Failure to Launch: The Busyness Syndrome; Doing All That Work and No Implementation. BWOT.

Pardon us while we jump on our soapbox, but you need to hear this. How many times have we had the inquiry for some type of planning that involves a “retreat” or some ridiculously little amount of time, “We need a strategic plan in three hours!” Well, we’re sorry, we’re not just coming in to snake the pipes folks, there’s a lot more “clog” than you think when we’re dealing with systemic change. But enough of the plumbing- organization analogy, because that’s just gross albeit funny and probably true. Let’s get into this with a bit more sincerity and clarity.

Ahem. Let’s do a little guided imagery exercise. It’ll be fun. Close your eyes and relax. Take a deep breath. Take another and another until you get a very even, extended rhythm that gets all the butterflies out and float on a cloud for a bit. Now, think about what your day looks like as a leader. The meetings that go nowhere. The endless list of grievances from faculty, staff, students, leadership, and everyone else. Honestly ask yourself when you’re the happiest in your work. That may take a while. Got it? Now, think about how your day would look like if those grievances got to a more manageable level.  How would your day start and end differently? What types of current coping mechanisms that do not serve you well would be eliminated? How could creativity be harnessed with those around you? What would that feel like and how different is that from what you have been experiencing? How are people interacting? What would a new metaphor for daily work be? Hold that vision and write it down.

Now, let’s go back to your current situation. How does it feel? What does it look like? Where are all those people you just imagined before? What is the cost if you do not go forward with change? What do peoples’ health look like? What does their behavior look like? How does that translate to your students who have come to your institution to change their lives? Imagine all the ripples of the stone thrown to the middle of the pond.

It seems you have three choices. 1) Keep the status quo and keep chugging along, business as usual. People will come and go. Your work will be unremarkable. People will check off the boxes and limp through their experience. 2) Put on a show by enlisting in a “planning” experience with little effort, but you will have some half- baked document to refer to in case anyone asks or needs to see what you’ve been up to and if you’re worthy of some type of reward. (Don’t forget that morale will dip because of the game you’re playing, even though your intentions are good.) 3) Be the leader you and the people who look to you for leadership want, and start a calm and intentional revolution. No hysterics.

The Case for Implementation

This takes time, intention, thoughtful conversation and inclusion. It does not happen in a day retreat. It is a process which you can work hard to lay it out over time, but not too much time- results will need to surface along the way. Reflection will be needed for insights. You will need your leadership team to check in regularly. Meetings will no longer be report outs with consent agendas. Structured conversations will need to take place. Action and organization will need to take place.  Accountability will be in force because of and commitment to results. For all the aforementioned, it is very hard to accomplish this internally unfortunately, because workloads do not allow for it. Therefore, we are only interested in working with clients who understand this. It is not fair to launch a process that does not have the capacity to follow through with implementation. It also is a sure way to compromise morale and perpetuate a culture of disbelief and detachment. We believe that implementation can be accomplished through investing in an external monitoring system or hire an internal position where the job description is solely dedicated to implementing strategic initiatives, otherwise, it is too easy to let things slide off the plate and into the compost bucket. It can be years or decades before there is another opportunity to visit planning again and that is why faculty/staff roll their eyes when the next attempt comes along. We advise taking the process through full completion, otherwise save or use the resources elsewhere and spare everyone from good intentions but poor execution.

Let’s return to that guided imagery exercise—are you going to invest in focused energy and resources to bring your vision into fruition or is this just a daydream and a fleeting moment you are not able to seize?

The Joys and Beauty of Action Planning

Often, we find that organizations are more likely to need action planning over strategic planning. From a practical standpoint, the world is changing so quickly that many times we create strategic plans that look many years out, but variables change such as technology, budgets, leadership administrations, etc. that shift everything quickly. There are many benefits and practical reasons to proceed with action planning. What is action planning and how is it different from strategic planning? Action planning works with a specific task, priority or initiative that can be part of a strategic plan’s strategic direction or goal, or it can be an independent project that needs direct attention. One easy way to address an action plan is that it’s objective is to pursue S.M.A.R.T.—Specific, Measurable, Action-oriented, Results driven and Timebound goals. Action planning is appropriate for projects or initiatives that have twelve months or less to complete. They may even involve segments of something greater that needs to roll out in phases, so that you can break down plans in smaller chunks rather than large and unmanageable initiatives which can be daunting and therefore nothing gets done and plans get shelved, which can often be the case.

