Month: July 2014

July #SmartManagement Twitter Q&A Recap

Photo Credit: Muhammad Rafizeldi via Wikimedia Commons
Photo Credit: Muhammad Rafizeldi via Wikimedia Commons

Last Thursday we conducted a Twitter Q&A focused on sharing some tips and best practices for managing teams and projects. You can get a glimpse of the conversation at our Twitter handle @SmartDraw or at the hashtag #SmartManagement. During the Q&A we discussed things we’ve learned about management styles and skills.

During the hour-long conversation SmartDraw experts and managers were able to discuss major management topics including organizing effective teams, managing different work styles, meetings and projects, and how managers can more effectively communicate through the use of visuals.

Below are some of our favorite answers to the questions:








What tips or questions would you have for managers who want to be more effective “Smart Managers?” Should we do another Twitter Q&A? If so, what topic? Put your thoughts in the comments below!

Strategic Planning for Bottom-Line Results

iStock_000005735314SmallCan a strategic plan truly yield bottom-line results? Or is it just a waste of time?

The answer to both questions can be yes. It’s critical to plan for success. More importantly, there are steps to follow to make it happen.

Most businesses don’t do any strategic planning. And, of the ones who do, most treat it as nothing more than an academic exercise. This is unfortunate. With some effort and a willingness to make hard decisions, it’s possible to create more than just strategy. It’s possible to realize bottom-line results from a well-developed strategic plan that is then put into action and followed through.

Strategic Planning Can Be a Staggering Waste of Time—If You Let It

Medieval castle under siege with caption, "What do you mean, we never got around to developing a strategic plan?"

McKinsey & Company published an article written by former IBM CEO Louis Gerstner back in 19731. But Gerstner’s ideas might be even more applicable today than they were more than 40 years ago. To understand his thinking in today’s context, we must consider the state of strategic planning when Gerstner wrote this piece.

Strategic planning was a management phenomenon in the late 60s and early 70s. It was being hailed as “the fountainhead of all corporate progress.” Everyone, it seemed, was doing it—or in danger of being left in the dust by the competition.

Then something happened. CEOs began questioning the effectiveness of strategic planning. One anonymously referred to it as “a staggering waste of time.” Another called it “basically a plaything of staff.” And strategic planning began to fall out of vogue.

What changed? How did strategic planning–once the road to corporate nirvana—suddenly become a C-suite pariah?

According to Gerstner, the CEOs didn’t see any bottom-line impact. Therefore, they considered strategic planning to be merely an academic exercise that offered no tangible, real-world results. But Gerstner laid the blame on these executives themselves. What they called strategic planning was, in his view, little more than an extrapolation of short-term financial projections.

Here’s what Gerstner had to say:

Many strategic-planning programs begin with the extension of the annual operating budget into a five-year projection. Most companies, however, soon discover that five-year operational and financial forecasts, in and of themselves, are ineffective as strategic-planning tools for a fundamental reason: they are predicated on the implicit assumption of no significant change in environmental, economic, and competitive conditions.”

He offered up some reasons for why so many efforts at strategic planning fail to produce financial results—and what can be done about it. This mind map summarizes Gerstner’s thoughts on strategic planning for bottom-line results.

Strategic planning mind map for bottom-line results

Do You Have the Guts to Develop a Successful Strategic Plan?

In Gerstner’s view, companies stopped engaging in true strategic planning. CEOs stopped being involved and started delegating the task. Their charges merely added a layer to the company’s five-year financial plan, wrote it up in a report, and called it “strategy.”

But strategy requires much more than extrapolating a budget. It requires an open, honest examination of the toughest issues the organization faces. Tough questions have to be asked. Warts may need to be exposed. This can be difficult. It can be uncomfortable. It requires leadership and decision-making. It may require risk. That takes guts.

Gerstner’s advice: “Make decisions—not plans.”

Risk is Out There—Ignore at Your Own Peril

Are you giving attention to what your competitors are doing? What about other changes going on around you? Gerstner criticizes most companies as giving minimal attention to external risks.

