Thursday, February 24, 2011

How I Operationalize Strategy Execution

Sometimes I think that I should stop trying to get people to pay me to fly airplanes and instead get a normal job, the sort where you go to an office at eight o' clock in the morning and drink coffee. While you are doing your job, if you get tired and you inadvertently push forward on the thing in front of you without noticing, your chair rolls back slightly. If you briefly get 5200 mixed up with 2500 then your spreadsheet looks funny, as opposed to in my job where I go to work at some arbitrary time possibly between 3 a.m. and 8 p.m. and if I do one of those things I could crash into a mountain and die. I could make the same amount of money as I do as a pilot with a real job, and at this point in my career there isn't much hope of making a lot more. And real jobs have benefits and vacation pay. What do people do at real jobs?

Someone I know e-mailed me about an all day meeting about strategy execution. After I made all the obvious jokes about blindfolds and firing squads and the guillotine he e-mailed me back with the information that his meeting came with a personal workbook, and that two of the pages in the workbook were labelled, "how I operationalize strategy execution." Now I'm not going to pretend that "late descent clearance forced me to intercept the glideslope from above while holding the localizer with a ten degree crab" isn't jargon, or that it's desirable but it means something. I can explain it to you. I can practice it, even. I can lower the gear to help me out. It will mean the same thing tomorrow (but I hope to avoid it tomorrow). There's a goal, a really understandable goal (put the airplane on the runway without hitting anything else on the way) behind it. Does operationalize strategy execution mean anything? Will it mean the same thing next week? It's frightening. Is that what real jobs are about now?

Also, Happy Thinking Day. Remember to be prepared for runaway horses.


Dave Starr said...

From the time I was 6 years old I spent a huge amount of my waking hours at a small grass strip with a single FBO, across the 'literally' dirt road from my house out in the country.

I got my Private at 20, and although I didn't have the eyesight for a First class physical, I could pass a Second class ... (and with modern medicine, could have easily passed the first class requirements a few years later)and I thought hard about working the rest of my life as an instructor, the 'gods' of my youth. (of course many other flying avenues were open to me as well).

I went in the US Air Force to avoid the draft and with the hope of also getting an A&P (as we called it at the time).

One way or another, jobs on the periphery of piloting captured and held on to me for more than 40 years ... I often made job choices based on the good?advice of pilots I knew who said things like, "There's no money in aviation', or even more persuasive, "being a professional pilot will destroy you love of flying, it's like being a bus driver who no longer enjoys driving."

So I always played it safe and had 'conventional' jobs ... and boy did your example of the idiotic strategy meeting hit home.

40 years of that stuff will at least help you recognize the futility and the uselessness of such banal activity.

I'm not a 'past dweller' and every decision I made in the past is what I made .. my responsibility and no regrets, I did what I thought was best.

But, if I were 20 again?

(Youth is the only real wealth we will ever know, don't squander it, folks)

I do believe I would have gone for my commercial, CFI, etc. and explored what would have been in store for me then.

I would have a lot of hours over 40 years, and experience that Bill Gates or Steve Jobs or President Obama couldn't buy, no matter what their wealth, power or position.

Everyone needs to decide for themselves, but when you decide on a life of actually accomplishing missions, each and every day, or 40 years of 'staff meeting strategy seminars', make sure you are choosing a path that fits who you really are.

Or so Dave opines

DigitalStill said...

Don't get an office job 'trix, I've got an office job and spend my days reading blogs like yours - people who actually went out and followed their love of flying. I work 40, sometimes 50 hours a week, earn holidays but can't actually use them and spend 2 hours of my day in traffic...

sean said...

I have to agree with DigitalStill. Almost everyone I know has an office job. We all have dreams and ambitions of doing other stuff... but unfortunately the closest we get is reading other people's accounts and wallpaper images of something like the PA-28 that we have five measly hours in.

K1MGY said...

"operationalize strategy execution"

Language such as this makes me want to throw up.

You have a much better job. Why? Because your jargon actually means something and is not stated simply to make something sound more important than it really is. I think we can draw a direct parallel to the impact (pardon the pun) that careers in aviation offer. There are few lines of work that depend so ultimately upon skill, operating by a common set of rules, and the proper use of language.