We like action planning for many reasons. One, they can enable teams to get something done which boosts morale and creates can-do attitude over a nothing -ever -gets done -why -bother attitude.  Action planning also allows groups to easily tackle some of that low hanging fruit that is a no brainer but falls by the wayside because people get caught up and bogged down with big picture vision when they just need to get something done to feel like “bigger” things are possible. These things don’t require long, bureaucratic procedures and “task forces” and “sub-committees” and a bunch of other groups to bog things down. Action plans are typically designed by a small and lean group of makers and worker bees, not “ideas” people and puffed up advisory boards. The smaller an action team, the better and quicker things can get done. Ideally, action planning teams are made up of two to six people, eight maximum, who know what needs to happen and how to execute. We do not recommend putting people on action teams who are over-extended or off on sabbatical or leave or in the middle of a personal crisis, otherwise you will have dead weight and are setting a team up for immobility because so and so is too busy or dropped the ball and now everyone resents them, and others are picking up their slack. There may be people who seem logical for a team, but because of their current situation cannot participate fully, so leave them out. That person can be useful in other indirect ways, but if they can’t do the project right now, don’t bring them in. You will be setting yourselves up for failure and it will be your own fault for not seeing this. So, don’t do it! Figure out someone else, and if a project relies on one person’s “heroic” leadership and expertise, delay that action plan until they are available to participate fully.  Also, keep the naysayers and saboteurs out of these sessions. It’s enough that they drag others down daily, but action planning is no place for them.

Another beautiful thing about action planning is that the planning session itself can be facilitated quickly in a 90 minute to four- hour session depending on the size and scope of the project. Ideally, a two to three- hour session should be sufficient time to get things done thoroughly and efficiently unless some derailing force comes into play, but that is where it is important to have a facilitator shepherding the session keeping the process on track. Action planning should never be used for a project that is going to bring about quagmires that can’t be resolved quickly. A mindset of compromise for the greater good is essential. It is also important that when a leader taps people to be on an action team, that the participants know their goal and purpose before heading into a session. There is nothing worse than people showing up in a room for action planning with no reference or understanding of their reason for being there, so it is a leadership responsibility to make sure that everyone is clear on their objective ahead of time and that they agree to be there and fully participate. One time a leader put together five separate action teams to work on segments of an overall initiative. When each of those teams showed up for the planning session, very few of the participants knew what it was they were showing up for or why they were there.  The leader showed up for each session to kick it off and each of those five sessions spent the first hour just getting people on the same page for why they were there which also resulted in a lot of pushback from participants disagreeing on being there at all. That is not the time to resolve philosophical differences or discord and it was directly led back to a leadership shortcoming in their failure to launch. The leader ended up taking front and center, (a big no-no), and declaring their vision which as you can imagine created an environment of tension and conflict where some shut down and some pushed back hard and a nasty confrontation ensued. Again, action planning groups are coming together and starting from a place of full understanding and harmony for their being there. That doesn’t mean that they can’t disagree or hammer through different ideas and ways of getting things done, but everyone should be operating in the spirit of moving towards accomplishment. It is not a place to bring contentious issues and has no business being an action plan then until things are resolved and amenable.

The action planning session process itself is rooted in practicality. The session covers about eight steps that are naturally sequenced and designed for success and excitement. We start with “The Givens,” this is where the leader shows up to kick it off and states the facts. It covers the things we know walking into a session such as the who, what, why, when and how that need answering. For example, let’s say our action group is there to create a fundraising plan. The Givens, or what we know right now might be:

  • We need to raise $1.5 million for the academic year
  • We have 10 months to do it
  • We need to produce a College newsletter that highlights programs
  • We need to have a year- end celebration/fundraising event
  • We need to tap into to our alumni more meaningfully
  • We have a $30,000 budget to put towards our efforts
  • We need to create an advising center as a result of our fundraising

The Givens set the parameters, size and scope of the project or plan. It’s always important to have the leader present at this point of the session to show support, direction and expectations of the project. It both buoys the team’s understanding and eliminates second guessing. It provides the opportunity for clarity.