Too many organizations fall into this trap. It’s easy to think that internal decisions and actions fully account for the company’s results. But this is a fallacy. Good strategic planners will spend a great deal of time, energy and focus on external forces.

For organizations that tend to focus internally, it may be advisable to bring in outside help. A third party can offer expertise and a fresh perspective as a non-stakeholder. But be forewarned: it’s very likely that the information won’t be benign. There will be threats to your business. Analysis will be needed and decisions will have to be made.

A final component of the external scan should be the development of contingency plans. Developing the right contingencies—ones that will actually work—will again require brutal assessment. You’ll need to ask some tough “what if” questions.

This will probably come with one major objection: “How can we possibly know all of the potential contingencies?” The answer to this is to only develop one or two contingencies that could be disruptive in a major way. For example, a competitor is working on a new technology that could capture 15 percent of your market share next year. If that were to happen, what would you do?

Making a difficult decision like this immediately—rather than under the duress of an emergency situation later—could have a dramatic impact on your company’s bottom line.

Real Strategic Planning Requires C-Level Involvement

Your company needs a strategy. But, as the CEO or other key executive, you can’t delegate this downstream and expect to see bottom-line results. It won’t happen, for one very simple reason. They can’t make the hard decisions that are required to produce a viable strategic plan. It doesn’t mean they aren’t valuable for other tasks, such as gathering and organizing data. But this is an exercise that requires all of the top company brass to get involved, roll up their sleeves, ask the tough questions, and make informed decisions.

The Secret to Making a Strategic Plan Produce Bottom-Line Results

All of the other pieces discussed in this article are important. They need to be implemented for any organization to have a viable strategic plan.

But one element is absolutely essential. Without it, any plan is doomed to fail. Yet oddly enough, it may be the most overlooked piece of the strategic planning puzzle.

What is this secret element?

The secret is this: You must convert the plan into action. After all, if you don’t execute a plan, what’s the point of even creating it in the first place? Amazing as it may seem, it rarely happens. And when it does, incredible companies are built.

Think of some of the great business leaders of the past few decades: Welch, Iacocca, Walton, Gates, and Jobs, to name a few. They led their companies first by developing great plans that required making tough decisions. But they didn’t stop there. They put those plans into action and followed through. Each of them took calculated risks, accepted mistakes, adjusted his plan, and persevered in pursuit of it.

But they had one thing in common. They each had a strategic plan.

Do you?

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1Gerstner, Jr., Louis V. “Can strategic planning pay off?” McKinsey Quarterly. McKinsey & Company. December 1973.

Get Tips to Improve Your Management Skills in the #SmartManagement Twitter Q&A

Lean thinking in 50 shades of grayWhat’s the secret to leading an effective team? There’s no shortage of managers, and those on their way to becoming managers, who want to know how to improve their management skills. In our 20+ years of business, we’ve learned a lot about management styles and skills.

That’s why we’re hosting the Smart Management Twitter Q&A where our experts will tackle the questions we hear most frequently about managing teams and projects.

Join us Thursday, July 17 at 10 AM Pacific Time for the #SmartManagement Q&A. You’ll hear from SmartDraw managers, who will share their opinions, tips and best practices for smart management, including:

Make sure to follow SmartDraw’s Twitter handle @SmartDraw and stay tuned to the hashtag #SmartManagement during the event to see the questions and answers.

Do you have a burning management question that you’d like us to answer? Let us know in the comment section and we’ll tackle it on the Q&A.

We can’t wait to see you there!

The New Manager Toolkit

Okay, it’s your first day as a new manager or executive and you are ready to prove yourself to your team, your office and to the world. Are you ready? Are you equipped for the job? What’s the plan?

[Click the Harsh Vinyl Record Needle Scratch Button Below]

If you thought that divine revelation was somehow going to intercede on the first day on the job, then I apologize for the abrupt awakening from your dreamy state and recommend you begin to take steps to determine how you as a new manager will function, operate and lead.

