Friday, March 23, 2012

Rook to Queen. Check, Mate.

I love a good game of chess. It's all about strategy and mind mapping. So the recent news of Sask Tourism becoming one of Saskatchewan's newest CIC crowns has me thinking.  

The Government of Saskatchewan's budget included $22 million in efficiency measures as a result of the following:
  • Seniors and children will pay more for drugs, saving $10 million dollars. 
  • The film industry funding has been cut with the winding down of the Film Employment Tax Credit, saving $8 million dollars. 
  • The Enterprise Region Program has been cut, saving another $4 million. The Regina Regional Opportunities Commission (ROCC) funding was reduced. 
The budget giveth, and the budget taketh away, just as the good book says.  We are told a new tourism crown corporation will be created. The Minister of Tourism, Parks, Culture and Sport says the move is all about aligning tourism with other economic developments in the province. 

In strategy terms, "aligning" is just another word for "restructure". It usually refers to reorganizing current holdings in order to optimize and leverage (take advantage of) competencies and resources and to do more than what is possible in the current structure.   

So let's think for a moment about what other tourism and economic development interests could be "aligned" with the likes of tourism.  

Consider the Revitalization Vision which envisions the development of commercial buildings, condos, entertainment, shopping and a commitment to the arts and sports, brought to life by the entertainment facility, where we can "express ourselves". Put our best artists and performers on display.  A state of the art residential neighborhood will be built to create affordable residential units.  The overall goal is to create mixed income neighborhoods, where we will attract diversity and ethnicity. 

Uploaded by  on Apr 18, 2011
Regina Revitalization project announcement video. 

 (I  hear the Coca-Cola song in my head  . . . "I'd like to buy the world a home, and furnish it with love. . .")

Back to business.  Since alignment tends to happen on the current portfolio of economic interests, let's take a quick look at our most treasured and viable economic engines, our Crown Corporations. SaskTel is in the business of telephones and television; SaskPower keeps the lights on. SaskEnergy keeps us warm in the winter and our BBQs glowing in the summer.  STC provides bus service within Saskatchewan, albeit at a loss.  Information Services Corporation keeps the records straight on who owns what, SOCO is all about technology, Sask Gaming is all about entertainment, casinos and tourism and now there is soon to be a corporation dedicated to tourism and other fun stuff that promotes economic interests.    

Now, I am not a betting woman (seriously, I have a $5 dollar limit when it comes to losing money) but I would guess that when it comes to defining fun, the Minister is not referring to our utilities, bus service, technology development or our information. Clearly, these are not fun, but they are necessary, and not to be gambled with.

So in this game of chess, I would venture the next move to be an alignment of crown investments that connect the businesses of fun and tourism to support our economic growth agenda. Maybe then we can recoup the $22 million we lost today (to the power of infinity and beyond), so that we can improve the lives of our seniors, children, create a place for families to live quality lives, where private enterprise businesses generate the balance of economic strength, where neighhoods and schools are safe, where we appreciate and celebrate the arts and the artists, and still be that tourism mecca we so long to be, such that tourists want to come by the busload to spend their time and money here.   Ah strategy. It's always entertaining.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Governance,Gravity, Risk and Jack Rabbits

The word "Risk" has baggage, unless your name is Jack and you can run at a speed of  72 km/h. 

When we think of risk, we think of bad things.  But risk is not bad. Risk is risk. Sometimes you have to take a risk to reap the rewards.  That is the definition of competition, after all. Nobody ever accomplished anything sitting on the couch. Sometimes you have to take a chance. Sometimes you have to take a leap of faith.  

I was reminded of this today as I was driving down the street when a jack rabbit, in full momentum raced across the intersection as I was approaching it.  He was fully tucked, ears back and fully committed to crossing the street.  I saw him, as did the other drivers, and we gave him the right of way.  I thought, now that's what you call taking a risk and having faith.  

But in governance and business, faith doesn't always cut it.  That's where Enterprise Risk Management  comes in.  

ERM is the responsibility of the Board of Directors. It is one of the tools used to inform direction and provide oversight in the achievement of the direction.  And like all things in governance and gravity, what comes up, must come down.  The question is how.  

I implemented an integrated ERM program for a gaming organization.  I researched the industry best practices in ERM and talked to the experts both here in the business community and abroad. My goal was to implement ERM as an integrated function within the organization's governance framework. 

So I began at the board table where the responsibility for the enterprise lies.  My first step was to review the Board of Directors Terms of Reference to ensure ERM had a strategic home.  The Board approved the changes, including assigning the responsibility to a committee.  

From there, the work was focused on creating the program, including the policies, processes and tools. In doing so, I found that education and communication were the first priority because  ERM is a conversation about what could happen, how to take advantage of the opportunities, and how to minimize the threats. 

Establishing a language as part of the process helps to define the words and guide the conversation to reduce the impact of making emotional decisions, or decisions not based on the best information available. 

Inevitably, emotions enter the room with risk is on the table. At that time, it is important to step back and remember that risk is just that.  It is not fear. It is an event that could happen.  "It could rain tonight".  Fear of getting wet or of lightening is the emotional attachment that we bring to the table. 