Next, we look at the “Victory” or a quick visioning of the future to see how we will know our project was successful. It allows us to set the bar of our success factors and hopefully gets people excited at the possibilities of our project. It’s important for teams to be able to “see” their success and know what they are heading towards.

After the happy visioning of the victory, we must look at our current reality, which is a brief environmental scan, to be aware of our strengths, weaknesses, benefits and dangers. It allows us to take a snapshot of where we are presently standing and taking an honest look at what is before us. It can be both painful and uplifting but necessary regardless.  It is a moment of consciousness and a way to help us set our intentions realistically and mindfully.

Next step is to create a team commitment or brief charter. In one or two sentences we state what we are committed to and our attitude towards achieving it. It is a great thing to go back to when the team is working and six months down the road they ask, “What are we doing and why again?” It anchors the team.

Then we move into key actions; organize into smaller teams or delegations, plot the actions on a calendar and determine the resources that are needed for each actionable item. It is the who, what, where, when, why, how of each actionable item. It is where the team drills down and gets into minutia. (Understand now why we don’t recommend “ideas” people for this?)

Lastly, we step back and look at our plan and make any adjustments to quickly launch into action. Remember how we talked about SMART? This is the SMART all broken down piece by piece to create the bigger picture. TA-DA! Success. Beautiful. Simple. Boom. Done and done. Celebrate! Action planning gives gratification that we can get something done and therefore, maybe we could take on something more long term or strategic. It empowers us with hope and confidence to accomplish bigger things. And…it builds community at a grassroots level which we feel is the most profound step towards truly systemic change.

Graphic Recording Adds a Whole Dimension to Your Vision

Regenerate has been offering its clients a whole new dimension to their vision sessions. Rather than simply using words to articulate the vision for an organization, we have a graphic recording artist, Cheryl Kartes, CTF, capture the vision in sessions with pictures, images, phrases and key words. Our clients have been tremendously happy with the resulting product: a graphic image that can be used for the organization’s reports, marketing materials, and distributed to all of its stakeholders in a much more creative and meaningful way. Graphic recording captures and organizes the conversations that are taking place in the room in real time, resulting in more energy, excitement and engagement from the participants. Check out a recent graphic recording we used with our Carver County Library Services client:

CCL Graphic Recording reduced web

Organization Culture Shifts: Start with Yourself and Your Own Story

When I started Regenerate a few years ago, I had the business plan, the brand identity, the client niche, and most importantly, the dream. What I didn’t have was a full understanding of how important my own journey, both past and present, would play such an influential role in my relationships with clients. You can have the credentials, the processes and methodologies, read all the books, stay up on trends, and know all the jargon, but nothing replaces the importance of our own personal stories and how influence the way we interact and connect with each other. Quite frankly, if I hear one more organizational cure-all, I’m going to eat my hat! Everybody– cease and desist on looking for panaceas! It’s like one bad yo-yo diet after another– you’re better off to accept yourself as you are and make small lifestyle changes for the greater good than some drastic make-over only to find yourself two steps back in a couple of years.

What makes organizations so messy and yet wonderfully robust are the people and their own stories. These stories are important and need to be heard in order to understand each other and the value we can bring to our work. It doesn’t matter how many plans, studies, or “treatments” an organization imposes on itself, the bottom line is that the human capital is what makes the thing go. Now, how it functions is a whole different story, for a different post, but I just want to talk about getting at understanding our own personal stories and how that empowers us to work better together.

Application: Start journaling or walking or whatever it is that helps you reflect and interpret your story. Be honest and embrace your strengths and weaknesses– it will empower you and build a sense of humor.


Regenerate to Present at SCUP 48 International Conference in 2013

BethMarie Ward will be presenting Whole Systems Change: Using Participatory Strategic Planning Methods that Work,at the SCUP–48: “Cultivating Integration,” Society for College and University Planners Annual, International Conference, scheduled for July 27–31, 2013, in San Diego, California. Ms. Ward and Dr. Connie Foster will present a one day workshop based on a recent case study of their work of Whole Systems change. The workshop will be an interactive experience for participants, giving them hands on information of both the theory and practice (praxis) of implementing Whole Systems planning. For more information go to:

Shift Happens

Regenerate has had a busy year helping many clients move from irrelevant,  ineffective, and outdated ways of existing and shifting to fresh, exciting, and better ways of co-existing. We call this shift, and it is essential in order to be a part of the 21st Century. Gone are the days of top- down organizational culture– welcome to organizational democracy, where everyone gets to participate!

