Archive for November, 2015

Aspects of Gratitude

Posted November 22, 2015 By Fletcher Groves

Most of us will take time off this week, on Thursday, to join friends and family to celebrate Thanksgiving.  Somewhere amid the fraternity, food, and football we will take the time to express gratitude and thankfulness for the circumstances we enjoy.

EFA - Plymouth Rock

It should not be a generic, prescripted, perfunctory expression of gratitude;  it should not be an afterthought;  it should not be an obligatory gesture;  it should not be a sense of personal pride and sense of accomplishment.  It should be much more.

It would be helpful, instead, to focus on the aspects of our gratitude, on the elements to consider regarding the thankfulness we should have.

“The Desolate Wilderness” was written 395 years ago, as a journal recorded by Nathaniel Morton, keeper of the records of Plymouth Colony, based on the account of William Bradford, its first governor;  “And the Fair Land” was written in 1961, by Vermont C. Royster;  they have been published together, in the Wall Street Journal, every year since 1961.

EFA - Pilgrims WSJ

Faith, and a Sense of Eternity:  “they knew they were pilgrims and strangers here below, and looked not much on these things, but lifted their eyes to Heaven . . . and therein quieted their spirits.”

An Appreciation for Fellowship:  [the night before departing] “was spent with little sleep . . . but with friendly entertainment and Christian discourse and other real expressions of true Christian love.”

A willingness to Venture, with a sense of Courage, Resolve, Determination, and Perseverance:  In the face of “a sea of troubles before them . . . no friends to welcome them, no inns . . . no homes, or much less towns, to repair unto . . . [the onset of] winter . . . what could they see but a hideous and desolate wilderness, full of wild beasts and wild men . . . behind them . . . a mighty ocean . . . a bar or gulf to separate them from all civil parts of the world.”

A Reminder of Providence, and the Richness of this Land and its People:  “But we can all remind ourselves that the richness of this country was not born in the resources of the earth . . . but in the men that took its measure . . . remind ourselves that for all our social discord, we yet remain the longest enduring society of free men governing themselves . . . and we might remind ourselves also, that if those men setting out . . . had been daunted by the troubles they saw around them, then we could not this autumn be thankful for a fair land.”

We have much for which to be thankful and grateful.


Names on the Wall: The Battle of the Ia Drang Valley

Posted November 11, 2015 By Fletcher Groves

(November 11, 2015 is Veterans Day)

There is no more haunting, moving, or poignant war memorial than the memorial in Washington, DC commemorating the Vietnam War.  It is certainly not the only haunting, moving, poignant place dealing with war.  But, it is unique.

EFA - Vietnam Veterans Memorial

It is unlike any other war memorial, because of the names on the wall.

More than 58,000 of them.

The Vietnam Veterans Memorial does not convey the same sacred sense as the American Military Cemeteries, located both here and abroad.  Shiloh, Antietam, Gettysburg;  Normandy, Lorraine;  others.  American Military Cemeteries are different, because they are mostly cemeteries located at battlefields.  There are names there, too.

And, the Arlington National Cemetery conveys a separate feeling, because of its size, because of its generational span, because of the Tombs of the Unknowns.

The Vietnam Veterans Memorial conveys somewhat of a similar feeling to the 9/11 memorial in New York City, the Flight 93 memorial in Shanksville, PA, the Pentagon.  Mostly, because the relative recency of those events makes us more conscious of those places and facts.

And, because of the names.

The Battle of the Ia Drang was the first major engagement of US troops in the Vietnam War.  It was the first use of air cavalry, with some of Custer’s 7th Cavalry units reassigned to the 1st Cavalry Division.

The  names of those killed during the Battle of the Ia Drang are found on Panel 3E of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial;  because of the detail with which Gen. Moore and Joe Galloway wrote We Were Soldiers Once…And Young, you recall those names, and their stories.

Men like SP4 Willie Godboldt and Lt. Jack Geoghegan, who died together, one trying to save the other, and are listed, side-by-side, on the wall.

The names are important, and their stories are important;  all of them.

EFA - Rick Rescorla

Because of the detail, you also recall the stories of many of the men who survived the battle.  Men like Congressional Medal of Honor recipients Capt. Ed Freeman and Major Bruce Crandall.  Men like 2Lt Rick Rescorla, who’s photograph (above) was taken during the battle, and who died more than three decades later in the attack on the World Trade Center on 9/11.

The Vietnam War would continue for almost ten years after the Ia Drang.  There would be Tet, Khe Sanh, many other engagements.  At the time of this battle, I was a 15 year-old high school kid.  By the time I graduated from college in 1972, the draft lottery was only being called up to number 95;  I was number 98.  My backup plan was OCS;  I didn’t have to go, so I didn’t.  I regret that decision.  Someone who fought in the Ia Drang later told me that by 1973, my involvement would have been pointless;  nevertheless, I regret that decision.