The language of aviation is succinct, direct, (hopefully) unambiguous, and quite universal. It has a direct purpose: to keep everyone alive.

The distinction between life or a quick death often hinges upon the use of aviation's unique language terms and style. It is most unfortunate that the self-important yuppie/business jerk language you quote lacks the same ultimate consequences.

Anoynmous said...

I offer a small counterpoint. My career has me in an office job, one in which I do something I truly like and which affords me plenty of free time. I successfully avoid office politics. I enjoy the fact that my unexpected adventures are, as a rule, unrelated to my job.

But I must admit that I am actually following my passion, and not just settling for something mundane.

fche said...

"operationalize strategic execution" is a stupidly pretentious way of saying "execute the strategy", though (out of pity) one could amend it to "execute the strategist".

Rhonda said...

I do have an office job (mostly), but Dilbert makes no sense to me. I consider myself very lucky to have a job where I get to do a variety of very interesting things, work with other smart people who are nothing at all like Dilbert's co-workers, and get to mix it up by going to client sites and Making Things Work. If anybody in the office uses language like that, it's the executive folks at the other end of the office, and only among themselves; they don't inflict it on the engineers.

But then I'm an engineer in a small company. I think we're almost up to 30 employees now.

Louise said...

I suspect that whatever job you hold you will find a way to make it interesting for both yourself and your readers. You seem to have a gift for such things.
Your adventures in Cambodia show how much you're willing to try new and alien things; for you taking a 'normal' job would just be an extension of this adventurous spirit.
Good luck with whatever career path you choose to pursue.

Wayne Farmer said...

Rhonda, sounds like you've really found a sweet spot to do engineering. I'm an engineer too, and you're right, it's all about Making Things Work. Given a different set of opportunities, I could be helping to create the avionics in Aviatrix's planes. Yes, my office is in a cube farm, but a few steps away is the laboratory where the magic I create is interacting with the real world. We have to daily think about handling the unexpected and covering all the bases. Murphy is everywhere.

Programming computers to go out and interact with the world in real time is rather like instructing mindless robots to go out and fly planes. They'll do exactly what you say, and will fail to act correctly in response to conditions you didn't anticipate. Keeps it exciting!

Dafydd said...

" Sometimes I think I should ......................... and get an normal job " .

No you don't .

coreydotcom said...

It's funny - I was reading that post at 7:57AM at my client's with a coffee. Not quite 8AM, but it made me laugh. Guess I have a normal job.

Strategy execution sounds hard. Management people and marketing people think of these great ideas and the the "executionner" has got to make it happen. It actually means something to me and I respect someone who can "make it happen".

What makes me laugh are people in the arts (without any disrespect aimed at them). "Find your inner artist". "Be you". "It's not speaking to me enough". What do THOSE things mean!?

P.S. My roommate used to sell "benefits" (i.e. the health insurance, life insurance, all that crap) and I don't think it's THAT expensive (I guess it's all relative and I live in Quebec so it may be cheaper I don't know).

Bonne chance!

Wayne Conrad said...

If you work for a small enough company, there are too few people doing too much work for anyone to have time to "operationalize strategy execution."

Avoid Fortune _anything_. The payrolls are large enough to support the parasites who think there's value in such nonsense.

david said...

Where you and I live, Aviatrix, so-called "benefits" aren't worth considering when you're picking a career.

In the US, "benefits" means that you and your family have health insurance, and you can take your desperately-sick kid to the hospital (maybe, if the HMO agrees) without going bankrupt. Very important stuff.

In Canada, since we (like most of the developed world) already have universal healthcare, "benefits" means token stuff like low-payout life insurance and dental -- it's like getting a free mint with your restaurant bill, not like getting a free meal.

fche said...

david, before becoming too triumphant over canadian health care (and caricaturing US health insurance as only available through employment), consider horror cases like today's baby Joseph Maraachli. The warm embrace of government services can become a bit of a smother.

david said...

