pay phone, and gave mysterious envelopes to the front desk, before abruptly leaving. I kept my eyes down and tried to shrink in my seat. I reached the frightening conclusion that somehow I was seated amongst members of the Russian mafia. However, they did not seem interested in me, so I continued my furtive trips to the lobby each night.

One night, as I got back in the elevator to go to my room, two of the men rushed into the elevator just as the door was closing. My heart was pounding. Then one of the men took my hand, kissed it and in perfect English said, “You are a great lady”. Shocked, I then noticed his jacket embossed with the Olympic rings. He explained he was the coach of the Georgian Judo Team, and the men in the lobby were Georgia’s Olympic team. They were training for the London Olympics. “Would you like to join us for a beer some night?” he asked.   I am not sure whether I even answered as I stumbled out of the elevator dizzy from my paradigm shifting experience.

I had not met the mob. I had been in the company of elite Olympic athletes. I was not in danger.

From that night on, whenever I felt fear or worry about footsteps behind me, I would shake my head and laugh out loud at my false assumptions. I learned my lesson. Be prepared, not paranoid.


Facilitation as Improv

I am so thankful that my parents were never concerned about what I would do with a drama degree. Theatre, specifically improvisation, has turned out to be the perfect foundation for my career as a facilitator.

Each time I facilitate, I have an audience (participants), a place to perform (meeting facility) and a loose script (agenda). But then, the magic happens as I attune myself to the energy in the room, and work off unplanned inputs and events. Success depends on me being fully present and in the moment.

The rules of improv easily apply to facilitation. For example, consider how facilitators could apply these Commandments for Improv:

  1. We are all supporting actors.
  2. Always check your impulses.
  3. Never enter a scene unless you are NEEDED.
  4. Your prime responsibility is to support.
  5. Work at the top of your brains at all times.
  6. Never underestimate or condescend to your audience.
  7. Trust… trust your fellow actors to support you; trust them to come through if you lay something heavy on them; trust yourself.
  8. Avoid judging except in terms of whether a situation needs help, what can best follow, or how you can support it imaginatively.

Canada is blessed with great improv institutions such as Second City in Toronto  and Loose Moose in my hometown of Calgary. The benefits of learning improv include:

  • Increased confidence
  • Improved public speaking skills
  • More comfort in social settings
  • Refined brainstorming abilities
  • Improved listening and observation skills
  • Enhanced creative-thinking abilities
  • Improved decision-making skills

So improv artists, a second career in facilitation awaits you. And facilitators, improv can help deepen your craft. As they say in the Green Room, go break a leg.

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