The Battle of the Ia Drang Valley was a series of engagements during the Vietnam War that occurred November 14-18, 1965, 50 years ago this week;  the battle was chronicled in the book We Were Soldiers Once…And Young, by Lt. Gen. Hal G. Moore and Joseph L. Galloway.  It is the finest account of battle I have ever read.

Veterans, thank you for all you have done.


A Preoccupation With Internal Perspectives

Posted November 8, 2015 By Fletcher Groves

As a management consultant, one of the strongest admonitions I can offer to my clients is to build a corporate sense of urgency towards results, and, moreover, to evidence that sense of urgency with a commitment – with a plan – to implement a focused process of continuous improvementa prioritized series of initiatives, performed in a specific, consecutive order, that achieves targeted, defined, measurable results.

EFA - BSC Internal Perspective

But – what kind of targeted, defined, measurable results should we be talking about?  A process of continuous improvement . . . focused on what?

The idea of continuous improvement implies a need to address issues, to solve problems;  if it was not a manifest weakness, or a threat, or a constraint, or a gap, or an inadequacy, or a problem, there would be no reason or need to improve it.

The nature of every accepted continuous improvement methodology – whether it is Total Quality Management, Business Process Improvement, Lean Production, Six Sigma, or Theory of Constraints – is to focus internally, on resolving operational issues, on solving problems, on dealing with quality issues;  done the right way, continuous improvement addresses the root causes of problems, not the symptoms;  done more comprehensively, it establishes the operational drivers of business outcomes.

Here is the potential problem:  operational planning has to exist within the larger, more important context of strategic planning that establishes prerequisites and necessary conditions.  If that context does not exist, or if the existing context has not been updated – is no longer current, is no longer relevant – then there is no direction.

During one of the general sessions at this year’s Housing Leadership Summit, John McManus (Editorial and Content Director, Residential Group, Hanley Wood Media) repeated a question he knows that I like to ask at Pipeline workshops™, no doubt expecting me to answer it (which, of course, I didn’t):  “What is the difference between speed and velocity?”

The answer is:  “Velocity is a vector measure;  it is speed in a specific direction;  It is speed with a purpose.”  In the purposeful, intentional world – whether that purpose and those intentions involve climbing mountains, or racing yachts, or running homebuilding operations – velocity requires that you know where you are going . . . before you go.

Otherwise, you get one or more of the following occurrences:  (1) things can get improved that have no correlation with where your enterprise needs to go, with what it wants to be;  (2) it becomes reasonable to improve anything and everything you want, without regard to order, priority, or timing;  (3) what gets improved can be disconnected from – can have little to do with – the value homebuyers expect to receive from you.

The issue speaks to the front-end of the fundamental proposition of business:  the reason an enterprise exists is to make money;  the way an enterprise makes money is by delivering value to its customers and other stakeholders;  that value is delivered through the work that the enterprise performs.  The proposition goes on to say that work involves workflow, usually performed in processes, projects, or cases;  the proposition doesn’t delineate between value created in products or services.

But, somewhere between value and workflow, the business proposition moves from an external perspective to an internal perspective.  It moves from being an externally-focused value proposition, to being an internally-focused value discipline.

Your buyers don’t care about whether you achieve operational excellence, or product excellence, or (what Treacy and Wiersema would characterize as) customer intimacy;  they care about the value they pay you to create and deliver for them.  If that value does not comport with their value proposition, if your value discipline does not make you stand-out, if it is not distinctive, if it does not separate you from the herd, if it does not extract you from the tar pits of averageness, if it does not meet their specific requirements – their definition of it – they will find it elsewhere, from one of your competitors.

Yes – a Balanced Scorecard will tell you that operating performance drives business outcomes, that operational drivers are an internal means to a desired external end.  But, you are not in business to be operationally proficient;  you are in business to make money, by delivering exceptional levels of value to buyers.  And – when there is a preoccupation with that internal perspective, you cannot achieve that goal.

Q&A:  Who is the beneficiary of the value you create?  Your buyers are.  Who is the beneficiary of any of the three excellences (operational, product, customer) I noted?  You are, but only to the extent that excellence enables you to create that value.  The only reason you strive for operational excellence, product excellence, or customer intimacy is because they are part of what enables you to deliver more of the specific, distinctive value your buyers demand – whatever it is.

If you can’t make that connection, the internal value disciplines – operational excellence, product excellence, customer intimacy – don’t work;  you may have speed, but you won’t achieve velocity.  Pardon the stranded preposition, but before it is worth being good at something, you have to know what it is important to be good at.  The question becomes, what do you have to do to get there?

Eli Goldratt has it right:  What to change?  What to change to?  How to make the change?

When you know what to do, you can figure out how to do it.

And, then, it will make all the difference.