Frank: cases like the Maraachli baby are about politics and ethic rather than private/public healthcare. The US went through something similar with Terry Schiavo.

The original point, though, is that if Aviatrix were in the US, finding a job with benefits would matter a lot; in Canada, not so much. She's free here to keep pursuing her love of aviation without worrying what will happen if she needs an emergency appendectomy next year.

Captain Dave said...

Dave Starr's comment is good and hits the proverbial nail on the head. I hear from people all the time... They regret not making the leap into aviation when they were young. And now, they ask me if I think they could do it at 48 years of age, or some such thing.

All the advice I heard as a young man was exactly like Dave Starr's pilot friends told him: no money, no love of the job, no security, etc. They were all wrong.

As I climbed the aviation ladder toward the summit of my career, I would be stopped by an obstacle on the steep slopes. Instead of quitting, I would retreat, move around to the other side of the mountain and keep climbing. Screw all the experts! You are the only one that can get to the top.

It has been a great ride and I would absolutely recommend it to a young person as long as they were aware of the location of the mine fields.

Anonymous said...

Create a company, be the leader. It is VERY satisfying. And you will be the only one to decide about the way it will work. I am doing it for 20 years.

At one day you will have a visit of two youg sympathetic men trying to sell you strategy execution seminars or something similar. It is a fantastic feeling to tell them what you are thinking about that kind of stuff. Speaking from my own experience.

Dave Starr said...

You made my day, Captain Dave. Always better to hear from one who did it rather than a wanna-be like me.

I especially enjoyed also the comments about building your own business rather than the corporate security blanket mentality.

It's not so much being the pilot of an aircraft that's important, it's being the pilot of your life that's most important.

The 'vehicle' is less important than the satisfaction (and challenge) of being the one responsible for it.

Joël Morin said...

The selection process is unfortunately slow, but...
air traffic services careers

Anonymous said...

I agree with coreydotcom. It is fun to mock big companies, but the reality is they make our lives better. People "operationalized" and executed a strategy to build Facebook, twitter, google and which are helping to change leadership in the middle east. People even executed a strategy to design and build the aircraft you like to fly.

It is sometimes (often) frustrating to work in a huge company, and day-to-day my job is boring and pointless: I read email and go to meetings. But my year-to-year job is utterly awesome. I help create the future, to change the world for the better.

The strategy we must execute and operationalize now includes making the most efficient use of resources possible. It may take me and 55,000 other people years to do this, but in a world where the number of people in increasing, and the amount of oil, fresh water and food is decreasing, that's a pretty important thing. Even if there are a few false starts and boring meetings, it's worth it.

Aviatrix said...

Man, I love you readers. So many intelligent, independent and different points of view coming out of what started as a pretty fluffy topic, mocking someone else's boring meeting.

A Squared said...

" The US went through something similar with Terry Schiavo."

Superficially similar. In principle there is a *world* of difference between the two. In the Mary Schiavo case the decision to remove life support was made by her immediate next of kin, her husband. IOW, the person who, in the abstract would be the most appropriate, legally and otherwise to make those sort of decisions for someone who is incapable themselves. The controversy was that her mother and sister didn't agree with the legal next of kin's decision.

In the Joseph Maraachli It is the *government* making a derision to remove live support against the wishes of the immediate next of kin, his parents.

That is a whole different ball game.

david said...

@Anonymous wrote 'People "operationalized" and executed a strategy to build Facebook, twitter, google and which are helping to change leadership in the middle east.'

Not really. FB, Twitter, Google, and Blogger were all initially the launch products of small companies where people actually did things.

The paradox is that you need big organizations to *manage* big products and services, but they're not good at *creating* them. By the time you get big, execs are too far removed from the consequences of their decisions (you can't *know* 10,000+ employees and what they do) and employees are too far removed from the benefits of any innovation (if you invent, execs get the bonuses), so you lose a big chunk of your A-list talent, and if you're lucky, it takes only 10-100x as much money and effort to do something when you're big as it did when you were small.

That's when your now-B-list senior management bring in Accenture or some other management consulting company to create expensive PPTs about "operationalizing strategy" or some other terme-du-jour.

