Get your relationship action plan in place!

Action plan for  your relationship gets you towards happiness

Action planning limits number of open doors. (photo credit: / nattavut)

“Vision without action is nothing, action without vision is disaster.” -Unknown

[In quote: Replace vision with purpose to modernize it.]

To achieve the future framed in the purpose statement of the company, business needs to have a strategy. The action plan of the businesses, strategy is only a cooler way to call it, is defined in plenty of different ways. In its simplest form strategy is a choice what to do and what not to do.

In large corporations strategy is often misunderstood. CEOs describe the targeted future by numbers. “We want to grow 10 per cent per year and have 75 000 employees by year 2020.” That’s not strategy.

Similar statement about strategy from a 18-year-old young woman would be a desire to have three children. How do you get those three children? What are the key steps in between to be able to support and take care of the dream family?

Poor strategists get disposed of

Good example of a poorly articulated corporate strategy I can find very close to me. Recently I was reading a new number of a staff magazine of my employer. The main story of the magazine was covering the launch of new company strategy, carrying a slogan “Now we execute!”.

The strategy was aiming toward 12 % annual growth resulting in the ultimate goal of close to exponential growth in the number of personnel and revenue. The immediate question from me was: “Okay, mister Group President, what would you like me to execute?”. No decisions on what to do or what not to do had been made.

The very same awarded leader was let go about a year after publication of the strategy. Only thing of the strategy that was executed, was the owner of it.

Does your actions meet your key challenge?

In a recent and appraised strategy book, Good Strategy, Bad Strategy, Richard Rumelt defines strategy as a coherent set of actions to address the key challenge of the organisation. Please note the word action in plural and challenge in singular. Rumelt highlights the common misunderstanding about strategy: it’s easy to define strategy broadly.

Good excuse might be the goal of not limiting the different growth paths of the company. But broad and dull strategy is bad strategy. Members of the organisation have hard time finding direction and guidance for their decisions. Articulating a bad strategy is an easy mistake to be made. Articulating a coherent and clear strategy is painstakingly hard task.

Rumelt’s book truly helped me to crystallize the true challenge of the business unit I was in charge of. Before it was more or less unclear and undefined. According to several employees, we were having many great initiatives but often they could not see the the connection and destination.

In our business unit the greatest problem was to overcome the challenge of “managing all routes to market”. If that sounds dull, it was figured out by me, not by a consultant. And it took a great effort to make it explicit. When I compared this statement to the challenges of the two other business units, they were clearly very different.

After crystallizing our key challenge I pursued to adjust all our major actions to either solve or ease the challenge. When I got a authorization of hiring two new people and strong recommendation how to place new resources, I presented an opposing plan contradicting the plan of my boss’ boss. My plan applied to our key challenge but at the same time fulfilled the intention behind the new recruitments.

Action planning is not supposed to be easy

Challenges are plenty in relationships as in businesses. To get a functioning strategy and people behind it you need to make choice about which challenge to address. It means analyzing and summing things up. Neither businesses nor couples can solve many challenges at a time.

That’s where strategy meets the challenge. Only after you have your key challenge – in singular – figured out one can develop a strategy to meet all the sub-problems. At the same time you reach certain focus in your business or relationship. Naturally the challenges change over time and strategy has to be adjusted.

Strategy, focus and allocation of resources walk hand in hand. Clayton Christensen brings up the issue with time allocation in families. In his book How to measure your life Christensen pursues to reflect how you divide your time between your career and children. He points out that you don’t focus or prioritize – deploy your strategy – until one utilizes resources accordingly.

Important is to have correct metrics in place too. If you think by taking your son to a soccer training twice per week is focus, that’s fine. With family and work filling your days, remember to prioritize your time inside and outside of the workplace. Finally: To succeed with new initiatives at work, it’s critical to address attention verbally and by allocating resources. Metrics will guide the action towards the desired direction.

Our greatest challenge

At the moment the greatest challenge of our relationship is to figure out where to live. Fortunately we have an apartment. Unfortunately the challenge does not mean we would be wanting to move to a different apartment or city. That would be too easy.

We don’t know in which country we would build our relationship. Yes, I know it’s quite fundamental. We are two different nationalities and we have both been living and working in the home countries of both parties. We are in the process of finding a compromise where to live for long term. What do we need?

To succeed you need both: dreamer and doer

Business theory and practice proves us that both of the partners do not need to be the most active in formulation of the strategy. Some time ago I visited a mid sized company. From the entrance everybody coming to the building needed to take stairs up to the second floor.

On top of the stairs two corridors departed. One to the left and one to the right. To the left pointed an arrow with a text “Seers” and to the right a similar sign “Doers”. Level and quality of humor reveals the true nature of company culture and relationships.