Such an elevation in role and responsibility, from employee to leader, can be exciting yet overwhelming. Perhaps managing a team is new to you, along with many other things, such as handling larger-scale projects, increased travel and delivering presentations. Making a smooth transition into your management role is easier when you equip yourself with the right tools. The resources below will help any rookie plan and manage like a skilled veteran.

Image of office users around a conference table

The New Manager Toolkit

Like so many things in business, there are countless resources and tools that exist. These are simply the ones that are popular among our customers and associates. By no means is this list exhaustive and we encourage you to identify the tools that work best for you and your particular situation. And, we would welcome to hear from you regarding our tools and resources we have listed or about the ones that you have found helpful that ARE NOT listed.

As a side note, neither SmartDraw nor any of us who work here are compensated by any of these companies.

Leadership, Management & Team Training

logo-ftrDale Carnegie Training – One of the longest running and most successful personal development training centers. Managers, new and old, need learn and refine their skills. Dale Carnegie Training courses, webinars and resources span various areas from Leadership Development, Sales Effectiveness and Customer Service among others.

vistage logoVistage – A CEO and executive networking group, but also an information hub of valuable leadership and management thought leadership via their events, resources and blog. Network with leaders across an array of industries and learn from business professionals like you and the challenges they face every day.

Forums and Communities

slideshare-logo (1)SlideShare – An online community providing professionals to discover, share and present various corporate materials including PowerPoint presentations, videos, white papers, case studies, reports, collateral, infographics, documents and more. – An online community full of management tools, podcasts as well as live conferences, workshops and events for educational and networking purposes. There is also a plethora of workbooks and resources for managers looking to hire team members as well as for those managers looking to augment their interview skills and tips to expand the breadth of their resume should they be looking for a different management opportunity.

harvard-business-reviewHarvard Business Review – Business content from a world renowned brand name University like Harvard simply screams “valuable.” And the best part, one does not have to be affiliated to the University to be a subscriber.

amex_open_forumAmex Open Forum – Need a community that has a wealth of financial content? Well, this is the one for you. In this interactive forum, explore strategies ranging from pricing, financial growth to accounting and bookkeeping essentials.

 Mobile Apps

Expensify logoExpensify – This simple and easy-to-use app allows you the ability to track purchases in real-time, pool your electronic receipts, scan your paper receipts and create a comprehensive expense report in PDF while on the go. After all, who wants to take the time to do this manually once you are back from the trip?

camcard-logoCamCard – The data entry after an event or trade show use to always seem to take more time than the actual attendance of it. Now, just snap a picture of a newly acquired business card and sync it to your address book in seconds. A few dollars spent on this app will keep you focused on increasing your business network rather than spending hours in data entry.


ScannerPro – For professionals that are still working in a paper environment but wish to still keep it to a minimum – this app is perfect for you. You can scan documents from your phone, create PDFs, adjust image settings among more so you can keep filing space free, and accessibility nearby.


EvernoteLargeEvernote – Whether you are on the road or not, this free app is great for ensuring you quickly capture your latest random business idea either by voice, picture or text.

Laws & Regulations

legalzoom logoLegalZoom – Most of us have heard of LegalZoom by now, but if not, it’s the one stop-shop for those that are in need of basic legal forms that can be done for a considerably lower cost than hiring an attorney. It’s still good business practice to have a business attorney review any contract before you sign it, but LegalZoom can save you money in basic document preparation.


sba logoSmall Business Administration – Whether you work for a small business or not, the SBA has an array of helpful resources available and is a tremendous information hub regarding administration, regulation and governmental requirements, assistance and legislation.

Project Management, Presentations & Reports

SmartDraw-boxshotSmartDraw – For managers that need an agile system to handle process management, project management, team organization, Lean, PowerPoint presentations, meetings and reports, SmartDraw is the tool for you. Leverage the power of 70 different types of visuals, charts and diagrams like flowcharts, Gantt charts, mind maps, Kanban boards, org charts and more. SmartDraw’s automated easy-to-use diagrams will save you time and money on your all of your projects and presentations – big or small.

That’s our list. We know you will find all of these suggestions helpful to you as you embark in your newest management role.

Have some suggestions? What essentials would you add to this toolkit?