In my last post I made an assertion (regarding Chicago’s flagging competitive posture), motivated that assertion and then outlined, at a very high level, five steps that seem to me to be a sensible start in the context of a serious (in terms of its ambitions, the outcomes and level of investment necessary to make it happen) effort to strengthen Chicago competitive positioning and relevance in the 21st century economic landscape. I hope that all of you would have been disappointed if I had left it at that.
So, in this post, I get more specific—to the extent possible in my blog format. What follows are 7 concrete activities that align with and advance the steps outlined in my previous post:
- Identify and recruit a board of directors. The title “board of directors” was deliberately selected to suggest several things. We want this group of individuals to: 1) be Chicago heavy-weights who can rally support from the many stakeholders in Chicago’s success; 2) have substantial experience overseeing complex operations because this one is going to be a whopper; 2) take clear responsibility for the success or failure of this endeavor because without skin in the game, participation on the board will just be a networking opportunity; 3) be willing to put the time an effort necessary into the operation; and finally 4) help to acquire the funding necessary to meet the organization’s objectives. Think of this organization as an “innovation start-up”, a durable entity that will need all the support it can get, and the board is there to provide that support;
- Put together a job description hire a leader and other key individuals. I would suggest that the “CEO” of this endeavor needs to have (as they said in the movie trailer) “a very particular set of skills”—and experiences. These include but are not limited to the ability to: 1) develop and communicate a vision; 2) manage a large and complex set of initiatives; 3) understand the importance of and be able to manage many diverse stakeholders involved in an effort of this magnitude; and 4) raise the funds necessary to carry it off. A carefully crafted job description will help to identify the right person for the job. This person will need a small team to assist in bootstrapping the enterprise. Bringing on talent with the right skills in the right order will help to make a tremendously challenging effort a little easier;
- Characterize the needs of high potential innovators—they come in all shapes and sizes and we must understand their character and needs before we can define the market that we want to serve. If we want to be a center for innovation, it is important to understand what makes a location attractive to innovators and we will have to decide which parts of the market we want to serve and which ones we don’t.
This effort is a predecessor to a program designed to get out ahead and be proactive and engage targets who might consider Chicago as a home. I was not a star marketing student, but I do know that the better you know your customer and are able to delight them, the more likely you will keep them coming back for more;
- Develop a stakeholder function and begin understanding the needs of the various stakeholders. I would argue that leaders looking to bring about significant change invariably underestimate the power of the status quo and the value of a good change management program. Programs like the one I am proposing here too often focus on the people who directly benefit from the program and don’t pay attention to legitimate stakeholders who are affected by the initiative and should be considered and properly accounted for. While it is important to have a focus on your primary customer, understanding and accounting for the many “peripheral” stakeholders’ (both individuals and groups) needs and concerns is particularly important for an initiative that is likely to affect just about every person in the city;
- Characterize success and its potential side-effects. This is a derivative of the previous two points. Success depends on both your customers and other stakeholders being happy. By characterizing success in all its dimensions, you make sure that all the stakeholders are happy. We must also understand the likely side-effects (especially the bad ones) so that we can incorporate mitigating activities and avoid the extra cost of fixing a problem after it happens;
- Characterize Chicago’s strengths and weaknesses. This is a big piece of work, but necessary to understanding (just like with the stakeholders) the context in which we are working. Playing to the City’s strengths and dealing with its weaknesses is essential to putting together program that will work and achieve our objectives;
- Develop a work plan to develop a strategic plan—a goal without a plan is just a wish. So, we need a plan. To me a strategic plan has three elements:
- A description of the current state, i.e. where we are today. I have always said that if you don’t know where you are the chances of getting to where you want to be are quite small. Seriously, having a detailed understanding the current situation ensures that the plan is accounting for the roadblocks and general inertia that are likely to affect the work you will need to do to get to where you want to be;
- A description of the future state, i.e. where we want to be. The future state description needs to include enough detail to allow the folks executing the plan to understand not only the end state, but the intermediate states between today’s reality and tomorrow’s and therefore promotes effective and efficient execution of the activities necessary to get from here to there; and
- An outline that describes the steps necessary to get from where we are today to where we want to be in three to five years. This provides enough detail so that the stakeholders and people executing the plan understand what needs to be done each year and provides guidance for an annual planning process that uses the strategic plan to provide guideposts as they build the detailed annual plans each year.
This plan should outline investments (both targets for spending and sources of the funds to pay for the spending) that Chicago needs to make to improve the City’s competitive stance. There are a number of improvements that need to be made some of which demand spending before we can expect Chicago to be competitive.
In an interesting postscript to my last post and further support to my assertion that Chicago isn’t competitive, it appears that Apple didn’t give serious consideration to Chicago when it was looking for new locations to expand its operations. That is two high profile losses this year!
I close this post by observing, not stating unequivocally that anyone with an interest in starting or continuing to run a business in Chicago should be interested in helping with this effort. Things deteriorate slowly and one day you realize that the effort to restore things to where they should be is bigger than is reasonably possible. I believe that the challenge is large, but manageable. Let’s not wait until we have a true crisis (see Detroit) before we take action.
Copyright 2018 Howard Niden
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