In corporations strategies are often set in the top management and among board of directors. That’s  known as top-down model which is widely used because of its simplicity and swiftness.

Business theory also talks about down-top model. Its greatest benefit is the greater commitment of employees, when they are more involved in the strategy process. But has anyone seen a true down-top model in practice?

Personally I have only read about it in business books. Input from middle managers or directors is harvested in seminars and workshops. The bigger the organization is the further these people are from the front line. That’s where the strategy easily becomes middle-top conversation.

Due to their nature relationships fortunately do not have this shortcoming.

Simon Sinek highlights that most successful companies have had the visionary entrepreneur who has envisioned the idea and purpose of the company. Next to the “Seer” is always needed a “Doer” to realize the dream. In relationships one needs to understand his or her strongest part in the equation and not to forget contributing to the other one.

Usually, I’m not saying always, women tend to be the visionaries. Once I found myself observing my spouse scrolling listings of apartments for sale and soon finding her dream kitchen. Seeing her enthusiasm about the apartment I realized that I need to get to work to afford a place with an ultra modern kitchen like that.

Dreaming and doing – both of them are key to long-term prosperity.

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Why we need purpose in our relationship

What are relationships for

How far do you look into the future? (photo courtesy of by stockimages)


“That business purpose and business mission are so rarely given adequate thought is perhaps the most important cause of business frustration and failure.” -Peter F. Drucker

Very same night after publishing this post, my spouse once again asked me: “What is our fate?”. (We are not native speakers, but talk English to each other.) In the following morning that question made me to add here our glimpse into the future, but in the particular moment I managed to mumble: “How would you imagine it?” I tried and succeed in avoiding the question. I don’t always succeed.

“It’s how we make it.” She answers. “I would like to make it just as normal life.” She continues. The life that we had been living hadn’t been that typical so far. We met in Austria, lived in Czech Republic, Finland and now in Denmark to name one detail.

When most of us were still in business school, mission and vision were fashionable. Today you can see them fading into background, where they are consolidating into one. Purpose. The race for efficiency has hit the statement of company’s future too – cut it down into one word.

Like it was the case with mission and vision, the formulation of purpose usually takes place in the top management of the company. Most importantly the purpose of the company eventually sets the long-term direction of the business. Meaningful purpose is also a tool to motivate employees and increase their commitment into the business. It can be also used as a vehicle for building public image of the company.

Purpose requires farsightedness

Before jumping into the purpose of the relationships, we need to understand the governance system of relationships. Earlier we discussed the organizational structure of relationships that lead us into thinking of relationships constituting chairman of the board, woman, and chief executive office, man.

This time we elaborate into one of the elements behind this division: farsightedness. In relationships the idea of direction setting we base on the assumption of difference in the thinking of men and women.

Without putting much scientific research behind of the key assumption, we could easily state that women – in average at least – have stronger, more sophisticated part of the brain where emotions, and also emotional decisions, take place. The part of the brain in question is called limbic brain.

Generally women are also better to articulate their emotions into words. Those words are produced in the neocortex part of the brain. By articulating their emotions into words women talk about future and create pictures of the shared future. Often they also expect men to describe their perception of the future.

Difference of time span

Men often live like most of the chief executing officers. Reaching out to meet the targets of each month and running quarter. Often men are fine with living day by day.

I can’t provide a lot of research to support the statement about emotional proficiency of women. Instead I can base some of it on the numerous observations of the discussions between men. Stories, where men are left numb with women’s request for response to her expression of feelings are typical source of manly humor. A compassionate story told as a joke might also work as a sign of support when a friend has challenges with at home.

Women have deep foresight of the future of the relationship. In business that’s the duty and task of the board of directors. In the relationship woman acts as a board of directors for strategic direction. After all, depending on the country in question local legislation usually requires a company to have an appointed committee for supervisory role, board of directors, and one for management of daily operations, managing director.

Why is purpose important?

What does a purpose bring to businesses and relationships? Famous author of Innovator’s dilemma Clayton Christensen specifies the components of the purpose. His book How will you measure your life (2012) divides meaningful purpose into three components:

  • Likeness: what you want ultimately to be.
  • Commitment: purpose requires commitment to the likeness.
  • Metrics: Progress towards the likeness should be measurable.

In other words purpose will demonstrate the future of the business or relationship to the participants rather than letting them to find themselves from a coincidental situation.  As it is case with work-life well articulated purpose enhances commitment, but there needs to be commitment to the purpose in the first place.

Clearly defined purpose drives the actions towards the first component, likeness, the picture of the destination. Purpose also sets certain metrics for the business and relationships. Against the purpose members of the organisation or partners can evaluate their own progress.