I'm happy to rant, but after 14 years of tech consulting for big companies and for governments, I can offer no solution to this paradox. Some big companies (Microsoft in the 1990s, Apple in the 2000s) do still innovate, but the relative cost to them is huge, and it increases with each iteration until it eventually chokes off useful innovation altogether (as happened with Yahoo 5-10 years ago, and is happening at Microsoft now with the flight of their last talent). Of late, Google has focussed more on buying startups, since most of their internal initiatives since Gmail (think Buzz) have been flops.

Michael5000 said...

Damn, david beat me to it. What he said.

Also: In my experience, trainings that require their own workbooks are generally two hours of content packed into an eight-hour day. I usually bring a second notebook so I can sketch out blog posts in the lacunae between key points.

But, it's only a small part of the problem that considering "how I operationalize strategy execution" is a clumsy way of thinking about "how am I going to implement the company's new initiative in local, day-to-day operations." Usually, the biggest issue is that so many people are hopeless at reading graphs and tables. But maybe that's just my experience.

Anonymous said...

@David, i understand what you're saying, but you miss an important point. A good idea, by itself, is useless. A good idea which is implemented and used by one or two people is only useful to one or two people. A good idea, implemented and used by millions of people is real valuable to society.

Google, Facebook, Blogspot, Twitter would not be what they are today without hundreds of tech writers, translators, server sysops, programmers, testers, product managers interface designers, marketing people and software architects. And that army of people could not function without a HR department and a bunch of middle managers.

Small and sexy companies come up with great ideas. Big and boring companies have the resources to make great products. Products are useful, not ideas.

(This doesn't mean that a small company with a great idea can't grow into a large company with a great product.)

david said...

@Anonymous: I think we're writing the same thing. As I wrote, "The paradox is that you need big organizations to *manage* big products and services, but they're not good at *creating* them."

Ideas alone are worthless. Small companies are much more effective at turning ideas into new products and services, but if the products or services get popular enough, you need big companies to manage them.

The problem is that big companies are horrifically inefficient places, because people don't work as well in big hierarchies as they do in small groups. That's the paradox. I know of no way around it.

Big organizations also crush your soul and promote mediocrity, but that's another discussion.

Anoynmous said...

Big organizations can only crush your soul if you expose it.

Sarah said...

Wow what a thread! Thanks, Michael, for the word lacuna - - in plural form, "lacunae". Lovely.

D.B. said...

Normally, I agree with everything Captain Dave says. After all, you never know when he might have his hands on the controls when I'm stuck in 12B.

But I don't agree that one can only have 1 passion, and that's it. Flying is clearly a passion for me - I bought my own aircraft, and hope to have the CFI-A and CFI-I done this year - my second career will follow that passion, once the first is done.

But I have others, and the one that makes Mon - Fri worthwhile is discovering that I also have a passion for explaining involved technical concepts to people who need them, whether they know it or not. On one level that is teaching (connect that to the CFI and you can see a link), but I also call it technical or product marketing - and that pays good enough money to support passion number 1. Perhaps I am just lucky.

My point is not a dissertation on why my ground-bound 9-5 job isn't so bad after all, but that many of the things one might like about flying, also translate into other things. I enjoy instrument flying - and other complicated technical activities. A stick and rudder pilot probably would prefer manual and exciting - why do race car drivers nearly all also have hot aircraft? Isn't Tom Cruise owning a P-51 Mustang almost a cliche?

So while agree with Cap'n D that you should not take just "some soul-destroying 9 - 5 job behind a desk"; I don't agree that all non-flying jobs are necessarily in the soul destruction line. Find what you were made to do, and do it. If it turns out to involve not being in contact with the ground and slipping the surly bonds, then so be it.

I will admit here and now that if my eyesight had been better, so that I could have qualified for any of the entry paths into flying in the UK in the late 70s, or if after moving to the US that I had understood the alternative pathways (I might have taken the CFI to regionals to majors route), it would it have been better? Not too sure about that. Like several girls I dated but did not marry, jobs I didn't take that would have made me rich (or very poor), that was the path not taken. But the one I did take has turned out not so bad.