We have shepherded several organizations and institutions this year that have passionate and caring people who want to be heard by their leaders, and the leaders are listening! They understand that if they want to be relevant, then they need to listen, and not just to their senior management, but all of their workers, especially the ones who put wheels on the machine and make it go everyday. It’s an amazing experience to witness organizations taking ownership in their planning; not just sit back and roll their eyes at another lame attempt at planning and backsliding into the status quo. We are seeing people empowered to do their work better and have a say in what that looks like.

We’ve also noticed that people are craving opportunities to build their teams. It used to be that people were hesitant and resistant to team building retreats, but we have been custom designing activities, where people are having a blast and participating in changing their organizations to more creative cultures. The accountability rates have shot up, and workers are excited to finally engage face to face and get away from their desks and boring routines. Senior managers see productivity go up, and not because they are being punitive with threats to lose their jobs or bullying on the sidelines. They are seeing  productivity go up, because their work culture is shifting from the old to tapping into new energy and making great ideas happen.

We are thrilled to help work cultures change for the better and we have had a remarkable year of  witnessing  shift happening!

Regenerate Group Offers Virtual Meeting/Facilitation Platform

Regenerate Group presents at Leaders Alliance Product Development Meeting September 7

BethMarie will present to the Leaders Alliance Product Development and Manufacturers Association meeting on behalf of the Minnesota Facilitators Network.

Tired of ineffective meetings? Does your industry require rapid product development, continuous improvement and tight timelines? We will present how good facilitation keeps teams on task and how to make sure everyone knows their role and keep project management moving.

Good meeting facilitation requires preparation and asking the right questions in order to get team buy in. Our presentation will provide tips and show the importance of participatory methods in product development. A discussion panel will take place afterwards.

Why Regenerate?

Regenerate Group gets a lot of positive feedback about our name, because it says so much and universally applies to organizational and individual life cycles. When I was working on my Master’s Degree a a few years ago, I was exploring sustainability, renewable energy, and environmental life cycles. We hear so much about “green” and more recently, “sustainable,” but I found that I had to challenge the word– sustainability.

One day, while walking through my favorite dog park on the Mississippi River, I was out in the woods and noticed how different the landscape had become from ten years earlier. Many of the densely populated trees had fallen down, the soil was eroding in some places, and the shoreline became very narrow. At first, I felt a great deal of sadness and despair about the changes, but then I stopped and looked closely at the downed trees. I saw fungi, moss, bugs and saw that these microbial life forms would eventually create new life. So in nature, nothing really sustains or stays the same, it is regenerative. This helped me to see how organizational life is very similar.

We are living through a major paradigm shift. It’s painful. But I challenge you to try looking at your organization through the lens of regeneration. Through facilitative and shared leadership, stronger and more creative teams and systems emerge and we become more relevant to the times. Regenerate.

“Focus on the truth rather than what people think.” Aristotle

I saw this quote the other day and it resonated with me for many reasons. How many times have we been in a group situation, whether a participant or leader, and felt people holding back their energy; their conscience because they were fearful of what may come next or that there would be “scary” consequences? The sad thing is they think by doing so, they are “safe–”  no such thing, I say. There is a difference between using the edit button and not blurting out things that are sarcastic or malicious versus carefully choosing words that describe the problem and seek productive, helpful outcomes. If we move away from attack mode, and focus on listening to each other, we can get to problem solving much easier and gain clarity and insight for other creative ideas and projects that reap rewards and benefits. There’s a great book by Terry Dobson called, Aikido in Everyday Life: Giving in to Get Your Way. In his book, conflict is considered good and necessary, but it’s how we deal with the conflict that brings us to better outcomes and results, and ultimately, staying truthful to ourselves. Learning how to master being true to our conscience, yet practicing the techniques and art form Aikido, now that’s what I call true “winning!”