As relationships are small enterprises the roles of the board of directors and managing director are blurred. Nevertheless, it is important to recognize that as a chief operating officer man has an opportunity to influence the purpose setting, but ultimately it’s given. Working towards the purpose will eventually build  up the relationship.

In our relationship we have drawn a dusk picture of our future and purpose of our common journey. In crossroads of our journey we often evaluate how each turn matches the purpose.

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Who is chairman of your household?

Corporate governance

Who sets the strategic direction in your relationship? (Photo courtesy of Surachai /

“Happy wife, happy life” -Proverb

Corporate governance sets the scene

Has the board of directors made its decision? Have they set the direction for the next planning period? In many American corporations  the chairs of the CEO and the chairman of the board are one and the same. This model is often called Anglo-American model.

On the other side of the Atlantic ocean the seats of the chairman of the board and CEO are separated. The model is often called multi-stakeholder model. Here, the chairman is named as non-executive chairman, who does not take part into operational activities of the company. It is the CEO whose job is to run the operations within the guidelines set by the board.

In addition to setting the direction one of the most important task of the board is to name and dismiss CEO. In this model the purpose of the board is to oversee the benefits of shareholders. This two tier type of corporate governance builds up also the framework for relationships – how do they operate?

Playhouse and dolls

Generally speaking women look into the future. Imagine your childhood and different games and plays that boys and girls used to do. As a boy you were probably sliding the toy car on the floor and quarreling about who can play with the white Porsche and who will have the red Ferrari.

Meanwhile girls were decorating their playhouse and cooking for their dolls. Once in a while trying to force boys to join the play and be the daddy for their home of imagination. That’s preparation for the future that girls dream about in very early age. They might create an imagination of the family before they even might know who will be the lucky one.

Relationships are actually often organized as the corporations in continental Europe.  Women set the guidelines and men execute. It’s me who vacuum cleans, but she’s the one determining when.

Sure, in a small business as a family, she, the chairman of the board, takes a big role in the operational level too. But think about it again, have you been able to decide when to empty a dish washer I just got a second kind reminder. I was able to postpone the task for an hour to be able to do some writing.

More social proof

Have you ever heard any of your friend say: “I proposed to her, because the concept of marriage is very important to her”. Or what about this: “We started to build a new house, because she thought we needed more space.”  I have witnessed both and I was convinced that many relationships are governed by the same model as thousands of corporations.

Your wife sets the course and you execute? Maybe the hedgerow has grown a bit too high and in the next moment you find yourself with the hedge shears in the backyard. In relationships women hold the seat of the chairman of the board. Women determine the course of the company by setting the strategic direction. Men conduct the daily tactical operations by being a chief executive officer.

Strategic questions confirm

As mentioned board of directors select the CEO. In business life CEOs play the role of a representative of the company. He’s the public figure towards the media, customers, suppliers, employees and other stakeholders.

The same board has the burden and obligation to let go an unfortunate CEO who has not achieved the targets set by the board. In extreme the only function of the board is to nominate and let go of the CEO. Because of the ultimate power of the chairman of the board is often a powerful influencer behind the scenes. All of it is surprisingly familiar in private relationships too.

The same day I was writing this particular chapter, my lovely partner again popped up the question I fear: “So where we will be in one year?” My brains just shout: “I don’t have a clue! Why are you asking me?” But I managed to keep my lips together and instead I mumbled the magical counter question: “How do you imagine that?”

Per se women require more confidence about the future and therefore drive to set more defined course for the relationship. It’s the chairman of the board who carries the ultimate responsibility about the future.

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4 steps into a relationship

4 steps into a relationship

Follow four steps to obtain commitment. (photo courtesy of stockimages /

“I tried to sell myself to you, but I couldn’t close the deal.” -Tom Cruise in the movie Cocktail (1988)

Articles in women’s magazines, conversations between best friends and discussions in internet forums are filled with questions about how to find an ideal companion. Dating services are flourishing over the internet. Tips&tricks are served in blogs, books and courses. Dating industry is flourishing to help people to find love and warmth next to them.

To understand better your way into a relationship we can simply have a look at the different stages of the sales process. Come again? Why would slimy sales have anything to do with romantic and exciting occasion as dating and meeting new people?

Acknowledging stages of sales process, derived from a nearly 30 years old book of Neil Rackham, is crucial. In business it’s easy to diminish trust and deteriorate the relationship by rushed actions. I have seen many unsuccessful sales calls where the pivotal mistake has been a rushed jump over a step or even two.It’s easy to fall into that same trap when pursuing to get a girl for a coffee.