Moving through the strategy and ERM continuum is an evolutionary process and takes practice.  If an organization's leadership team is fear based and reactionary, then fear will be a motivator.  Fear is not rational, so running an organization with fear leads to some irrational decisions. The other extreme to the fear based culture is that of empathy and arrogance.  Some times, people view the risk discussion as fear mongering, so their minds are also closed to the possibility. Neither is good. 

The facilitator of the process has to take the conversation away from the emotion and into the facts. That's why it is valuable to integrate strategic planning and ERM. The strategy conversation is about possibility and change. And those tend to be good things.  So weaving the "what could happen that could impact our strategy" question into the process helps to soften the fear factor.  

Having the conversation about what could happen, and then backing it up with facts, trends, probability and impact is a good thing.  When we look at the world through a different lens it is like looking at something from someone else's perspective. We usually learn something that we did not know, and we broaden our strategic horizon as a result. 

There are no guarantees in life and in business. We do the best we can and use the best information possible to make the best decisions.  But letting fear into the decision will only limit  possibilities. Think of the Jack Rabbit.  He went for it, and we got out of his way.  Smart rabbit. 

Friday, March 9, 2012

Kate's Story: A Perspective on International Women's Day

Kate Mandziak was born January 9, 1914 in Canada to Ukrainian immigrants. Her mother died in 1918 from the Spanish Flu leaving 3 children. Kate's father remarried. They had 17 more children in total (one deceased).  Kate married my grandfather, Mike Dribnenky when she was 22. They and their four children lived in a Soddy, which consisted of a kitchen and a room where the family slept. The floor was wood and the walls were white washed, remembers my mother.

Today is the 101st anniversary of International Women's Day.  On this day, we reflect on the journey that women have been travelling and recognize the women of our lives.  This year's focus is "Empowering rural women to end hunger and poverty".

Kate Dribnenky was my grandmother. She was a farmer, a pioneer, and a mother of four. She enjoyed reading. She possessed a keen insight into human nature, the way things were, and why, remembers my aunt. 

She cooked 3 meals a day, worked the fields, tended to the animals, and managed the household, all without running water or indoor plumbing. She cooked on a wood stove until about 1973.  

She used a wash board and a clothes line.  My mother remembers in the winter she would wash the clothes and hang them out on the line. Then she would bring the frozen clothes back into the house to thaw. Eventually she got a wringer washer.

In the pioneering days, life was tough and beyond what many of us can imagine. The family slept in one room, heated by a pot belly stove. It was so cold water would freeze overnight. Their house was miles away from services.  Communication was non-existent with the outside world, and transportation was time consuming. 

The family built a new house in the 1950s, which had a full basement with a wood furnace. There was no plumbing or septic system, however. They got power in the early 1960s. 
Through my childhood, my brother, sister and I would visit the farm, spending our days playing make believe games, gathering eggs, feeding the pigs and helping with the harvest. To us, it was fun, not work.  We knew by comparison to our city life that her life was difficult and that she worked hard.

Kate passed away at 59 as a result of a fire at the farm. While this memory of her life is very painful to this day, it is important to reflect on the life that she lived, and how her tenacity, grace and perseverance created the foundation for our family of women.

To this day, I remember her smile and the sound of her laughter when I listen for it.  When I am avoiding something, I remember her telling me, "Lynn, sometimes you just have to do the dishes".


When I think about her life and that of women today, there are major differences in infrastructure and technology. But women are still fighting poverty, lack of  education and influence over themselves. We continue to be voiceless at policy level. 

Poverty among women is practically institutionalized and well accepted, it seems.  The feminization of poverty is a concept that describes a situation where the number of women in poverty is increasing at a much faster rate than for men, so that poor people are disproportionately female.

Here are some statistics:  
  • Single mothers: 51.6% of lone parent families headed by women live in poverty.
  • 41.5% of single, widowed or divorced women over 65 live in poverty.
  • 35% of women on their own under 65 live in poverty.
  • 44% of Aboriginal women living off reserve, and 47% of Aboriginal women living on-reserve live in poverty.
  • The average annual income for Aboriginal women is $13,300, compared with $18,200 for Aboriginal men and $19,350 for non-Aboriginal women.  
  • New immigrant women between 25-44 years old who have a university degree and work full-time earn $14,000 less than Canadian-born women. 
Poverty and Violence goes hand in hand, according to Amnesty International:  
  • Violence keeps women poor, and poor women are most exposed to violence.  Women who suffer from violence lose income and their capacity to earn a wage is impaired.
  • Being poor may make women make difficult choices which puts them or keeps them at risk from violence. A woman who is economically dependent on her abusive partner may see no way to support herself and her children if she leaves. 
  • Access to education is a key driver in poverty and abuse. A girl who becomes pregnant as a result of a rape may find herself excluded from school, with fewer prospects of finding safe work and an independent future.
From 1914 to 2012, the question is what has changed?  Women continue to be facing poverty, isolation and voicelessness at alarming rates.   We continue to be under-represented in positions of leadership and policy making where change begins.  Perhaps that is where we need to begin.