You can’t wing it. You’ve got to have a plan. If you don’t, you won’t be prepared when the opportunity arrives. Too often leaders deal transactionally (OK, I know it is not a real word, but it should be) rather than have a plan. I believe that is the way Chicago has dealt with attracting business. And, it doesn’t get the best results. Sure, you might be able to point to some successes, but Chicago’s (Illinois’s for that matter) poor record for attracting and growing business supports my conjecture better than the alternative.
A well-prepared organization (public or commercial) needs to lay the groundwork for the objectives it wants to achieve:
- New York did not lay the groundwork for winning the Amazon headquarters bid. If it had, it would have lined up, in advance, the community partnerships, resources (both to facilitate and support the win) and most importantly context that will make sense of the deal.
- Chicago did the same thing with the Lucas Museum in Chicago. This could have been a 21st century addition (on the scope and scale of the 20th century institutions that anchor Chicago’s Museum Campus. But Chicago didn’t have a plan. The city didn’t line up community support and most importantly, didn’t think about how to sell its plan (because it didn’t exist) to George Lucas and Mellody Hobson.
I believe that Chicago needs to get its act together and put a plan together. This would include:
- Economic Development—This includes an understanding of what kinds of business we want to attract and how that will support the growth and well-being of the city. Economic development needs to be fully conceived and should be bold—we can be the leader here. It should consider the 21st century issues of giving all our citizens the opportunity to succeed;
- Cultural and Social Development—Great cities are multifaceted and diverse. A plan can’t just focus on business, it must address all the dimensions and constituencies that make for a great city. The city needs to understand what changes (both good and bad) will accompany the economic development and have a plan for dealing with them;
- Infrastructure—Great cities have a robust foundation that includes everything from transportation to education, recreation, social services, affordable housing and basic health and safety. These are the things that make the city desirable to the people who are necessary to make it great.
- An idea about how you get from here to there—Plans are no good with just a vision of where you want to be. They require a step by step (understanding that the best plans are both well defined and flexible) definition of how you get from here to there.
- A Leadership Team that is willing to take some Risks—Putting out an ambitious plan is not without its risks. Ambitious plans fail. Recruiting a crack team only reduces the risk. But, big, well-considered and well-executed risks can bring equally big returns. The leadership in Chicago at the end of the 19th century was inspired, took risks and the result is a great city. It is time to re-up and be bold—we will talk more about “bold” in my next post.
I am suggesting that you can’t go after opportunities one at a time (unless you are NYC, San Francisco, Hong Kong or London) and really expect to win more than your share of deals. The best organizations put the pieces together before they go after the deals that they want and know that they can succeed with. Trust me, we always had a plan when I was at PwC and the same goes for Textura. That doesn’t mean there weren’t challenges (and some failures), but the records speak for themselves. In both cases, the success was outsized compared to the competition because we had a plan!
This is no small task and we need to take it seriously. It needs resources and the backing of the community’s leadership. Chicago needs to gather its best minds (business, universities, government, NGOs, etc.) together and form a diverse team that can put this plan together and executing on it. The team must have the skills and experience to be successful, plus the responsibility and authority to take actions. Moreover, we must hold the team responsible for the outcomes.
There, I have said it. Let’s move forward
Copyright 2019 Howard Niden
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