The skills involved with sales are essential in every aspect of organizational and customer relationships. The skills are about persuasion, interaction and understanding the counter part through listening. The most important coming as last. Even if you weren’t working in sales you need sales skills to move others.

It does not matter whether you are selling internally or externally the key to success is effective questioning. Unfortunately theories and concepts behind these skills are rarely taught in business schools, where learning often revolves around fashionable buzzwords.

So how do you successfully establish a relationship? What are the steps into a date or an order?

1st step: Preliminary questions

To be able to understand the sales better we need to know how a traditional sales process is constructed and how does it advance. First, to bond with the customer typical sales call starts with preliminary questions. You can imagine those as classic “Do you come here often?” questions. The purpose of the preliminary questions is to bond with the buyer, preferably touching some personal interest or topic.

Dealing with professionals does not require that much preliminaries. I mean professional buyers and purchase managers. They are often busy handling dozens of supplier accounts and aiming to hold stock levels low and its turnover high. With professional buyer business relationship is more often commercial than social.

2nd step: Investigating stage

After preliminaries sales call proceeds to investigating stage where the seller’s purpose is to drill into customer’s needs and expectations. By a correct order and pattern of questions – investigation – a subtle salesman develops needs of the customer further. By questions sales person identifies customer’s pain points, challenges and hindrances.

Today, it’s essential that sales person is capable of identifying the root causes of the customer problems. If the customer is very well aware of the problem and economical and practical solution to it, he would have already bought it from someone! By clever questions sales person lets the customer to express explicitly his or hers challenges. By doing this customer will be later more prone to accept the solutions provided.

3rd step: Demonstrating capability

Then the sales process can advance to demonstrating capability. It means showing how your product or service solves customer’s problems or meets his or hers needs. The greatest challenge is to convince customer to accept the solution and move forward by obtaining commitment.

In the best case scenario that means an order or either advance to a next step of the negotiations. In the worst case scenario you get rejected and that’s what the best salespeople are hardened to last.

4th step: Obtaining commitment

Typically sales call ends at obtaining commitment in a way or another. In simple and small sized sales situations purchase decision can be considered as a successful outcome for the seller. In complicated and large sized sales situations advancements are also a way towards a payoff.

Best performing sales people don’t visit a customer to gather background information or to make an introduction. They set goals and move the sales forward by committing the prospective buyer into action after covering the main concerns of the buyer.

What else is needed?

After goal-orientation second, perhaps even more important, attribute of best performing sales people is the amount and quality of questions they make. This is about being attuned and showing interest into customer’s business.

Based on one of the most extensive research on sales Neil Rackham (SPIN selling, 1988) states that especially in complicated and large sized sales it is crucial to equip the buyer with correct reasoning that will be communicated to the other influencers in the buyer’s organization. Questions will help the customer to express why the seller’s product or service is right for the customer’s organization.

This can be very well understood by looking at relationships and entering one. Often, you get introduced by a friend to a prospective spouse candidate. Would you think that he or she does not know anything about you? Chances are that the person has already heard about you and your background. You can only wish that your reputation has preceded you positively.

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Around the internet: Ready for resolutions?

Startups Anonymous: Founders suck at relationships

Anonymous entrepreneur confesses how he places customer requests ahead of the requests made by his spouse. His wife is obviously not that happy about it and she thinks that it’s about respect. Understandably true and fair thinking. From the perspective of start-ups it’s important to realize how crucial it is to provide good and prompt service and make your customer a hero.

However, to succeed with your start-up it is crucial to maintain balance at home too. Work-life balance is a supportive foundation for every businessman and entrepreneur.

4 ways new years resolutions are just like relationships

Amanda Jaros writes in Thought catalog about analogy between the promises we make on a one particular day and the relationships we live in.  Personally I believe the common factor, to succeed in both, is careful consideration and full commitment.

As Amanda says, in both it’s totally alright and advisable to first get a feeling about it before fully jumping in.

That’s how is it about our decisions in business. Careful consideration and commitment. Here I can find a major exception though. Sometimes in business it’s necessary to do a fast choice and correct the course later after experimenting and learning.

Passion is overrated and goals are for losers

Check out the fun presentation by Scott Adams the author of Dilbert. He questions significance of the passion in entrepreneurship and success. Everybody, including me, highlight meaning of passion in creation of your own business. What if better question is to ask: What do people need? What kind of problems could I solve, how could I make the lives of others easier?

Adams states that rather than looking for a passion or ambitious goals one should set up a system that delivers results. Achievements will then bring that well-known passion.

Also, speaking about presentations, I put together a short summary of how relationship resemble start-ups. I have noticed that also in relationships success delivers passion.

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