Lisagor: How to succeed in business

There is a common thread that runs through the business growth assessment interviews I perform. Managers often complain about conflicting and changing priorities, vague targets and unpredictable results, unsound investment strategies, unclear lines of authority and responsibility, and management confusion and staff frustration.

Too many government and industry information technology leaders echo Lily Tomlin's lament: "I always wanted to be somebody, but I should have been more specific."

An effective business plan describes an organization's focus — its mission, vision and objectives — in terms that are easy to understand. There are myriad articles and books about how to write a business plan.

But the real challenge — what separates the slow-growth organizations from the barnstormers — is a leader's willingness to develop a business strategy that consists of clear and measureable objectives, has the support of key staff and is used throughout the year to measure progress and make decisions.

The age of omnipotent business leaders is over. And although this management model may produce near-term results, eventually even the most loyal subjects will rebel.

Unfortunately, a lot of managers still haven't learned that input from employees is crucial to successfully identifying the internal factors that will affect the organization's ability to sustain reasonable growth. And external changes in enabling technologies, budget and policy, market/citizen demand, competitor strategies and resource supply also need to be reflected in the business plan.

Business leaders who run their own strategic planning meetings are not always open to suggestions from staff about different strategies. How willing are employees to express their true opinions, especially in an open forum? A strong facilitator can usually level the playing field enough to allow an honest exchange of ideas, but even the world's most enlightened facilitator won't succeed if the leader resists change.

Incentive plans should reward behaviors and results that are consistent with strategic objectives. But strategic plans alone don't guarantee business growth — action plans do.

Strategic objectives must be translated into relevant and measurable actions assigned to individuals who are held accountable. Similarly, strategic actions should be monitored. If you don't care enough to ask your staff for a status report, they won't care enough to perform.

Finally, prioritize and estimate the cost and return on investment of each action. Then match all the actions with the operating budget. Only implement what is affordable. I've worked with several organizations that have developed a gigantic list of actions only to turn them over to managers for implementation in their spare time. This almost never works.

If I hear one more business manager declare, "We need to get it done with sweat equity," I'm going to scream! Aligning your investments with what you are talking about takes courage. But it's the only reliable way to become somebody. Just ask Lily. n

Lisagor is program co-chairman for the 2004 E-Gov Program Management Summit. He founded Celerity Works LLC in 1999 to help IT organizations accelerate and manage their business growth. He can be reached at

The 2015 Federal 100

Meet 100 women and men who are doing great things in federal IT.


  • Shutterstock image (by venimo): e-learning concept image, digital content and online webinar icons.

    Can MOOCs make the grade for federal training?

    Massive open online courses can offer specialized IT instruction on a flexible schedule and on the cheap. That may not always mesh with government's preference for structure and certification, however.

  • Shutterstock image (by edel): graduation cap and diploma.

    Cybersecurity: 6 schools with the right stuff

    The federal government craves more cybersecurity professionals. These six schools are helping meet that demand.

  • Rick Holgate

    Holgate to depart ATF

    Former ACT president will take a job with Gartner, follow his spouse to Vienna, Austria.

  • Are VA techies slacking off on Yammer?

    A new IG report cites security and productivity concerns associated with employees' use of the popular online collaboration tool.

  • Shutterstock image: digital fingerprint, cyber crime.

    Exclusive: The OPM breach details you haven't seen

    An official timeline of the Office of Personnel Management breach obtained by FCW pinpoints the hackers’ calibrated extraction of data, and the government's step-by-step response.

  • Stephen Warren

    Deputy CIO Warren exits VA

    The onetime acting CIO at Veterans Affairs will be taking over CIO duties at the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency.

  • Shutterstock image: monitoring factors of healthcare.

    DOD awards massive health records contract

    Leidos, Accenture and Cerner pull off an unexpected win of the multi-billion-dollar Defense Healthcare Management System Modernization contract, beating out the presumptive health-records leader.

  • Sweating the OPM data breach -- Illustration by Dragutin Cvijanovic

    Sweating the stolen data

    Millions of background-check records were compromised, OPM now says. Here's the jaw-dropping range of personal data that was exposed.

  • FCW magazine

    Let's talk about Alliant 2

    The General Services Administration is going to great lengths to gather feedback on its IT services GWAC. Will it make for a better acquisition vehicle?

Reader comments

Please post your comments here. Comments are moderated, so they may not appear immediately after submitting. We will not post comments that we consider abusive or off-topic.

Please type the letters/numbers you see above